Though Thursday: Suicide: Understanding & Compassion
Thought Thursday: Suicide: Understanding & Compassion
“I can’t believe somebody could be that selfish.”
That’s something that’s frequently said when people find out that someone’s committed suicide. I can’t help but grit my teeth every time I hear that: selfish.
It’s obvious to me that the people who say that are people who don’t understand.
People who commit suicide don’t really understand what they’re doing. Think about it—would a mentally healthy person choose to kill themselves? A person without mental illness, without a physical impairment or disease that causes constant, widespread, unrelenting pain would never consider—could ever consider—killing themselves.
“Suicide is the easy way out,” some say. Oh really? The “easy” way out. What a laugh. Ever think about the kind of pain a person has endured that would drive them to see this as an option? Or how long they would have had to suffer in order to consider it?
Or that a person is so sick that their sense of reality is warped, so twisted that they don’t, can’t realize that there’s no coming back from death. They might say they know it, might even say they don’t care or that they want it. They don’t. No living creature wants to die.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was fifteen, and over the last twenty years I have become so depressed that I did consider suicide. When I got help and recovered enough that I was able to look back on what I had gone through, I realized that those times that I had wanted to die I was in extreme mental and physical pain, and I was so sick that I was having visual and audial hallucinations. There were days I was so miserable I couldn’t get out bed. I became paranoid and had panic attacks, developed OCD-type responses, paced back and forth so much that my knees started to buckle, scratched and dug at my arms, hands, neck and feet, bit myself, hit myself, cried so much that my eyes were swollen and bloodshot. I couldn’t sleep, had nightmares when I did, and didn’t eat. I muttered and talked to myself incessantly. I scared people. I couldn’t work.
MY LIFE WAS HELL AND I WANTED TO ESCAPE FROM IT.
I tried to think of things I could do, but I felt like I had no options. I could run away—but where would I go? Maybe if I could get some sleep—but I can’t sleep. Maybe if I took a trip somewhere—no money. If I had a job—no, no one would hire me. What could I do?
My self-esteem plummeted, evaporated. My body ached, my head hurt, my stomach was constantly upset, my immune system was shot, I couldn’t sleep, the medicine was giving me crippling side effects. I began to think I would never graduate, never get a job, never move out … that my friends, my boyfriend would abandon me because I was a loser …
I lost hope.
I started to think about dying a lot. How to do it. When. If I should. Would anybody care? I didn’t think so. I didn’t. I wanted to stop hurting, but I didn’t think it would ever stop. I didn’t think it would ever change. I thought it would only get worse. At one point I started thinking (and I remember thinking this, I remember mumbling it to myself over and over again), “I’ll kill myself. Then everything will reset and it’ll be better. I’ll kill myself, then everything will reset and be better. I’ll kill myself, then everything will reset and be better. Like a game.”
Do you understand? I was so sick that I thought that I could die, then reset everything, and come back to life and start over. LIKE A FUCKING VIDEO GAME. I THOUGHT I WAS LIVING IN A VIDEO GAME.
You’re probably reading this in disbelief and are thinking, “But, weren’t you afraid of hurting your family and friends?” No, I really wasn’t. Why? Because I was so sick that nothing felt real to me. I was hallucinating and paranoid, I frequently had out-of-body type experiences (there were times when I felt like I was standing outside my own body, watching me move around, talk to people, do things), and I was utterly convinced that people hated me and that I was making their lives worse by being around … if they were even real.
So, to sum it up: I wasn’t being selfish. I was sick. I barely knew what was real and what my mind was inventing. I was exhausted and in constant pain. I wasn’t thinking straight because I wasn’t capable of thinking straight. The only way I was able to overcome it all was to give the medication time to work and to continue with therapy. The person I am now is very different from the person I was then. I can think clearly now. And I was lucky.
But a lot of people aren’t so lucky. They don’t or can’t get the help they need. Many go through their whole lives not realizing that they have a mental illness. Most of those who suffer and kill themselves feel as though they have no hope and no support; they’re afraid to go to their friends and family for help because they’ll be told to, “Suck it up,” “It’s hard for everyone,” “Don’t be ridiculous,” “Yeah right,” “Are you crazy?”, “That’s so selfish of you,” “I know people who are worse off than you are, and they wouldn’t kill themselves,” and, as I was repeatedly told, “Go take a nap.” That’s not support, that’s dismissal and shaming of feelings. That’s why when somebody finally hits that breaking point and does kill themselves, everybody reacts in shock, saying that they had no idea that this person would do such a thing … they likely didn’t know because this person was too scared to tell them, knowing how they’d react.
Am I blaming anybody? No, but I think it’s time for an attitude shift towards mental illness and suicide. The public at large likes to say that mental illness is nobody’s fault, but they still act like it is. The people who don’t suffer can’t empathize because they don’t what it’s like. I’ve had people tell me that they get a little depressed sometimes, but it’s no big deal. I tell them that they’re healthy people who get a little depressed sometimes because something isn’t going right for them, but people like me get depressed because our bodies can’t produce the chemicals needed to maintain a stable outlook. We don’t get sad because we had a bad day, we get sad because we have an illness, because we have intense emotional trauma and PTSD, because we have injuries and diseases that cause such physical pain that it impacts every aspect of our lives, and we can’t get away from it. We can’t just stop “thinking” about it, or “distract” ourselves, or “take a nap” or go to “a couple of therapy sessions,” WE CANNOT JUST TURN IT OFF.
And that’s why people kill themselves. They may work hard and put on a good show, but beneath that veneer they are in so much emotional, physical, mental pain that they feel that there is no way out—save for one.
This is not easy for me to talk about, but I get so goddamned angry when someone like Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain or anyone else commits suicide after years of illness and people say, “They’re such a coward. They took the easy way out. They’re so selfish.” You don’t understand it. They’re not cowards. It’s not the easy way out. They’re sick.
So stop saying that suicide is selfish. Stop being dismissive of people’s agony. Stop sneering at mental illness. Start helping people. Show compassion. Listen. Support.
Oh, and P.S.: for those of you who say that that suicide is a sin, the Catholic Church does not recognize suicide as a result of mental illness a sin, but they don’t broadcast it because they don’t want mentally ill people killing themselves if that’s the only thing that’s stopping them. Look it up or ask a priest if you don’t believe me.
If you are thinking about suicide or know someone who is and need help, please call or go to:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Available 24 hours everyday
The American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
It Gets Better Project
For LGBTQ youth
The JED Foundation
From the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) webpage of suicide prevention:
Signs and Symptoms
The behaviors listed below may be signs that someone is thinking about suicide.
Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
Talking about great guilt or shame
Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
Talking about being a burden to others
Using alcohol or drugs more often
Acting anxious or agitated
Withdrawing from family and friends
Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
Talking or thinking about death often
Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
Giving away important possessions
Saying goodbye to friends and family
Putting affairs in order, making a will