We all know someone

RIP. You fought long and hard and we gained from your fight.

RIP. You fought long and hard and we gained from your fight.

This is one of those pieces of writing I have kept away from you because of this incredible pull away from ‘exposing’ myself in public. But I have come to learn that when the writing bug has truly hit you, it will create a time and space for you to share even your most intimate thoughts. In the right context. I published this piece online on Medium in June, I got about six readers and was secretly pleased. It wasn’t time.

With the tragic passing of Robin Williams this week I could not help but pull the piece from obscurity onto your world, with the hope that you will read and without judging contribute to the discussion on depression and suicide. I have close family and very dear friends whose lives have been altered permanently by suicide and depression and as I wrote this, I prayed that it would come out in just the right tone to allow them to read this and not have their pain made worse. Here goes:

I don’t know how I came across James Altucher, but I did. He’s one of those few people who’ve made millions of dollars, lost them all and still had the energy to make them all over again. And he had the courage and passion to write about his journey, in books and blogs.

One particular blog got my attention recently: “Seven things happen when you become completely honest”. He writes light-heartedly about anything. It’s not unusual to find a line in his work that says, “The last time I wanted to kill myself, I decided to….” Not many people can casually admit to ever having wanted to kill themselves, not on a public platform anyway. But he does, and he means it and he writes about it so others can learn from his experiences.

He says one of the seven things that happens when you become completely honest in your written work is people think you want to kill yourself because every blog or post is like a suicide note. That got me thinking. Why have I found it so difficult to put down on paper my struggle with suicide.

Wait, hang on a minute here. You haven’t let yourself fall into that trap have you? Thinking I want to kill myself? If you did, it’s ok, it’s a natural reaction, well almost because not many people bring up a subject like this in polite company.

James Altucher reckons suicide is treated like porn by most people. It’s not discussed often enough but when it is, there’s a lot of emotion and self-righteousness that comes to the fore. I mean, let’s face it: When was the last time you discussed porn. Almost never, because society frowns at people who treat porn as an everyday subject. Ditto suicide.

But sadly, we all know someone close to us who has taken their own life or attempted to. We all know the harrowing feelings that go with the guilt. Could I have done or said something to prevent this? Why didn’t they confide in me? Was I the reason?

I saw a little note on facebook recently that said “suicide is never the solution, it just gives the pain to someone else”. As someone who has fought this battle since I was about 10 I had an instant answer to that little note. Suicidal people are not rational, not in the normal sense anyway. Besides wanting to get rid of their own pain, they reason that they cause more pain to others alive than when they are gone. In other words suicide is chosen as a way out of what is perceived as an even bigger pain. Don’t try to reason it out, like I said, the rationality is not your normal straight forward kind.

Sadly, when the discussion of suicide comes up, there is always all-round condemnation of the person who did or attempted to. “I would never kill myself, life is just too good”. “It’s so stupid to kill yourself over a man/woman, I mean really? Just leave them?” “ There’s always a way out, all you need to do is talk about it”. “Suicide is the coward’s way out” and a whole lot more. Easier said than done. I’m certain the majority of people would be literally freaked out by a friend who comes up to them and says: “you know what, I’ve been thinking about taking my own life for a while now”.

“Please don’t talk crazy” you’d be tempted to respond. You would most probably be spurred into action by a lot of tears or some form of emotional breakdown. Not many people can manufacture an emotional breakdown so they can convince someone they really want to take their own life. So they normally just go ahead and do it, to spare themselves all the judgement and condemnation that society spews out.

Religion doesn’t help either. The condemnation there is double because one is regarded as having decided to play God. Worse still, heaven is supposedly not welcoming to suicide victims. So how does a well-meaning child of God raise such a matter and still feel holy?

I’m no psychologist so I will not try to talk for all people who have ever attempted suicide or even just thought about it. I just know what goes on within me and that’s what I’m sharing.

The intensity of the thoughts or ideation differs from person to person. Like I said above, I recall my first suicidal thoughts as having come about at age ten. I had done something I felt ashamed of and could see no way out of the situation. Yes, at ten. It all started as a silly feeling in my head. More like, would I feel all this shame if I was not here? And the idea grew. Like, honestly, if I wasn’t here, would I be feeling this shame and pain?.

