In the wake of celebrity suicides, the topic always becomes hot, which is wonderful. This is something we should be discussing and these instances have proven the only time we have a general talk about the ins and outs of depression, self delivery, and all the shrapnel that surrounds the core event of someone taking their life. Seeing people share crisis hotlines and stories of their own experiences with suicide is powerful and beautiful. Cathartic for them and helpful to those who may be suffering and at a loss for a friendly voice in the dark. But there are some things that I haven’t seen discussed, or not discussed much, and they are vital to the dialogue.
THE MYTH OF REACHING OUT FOR HELP
Depression has no playbook, so there are no concrete steps to the process we all can keep en eye out for. No suicide warning sign flowchart on the wall next to the bathroom at restaurants or in hotel rooms. We can spot changes in behavior in someone, but when it comes to moments of desperation, and especially when a person is awash in the deepest depths, the changes within may not fall within view. They may seem absolutely normal on the surface, or they may be withdrawn. It is common for someone who has decided to take their life to not only act normal, but cheery even in their final days as they walk past their own point of no return and out into the eternity of their choice. This is different for everyone and you shouldn’t expect to see THAT ONE THING that tips you off to something big about to happen.
The other day I read an impassioned piece from someone “to” Robin Williams about how he should have reached out and asked for help. How he had so many people around him who loved him and would have helped. This is instinct, and in a normal situation where a problem is at hand, reaching out to loved ones would be the thing to do. But when you reach a point where life is not a road ahead, but rather a short term checklist of final chores and moments and actions, reaching out is irrelevant. The input of others is irrelevant. You are beyond wanting anyone to interfere, and talking about what is happening opens the doors to the possibility that your final days could be spent in battle trying to get somewhere alone and find peace. For many, there is no reaching out because that concept leaves the vocabulary once the decision to die enters.
This just means that you cannot expect a loved one to have that moment where they pull you aside and explain their plan. They may not lift the veil on their melancholy because darkness is the womb in which they may feel most at peace. Compare it to an elderly person’s final days when they know they are nearing the end. Would they want those hours full of chaos and tears and arguing and hospitals, or quiet, calm, serenity and enjoying the things and places they hold most sacred?
If you are watching someone you think may be headed in that direction, approach them about it and have a conversation. Just listen. Let them have all the space and time they need to let their feelings and stories unfold. It may be just what they need. It may not do anything.
THE BURDEN OF BEING A BURDEN
“I wish he would have called on that day…”
For many, part of living with depression is the feeling of being a burden to friends. We may be imploding internally and may want to have conversations with someone about what is going on, but after a few instances of being the downer in the room, we start to feel guilt about even bringing it up. In high school a friend once referred to me as “Prince Valium” because of my dour demeanor. I wasn’t trying to ruin anything. I just had so many storm clouds rolling around in my head that what came out of my mouth was often rain. I couldn’t help it because it was all I was facing day in and day out. So I thought it best to shut up about it.
Nobody wants to be an albatross, but for many folks with depression, they feel like they are just that to those around them. This is why many withdrawal from social settings and start retreating back into themselves and a more spartan way of living. It feels terrible to have conversation after conversation with someone where the focus is on your issues. Whether they are on the other end of the line in annoyed silence, or considerate concern, over time these chats become a monotonous dirge. It is much easier to just not talk, or at least not talk about the depression, in effort not to throw extra weight onto the people around us who are surely already dealing with things themselves. For the depressed, it can feel selfish and less helpful than harmful.
EVERYONE ULTIMATELY WANTS TO GROW OLD
They don’t. The hard truth is that some are ready to go at a certain point, and self delivery is their way to do that. Everyone is on a different path, and not everyone’s path is long. Just like the things we do in life, death can be a choice, too.
WE LOST SO MUCH WITH THEIR PASSING
This one pertains to entertainers, where the most common thing shared in the wake of their suicides is about how “we” (the general entertainment consuming public) “lost” something in their death. We are missing out on all the movies/albums/whatevers that could have come had this person lived out a longer life.
We know of the deceased because of their work, and we care about them because of all they have given and created. It seems a waste to spend the moments after their passing mourning what never was instead of celebrating what actually is. They spent their careers, and often lives, giving completely of themselves for us, and we have a body of work to return to again and again should we so desire. They gave so much and owed us nothing.
I WISH THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN WARNING SIGNS
They are there. They might be few, and may be subtle, but in hindsight most people who die by their own hand did leave a trail of hints along the way, often without knowing they were doing so. A post on social media here. A joke to friends there. As mentioned earlier, there isn’t a playbook, but if you see something out of place from a friend, take it seriously and reach out to them. Even if it is via text, email or phone call. It doesn’t have to be showing up at their door with a box of tissues and chocolates. It is easy to feel alone when you are down, and sometimes a simple hello from a friend can elevate a moment. A good conversation can go even further.
SUICIDE IS ALWAYS PREVENTABLE
It isn’t. BUT if your trust your instincts when you see someone downshifting into behavior out of character, you may be able to help guide them to new perspectives and feelings by simply showing them you are there and you will never judge them and by telling them how much you love them.
They love you too. No matter what happens.
The national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255