Monday, September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. Because of this, I wanted to share a little bit about what brought me to blogging about mental illness. I never thought this blog would be so focused on mental health, but here we are.
A couple years ago, a mutual friend committed suicide. It was someone I knew and someone I had hung out with, but not someone I was close with. I may not have been great friends with this person, but it affected me greatly. It made me take on a new perspective in a sense. My goal became to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. If I could help one person view mental illness differently, that was an accomplishment to me.
He was a good guy. He was always nice to me; he alternated from making people laugh to making people think a little bit more.
When he died, it had been awhile since I had seen him. I had seen various Facebook statuses that were vague and all I knew was the someone who many of my friends knew had passed.. Some of the posts made it sound like a suicide. Later that night, I learned who it was and I was shocked.
I was past my first suicidal period at that time, but in some ways, I felt closer to it than I ever had before. It suddenly seemed much more real. Roles could have been reversed quite easily; some of the friends I was comforting would have been on the other side offering comfort and hugs to my family and friends. Some friends would be in the exact same spot. His death created a crack that would never be filled. On the contrary, it became a gaping hole with a beating, broken heart in its depth.
His viewing and funeral were the first – and for some, the only, – time I had seen some of my friends cry. And like I said, I was on the other side. At one point, it might have been very different.
In response to this death, I also became, albeit irrationally in some ways, angry. That anger brought me here. To writing this.
Following his death, I saw several people post on social media how if they had only known he was feeling like that, why didn’t he reach out, they would have helped, he was loved, how didn’t he know…? Often, we try to find reason and understanding in death. Denial and acceptance are both stages of grief. There is no understanding behind suicide.
But I had a feeling.
I thought that feeling was gone forever. The darkness had returned.
My experience was not the same as his. No two individuals have the same experience. But I could, in a sense, relate.
It’s a battle. And thoughts of suicide would be the equivalent of a sniper’s laser on you and the motherfucking big guns ready to roll.
Mental illness is a battle against yourself. Suicide is the ultimate weapon, the ultimate threat. You, or a part of you that houses the disease, are your own enemy. And we fight. Humans, by nature, are fighters. Fight or flight. Survival of the fittest. This is the ultimate test. It’s not tangible. There isn’t a diseased organ to replace or remove. It is your fucking brain against you. Everything you are. You fight yourself. How does anyone fucking win at this? Everything about you feels toxic.
And it can get to a point where the only way to win the battle is to be gone. Death means that there is not a fight anymore. Fighting makes you exhausted. There is no more guilt for what you are putting others through, no more feeling like a burden. And sometimes, it’s about ending the pain. No more pain. No more. Just – nothing. In my experience, I felt such extreme emotions or nothing at all. I craved normalcy. I didn’t think I would ever get back to myself.
War can make people desperate. It changes who we are. This mental battle is no different.
But yes, there are many alternatives and treatments and even hope which can seem so out of grasp to suicide. But the person is freaking mentally ill. They aren’t thinking rationally. That’s the first thing we need to establish. When you’re mentally ill, your thoughts are NOT working correctly. And this can result in a myriad of consequences.
“But why not reach out?” Dude, that’s hard. That is still hard for me. Reaching out is ridiculously difficult. It can take me days, if not weeks, to reach out once something is bugging me. And sometimes I just let it fester. Hell, I know I’m doing it now. When I was suicidal, I told one person. And that person was not the therapist or counselor I was seeing at that time. I don’t even know if this person knows that I didn’t tell anyone else at the time. I think others were concerned that it was getting to that point.
There is such a stigma with mental illness. You really don’t know how someone is going to react to any of it. Fun fact, the same person I told that I was suicidal was also the first person I told that I had depression after my parents. And when things get bad, they can get really bad. I don’t think you can really be prepared for it. I sure as hell was never prepared for any breakdown I have ever felt. I know how to recognize signs now. I know what to do after to help myself and the horrible headache bound to come after. But in the midst of it, I have no control. How on earth can I expect anyone to be able to deal with that?
