The “Why” Behind Suicide by New Staff Columnist @TruthIsHers

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As a therapist and trauma recovery coach I experienced significant distress among my clients this past week. Between World Suicide Awareness Day and the anniversary of 9/11 social media channels and the news were filled with triggering articles, posts, statuses and tweets. As a trauma and suicide survivor myself, I easily identified with the jangled nerves and recurrent painful thoughts that my clients were coping with. I get it. In a million ways, I get it.

Following the death of Robin Wiliams in August and now with September being National Suicide Prevention month it seems a day hasn’t passed where I haven’t seen an article, blog post or television report about the “why” behind people deciding to die by suicide. Some are quick to judge negatively, labeling the act selfish and an impulsive, permanent response to a temporary problem. Others make a valiant effort to unravel the complicated knot of feelings and circumstances that tangle together to create each individual’s “why”.

In the summer of 1994 I tried to kill myself. I’ve always been open about my experience, and have tried repeatedly to explain why I made the decision to die by my own hand. I haven’t always been successful in having others understand my “why”, starting from immediately after my attempt.

I remember lying in my hospital bed, after I regained consciousness, with wires and tubes running amok over and around me. In the hallway a doctor who had just spoken to me was, in turn, speaking to one of my nurses. I will never forget hearing him say “She had a spat with her boyfriend. That’s why she did it,” I wanted to scream, “No! That’s not it at all! That’s not what I said!” As tears flowed down my face I felt so misunderstood, judged and ashamed. It wasn’t about a silly “spat”. It was about years and years of pain, beginning with almost a decade of childhood sexual abuse, continuing with my husband betraying me and leaving for another woman, and building into unbearable agony following my fiancé telling me that he’d met someone else.

Yes, there are those rare suicides that stem from jealousy, guilt or an impulsive thought. But for 90% of those who kill themselves it’s about suffering from mental illness. It’s about pain, long term emotional agony. Yet, many people have never experienced such pain so they have a hard time wrapping their understanding around that explanation. Without that comprehension they revert back to interpreting the basis of the behavior through their own life lens.

Ironically, the “why” and the tragedy of 9/11 have come together to give me the best explanation I have ever heard for the reason behind one’s decision to die by their own hand. I remember watching the television footage on 9/11. One of the most difficult things to watch was the people jumping from the World Trade Towers to escape the explosive flames burning within the buildings. There was no way those individuals would live. None whatsoever. It was heart breaking to watch.

The reason why those people jumped is same the reason why most people choose to kill themselves. They want(ed) to escape the agony of burning alive. It wasn’t that they wanted to die. That wasn’t it at all. They wanted to live. But to live meant to face the pain of the raging fire. Circumstances had boxed them into a horrific corner with only two options. Given that, they chose what they felt was the lesser of two evils.

THAT is why people choose suicide. It isn’t that we want to die. We just don’t want to be in pain anymore. I realize not everyone will understand my comparison between emotional pain and the agony of burning alive. But those who have experienced emotional pain, especially long term emotional pain, will tell you that the feeling is a similar one.

Escaping the agony of decades of betrayal and abandonment, which had me convinced I was damaged beyond repair, is why I chose to take my life. I had never known life without pain, as my abuse started when I was a toddler. I didn’t know what it was like to live happily or with contentment. All I knew was pain. And I had reached my limit of enduring it. I had tried treatment, but unfortunately, the only options available to me were low quality and ineffectual. After decades of pain, with no hope that therapy or medication would alleviate my pain, I chose the only way I knew would permanently remove me from that pain.

As a society we need to do a much better job of providing high quality, easily accessible mental health care. And as individuals we need to seek an understanding of the pain those with mental illness endure every day, especially without the high quality, easy to obtain, treatment they need. Circumstances often box them into a horrible place where their choices are very, very few. Judgment isn’t the answer, because as long as there is a negative societal judgment the worth of those with mental illness is diminished. In that environment, treatment options will remain limited. If we choose compassion I have no doubt that more mentally ill individuals will choose life.

Welcome to new staff columnist Bobbi Parish! I’m beyond thrilled to have Bobbi here every few weeks, and I know you will be, too. Please welcome her to RachelintheOC.com and enjoy her wisdom. I’m honored to have her and look forward to her regular contributions! 

