Reflecting on the Season of Suicide 2018 — Part 1 of 2
Okay, so I dropped the daily writing ball four weeks ago and still have a couple of drafts from before. I have three stories in mind. Onward:
Some of this post was pre-written in my head, some I’ve written on the fly and might keep being edited after it’s published. Warning: Heavy topic ahead. There may be some controversial statements too.
Last week I realized that the first anniversary of my niece’s death had passed. It was the season of suicides. In May/June 2018, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade took their own lives. My niece’s funeral was the day after Spade was found dead, but my niece’s suicide attempt happened the week prior. On June 1, 2018, I published this:
(Suicide.) What Does One Wear to the End of Life Support?
Trigger warning: This story discusses suicide and depression.
[Because embeds seem to not always work in Medium’s mobile app, here’s a link.]
Near the beginning of that post, I shared the following:
I’m going to be vague in the details because I want the deceased to remain anonymous. This isn’t about the who, it’s about the why. I’m not making any announcement on social media. There won’t be a memorial printed in the obituary section …. I’m not even going to share this post with my social networks. Instead, I’d rather let people find it if they need it.
…I fear that if I post an announcement to social media, it will become about me, and about people comforting me.
This isn’t about me.
This isn’t a cry for sympathy or condolences.
It wasn’t about me.
Also, in that piece, I discussed what depression is and what it is not (for example, the serotonin myth) and shared some statistics.
My thoughts on suicide
Over the last few days, I’ve considered whether my thoughts about suicide have changed in the past year. I’ve had periodic suicidal thoughts. I’ve gone through phases of depression for decades. Some of my opinions come from my own experiences with those. Here’s what I shared a year ago:
- On judgment:
“People cruelly judge suicidal people based on their viewpoint rather than considering the perspective of the person who decided that life is not worth living.”
👉🏼I know, it’s a challenging perspective to have if you’ve never been suicidal. Even if you have been, experiences vary. Not long ago, I read a post on Medium from a man (I forget who or I’d link it) who judged his past suicide attempts as negatively selfish. Before an attempt, he shared his suicidal thoughts in an online forum. In response, forum participants were antagonistic towards him. In his post on Medium, he shared that in retrospect, he saw that those strangers were RIGHT to call him out. If it helped him, then that’s the proof that their behaviour worked to help keep him alive, but I don’t agree that it’s right for strangers on the internet to take that approach. It can easily be mistaken for online bullying, which can easily worsen the situation. I would take a gentler approach. Compassion generally wins out over being an asshole towards someone in pain. You don’t beat a person when they’re on the floor.
Everyone’s experience is there own and thus valid, but overall, there’s a balance between showing support/providing resources and reminding someone that they need to suck it up, stop whining and keep going. The people with whom we have mutual love and respect should be the ones to take the more hardline approach because that established relationship gives context to their motivation. That is, you know they’re not jerks, they’re exhibiting tough love.
- On selfishness:
“The “selfish” part is the desire to leave the bad feelings behind and be at peace.” and
“And if suicide is a selfish act against the living loved ones, isn’t their desire — the desire of the survivors — to hold onto their suffering loved one selfish as well? I’m not judging this as good or bad; I’m simply saying. Maybe, after doing all we can to help, the selfless thing to do is to let them go and then use that tragedy to educate others and to find motivation in our own lives to help people and help repair the world.”
👉🏼I still maintain this.
In a followup post (based on a Facebook update) I wrote this:
Leaving someone behind doesn’t mean that the deceased didn’t love their family or didn’t consider them, it means that the pain was too much and they chose to end their suffering. They couldn’t get help when they needed it, or they refused help. Maybe they didn’t want help, or they got the wrong kind of support. You never know what’s going on behind a smile.
👉🏼I still agree with Past Andrea on this and continue to witness that last part. Smiling through is human nature.
- On finding peace (from that first post):
“I intensely wish that my loved one found peace in her life, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the pain, the torment is too much to bear, and we have to let them go. Maybe you can push through your misery, but not everyone feels they can. Perhaps she could have gotten past her torment and gotten well if _______ [fill in the blank with “would have, should have, could have”], but she didn’t. Her demons were too strong, and she didn’t get the kind of help she needed, the kind of help that worked.”
