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10 Ways My Friend Goes Above and Beyond for Me When I'm Suicidal

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The first time Joe saved my life, he did it with a Post-it note. It had the words “You are irreplaceable” written on it, and he meant it. He handed me the note as I hurried off to a meeting in Westminster — a meeting I had no intention of attending because I had concocted a plan that would have ended my life during the short commute. Over the past few years, Joe has repeatedly gone above and beyond as a friend and on several occasions, I’ve had him to thank for keeping me walking the tightrope that is life.

I can identify with the words of Stephen Fry, It’s hard to be friends with someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do.”

It can be hard to be that friend, but to try and help a little, I’m going to share some of the things my friend Joe says and does that have been so vital in keeping me alive. Some may work for you and your friends, some may not, but I believe they’ll all give you pause for thought.

1. He’s quietly persistent and looks beyond the “I’m fine” mask

Joe is always there when I need him. He was the first person to realize my mental health was declining a few years ago and although we weren’t close friends at the time, he kept on giving me opportunities to open up until finally I did. Countless times since, Joe has picked up on the signs that all is not well and he’s quietly and persistently pushed me to open up and look for the support I need. He doesn’t believe me when I say “I’m fine.” He looks beyond the mask when others choose not to.  

2. He uses humor.

Even in the darkest moments, Joe has used humor (and “West Wing” quotes) to help to shed some light on darkness. Being suicidal or trying desperately to save yourself from self-harming or reckless behavior is no laughing matter, but being able to tap into the humorous side of things can really help to move the conversation forward. Joe’s humor also helps me to realize he’s not scared of the conversation we’re having and that I can be honest and say what’s really on my mind, no matter how awful it might be.  

3. He uses his knowledge of me to inspire me

It was Joe who first told me I should open up to my network about my struggles with my mental health. He suggested that in the long term, my experiences would be a strength, not a weakness. He knows I’m passionate about promoting positive mental health and if I’m on the verge of a bad decision, he often takes me down the route of an alternative decision — a positive one — and demonstrates how it would be great modeling to the people in my network who look to me for guidance. In the darkest moments, he talks to me about a future version of myself who made it through this moment and is using my struggle to inspire others to continue fighting.   

4. He encourages me to follow the advice I would give to others

Joe is quick to point out when I am being less kind to myself than I would be to someone else, or if my proposed actions are not those I’d advise. He often takes the words I say and asks me, “If a 14-year-old girl said that to you, what would you suggest…?” He has a huge respect for my knowledge about mental health and illness and how to support those who are struggling, and he does what he can to draw on that knowledge and use it to focus me when I’m drowning in self-hatred.  

5. He never lets me forget the pain my death would cause

There have been many days when dying seems the easy option. I often get to a point of genuinely believing my death would both end my own pain and relieve others of the burden of having me in their life. This evokes strong emotion in Joe who is painfully, brutally honest and always brings my children to the forefront of my mind. He reminds me of how much they love me and how much pain my death would bring to them as well as to my husband and my friends — including him. He doesn’t try to make me feel guilty, he just passionately believes my life has value and brings joy to others and he helps me see that when I can’t.   

6. He drops everything

Feeling suicidal doesn’t tend to work to a schedule. Many times, Joe has supported me through suicidal crisis when he really should have been doing something else (or sleeping). One of the lessons he has tried hardest to teach me over the last few years is that when I need help, I must ask. He has told me plainly there is nothing more important he could be doing than supporting me in a time of need and though I find it very difficult to reach out in those moments, if I do, he is always ready help me through minute by minute to safety.  

7. He listens, without judgment, to the things too awful to tell anyone else

Joe and my husband get on well and keep in touch to ensure my safety when it’s most needed. My husband, Tom, is grateful to Joe and encourages our friendship which I’m thankful for because while Tom is an absolute rock, some of the issues that underlie my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are just too awful to talk about to Tom. What often happens is I talk about them with my therapist, and then with Joe and then, once I’m a little more used to the shape of these words and feelings, I tell Tom. The fact that Joe listens with an open heart and never judges, offering only kindness where I expect repulsion gives me confidence that my husband can hear these words too without losing his love for me.  

8. He cares unconditionally

Joe has been there through thick and thin. I’ll be honest, I’ve not always been the nicest of friends in return because my illness often drives me to sabotage the things I need most to recover. But Joe is always kind and forgiving. He forgives me too when I stumble and fall into relapse, helping me to look forwards not back if anorexia takes grip or I succumb to the need to self-harm 

9. He looks forward

It’s easy to get caught up in how very difficult the here and now is when your whole life is ruled by your mental illness, but Joe always has one foot firmly in the future. He looks forward to the good times we’ll have, to the lessons we’ll have learned from this time and to how I can move towards a happier and healthier way of being. Sometimes we can look forward together only to the next minute — other times we can see years ahead. Joe lets me set the pace and he gently guides me away from the difficulty of the here and now.  

10. He is always ready with a hug.

Not everyone is tactile, but for me this is a biggie. No matter what life has thrown at me, Joe’s arms are somewhere I’ll always feel safe. Sometimes there are no words, but a hug from a friend who really, really cares, despite everything, can be enough to begin to slowly turn things around.

Joe is a pretty private person and while I often allude my feelings of appreciation to him, I have never spoken at length about quite the friend he continues to be to me. I’m overwhelmed by his kindness and often find myself questioning why he sticks by me, but he does. So as well as hopefully sharing some ideas that others might use, this post is also a big thank you to one of the most wonderful friends I could ever have hoped for — Joe, I wish everyone had a friend like you.  

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via contributor.

Originally published: September 8, 2017
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