Here’s my favorite example. I have struggled to get my driver’s license because I have an anxiety attack whenever I take the test. You would not believe how many people give me crap for that. They either make jokes or tell me to get over it. These things do hurt. I tell myself it’s because people do not understand mental illness but that doesn’t stop it from hurting. That is one example.
The get over it happens a lot. I don’t understand why. It’s funny, I’d really rather not hate myself, have anxiety that paralyzes and nauseates me on a regular basis for at times seemingly no reason, have it take all my energy to just get up and shower, cut into myself with an actual knife, and so much more. Really. I didn’t ask for this bullshit. None of us did. It was the hand we were dealt. I don’t know why, and I probably never will. But don’t tell someone to just get over it. Go walk on your hands instead of your feet. Let me know how that works out for you. I just can’t get over it.
Some people feel awkward when you reach out. I totally get that. It is a heavy load to put on someone else.
Other people scoff and think you’re being dramatic or want attention. Trust me, I’d rather blend into the background and not feel as if I am known for being insane. There are infinitely better, easier, and more positive ways to get freaking attention. I can’t even fathom how people think others enjoy beating themselves up mentally and physically. Does not compute.
I would give anything to have my mental health back. Anything.
That is probably not going to happen. Instead, I am working on eliminating the stigma for mental illness. That feels like the right direction. You might be wondering how this relates to him. We’re circling back.
So, people were posting how they wished he had reached out to them and that they were there for anyone who was struggling. The sentiment is sweet and sincere. But I know that often, when I want to reach out, I can’t. I don’t know how they are going to react. A lot of the time, it’s really hard for me to put into words how I am feeling. Ultimately, I am much better at writing how I feel. But it’s still so hard. I’ve been burned before. My feelings have been invalidated. Sometimes it seems easier to just grit my teeth and go at it alone. Mental illness can be a very lonely battle.
I had never felt so alone.
It can feel like the rest of the world isn’t there. It is not as easy as just reaching out.
This, to my surprise, made me angry. None of us had been in his head. None of us knew why he made his choices. But asking for help can be hard in general. For something so stigmatized, asking for help takes a lot of courage. To ask why will provide no answers.
I still don’t know why this made me so angry. He was gone. All I did know was that he had to have been suffering in horrible pain. I saw a lot of misunderstanding and many questions. And I decided that enough was enough. I hadn’t exactly hidden my struggle but at the time, I really didn’t get into specifics. But that was going to change.
It was time to do my part in eliminating the stigma. For him. For those left behind. So that less people would feel that struggle alone, and so that more people would understand.
I decided to post a narrative on social media about my experience with depression and battling suicidal thoughts. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what I posted. But for some people something got lost in translation and people thought I was suicidal in that moment. I wasn’t. That was a slight hiccup in my intention. I had to rectify that pretty quickly.
Some of the other reactions to my post were also unexpected. I had people messaging me telling me about their experiences with suicidal thoughts or losing someone they loved to suicide. It was a lot of emotion to take in, to be honest. But people told me they were glad I had shared my story. A commonly cited reason was so that more people could understand.
Even when you have experienced this type of pain from any side of the equation, it doesn’t mean you just are able to go out and tell your story. For some, it is too hard. For others, they can’t put it into words. Suicide creates an unbearable, unspeakable, and heartbreaking pain. I have loved writing as long as I can remember – and I do not think I can adequately describe how I felt when I was suicidal. I cannot fully capture its essence and the pain that goes with it. It’s a silent scream that you choke on in your throat. It’s a fire that fills your mind. And you want to be free from it. But it feels as if it has latched onto your soul. I’m still not describing it fully.
There’s a lot to learn from this. It is also really hard to understand how such an intense pain can be so invisible. For something so painful, it can be well-hidden. And how the hell is any of this supposed to make any sense? That’s why we need to talk about it, put what we can into words so that others can see what this illness means. Since this death, I have seen a former classmate commit suicide. The son of a former teacher. A myriad of celebrities. Too many soldiers and veterans. In 2017, more first responders died by suicide than in the line of duty. We say it needs to stop, we say that it is horrible and such a tragedy – and then we move on. We fall back into our lives, ignoring the issue until it hits our radar again.
