Hi guys, today is a very important day for everyone. Mental health affects us all, and suicide is something that claims over 700 000 people every year. (WHO) Even if someone hasn’t experienced suicidal thoughts, chances are they know someone who has, or who has committed suicide. It touches us all, in some form or other. One of the most dangerous factors is that we have trouble discussing suicide. Other illnesses are openly discussed while this topic remains feared, tabooed and stigmatized. No problem can be solved through avoidance.
This is why I’m diving into the fire today. To be honest, I’ve had difficulty writing this post. I thought it was because I’ve been justifiably busy…and I am. But now that I’m sitting down to write this I realize that there’s something more. I’M afraid. I’m afraid because suicide is a hugely sensitive subject in my life and the lives of the people I love. My goal and passion is to help and encourage dialogue, and yet here I am, afraid to engage in one. It’s also because I feel like I can’t do justice to this crucial and painful subject. Even though I’ve written about this before, I’ve been shying away. I can’t let that happen, so here we go. This post comes with a huge trigger warning but at the same time, I think it’s especially important to read if you’re currently experiencing suicidal thoughts. I’ll let you be the judge.
What to Say and Where to Begin?
I don’t want to write something impersonal. I’m not a psychiatrist, I’m not WebMd…you get my point. I don’t want to write the kind of stuff I used to read 5 years ago and scoff at because of how very unhelpful and clinical it was. Instead, here’s my story and hopefully I can do a bit better.
I’ve had 2 serious suicide attempts…and this is a description of what went on in my mind before the first one. I wrote this over a year ago and just reread it…that was incredibly painful. I’m sharing it because I think it could help people understand what it’s like on the inside, because it was also my way of trying to come to terms with it.
Sitting in a classroom or on a bus, waiting on a metro platform or … it doesn’t matter. It can hit anywhere. A hooded passenger, whispering in my ear for no one else to hear. A voice that when I was busy tricked me into thinking it had returned to it’s home of destruction and finally fled my consciousness. But this backseat driver, no, it hid in plain sight. It lurked, waiting for the opportunity to work its way back in like a parasite. A crack in my weakened armour, a moment too long of deafening silence, and it was back. Like a pain you grow accustomed to, its presence became a new norm. And from that poisonous seed it grew into something kept aside as a last resort. A thought that was once feared became a somewhat reassuring notion; a light switch that could end the seemingly interminable pain. It’s a switch that can easily be ignored and accumulate dust when on a vast panel of buttons to choose from. Not so when that panel disintegrates like an aching mind, leaving only that dusty switch. Break glass in case of emergency, it read. The small axe began to look quite appealing, and so I picked it up and shattered the glass. One would think that the falling pieces would produce a noise equivalent to the finality of such a weighty decision, but no. Even such a personally earth shattering event is lost amidst the cacophony of life. And so the hooded passenger strengthened its hold. A being’s inherent instinct for survival is strong though; so much so that it stayed my hand and I walked away. Like a lost soul with a broken compass, those paces were not straight and true but instead dragged me along the circumference of a cage. We’re not so different from our fellow animals. We too, when caged, are reduced to primal passions and desperation. Alive but not living, dead but unable to die, I walked the halls as a ghost, different from the others and feeling so alone. Is it possible to feel everything and nothing? To feel the pain of death every day? I stood on the roof of a burning building, waiting for a helicopter that didn’t come; searching the heavens for the answer to a question I didn’t even know how to ask. “There’s always my way,” the passenger whispered. “What if there was no tomorrow?” A horrid thought…but can you please forgive me for listening to the only voice in the void? A pharmacy…a cashier…does she know the kind of pain relief I seek from my purchase? I must look down; surely the emptiness in my eyes will give it away. “It’s not a regular headache,”… I wish I could scream. Please don’t let me leave…but I did, and with a backpack infinitely heavier than when I entered. A secret weapon – A last recourse – The ultimate painkiller. What’s the recommended dosage for such pain? Better be safe… I wish I had never gone to that pharmacy. I wish I hadn’t made relief so accessible. The passenger gave me a plan, but it did not count on my impulsiveness. Impatient and hopeless, my resolve gave way. My hands desperately groped for alternatives; for anything potentially positive. Words failed me and my hands came up empty. In that moment I resigned in the biggest way a human can. I was alone in a small room, or should I say alone with the passenger? My last ‘meal’ would be only 10 calories; a berry flavoured water and two bottles of painkillers: Self-control until the bitter end. I swallowed one pill. A test run. I could stop now, before it’s too late. But who am I kidding? I stopped living a long time ago. A handful of 7, what a lucky number. It’s too late now. A sickeningly sweet taste and a powdery feeling…the last pills were choked down. My back was against the wall, the sun streaming through the window and brushing my face with mocking warmth and light.
