So yesterday was World Suicide awareness day and I sat down to jot some of my thoughts about it. It isn’t necessarily all recovery related though almost all of the lessons I’ve learned in sobriety relate directly to my mental health. My drinking was my attempt to self medicate, and I ended up addicted and with a multitude of problems that weren’t there to begin with.
A friend encouraged me to re-post it here in its entirety, in the hopes that maybe one person will read and feel they aren’t alone. So here it is. I would love to hear any of your thoughts and experiences.
If you know me well, then you know that I’m pretty open about my struggles with mental illness.
I really do try to find the humor in it, and do my best to be real about some of the struggles I have in living “in it” (not with it) Some of you also know that I am a suicide survivor. Today is World Suicide Awareness day. I’m seeing lots of great posts with advice, resources, critique of the mental health system etc., but also deep sadness, wanting to know how to make it stop. Obviously this is a very complex, serious issue that I can’t fully address in a brief FB post. I do know that almost everyone has been effected in some way by suicide. Your experiences and opinions may be different than mine and I would love to hear your thoughts. This isn’t going to be a “spot the signs” or a list of resources post because there are a lot of good ones on social media today, and people who are more familiar with statistics, trends etc. These are just some of the thoughts I have today.
I can only speak from my own experience, but need to say rather bluntly right at the top that when your brain wants you dead no amount of yoga, magnesium supplements, self help books, herbal remedies, prayer, meditation, alcohol, drugs, anti-inflammatory diets, essential oils, breathing exercises or whatever you throw at it is necessarily going to make a difference. That may sound harsh, but I know this because I tried it all.
You can have all the tools in the world and “know“ the right things to do, know about the hotlines and VA crisis services and text support and try to find meds that work and still find yourself in a place of utter despair. You could be a counselor, a nurse, a doctor, a psychologist, a trauma-Informed therapist, a seemingly super successful person, whatever. It doesn’t discriminate.
When you are in that head space you can’t see what the consequences might be to those around you because your perspective and your ability to look at things has been skewed by your faulty thought processes. You truly come to believe the voice in your head that tells you that your family, loved ones etc. would be better off without you. That you are doing the best thing by sparing everyone from your utter brokenness. It tells you that the amount of pain you’re in can only be solved by choosing to just step into that void of the unknown. It becomes seemingly the only alternative to sitting in your toxic brain another second.
When I was in that place there was no way I would’ve been ABLE to reach out to someone. Depression led to utter isolation and not letting on to anyone how I was really feeling. I looked functional and “fine” so that’s what I said I was. I saw the glazed over looks when people asked me how things were going or how uncomfortable they were if I mentioned I was having a bad time. They changed the subject or quickly gave me a “it will get better- think positive” verbal bandaid and that was it.
Those of us who struggle with mental illness and trauma in our backgrounds can get stuck in a loop at times. We need help to get out of it. Sometimes we need someone to sit with us and ask “is that true” and unflinchingly listen to what we say. Delving into that as someone trying to support a person experiencing suicidal thoughts means that you are in a place where you can be vulnerable and willing to accept your own mortality. Over time, people struggling with suicidal feelings or with managing their mental illness learn to spot who is or who isn’t that type of person. They are very rare. So, well-meaning statements like “you are wanted you are needed please reach out” don’t always translate to the person who is sitting on the edge of life and death.
So what can make a difference? Connection. You reaching out to another person and letting them know they are seen. Ask your loved ones how the are and really listen. Be willing to say “me too”, look into someone’s eyes and accept the darkness as just a piece of all that they are, don’t try to brush it away or tell them they are wrong to feel like they do. Remind
them they are safe. I fully understand that for many people who have lost someone, they HAVE been there, have been authentic and supportive and their loved one has decided to complete suicide in spite of them. I weep for you because it makes no sense. It is utterly unfair.
I do believe that shallow connections in this culture are engendering this epidemic of loneliness, isolation and depression. Our immediate tendency (which honestly, we are encouraged to do because our world is a scary mess lately) to numb out anything that is remotely “negative” with mindlessly scrolling, or video gaming or drinking that “mommy juice” every night, or self medicating with food, or preoccupation with changing our body shapes, or binging Netflix and YouTube videos, has led to a human race that has forgotten what it really means to be human. (Add in the relentless positivity messages that bombard you every day “ no bad vibes, think positive”—they oversimplify how hard it is to be a living, feeling human dealing with extremely painful things; losses that take your breath away, horrific violence etc all when you have a deep sense of being alone in a world out of control. Many of us have been told that our anger, our fear, our jealousy, our sadness, our indignation, our cries of loneliness are wrong. “Put that away, nobody wants to see that- good vibes only” So we stuff them down where they fester.
But those are all natural human emotions meant to be felt, just as valuable as joy, peace, gratitude, love, compassion, empathy. We are meant to be able to accept them, sit in them for a moment, acknowledge them, express them and sometimes, those painful feelings leave. We need the dark to contrast with the light. We are meant to live in connection with others who can help share our burdens, understand us in our deeply flawed but precious humanity.
You really want to help end stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide, then stop presenting a perfect facade to the outside world. I can tell you when I was in the grips of depression so severe that I tried to end my life, there was no way I was going to approach a person who looked like they had it all together. I felt utterly broken. What could they possibly understand about that? ( probably more than I thought but who could tell?)
So what did make a difference for me ? Other people being willing to tell the truth about what was really going on with them. My failures, the grief, the existential crisis du jour, the traumatic memories and feelings of hopelessness all became more manageable and lost some of their power because I could finally be seen and heard and speak about it. I found other people trying to live with a different sort of brain- there’s a lot more than you’d think (And ALSO therapy and medication and running all the miles, and setbacks and nutrition and prayer and nature and writing and meditation and yoga and support groups and coffee and lavender and all the other tools in my toolbox because those things are important). But the most important thing was connection.
There is still a huge stigma surrounding mental illness. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me “but you’re so strong and resilient and funny. I can’t imagine that.” As if strength has anything to do with it! Yes I’m strong, yes I’m funny (at times), and man, am I resilient. I’m also a complex collection of all the emotions and thoughts that make us human, just processed perhaps a little differently by my brain. For me at least, medication and therapy only works in tandem with staying deeply connected to people who “get me” and in my willingness to remain vulnerable and open to others. I still have some really bad days. It’s not always fun. But I’m still here.
I think the rise in the number of suicides in our world is a sign that our culture is sick— it’s a canary in the coal mine. The huge numbers of women whose lives are being destroyed by alcohol addiction is another. As is the opiate crisis and many other things that scream pain and disconnection that we see every day.
We are disconnected. From God, from nature, from each other.
People need to feel seen and heard and taught to sit in the “darker” parts of themselves and know they can come out the other side because they aren’t alone. To be told it’s ok that you’re not ok” and have that not be the end of the conversation.
#suicideawareness #; #connection #depression #bipolar #ptsd #recovery #soberlife