 

Let’s Talk Suicide and Compassion

Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion

~ The Dalai Lama

An English fellow with a fairly large following left a stark, terrifying message on his Facebook wall last week, a suicide note: he had swallowed a lethal dose of pills, he had given up, he was done.

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Predictably, and with swift action, hundreds of people worldwide banded together to get him help and fortunately, help made it in time. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief. He was taken to hospital and it is our hope, got the psychiatric help he desperately needs. The wonders of social media — saving a life, yea? Lots of shit happens on social media — awful, terrible things. But this was one instance where I felt buoyed by the wonders of technology!

I don’t know this man well, other than a few retweets here and there and reading a few of his blog posts. We’re not good friends, but he seems like a nice enough guy who has been going through a rough time. We’ve all known rough times. Having compassion for another is part of being human. So when I saw people criticize him for leaving his suicide note on Facebook, telling him to just get it over with, calling him a ‘coward,’ and other such bitter ‘tough love’ armchair psychobabble, I was appalled. Shocked. Upset.

But not all that surprised.

SUICIDE PREVENTION

September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

‘According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 3000 people on average commit suicide daily. Suicide rates are at an all time high for veterans. In addition, for every person who commits suicide, 20 or more others attempt to end their lives.’

About one million people die by suicide each year (WHO). World Suicide Prevention Day, which first started in 2003, is recognized annually on Septembr 10. World Suicide Prevention Day aims to:

  1. Raise awareness that suicide is preventable
  2. Improve education about suicide
  3. Spread information about suicide awareness
  4. Decrease stigmatization regarding suicide

This is most staggering to me: 90% of people who die by #suicide have a diagnosable/treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. Youth is especially at risk (bullying, gays, etc. Read more here at The Semicolon Project).

MY EXPERIENCE

I’ve not personally tried to kill myself, though the thought crossed my mind when I was in the midst of experiencing the childhood sexual abuse I write about in Broken Pieces (I was eleven). It wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to recognize and admit that. Not because of the stigma — if anything, I’m an open book. No, it’s more because I didn’t realize that what I was feeling — that complete desperation of wanting to make it just stop, and looking for ways to make that happen — was me actually considering it. Looking in my folks’ medicine cabinet and opening bottles of mystifying names colors stumped that lost, young child. A good thing, I realize now.

Fortunately, it never went further for me, despite depression, anxiety, and PTSD — I sought help as an adult and continue treatment (medical and therapeutic) to this day. The few times I’ve attempted to stop meds, the gray closes in. So, I accepted long ago that I will continue to go with what works for me. Because, despite what anybody else says about me or how they think I should be doing things, my depression belongs to me and not to anyone else.

COMPASSION

A few years ago, an ex-lover shot himself in the heart. It was as shocking as you would imagine it to be. We hadn’t seen each other in over twenty years though we had been in touch. In fact, we had chatted that day at lunch and I had no idea that anything was wrong. Those closest to him knew though, and, as I discovered later, not only was he an alcoholic, he had suffered from depression (most likely untreated bipolar, given his predilection for high-risk behavior — drugs, bull-riding, black-diamond skiing, etc).

Many people who knew him felt what he did was incredibly selfish — he had a young son, debts, etc. I didn’t agree, and I still don’t. What’s lacking in that attitude is compassion, and let’s face it, respect. His burden became to heavy to carry any longer. It was his life. I felt the same with the fellow I mentioned at the beginning, as well as with Robin Williams’ tragic death. Who are we to play judge and jury with someone else’s life?

If someone is in pain and we know, we reach out. That is what good people do. Even if we don’t know what to do or how to do it, we reach out. That’s where compassion comes in. Being there is often enough. Calling someone names or making judgments about them says far more about those who say those things than it ever says about the person they are targeting. What are these people thinking?

(Compassion is my watchword for this year, and I’m trying really hard to have compassion for the people saying these really awful things, but I’m not perfect. They really pissed me off. The best I can come up with is that they must be speaking from a place of their own great loss and pain, and I hope they follow their own advice and seek help as well.)

Before you make a flippant comment, remember, this IS life or death.

We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.’ 

~ Paulo Coelho 

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