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.
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.
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:
- Raise awareness that suicide is preventable
- Improve education about suicide
- Spread information about suicide awareness
- 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).
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.
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