In light of the suicide of Robin Williams I wanted to clear some things up about depression and suicide and the thinking behind it. I have heard people utter confusion as to why people who have suicidal thoughts don’t seek out help or reach out to family/friends for support…I have heard the comments about how “selfish” one is when they succeed at or attempting to (or even when they think about)dying by suicide…and how “cowardly” it is. I have heard people say that one who is depressed and not reaching out to loved ones is not thinking of others. I have heard how people don’t understand how one who is so “successful” and “happy” and “rich” and “loved” and the like can be so sad/depressed and die by suicide(or want to). I hope what I’m about to give you light into will help you understand a little bit better…and be a bit more empathetic to what people like me deal with on a daily basis.
I personally deal with the following: social anxiety, mild agoraphobia, chronic severe depression and borderline personality disorder. (Yes, I’ve been diagnosed professionally.)
First of all…we don’t see it as being selfish when we contemplate, attempt or succeed at death by suicide. Yes, we do think about our pain and suffering…but we are also thinking about the people around us. The people who love, look up to, surround, work with, talk to, meet with, and are friends with us. We think about you. We do. I’m being totally honest about that. You’re probably wondering HOW we think about you. Well…we are thinking a bunch of different things.
-We don’t deserve your love.
-We don’t deserve your support.
-We don’t deserve your friendship.
-We don’t deserve your admiration.
-We don’t deserve your companionship.
-We don’t deserve your help.
-You would be better off without us.
-We can’t ask for your help/support because we can’t burden you with our problems.
-We don’t want to weigh you down by our issues.
-Why do you want to even be around us?
-We can’t see what you see in us to like/love/talk to/admire/support/work with/etc us.
-We are ashamed of how we feel because we can’t explain it, or because it’s from a traumatic experience we don’t want to talk about (a PTSD case, for example) or because we know it’s not “acceptable” in the eyes of others (meaning we are considered “successful” as in Robin Williams’ case…so what the hell should we be “sad” about) so we don’t talk to anyone about it which means it just gets worse and worse and worse.
-We feel people won’t “get it so we keep it to ourselves…again perpetuating the cycle of depression.
So don’t feel like it’s a personal attack if someone succeeds at, attempts, or thinks about death by suicide and doesn’t come to you for help before doing so. It isn’t a personal attack. And it’s not them saying, “I’m only thinking about myself!” Yes…partly we just want the pain to effing STOP. But we are also thinking, “I’m tired of being a burden on everyone around me. They would all be better off without me.” It’s actually us trying to be merciful on all of you, just as much as it is being merciful on ourselves.
And to call us cowardly…well…instead of thinking about how we died so soon or tried to die so soon…think about how far we came while we had been in pain for so long. Robin Williams lasted 63 years. It takes fucking bravery to last that long. Maybe he wasn’t depressed for all 63 years, but I’m sure it felt like it to him. I’ve only been on this earth for 37 years and 11 days. But I can tell you that the depression has been with me for a good 25 of those years. And to me, I feel like I have been fucking brave. And it isn’t cowardice to decide that I’m just done. That I’ve had enough. Am I done? No. I’m not. But I think differently now. I had my time where I thought about it. Where I had thought, “Maybe if I took that curve a little too fast and flew off the road no one would know I did it on purpose.” But I rethought it. What stopped me? I don’t know. I really don’t. But was I being “cowardly” by thinking that? NO. I was not. Why didn’t I reach out? Read the above points. And when I did reach out…do you know what I heard? I heard, “Do you know what I went through to have you?” … “Do you know what it would do to me to lose you?” … “You have a good life…why are you so depressed?” … “Don’t be so dramatic.” … “You’re just looking for attention.”
Do you know what I needed to hear?
“How can I help you?”
“What can I do to support you?”
“What do you need from me?”
“Should I take you somewhere?”
“Maybe we should call a doctor?”
“It sucks you’re hurting. This couldn’t have been easy to share.”
“I’m here whenever you need to talk. Or even not talk. We can just sit and not talk. Whenever you don’t want to talk, just let me know.”
And if you don’t know what to say…don’t say anything. Just listen.