The darkness consumed me that day and suicide remained an option for a long time afterwards. I had another serious attempt that continues to haunt me. But after the darkest clouds had parted and on the ‘anniversary’ of my second attempt, I wrote this.
I’ve reached a full year since my last suicide attempt…or whatever desperate impulse made me do what still sticks with me like a shadow. It’s early morning and I haven’t fallen asleep. It was a horrible day for us last year, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be a bad day every year. I will hopefully come to terms with it soon. I fear many things and feel everything extremely intensely…I’m confused about the journey ahead and too preoccupied with what lies behind. It bothers me so much and revisits me, but I need to focus on what happened AFTER. I spent another cherished year with my incredible family. So right now, at 1:43 a.m., I just want to say that I’m grateful to be alive, and to have been given yet another chance. I will find out why I’m here and why it’s exactly where I must remain. Please Universe, help guide us, and me, in rebuilding and repairing… fortifying and making things even better.
When we’re in a pit of pain, it becomes all that we see and feel. We usually don’t want to die, but it seems like the only way to end that suffering. When people say that suicide is selfish, I think this is overly simplistic. Suicide definitely impacts everyone…the loved ones left behind face an unbelievable amount of pain. It’s truly tragic and something that no one should have to face. However to call a suicidal person selfish is in my opinion, wrong.
We don’t want to hurt anyone, but the pain clouds our judgment and no other reality exists. Our thoughts can even become so distorted that we believe others will be happier without us weighing them down. We often feel dead in our minds and the only thing that makes sense is to make our body match. Imagine having a terrible toothache; the kind that makes you stay up all night and consider taking the tooth out yourself with a pair of pliers. Now imagine dealing with that level of pain day in day out, emotionally. There’s no quick fix to end the misery which makes finding the quickest way out the only thing we can think about.
There is Always a Choice
Though I just explained why suicide isn’t a simple selfish gesture, that’s not to say that it’s the RIGHT choice or the ONLY choice. It really is ‘a permanent solution to a temporary problem’. (Not my quote.) The quickest solution is a terrible one. It eliminates the chance of a full and happy life for the person who commits suicide and tears a hole in those who are left behind. In the face of desperation, irrationality and tremendous suffering, what IS the answer?
How I Made it and Why You Can Too
I learned a lot from my suicide attempts and I’m lucky to be here and explain what I’ve learned. There are a few thoughts that it all boils down to which keep me from ever trying to end my life again. They may sound too simple…even naive especially to a person who feels they have nothing to lose and can’t spend another minute ‘awake’ in their nightmare. It’s true, but I hope you can take it from me that no matter how small the roots of these thoughts are…they can grow into a tree that bears eternal hope. Thinking this way is truly a learning process in itself and I pray for you to get there and also find specifically what works for you. I don’t mean to suggest that your pain will end like it never happened. It will take time to let go of suicidal thoughts, but you can move on to a happier life!
My 3 Pillars
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day for a reason. Why do I highlight prevention? – Because I want to make a very clear distinction that appears to be lacking on this topic. Maybe this is because we’re afraid to say it but I think it’s more dangerous to not discuss it.
Suicidal thoughts, in and of themselves, are not lethal. What leads to death is acting on suicidal thoughts. This might seem like a stupid and unimportant distinction but I think that’s far from the truth. Most people have thoughts about suicide…what differs is the degree and the level of intent. Why is this important?
Sometimes we face things in life that are truly terrible. Whether there is a trigger or not, we can experience an amount of pain that makes us consider suicide. It may be a quickly dismissed thought or, it can develop into a seemingly obvious solution; the fastest way out. It might even seem like the only way out. What then, is the solution?
