The Delicate Balance of Helping Someone Thinking About Suicide
Too many days I have wanted to give up. Say, why do I bother? Afraid of who I was and who I am and who I might become. Wondering if the feelings of loss and abandonment and sadness will ever shake loose.
The demons of my past cast long shadows that leave me fearful of the chill in the air. A darkness creeps into every crevice of my body. Some of the pain flourishes in the cool, quiet desolate spaces within me. And other bits of it await the sunlight to continue to mature until they sprout needle-thin roots that wrap themselves tightly around my esophagus and leave me struggling to breathe.
Suicide. Something often said in a whisper. Or not said at all. Because it frightens people. Because it is the unknown. Because it is an ultimate end. Speaking about suicide forces others to look squarely at a darkness that feels impenetrable to those teetering on the ledge.
The number of times I have thought about suicide are inestimable. From the time I was very young and thought I had already died and was dreaming about the horrid and sordid details of my childhood, to the present day where the option between continuing to move forward and allowing myself to fall into a deep dreamless unending sleep still surfaces, suicide is something that has been ever abiding in my life.
Generally not in a planning, thought-out manner, but more in a wondering, contemplative way. Because it is an escape when nothing else seems viable. A way to let go of everything that feels so heavy, so solid, so enveloping and so suffocating.
After a particularly difficult day of battling demons from the past and demons in the present, I found myself immersed in much more than just the grips of teenage angst and ennui. I was 14 and desperate, despairing and nearly despondent.
A dear friend looked me square in the eye and said, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary situation.” At the time, it didn’t feel temporary. And in many ways, the effects of what has happened have not been. But even as I waded through the labyrinth of melancholy, I did have to acknowledge that there was some truth to her words.
Things change — constantly, quickly, continuously. Without our consent or our acknowledgement, or even our noticing much of the time. There are ups and downs. Ebbs and flows. Nothing ever stays exactly the same, not for a single moment.
Depression can make everything seem sluggish and immoveable. It has the power to make me believe that no matter what I do or say, this desperation and sadness will remain with me forever. A dark spot on my soul, a constant companion that I have no interest in befriending. But how can we fully embrace life if we do not consider the implications of death? I do not believe they are polar opposites. Yes, death is the absence of life, but life is not the absence of death. There are parts of me that died long ago — some that needed to simply because there was no time or space for them, and others because they were violently taken and vehemently cast to the side.
So many, too many, people walk the fine line between life and death on a far too frequent basis. Yet it remains something that can rarely be spoken about or acknowledged. Because it does instill fear. There is too often a sudden withdrawal when we hear the words. Contemplate the possibility that someone would choose such an option. There is an inherent need to protect and hide from the possibility. Because it is terrifying to wonder what if, or to think that there was some point of intervention that would have made a difference. And what if we say the wrong thing or do a mistake. No one wants blood on their hands — figuratively or literally.
So instead, most people duck their heads and run for cover. Not an entirely unreasonable action, given the stigma and the fear and the disgrace too often associated with suicide.
But is there a middle ground where we can acknowledge the stigma and the fear and yet still engage with it? Is there a way to not only prevent suicide, but to acknowledge that it can be a thought, without having to be an option?
There can be a freedom in thinking about suicide. Because it does offer a way out, and for some, it feels like the only viable choice. When you feel trapped by darkness and sadness and unending memories and worries, just entertaining the notion can offer a flicker of light. Not one I would ever encourage anyone to walk toward, but sometimes having that choice in your pocket is enough to allow someone to make it through another, hopefully less excruciating, day… or hour… or moment.
During the times where I have walked along the edge and peered over, the people who have been most beneficial to me are not the ones who have said just stay, but the few who have been able to hold the delicate balance with me. The people — friends and colleagues and family and strangers alike — who could look me in the eye, see the suffering, acknowledge my pain, sit with the sadness and help me to see the possibilities and potentialities that still existed outside of it.
These people want me to heal. They demand that I stay. They see the good in me that I cannot. But they also realize it isn’t so easy to just be happy.
Suicide should never be the answer, but when the fight and the struggle feel like they are taking us under, it does still surface as an option. And it is one that needs to be acknowledged because it does not simply disappear when we choose not to look at it. It is a lingering thought I have learned to negotiate and never take advantage of. I have been fortunate enough to have people in my life who have taught me that when the currents get too tough, I can allow myself to flip over and float until I am strong enough to swim or able to find someone with a life preserver willing to pull me in. There will be those who will shout encouragement (and discouragement) from the sidelines. And those who shine a light to show the way.
But there will also, I hope, be the few who are willing to be completely immersed in the pain and the sadness, the despair and darkness, the depression and the ennui, and are able to help me stay afloat.
I need them all – we need them all – to help find the way.
Those who are contemplating suicide, or wondering if the pain will ever end, need other people, even when we least want to be around them. Even when we feel we don’t deserve to be around anyone. Even when our own self-loathing is so high we cannot imagine how anyone can stand to be in the same space as us. This is what we need the most — compassion, understanding, presence. Potent reminders that no matter what we are experiencing, we do not have to be alone and that there are always — always — other options.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
This piece was originally published by Rebelle Society for World Suicide Prevention Day 2015.