Do whatever you can to NOT say you’re sorry…because we don’t want you to be “sorry”…don’t be sorry. Say something like, “I wish I could make it better,” or something like it. But not “I’m sorry.” Because then we feel like we’ve made you feel bad…like we’ve done something wrong…I know it sounds twisted…but I’m serious…that’s how most of us think.
And most of all…DON’T make it about you. THAT is what makes people shut down…TO EVERYONE. When someone trusts you enough to come to you the LAST thing you should do is make it about you.
And DON’T invalidate them. Don’t tell them how dramatic they are being or how wrong they are how they are just looking for attention (ugh…especially that)…you have NO IDEA how they are feeling. If you don’t have empathy…fake it. FAKE IT. Because you have no idea what that person is really feeling. If they come to you…and you shut them down…more than likely they won’t open up to anyone else for fear of it happening again. (Take it from personal experience…it took me YEARS to open up to anyone again…thank GOD the next time I received the second set of responses, and got help.)
People don’t understand depression, anxiety, bi-polar, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, or any other mental illness out there. But just because one doesn’t understand it doesn’t mean it allows one to be judgmental.
Also, YOUR experience with a mental illness doesn’t allow you to judge another’s experience with it. I have seen and heard countless times people all around me say, “Well, I can work/play/love/got to school/etc even though I have depression/bipolar/anxiety/etc so why can’t they?” Shut up. Just shut up. Shut your big, fat, judgmental mouth. Your experience is NOT the be-all end-all of experiences. Would you want someone invalidating you? No. So, shut your pie-hole. Thank you.
I get that mental illness is confusing as fuck. I totally get that. It’s confusing to those who have it, so trust us when we say we get that it’s confusing as fuck to people who don’t! So if we come to you and you don’t know what the fuck to do…don’t worry…we don’t expect you to have the answers!! We just need support. We aren’t looking for you to give us the answers and tell us how to fix ourselves…in fact…when someone who ISN’T a doctor tells me how to “fix” myself…it pisses me off (sorry…but it does…and speaking to other framily of mine who have the same issues I do…it pisses them off too). We just want support. We just want you to be there for us. To sing our song back to us…to be there for us…to remind us who we are…that we are loved…that we are special…that we have talents…that we have good things…that things are just “for now” and despite how we are feeling it WILL get better…that although you can’t even imagine how dark it might be for us right now that you’ll walk with us through the darkness. I know people speak of “tough love” for people who have mental illness…that isn’t helpful. Telling someone who has severe depression to “get over it” or “suck it up” or something similar is NOT helpful. It often has the opposite effect. We tend to feel even worse…because then we get down on ourselves thinking, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get it together?”
So now you’re thinking, “So what the hell can I do to help? What is there to do when someone is contemplating the worst?!”
BE ACTION ORIENTED.
STAND WITH US.
What do I mean?
Be supportive – when we come to you…listen. Listen hard to what we are saying to you. And really HEAR what we are saying. Don’t make it about you. And don’t try to fix us. Just support us by listening and being there.
Be aware – like I said…listen and HEAR what we are saying. Watch what we are doing. Are we saying things that are inferring self harm? Are we speaking about self harm? Are we talking about life in a past tense? Are we speaking about a future that doesn’t include us? Are we saying our goodbyes? Most people who are contemplating death by suicide tell someone…they infer it or they actually speak it clearly. HEAR US.
Be loving – hold our hand. Hug us. Cry with us. Tell us you love us no matter what. Just love us. Tell us and show us your love.
Be kind – when you know that someone is in a dark place…don’t be hard on them. Kind of goes with being loving…just be kind to them.
Be non-judgmental – now is not the time to place judgments on someone. They don’t need that. It will only make things worse. Keep your judgments to yourself. And don’t speak your judgments to others…because believe it or not…they WILL get back to us (I have seen this firsthand in my own family).