I can definitely tell you what the solution isn’t, and that’s keeping these thoughts to ourselves! If we keep them inside, all they do is fester. A passing thought can become a regular occurence which can lead to reserving suicide as a backup option. Where can it go from there? Into planning and then potentially, action. I think the very best thing we can do to collectively prevent suicide is to STOP BEING AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT IT! If a suicidal person feels that sharing their thoughts will only bring more pain, (in the shape of judgment, criticism, blame, guilt, etc.), that person definitely won’t want to speak about it. This is why I’m so focussed on the distinction between thoughts and action: If we can break the link between the thoughts and action early enough, it doesn’t have to result in tragedy. If we embrace this difficult discussion instead of shying away from it, we can avoid the more painful consequence of it being too late. If anything, someone who speaks up about their suicidal thoughts is to be greatly admired! The dark passenger I wrote about can’t be as strong if there are other voices to counteract it. If our own internal voice isn’t strong enough at the time to fight, the best recourse is to add allies on our side!
What Can We do for Each Other to Open This Crucial Dialogue?
- Frequently check in with the person who is struggling.
- Let them know that you are there and won’t judge them.
- Don’t avoid the world suicide; ask a direct question.
“Are you thinking about suicide? I know that you’re really suffering and I understand if it seems like your only way out right now. I don’t blame you at all if that’s how you feel…I just need you to know that I’m here for you and there are so many better solutions. Please let me in so that we can find another option. You’re not in this alone and I will do everything I can to help you.”
- Pay attention to the way the person is speaking and/or acting.
- Voice suicidal thoughts right after they occur: Don’t wait because you don’t think it isn’t ‘serious’ enough. No matter what your level of intention, tell someone! It is NEVER ‘not serious enough’.
- Pick at least one person you feel safe with to be your rock. This means that you keep them updated on how you feel. If your suicidal thoughts continue, increase, intensify or you start making plans, tell them immediately.
- Seek professional help. Do not wait. You aren’t a waste of time, you’re not taking away from people who ‘need help more’, you’re not weak and you absolutely deserve help overcoming this!
- Stop school / work / other responsibilities BEFORE things get to their worst. If things are too overwhelming, find someone who can help you pause life while you regain your health.
- Please, please, please don’t give up on the idea of talking to someone or seeking help if you have a bad experience with someone. Some people are ignorant, judgmental and insensitive but I promise you that this isn’t everybody!
- BEFORE you reach a crisis moment where you seriously contemplate suicide, have helplines preset and accessible at all times.
- Before you act on any self-destructive urge, make the promise to yourself that you will call/seek help before anything else.
We Have to Break the Cycle Early!
We Never Know What’s Just Around the Corner
I’m sure you’ve heard this before but I for one dismissed its importance only to come full circle and realize how very true it is.
What Was Around My Corner
I never would have imaged that a 6.4lb furry bundle of love and joy would save my life…but she did. And nothing has been the same since. I am speaking of Mia of course, my little Yorkie. She is my angel and my miracle. I know I’ve already written about how we met, but I’ll give you a condensed version.
11 days prior to the day we met, I had my most serious suicide attempt. If I hadn’t been taken to the hospital, there’s no doubt that I would have died. Now, over a year later, I’m incredibly grateful that I didn’t. Just 11 days after one of the lowest points of my life, my dad and I were in the car. We saw this tiny puppy in the middle of the street where she nearly got hit by the cars in front of us. My dad pulled over and I jumped out. I called to this tiny little thing…wet, muddy, very skinny and shaking like a leaf. The moment I picked her up and we looked into each others eyes, everything changed. I saw both her fear and her tremendous capacity for love and affection. Her eyes mirrored how I’d been feeling for years: Full of love but confused with pain and fear. In that moment I chose to be her ‘mother’. To protect her, to comfort her, to help her become healthy again and fill her life with happiness. What I didn’t know was that by choosing her, I was also choosing myself. Now that I can think more clearly, I see the huge connection. Why would I ever give up on her? She was in a bad place…not permanently broken. I think on some level I realized the same thing about myself, though it took a very long time to reach that point. I subconsciously chose that we would improve our lives together.
We almost lost each other after that when her owner was found and I brought her back. Only when my heart felt ripped apart by our separation did I realize that it had been starting to heal because of her. That night I couldn’t sleep and prayed for 4 straight hours. To what? To whom? Anyone/Everyone/Everything that may or may not be out there. By the fortune of the Universe, we were brought back together when Mia’s owner sold her to me. I asked to be kept in mind if ever he would ever choose to sell her, and he agreed to within the hour. I don’t fully know why, but I am simply immensely grateful.