👉🏼This line of thinking has evolved a bit based on observation and discussion: There are times that we should suck it up and push through (do your best), but we also need to acknowledge when we need help and seek it out. If one form of support doesn’t work, try another.
The person who attempts suicide may or may not have tried to push through — every situation is different. Being “suicidal” is not the same thing as wanting to commit suicide or doing it. One day not long ago I said to my boyfriend, in complete honesty, “This is making me suicidal. I want to kill myself, and that’s not hyperbole. I won’t do it, I’ll get through this, but I really don’t want to be alive right now.” I verbally acknowledged the feeling and reality. If I was going to kill myself I’d have done it years ago. (Says present me.) My boyfriend calmed me down with reasoning. I know, reasoning doesn’t work on everyone all the time. The demons are strong.
Suicide is the last resort — like, the furthest point, the end of the universe. (Not pleasant, like The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Arthur’s terrible tea aside.)
An extreme form of self-care
Returning to the idea of suicide being selfish: To me, suicide is an extreme form of self-care. If a person is certain that they’ve tried everything to “get better” and still feels like they don’t belong here, if they genuinely don’t feel at home in their body and in this world, should we really try to keep them here, tormented, in what might feel like hell on earth?
I don’t have that answer. I do know that when pets are suffering, their owners “put them down” because the human owners can’t stand the site of their “fur baby” suffering. They claim that euthanasia is “the humane” thing to do. However, suicide isn’t euthanasia, pets aren’t people, and animal models aren’t always analogous to human beings.
So, is there a right answer to the question of whether we should keep humans alive when they want to die? You might answer, “Yes! We should make them want to stay alive, and that’s the only right answer!” You’re entitled to that opinion. Here’s a followup to that aforementioned “yes” that I imagined: How do you change someone else? How do you decide on behalf of someone else who is still capable of deciding for themselves?
And is “wanting to die” the same as “wanting to be removed from life”? It might seem like a silly question because the removal of life is death. We could get into the conversation of quality of life and about wanting to be removed not from life, but the circumstances of this world. Sometimes, when you consider this conversation, it’s a matter of semantics.
Having moments of “wanting to die” isn’t the same as “wanting life to be over”, literally. Many of us have occasional moments, whether it’s the “Kill me now.” hangover or post-breakup sadness (for example). A relatively healthy person won’t take that to the limit.
Pro-living and pro-living with ourselves
This is probably a controversial statement, but I’m not entirely anti-suicide. I’ve hesitated to say this publicly, but hear me out:
I’m pro-choice. As individuals, “my body, my choice” can apply here even though it’s extreme and causes a lot of pain in a lot of people. Suicide was illegal in Canada until its decriminalization in 1972.
Do I want people to kill themselves? No.
Do I want people to give up on life? Of course not.
Do I want individuals to be in pain? Well, discomfort helps us grow and learn, and we should lean into it more rather than avoid it.
Leaning into discomfort to resolve and dissolve it
Okay, this next chunk of text does abandon the suicide topic, but it speaks to the type of “depression” — mental anguish in this case — that comes out of giving up your personal power.
I know that sometimes the inner demons get the upper hand and that what I’m talking about here is not easy. Suicide might or might not be an indication that sometimes taking down inner demons is impossible. What’s “possible” is a manner of perspective.
If we don’t take control of our bad feelings, leaving this world can seem like a better option than living in it. At least, in my experience.
Pain and discomfort are part of life that we need to accept rather than expect that everything will be easy and painless.
However, I’d prefer that people avoid instances of pain that aren’t productive to their well-being or growth. If it’s destructive, address it. Leaning into pain, discomfort and “triggers”, rather than avoiding these, is a step towards resolution. Avoidance makes these worse and leads to more suffering.
We’re responsible for our feelings
I say this often: If you presume that someone “triggered” you, don’t put the responsibility on them. It’s not always their intention. We’re so self-absorbed that we often don’t think of the consequences of our words anyway. (I try to be mindful, but I mean the general “we.”)
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” — Eleanor Roosevelt
This is a controversial statement that people either agree with or don’t.
I agree that no one can make us feel an emotion without our consent and even if we do reflexively have that feeling, we have the power to change that reaction into something else, whether we choose to change it immediately, or sit with it. We can neutralize the bad into something helpful. We can witness our feelings without judgment and express self-love. We can tell ourselves that it’s okay and remind ourselves we’ll get through it.
