(Please be aware that I talk very openly and candidly about my own experiences with suicide. If this is not something easy for you, please don’t continue reading or read with caution. This is not meant to hurt or trigger anyone else.)
I understand that suicide is something that is very difficult to talk about for many people, especially those personally affected by it. It is something that I have become very open about after decades of being suicidal consistently. I can’t explain why I didn’t ever follow through, especially when I had specific plans or a loaded gun in my hand, held against my own head. I became open about it with my wife, who was just my friend at that point, was seriously contemplating taking her own life after her husband died of cancer. I didn’t try to tell her he would be upset if she followed through, or that she had so much to live for. I told her that everyone would understand that the grief became too much for her and she just couldn’t stay. I told her that I had spent decades of my life suicidal, I had written multiple letters, formulated multiple plans and just never followed through. And then I told her that it was her choice. I know that is not what clinicians recommend you do for someone in that position, but it was the only way I knew how to help her.
This morning I read this article: https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/04/health/national-suicide-prevention-week-suicidal-signs-wellness/index.html
I hate this article for a bunch of reasons. It starts out with a bunch of statistics and talking about how researchers still can’t accurately predict who will do it and when. Well duh! Of course researchers can’t predict anything about when humans will feel like they are out of options.
Because each and every human being has a different set of past experiences, genetics, support systems, sense of isolation, stressors, and medical issues. Let me talk a bit more about my mind back when I didn’t have options on how to move forward.
I felt very melancholy right around 15 or 16 years old. Depression would set it and I would be irritable and sad. I withdrew into my room and didn’t want to interact with most people, even my friends at school. But even through all of that, I was not suicidal.
That started in 1999, in the winter. I was starting to realize that I didn’t do well in the winter, with less sunlight and so much darkness. My girlfriend had broken up with me but wasn’t really forthcoming with information and was kind of stringing me along. I had caught her making out with someone else when she knew I was coming back to campus to visit and I fell into a deep depression. I had been fired from a job I hated anyway, lost a job I was the #1 recommendation for, and I felt like my life was swirling around the drain. I had nothing left to live for, and I was so alone. I starting writing letters to say goodbye to my family and accumulated lots of over the counter medication. I planned the day, the time, and was prepared to do it. As I left the ex’s room for the last time, I ran into an old friend who had also recently had a bad break up. We stood in the hallway and talked for a bit. She told me she had rough days, but she was determined to make it. She saved my life. The time I had planned slipped by and naturally I couldn’t do it at another time. The next day I got a call for an interview at another place and my life started looking up. I was working at a daycare and the kids were a lot of fun. I made new friends and I started having a life again. But the thoughts kept creeping in, but it was a long time before I made a plan again.
In 2019, I was sliding deep into depression. I found out that I wasn’t going to be able to stay in the Air Force as long as I thought. I was struggling at work and in all facets of my life. Nothing made me happy. I felt like there was no way out. I started making a plan again. For years I had been struggling with the thoughts and I was just so low. But 2019 was the worst I had been in years. I could fake my life just enough so that no one knew how sad I was. My ex didn’t seem to care how sad I was, his mother told me to “chin up” and keep myself together, my own parents told me I was fine and had lots of good things in my life, and I had no friends near me. I faked a good mood at work and around the kids and sobbed when I was alone. I used to wake up and just burst into tears as soon as I remembered my life sucked. It did not feel like I was living, it felt like I was drowning and screaming into a tornado. No one could hear me and worst of all, it felt like no one cared. I didn’t think I could be honest that I felt like my life wasn’t worth living, and that was very isolating.
This article talks about all the possible signs and symptoms that are generally well known. I think that’s stupid. If it was that easy to identify who was that bad off and who was just looking for attention, this would not happen. Everyone would be saved. But let me spin this all on its head…
Who says that someone should be saved? Who determines that a life is worth living? A person, who is walking a horrible, painful path, wants to find a way to end that pain. Who has the right to tell them that they don’t get to make that decision? Who has the right to determine that choosing to end your own life is selfish? Who makes that choice? But what about mental illness? Does that deem a person incompetent to make decisions for their own life? Everyone who told me I had so much to live for was not living my life. They did not know what was going on in MY head and that I was repressing so much of the real me that it was destroying me from the inside. So how can someone like that, who doesn’t know my darkest secrets, tell ME that my life is worth living?
I really think that the biggest misunderstanding with suicide is that the person who does it is making a long term decision for a short term problem. I think that’s a bunch of bullshit. Who the hell gets to decide what is a short term problem for me? Who gets to tell me that I need to “hang in there” because they need me? It’s all pretty ridiculous to me.
Do I regret that I am still alive? Absolutely not, but that is a decision that I made. I decided that I wanted to push forward a little longer and I kept making the choice to save myself. I get so tired of the bullshit “If only they had talked to me, if only I knew how much they were really struggling…” That’s bullshit.
You want to prevent suicide in loved ones? BE THE PERSON EVERYONE CAN TALK TO. Show love and respect with no judgment. Be the community that everyone needs. Keep your mouth shut if you have offensive beliefs that hurt people like racism and homophobia. If you really care about someone, SHOW THEM. Let them know they can talk to you about anything and then SHOW UP for them. Ask people why they seem down or are hurting. Check in on loved ones who are going through something they’ve shared with you. Check in OFTEN.
Everyone has painful experiences and hurt in their past. Everyone has day to day stressors. But someone with a loving, supportive community that they can count on every single day will find options. They will talk to the people they trust to hear them out. If they have a person they can stay up late with or talk to no matter what else is going on, they will be ok. It’s isolation that is ultimately what forces someone’s hand. Knowing that no one truly cares or will be there in that moment of complete darkness. I have been there but I have also found instances where I was close but I knew I had someone in my corner. And that’s part of why I kept on saving myself.