While it would seem like my dad and I saved her, even more true is that she saved me. We saved each other. Here is a before and after photo of Mia and I; I think it summarizes the change better than I could ever do justice to.
The Next Corner
Because I was fortunate enough to make it around the corner and meet my little Mia Muffin, I had enough strength to make it around other corners. That’s not to say that I didn’t consider suicide or engage in self-destructive behaviour – I did. Nevertheless, I knew I had to keep going. Before Mia I had no idea why I should move forwards, but Muffin gave me strength to keep faith. If I hadn’t kept going, I wouldn’t be writing for you in this moment. That was my next ‘around the corner’. I finally discovered – after years and years without passion – my true calling. To write…to share what happened to me…to share what I continue to face. This brings tremendous meaning to my life; it feels like a specially endowed responsibility to break the silence and do my part, even if it’s very small in light of the huge picture. But, I’ve learned that there’s something amazing about being small. Feeling insignificant used to make me feel severely depressed. Now I realize that it’s only when we’re small do we have the most available doors to open! To me, being a tiny speck isn’t so depressing anymore. It’s freeing! I have a world of options…a great distance of potential to learn, to improve, to evolve. Our capacity to do so is perhaps one of the greatest gifts in life. Now that I’ve learned so much, I’m not about to cut that short.
The last pillar I want to write about is love. Don’t worry – this isn’t a Disney movie. I just want to say that if you feel like you don’t have much love in your life right now, it can and will come! It can also come in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times. A constant in the Universe is change, which means that no state is permanent. In your own time, love will be found.
If you do have love in your life but your mental struggles have been eating away at your relationships…this too isn’t permanent. I can tell you from personal experience that nothing will make your loved ones happier than you staying around and recovering. Once again, this isn’t easy. However it is absolutely doable! I felt like I was ruining some relationships, worsening a terrible distance growing between us. Let me assure you that love doesn’t disappear…it sometimes just needs to be refortified. By working on myself and moving forwards even when I didn’t know why, things have gotten better and continue to.
Life is too short to think about ending it. What really matters, is how we can LIVE it. We may be in darkness and sometimes it can last a long time…but I firmly believe that we can ALL reach the light again with the proper support and a solid commitment to stay in the fight. It is NOT your time, and you CAN survive this! Don’t take it from me…take it from these people who were so brave. People who seriously considered suicide and/or tried to commit suicide. Who were brave enough to step forwards and add their name or initials to my initiative. Each one of these people felt like you did…some still do. But they are HERE. They are fighting. They are us and we are them. Be a name on this list – don’t be a tragic statistic. There is so much more to life than what you’re experiencing now…and you deserve to live long enough to see it. Stay strong and please know that each and every one of us is rooting for you. The next time you consider suicide, look at this poster. Take a look at all the people who MADE it. You most definitely can too!
Our Suicide Survivor Poster:
Today, I can’t imagine leaving my loved ones. There is always HOPE! As long as you’re still breathing…ALWAYS HOPE.”
I almost took my life last year, but my friend knew my vibes were off so she called me and just talked to me. I ended up going home and having a bath.” (J.)
I have had suicidal thoughts since my teens…I am now 47 and still have the odd suicidal thought. Life is worth living absolutely!!!” (Nanci-Jean)
My name is Kekepania and I have contemplated suicide. But I am STILL HERE!!! Resilient, strong & relentless!”
I am trying every day!” (C.R.)
One Last Thing:
What I find incredibly fitting, though I didn’t time it this way on purpose, is that I got an extremely meaningful tattoo yesterday. It’s a Phoenix and I’m proud to say that I drew it myself. It’s perfect for today and perfect for me…the Phoenix is a beautiful mythical bird that is born, grows strong and beautiful, burns to ashes and is reborn again. This tattoo will forever remind me that I can always renew…even if I’ve crumbled to ashes. I have reached huge lows, but I have survived. I am regrowing…I am reforming myself. I am rising from my ashes – as we ALL can!
A tremendous thank you to everyone who has contributed to this initiative. You are all so brave, so strong and I am proud to call us a family of survivors. A special thank you to those who shared my posts and helped me get more names/initials for the project! Thank you Michelle, Talk & Shine, Jaz, Cheryl, Ash, Jessica and Liz!
This project is continuing beyond September 10th, as it should, because suicide prevention and mental health is most definitely NOT a one day thing! I welcome more names/initials and contributions of any kind with open arms and tremendous gratitude.