Ultimately, we’re responsible for our feelings and reactions. Sure, get offended and tell me to go fuck myself, but then ask yourself why you had that reaction. Then, dig a little deeper and ask yourself whether there’s something within you that needs to be resolved. Yes and no are both acceptable answers to the latter question, as long as they’re honest. And if you’re not ready to deal right now, maybe you will be later. Revisit your feelings.
Look in the mirror
Look inside yourself to see what was triggered, to determine why, and see what you can do to resolve that. Current people in your life aren’t responsible for past hurts unless they are. Most of the time, others don’t know that they did or said something that reminded you of past trauma. That’s on you to look inward and appreciate that trigger as a self-management tool. Yes, some people are truly assholes. People deliberately push buttons, gaslight and manipulate. We need to take responsibility for ourselves and for healing ourselves. We can’t control others.
We often project our own thoughts and feelings onto other people and accuse them of acting in ways that people have acted toward us in the past or we accuse them of having biases that we have. We interpret the behaviour of others based on what we know, what we’ve experienced, and what’s familiar but truthfully, we might not know their motives. Do they really think they’re smarter than us, or do we think they’re deliberately making us feel stupid when really, it’s our own insecurities and feelings of inadequacy?
Take responsibility & step up, even when your energy is low
Leaning into pain is a tool. When you persistently ignore pain (and I’m not talking about pushing it aside to get through the day before you do deal with it, which is often a necessity to get shit done), it grows. The bad feelings fester when left alone unacknowledged. These feelings can become destructive. Imagine the analogy of cancer or something that gets under your skin.
When someone “triggers” you and you “give consent,” allow yourself to feel either in the moment, or revisit it later if the moment is not the right time. Revisit it.
Allowing discomfort has been an ongoing theme in the pieces that I publish to Medium. As I shared here, “Avoiding discomfort can lead to suffering.” Here, I quoted Howie Mandel: “I’ve learned to be comfortable with discomfort.”
I started this post with the following quote:
Every single human being you pass by today is fighting to find peace and to push back fear; to get through their daily tasks without breaking down in front of the bananas or in the carpool line or at the post office.
In an article based on a podcast discussion between Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert, I asked, “Why are we likely to want to take away someone else’s pain while dismissing our own experience?”
In a post a little over a month ago about my dog getting into a fight, I reminded myself and my readers, “All feelings, bad or good, are temporary.” →This fact about feelings is essential to remember if you’re depressed.
Suicide doesn’t happen because of one bad day
Suicide is complicated and messy and full of emotions.
I don’t feel like I should force someone to be in pain and torment. If someone wants to get better, they need to try to get better and keep at it, day-by-day, step-by-step, even if those steps are tiny, as long as there’s movement. Every moment alive is a win. But when it feels like an uphill, unstable battle and you feel like you’ve got nothing left, and you feel completely spent? I don’t know. We all get like that sometimes, but a person who commits suicide is different. That’s extreme. That’s an illness. That’s disease and dis-ease. It’s not simply the “happy/unhappy” binary.
We can’t assess the feelings of unwell people as if they’re equivalent to those of healthy people. Doing so is presumptuous and disrespectful. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re helpless.
Every case is different. Every individual is different. I wish that no one would feel the need to remove themselves from the world, but as I said way above, I do believe that it’s a form of self-care. It’s a means to an end. It’s an attempt at the ultimate relief.
I felt her warm hands. Her exposed shoulders were cold to my touch. I stroked her hair. I kissed her. I said goodbye…. I’ll remember the young woman who was sweet and kind and sensitive. I know that even though the world is emptier without her smile, she’s no longer suffering.
I tried to force myself to memorize what she looked like. I focused hard. I did not want to forget that moment. I have a terrible memory, but yes, I can still recall her lying on the hospital bed with tubes in her body, long brown hair flowing over her exposed shoulders, goosebumps. I wondered if she felt cold, or if she could feel anything. I remember her smile when she was alive. I don’t think of her every day, but I do so with love.
Initially, this was going to be one post but I split it into two because with every edit, I keep seeing the previous paragraph as a lovely ending, and the rest of the piece didn’t have as much impact. Part 2.