The idea of not being ‘there’ stayed with me for a long time. Plus I was an emotionally fragile young person, I easily internalized pain. Whenever I was faced with a situation that seemed to offer no way out, I always reverted to thinking ‘not being there’ was the solution.

Somehow this idea of ending it all when pain surfaced got linked to my performance in life. And any perceived failure triggered the thoughts. I cannot remember the first time I actually thought an attempt through. Like think of a way to end it all and when. That only came later in life, in my late teens. I suppose it could be that by then I was exposed to things in life so even the ideation began to take form and shape. So I began to think of various ways in which I could end the pain. This is another thing that people get completely wrong in how they discuss suicide.

There are some bright sparks who like saying things like ‘If she was serious about taking her life she would have shot herself/thrown himself in front of a truck/drank stronger poison’ and some such nonsense like that. I know in my case it was important to me that I felt no pain. I’m generally averse to physical pain and whichever method I was to choose would include little or no pain.

And I constantly fretted over “what if I survive the attempt” question. The bright sparks above never consider that. Things always go wrong. Even in suicide. The one thought that I could never get out of my mind was how a certain girl ingested some poison and survived the attempt, but she went blind. I know it’s a completely irrational thing to ask you to imagine but try this: try imagining surviving a 10-storey fall or being hit by a truck and surviving or surviving a gunshot wound to the head. Highly unlikely but it could happen.

But the emotional pain from the depression grew stronger as I grew older. Pain stopped being a factor. So yes, even the painful methods were in consideration now. When the vortex of depression is swirling around you, escaping that constant pain becomes the only focal point. Funnily though, once decided, to end it all I mean, this calm came over me. It was like some pressure has been taken off. So you start thinking rationally but only as far as the attempt is concerned. Where am I going to do this? Do I leave a note?

I have always avoided going into how many times and when because I feel it detracts from the point I want to make. Whenever possible, wherever possible, don’t avoid talking about it. Also, either keep your silence or be kind when talking about recent suicide victims because you have no freaking idea who else is going through the pain as you senselessly declare: “only cowards take their own lives”.

The first time I sat down in a psychiatrist’s office and answered all her questions she looked at me and asked me: “Do you feel like taking your life right now?” I answered No because I didn’t. She said to me, “You are very lucky to be alive.” Medication and therapy followed. I’m still on the meds. Will be for as long as I live. The urge to go off them has been there before, but the knowledge of the pain that I went through without them is scary. So I take them like clockwork.

Do I still get the thoughts. Yes, but not as often as before, which was almost daily. Do I still get depressed, Yes, but I cope better now.

When I sat down to write this I had intended for it to be a light-hearted look at a difficult subject, and I could feel it getting away from me as I wrote. If it got you a little upset, believe me, that was not my intention.

As a caring friend you are probably thinking did this man ever attempt suicide for real. Did he get help? And just maybe, was it really necessary to share such a personal and maybe even shameful, embarrassing thing?

The answers to the three questions above are yes I did attempt suicide many times. And yes I did get help, and continue to get help. Which is the whole point of my sharing this with you. There are people like me who are born with a chemical imbalance that predisposes them to suicidal depression. And is it really necessary to share such a personal (and shameful secret), then you know it wasn’t meant for you, but for that one person who is going through a similar journey or knows someone who is. If just one of those people can read this and seek help, then I do not care about the shame( or your thoughts).

Lastly, should it be that you read this and were upset by how such a serious subject can be treated so light-heartedly, then my profound apologies to you. You obviously have been affected by suicide and are still dealing with it. My one lesson from all my attempts, nobody could have stopped me. It’s almost impossible to stop someone from committing suicide but I truly believe if we stop treating it like porn, a taboo subject, then we are well on our way to creating conditions where I could have just blurted out to my parents one day: “You know, I have always wanted to end my own life” and they would have sought help for me.

 

(PS When I read that Robin Williams was 63 when he passed I felt so proud that the man had fought this diabolical disease for 6 decades, and managed to entertain us along the way. Anyone whose thoughts are what a waste is selfish, imagine the pain he had to work through to entertain you.)

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17 responses

  1. I love that you published this, Sydney. Once again, your courage and willingness to lay yourself bare on the chance that it may help someone else is deeply moving. Your kindness is boundless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading Brandee.