Be action oriented – if you even have one inkling that someone is going to harm themselves or they’ve told you they are going to harm themselves…contact the authorities or if you have their doctor’s number contact them IMMEDIATELY. If you can take them to the hospital yourself…DO SO IMMEDIATELY. BE ACTION ORIENTED! You can save their life. Don’t sit on the phone and try to talk them out of it…or try and scare them out of it or tell them how mad you’ll be at them if they do it or guilt them out of it (see: not making it about you). Keep them on the phone as you get over to their place and do whatever you can to get into that home. If you can’t get in…do your best to stay on the phone as you contact someone who can get in. And when I say “get in” I mean IN THEIR LINE OF SIGHT. You need to be in the same room…the same room…their line of sight. Not on the other side of the door…because TRUST ME…if they can’t see you…they will still do it. Doesn’t matter…they will still do it. They will easily walk into the bathroom, take the pills, and walk back out like nothing happened. If they are in your line of sight…if they are sitting next to you and you are right there with them…it’s MUCH harder. They want to do this in private…because they DON’T want to take anyone with them (usually). And the longer you keep them talking, the better. Keep reminding them how wonderful they are…how the 30 year old them or the 60 year old them wants to meet them and tell them how much they are thankful they didn’t do it because they have SO much to tell them. Talk to them about their future self…a happy future self…I know it sounds crazy…but it has been shown to work. Whatever you do…get someone of authority to them as quickly as possible: Police/EMT…these people are TRAINED at this. Even if they say, “I was just kidding,” when you say you’re calling someone…people will say that because they don’t want to be stopped or they are embarrassed and are afraid of what comes next. Even if they were “just kidding” it’s always, always, ALWAYS to better to be safe rather than sorry. Right? Right. So BE ACTION ORIENTED!
In an Emergency, Contact:
- Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Psychiatric hospital walk-in clinic
- Hospital emergency room
- Urgent care center/clinic
- Call 911
Stand with us –not against us. Don’t tell us what we’re doing wrong…or how bad we are…or how we have such a great life and how dare we be sad or depressed or whatever. Just stand WITH us.
Some people have asked me how I’ve done it…what has stopped me from taking it as far as some have. Honestly? This is going to hurt some people…but I’m going to tell you: Princess. Yes, I’m being totally honest here. My cat has stopped me. There were days that SHE was the ONLY reason I was able to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. Not because I didn’t feel loved, or love the people around me. That isn’t it at all. Don’t make it about you, please. Here was my thinking…and some days still is…she can’t understand it. She can’t have someone sit her down and say, “She was sad. And her sadness was all encompassing. She loved you. She did, and she knew you loved her. And it wasn’t that your love wasn’t enough. It was that she just loved you too much and didn’t want to be in pain anymore and be a burden to you or anyone else. She didn’t want to keep bring everyone else around her down. So she felt there was no other way.” I felt like how could I leave her all alone? How could I leave her behind when I’m the only being she’s ever trusted and loved wholly and completely? How could I betray her like that? How could I abandon her? She loves and trusts Auntie Sarah, yes…but she still lies on our bed all by herself when I’m gone for the weekend and “sings the song of her people” because she misses me. She longs for her “momma” when I’m only gone a day. How could I leave her forever? I can’t. I won’t. I will never leave her like that. Ever. I cannot and will not betray her trust and her love. Not on purpose. And although some people may find that absurd…my therapist has told me, “Whatever you can hold onto…you hold onto. You hold onto that as tight as you can. Even if you have to white-knuckle it…you do that. If she’s your reason…that’s okay with me. And I can tell you this…that’s going to be okay with every single person that loves you and wants you to find a reason to fight.” And yes, I’ve found other reasons since then…other things and people I don’t want to leave behind: the 40 year old me…the 50 year old me…the 60 year old me…my framily…etc. Are there days when I still feel an all encompassing sadness? YES. Do I still have days when I feel like a burden? God, yes. Oh my God, yes. Did I say yes? Because YES. YES. YES. Do I still have days when I don’t want to get out of bed? Yes. Are there still times when I think that the darkness will never go away? Yes. Are there times when I miss cutting myself? Yep. Are there days when I want to binge and purge (despite knowing Sarah will hang me by my toenails if I do)? Yeppers. Are there days when I just want to drink my sorrows away? Uh huh. I don’t know what keeps me from falling deeper into the void…I really don’t. I wish I had the answer. I really do. I wish I had it so I could pass it along to you and every single person that struggles with this darkness. I guess I just keep thinking how I want to meet the older me…how I want to high five her…how I want to give her the chance to tell me all that we’ve accomplished and experienced…even if it’s super small stuff. I think about Princess…and how I just can’t leave her behind. I can’t abandon her…because like I stated before…she won’t understand. And that would make me feel even worse…I don’t think I could “rest in peace” knowing she would be so heartbroken.
