Reaching out when suicidal isn’t only hard because it’s treated like a crime by the system (people get locked up for being honest about those feelings). Truth is few people anywhere actually want or are able to be with folks when we’re in the pits of hell. Seriously. I’m not always able to do that for others either and it’s very familiar territory for me. So let’s be honest about this.
If you’re telling people to reach out consider if you’re truly willing and/or able to be with someone through that stuff…if you’re not then cut it out. If you’re not able and willing to calmly hold the deep pain of another, you shouldn’t be assuming anyone else is either. Maybe those of us who don’t talk to anyone when we’re in pain don’t talk because there is no one who will listen without judgement and terror. Maybe there is no one in our lives who can hold that pain for themselves so they don’t know how to do it for someone else. Most professionals can’t do it and the truth is most people pretty much anywhere aren’t very good at it and generally can’t do it either. We’re dealing with reality…sometimes there is no one to talk to because there is so much denial/taboo around death and dying, in general, and therefore especially about suicide.
When suicide ceases to be taboo there will be less suicide. Suicide should ultimately be a personal choice. I have wanted to die badly and spent a lot of time at certain junctures fantasizing death…but suicide never really felt like an option to me. I hoped I would die in the night. It wasn’t an unreasonable expectation given how sick I’ve been at times, truly on the brink of death. And so, I have, appropriately, at times wondered if I would make it through the night and fervently hoped I would not.
In any case having been sick in very extreme ways with pain most people never have to consider it’s become clear to me that suicide must be a personal right and choice. We are kinder to our pets when we euthanize them than to human beings in abject pain and suffering. Let us learn to hold our own pain and thus, in the process, the pain of our brothers and sisters too. If we’ve not arrived there yet then let us at least be real about the quandary our entire population faces when they’re in deep suffering. There are no easy answers. Trying to force easy answers makes the problem worse. We all feel alone in this world quite often…and in many ways we are. Admitting this, again, is just being honest about reality.
Richard Morgan in the Washington Post said it well:
When we search for answers to our pain and the pain of loved ones, we see empathy through the lens of danger and disease. We yell, You are not alone! Telling that to a person who feels suicidally alone is the same as asking, “Have you tried not being sad?” We are alone, all of us. Nobody will ever share in the experience of being me. I will never share in the experience of being inside any of my loved ones’ minds or hearts or souls. Empathy is not a cure for loneliness. It is merely a commitment to assert that other people’s loneliness matters, that it is seen and heard and felt as much as possible. — from Artificial concern for people in pain won’t stop suicide. Radical empathy might
We can all start working with our issues around death, too. That’s a place to start with ourselves so that we might be able to offer better support. We can start that right now. I’ve worked in hospice and with the death and dying off and on most of my career. It’s a very good thing to get familiar with the idea and the fact that we all die and that life is a mystery that no one understands. From that place we can start to more meaningfully grapple with the pain of one feeling like it’s time to die. We’re all in this together really. Grappling with the mystery and learning to be okay in the chaos and pain that is life.
We need places where people can openly talk about suicide so they can stare it in the face, hold it and feel it and come to their own conclusion. I’ve done that and am still not always able to be available for everyone in pain. (I also reserve the right to change my mind for myself). Everyone should have a safe place for this deep work and thus perhaps be able to not make the choice prematurely in despair.
We have a lot of work to do as a society before that will be possible. Until then I hold those who suicide in my heart with deep love and compassion while working on creating a world where those needs will be met.
Another piece about suicide: Suicidal thoughts are treated like a crime: that’s why people don’t seek help
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