Death, while a natural part of life, is one of the hardest parts of life to get through for those you leave behind. With a suicide, there is no explanation. There is no understanding. How can you believe that they are at peace?
Oddly enough, I think of a Muppet Christmas Carol (the best version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, in my opinion). Upon the death of his son, Kermit the Frog/Bob Cratchit looks to comfort his family, “It’s alright, children. Life is full of meetings, and partings; that is the way of it. I am sure that we will never forget Tiny Tim, or this first parting that was among us.”
He’s not wrong. Thinking that you had years left with someone only to have them taken away is heartbreaking. But trying to understand their suicide is pretty much damn near impossible, I’d say.
I don’t want to have to see anyone ever go through the pain of losing someone to suicide again. It’s a cycle, especially when it happens to someone famous. We saw that it is a shame, we need to erase the stigma, move on, and repeat. Nothing gets done.
There is still so much work to be done. Basically, when he died, I started talking about mental illness and never really stopped. I don’t think I will.
I know that it isn’t exactly practical to have a goal of completely eradicating suicide through education. But if I can educate one person who later makes a difference? That’s huge. Maybe they reach out to someone struggling. Maybe someone struggling learns that they are not alone.
Some might roll their eyes at me, especially because there is such a misunderstanding towards mental illness. But I’m stubborn here.
That December day, the world lost a great man. He was a unique soul; I can’t even think of anyone similar to him. His demons overcame him. The world suffers for his loss.
To me, its twofold. The world needs you. The world wants you to please stay. The illness says differently, and that is really hard to fight against. You think you are alone. You are not alone. I promise you.
I felt so helpless to my friends. I didn’t have much to offer outside of a hug. They were hurting. I didn’t want any of them to blame themselves. That’s what makes it so important to understand mental illness. I didn’t want anyone to feel the pain they felt again.
People wonder what they can do. I totally understand that it can be really freaking awkward. I know in my own case, that, bless him, a friend and mentor of mine often doesn’t know what to do at all for fear of upsetting me more but just wants to try to help. I get that I am an emotional minefield. We know it isn’t easy.
But reaching out can make one hell of a difference. It doesn’t need to be any type of attempt to solve our problems. There isn’t any miracle answer. A mixture of drugs, therapy, and other methods can take years to make a difference. No one is expecting a text message to be life changing.
You know what reaching out does offer? Hope. They might feel less alone. It might make them smile when they don’t know the last time that they did.
I think that there is a misconception that when you reach out to someone suffering from mental illness, it needs to be “I’m here for you,” “how can I help,” or “you can always talk to me.” And I think people can be afraid of committing so directly because they have a fear of hurting rather than helping. And I get it. This can be some hardcore shit.
But here’s the secret. A little bit of good goes a helluva long way. Starting a conversation or asking someone to get coffee can mean everything in the world. Seems too simple, right? We, as a society, underestimate what good can do. We are bombarded constantly with horrible news stories. But how quickly do we move on, and they leave us? We are more likely to share the feel-good stories, to spread that warm and fuzzy feeling to others. It’s kind of the same thing.
Or look at it this way. Think of some water. That’s the bad; the mental illness. Drop a pebble into it. It ripples all throughout. That tiny, seemingly insignificant pebble can impact a lot of water. The pebble is the good. It spreads. Its reach is far and wide. You don’t need a lot to make a difference.
There have been stories of a stranger smiling or saying hello to someone suicidal makes that person change their mind. I know someone who, with a group, was able to help someone literally in that moment. That little bit of hope. It is truly powerful.
The one thing we can’t do is question what would have made a difference to others. We can’t change the past. Instead, we move forward to remember them. It might be too late for them, but we can help others for them.
Together, we can make a difference. We can erase the stigma behind mental illness and increase the knowledge of others. One day, talking about depression and anxiety will be as nonchalant as a broken arm. Mental health is just as important as physical health.
The world is ours to change. I have hope that we can.