But just keep in mind…no one has the right answers for everyone. What works for me, probably won’t work for you or the person next to you. No one has the right answer for everyone…but there is someone out there who might just have the answer for you or that person next to you…you just have to reach out or help the person next to you reach out. But if the worst happens…don’t judge. Don’t sit in judgment and call them “selfish” or “cowardly”. Be kind. Hurt. Absolutely, be hurt. Be sad. And you can be angry. But don’t judge them. And don’t ask why they didn’t reach out to you…because it had nothing to do with you. It was their illness. Not yours. THEIRS. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame their partner/parents/friends/coworkers/bosses/etc. Blame the disease.
To look for the warning signs: here is a list of what those signs are and the risk factors of someone being suicidal (please read this listing even if you think you know all the signs and risk factors…you might learn something new and save someone’s life): http://www.afsp.org/preventing-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs
For more information about suicide and suicide prevention (whether you are struggling yourself or know someone who is, or just want to know more in general) you can go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website: http://www.afsp.org/
They have a lot of great information to help everyone. They also have information on how to get involved in advocacy and raising awareness. This is a fantastic website for everyone.
Oh and one more thing…if I hear one more person talk to me about how “faith” would have saved Robin…or any other person who died by suicide I am going to start throwing punches. Robin was Episcopalian. Many people who die by suicide are not faithless. Many believe in God or another sort of “higher power”. It isn’t that they have no faith. It isn’t that they don’t believe…so keep that out of this conversation. Please. Please. Please. Don’t accuse someone of losing their faith in God/Christ/Buddha/The Goddess/Allah/etc because their mental illness becomes all encompassing. And also…nowhere in the Bible does it say that those who die by suicide will go to hell…so keep that out of this as well. It only says you are a fool – “Do not be a fool–why die before your time?” Ecclesiastes 7:17 So, again…not true.
NOTHING can severe your soul from going to heaven – “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
“And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.” Romans 5:9
It also isn’t about not loving someone enough. It isn’t that they didn’t love their kids/family/partners/etc enough. It isn’t about loving or feeling loved. I KNOW I’m loved and I love very much…but I still feel darkness and alone at times. I can be in a room full of people I know love me soooo much and that I love very, very much…but I still feel incredibly sad, and alone. It’s a disease. Again, don’t make it about you. It’s a disease. A chemical imbalance in my brain. Love has NOTHING to do with it. NOTHING.
I hope this gave you some (even if it was very little) insight into depression and mental illness. My mental illness and my experiences with it are not the same as everyone else’s. However, I have spent a lot of time in group therapy and speaking with many other’s about their experience with their illnesses…so this is where a lot of this is coming from. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.
DON’T TAKE ANY OF THIS PERSONALLY. Good Lord…this is not meant to point fingers or make anyone feel bad. If you have issues with what was said here…keep it to yourself. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t. And no, I’m not sorry. If you recognize certain things that I mentioned as something you may have said to me and feel you need to “explain yourself”… don’t. I don’t want to hear it. Just change your way of speaking and thinking. Also, some of the things were said before people knew what to say or what to think. Some of the things said were almost 20 years ago…when people knew VERY little about depression and mental illness. So again…DON’T TAKE ANY OF THIS PERSONALLY. This isn’t about YOU.
Thanks for reading.
And for my framily out there: THANK YOU FOR LOVING AND SUPPORTING ME. For being aware…for talking me into getting help…for being action oriented when it mattered…for taking care of me…for holding me up…for singing my song to me when I forgot the words…for reminding me that I need to meet 40 year old me…for holding my hand…for hugging me…for not judging me…and for figuratively kicking the asses of those that have…for standing with me…for letting me crawl into myself when I need to…but coaxing me out when you realize I’ve been in there a little too long. Most of all…for not leaving my side…no matter how long I go away…when I come back the ones who TRULY love me and accept me are still there. Thank you for that. You have no idea what that means to me. NO IDEA.
Much love and God Bless.