Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Experiencing Death V: Suicide

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. In this time when our society is still laden with bullying and inequality, it’s important for us all to recognize that for some people, this door may feel like the only help left to them. I don’t say that lightly. Suicide is a choice that has touched the lives of most of the people I know. It’s a choice we don’t talk about. It darkens our days and we hold it at bay, unwilling to face the truth of a decision our loved ones made.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a wonderful organization that attempts to aid those left behind in the wake of such a misunderstood choice. Choice… decision… action… it feels hard to pick the right word on this subject. Bear with me while I navigate through this. In my own life I have lost nine friends to suicide. That’s nine family, friends, and classmates over the course of twenty years who have chosen to take their own lives. Three more who have passed from shady drug overdoses that may or may not have been purposeful, but that answer was lost with them. Some days, that is too many for my heart to bear.        
I have tried to write different posts on this topic but it is such a dangerous one. I cannot speak specifically to any suicide that has touched me, for the others who have been left behind still feel those wounds deeply and I would not cause them more pain. The things we cannot face become sharp instruments that wound us in their memory. And to those of you who understand that sentiment, I say from my own experience, face the memory and see its truth. Once through the pain, there will be peace.
The first suicide I faced was when I was 14. One of the reasons I exited the institution of the Catholic Church was because the priest could give me no comfort. I was trying to understand the mindset of my friend, who sought me out after months of no communication just before he took his life. I didn’t understand and I blamed myself. What I thought was him reaching out to me was him putting affairs in order. Not that either of us could have known that at that age. But the priest gave a young girl who needed guidance dogma, and buried the hilt deeper into my chest.
There is always anger with suicides. There should be. But for me, under the mountain of loss, I come back to compassion. Anyone who has known their own darkness, anyone who has stood at the edge of such madness and felt the desire, even for a moment, to drop over the edge, must be the shepherds of compassion in the wake of suicide. For we have all been there. But those who take action are those who fell over the edge of madness into despair.
On the other side of that line, what we see as rational is colored differently and changes shape. I believe that some suicide is chosen out of a wish for peace, for quiet, for relief. I don’t believe suicide is about anyone but the person who takes that road. It’s not done to hurt anyone left behind. At the point of falling over the edge, it’s not about anyone else. I imagine it’s like tunnel vision. The people I have been close to who took their lives were all in a spiral of chaos beforehand. Even if we couldn’t see it until afterwards.
I believe that if they thought of us at all, that they believed they were doing us a favor by removing their chaos from our lives, so that it wouldn’t touch us anymore. But more importantly, I think to their sickened minds, it was the only door left to them that promised a measure of peace. It’s what I hold onto at night, when the darkness comes. In the silence of the night I wish them peace.
There is no way to ever prepare yourself for the loss of a loved one to suicide. I think the best thing you could do is accept that there wasn’t anything you could have done. Don’t torture yourself with what you could have/should have done, for we can never go back in time and change what has occurred. Honor their memory and their struggle against their darkness. Love them. Move forward in your own life and live. Each breath you take is for them. Each joy you feel is in their honor.
According to the AFSP website’s recent statistics, a suicide occurs in the U.S. every 14.2 seconds and almost a million people attempt suicide every year. Men commit suicide four times more than women, yet women will attempt suicide three times more than men. They occur most often in adults between the ages of 40 and 59.
Reasons for suicide can include a known psychiatric disorder (depressive disorders, schizophrenia, alcohol or drug abuse, post traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders), a past history of attempts, a family history of suicide, and individuals with impulsive behaviors. There can also be a state of suicide crisis, where there is a precipitating event, like some kind of severe loss, whether personal or financial. There can be a sudden and abrupt change in behavior including things the person says, actions, and the loss of their ability to function.
Warning signs include consistent low moods, pessimism, hopelessness, desperation, anxiety, psychic pain, withdrawal, sleep problems, increased alcohol and drug use, a rise in unnecessary risk taking, wishing to die, giving away prized possessions, and unexpected rage or anger. According to their website, the AFSP says that most suicidal people have some form of depression, which can be described as severe and consistent sadness. It can also be described as a withdrawal from things that once brought the person joy.
While one statistic said that a majority of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric condition when they take their life (of which depression is included), another statistic says that most people being treated for a diagnosed mental illness do not die in suicide, insinuating that with proper care and treatment the suicidal thoughts will go away.
If you believe a loved one is in danger, get help. Talk to them if you feel you can. Give them examples of behaviors that are concerning you. Let them be honest and don’t judge where they are emotionally. Try to avoid cliché statements like “You have so much to live for” or “Think of what that would do to the people who love you.” Anyone in crisis is in a fragile place and adding guilt and pressure to them could just make them shut down.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, tell someone. I would encourage you to be honest about where you are. Don’t be afraid. If those thoughts persist, get help. You are not alone.
·         If you or someone you love is in an immediate and dangerous crisis of taking their life, call 911.
·         If you or someone you love is having serious suicidal thoughts but is not in immediate jeopardy, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is available 24 hours a day, toll free and confidential.
·         Specifically for the LGBTQ community, call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386 to speak with a trained counselor. The line is open 24/7. All calls are confidential and toll free.
To those of my heart who are no longer with me because you took a door that only you could see, I may not understand, and I accept that I may never know why. My anger does not diminish the joy you gave me or the love we shared. I remember the good times and the laughter and the beauty in you that you might have seen if things had been different. I call on that light to outshine the unknown that clouded your mind and as I step into the world, I carry you with me, always.
May it be so.

Relevant Posts:
Experiencing Death: The Unborn Baby (published May 16, 2012)
Experiencing Death II: My Father’s Father (published June 13, 2012)
Experiencing Death III: Squirrel in the Road (published July 11, 2012)
Experiencing Death IV: The Body at Daggett Lake (published August 15, 2012)

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