      Like

  2. I agree that suicidal people are not rational. I think any severe pain overrides rationality. You just want the pain to be gone. That’s the only thing you can think of, is how to make it stop. People understand this quite well when it’s physical pain, but because emotional pain, if that’s even the right term, is something we are not comfortable with, we can’t put it into the same context. I’ve always likened taking antidepressants to taking insulin if you are diabetic. Why would you be ashamed of taking a life-saving medication in one instance, and not the other? Illness is illness, whether of the body or the mind. People with clinical depression need to have good medicine, and good, continual, follow-up care. Take a pill and get on with your life is not good medicine. You wouldn’t say that to someone with cancer. Depression deserves the same care and concern.

    As cdndirtbags says, you have great courage to put this out there. I think you probably help people that you will never even be aware of. People who read but don’t comment, people who are given hope by your words. Thank you for sharing with us, Syd.

    Like

    1. Thank you for reading and your kind comments Jean. It’s exactly those sort of people that I would want to read and decide to get help. I doubt very much that I would have had the courage to respond or comment a couple of years ago too. But I would have definitely appreciated the help.

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  3. Beautiful words. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Anke, my fellow mental health warrior.

      Like

  4. “Lastly, should it be that you read this and were upset by how such a serious subject can be treated so light-heartedly, then my profound apologies to you”. On the contrary I thought the subject was dealt with in a mature, insightful and educational manner. I will email it to a few colleagues who most likely encounter patients with similar, albeit idiosyncratic, experiences.

    Like

    1. Thank you for taking your time to read and deeming it worthy to share, much appreciated. Thanks for your kind words.

      Like

  5. Reblogged this on Constructive Critique-ism. and commented:
    Thoughts on suicide by Sydney…

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  6. Thanks you for writing this, Sydney. You’re right. When we can talk about this openly and freely, when we can see it as a problem that we all need to deal with, whether we are one of the suffering or a friend or family member, then we’ll have made an important step forwards.

    Like

  7. I thank you. I’m reading what you have shared with the public right when I need to learn about this subject, this illness. Someone very dear to me needs my constant support. Your sharing is like back to basics lesson. It will be point of reference when I’m all “rational” and I think to myself “if she can just think positive, she will get through it”. I sincerely thank you.
    B

    Like

    1. BM, thank you so much for reading. I’m glad that you read something like this and decided that there is a point of learning somewhere in there, a lesson that you can apply to that someone you know, because we all know someone who needs our support.

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  8. You remind me of when I was a teenager. A friend talked with me for a while about considering various ways of killing oneself. He decided that a gun would be best because it was irreversible, and most likely effective. He said that falling from a high place would be equally effective, but was afraid that a person would change their mind during the fall, when time stands still.

    I started writing about our conversation for a writing class assignment. I mentioned this conversation to a mutual friend. She freaked out, so I didn’t say anything to anyone else.

    I lost touch with him soon after that. I often wonder where he is.

    Thanks for urging people to talk.

    Like

    1. Thanks for reding Grace. It’s almost funny how one considers all these various methods in the quest to do it “perfectly”. Fortunately, I think it was my need or search for the perfect painless way out that spared me in the beginning. I think as the emotional pain increases this becomes a side issue. Thank you for sharing your little encounter that reinforces the notion that we must talk freely, always.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I can only echo Brandee’s sentiments, Syd. Please don’t stop writing about social and mental health issues like this one. Your wisdom and honesty take us to another level of understanding – always.

    Like

  10. Great you have written this. I would hope than anyone who works in the mental health field and anyone who may have symptoms of depression read Man’s Search for Meaning, which provides insights to how individuals can find within themselves the ability to find their own life’s purpose. The author of that great text, Viktor Frankl, was a reknown psychiatrist who worked with patients suffering depressive thoughts and suicide ideation. He also survived Auschwitz and devoted his life to given people the tools to help them make personal choices to find purpose that makes each life of value.

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    1. Thanks for reading Rudy. I’m well aware of Viktor Frankl ‘ s work and how he managed to ‘free’ himself from the concentration camps. Now that you recommend his book and it’s relevance to my situation I will definitely make time to read it. Thanks for reading.

      Like

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