Suicidals rarely speak to one another about The Subject. To be fair, Suicidals almost never speak openly about their ideations. Consequently, I have little idea if my experience as a Suicidal is anything akin to that of others. But I do know that I have felt misunderstood by Non-Suicidals. Also, the few times I have read and heard from Suicidals - Stephen Fry's essay and Shawn Colvin's interview on Oprah to name two - I have felt the relief that comes from hearing from one's tribe.
In light of Robin Williams' passing, I'm going to expose my relationship to Suicide as a concept and as an on-going reality in my existence. In doing so, I hope even one person will learn something constructive. It's likely that some will be offended because several have been offended in the past. It is possible, however, that another Suicidal out there will feel a little less lonely and get just a little more breathing room ... for it's the isolation that is so utterly suffocating.
After yesterday's news, many Non-Suicidals (hereafter referred to Non's) have written and posted, "When depressed, call a friend."
As someone who has been in the vice grip of Suicidal Ideation all her life and as recently as May, I can attest to this: By the time you're contemplating nooses and knives, there are no appropriate friends left. Either you've pissed them all off, or the shame keeps all depressive thoughts hidden. If there had been a trusted friend or therapist, a Suicidal wouldn't have come this far down the road.
Additionally, perspectives on Life and Death are so intimately personal that most people cannot talk to a person contemplating suicide without being activated themselves. Then the tightly coherent Suicidal has to listen to a Non's flimsy impromptu polemic on Life. This leaves the Suicidal mute, unheard and unrelieved of burden.
I get it - it's hard to listen to someone who is having a hard time with the idea of living. But please don't be so glib to think that we Suicidals haven't already tried phone calls. That kind of listening takes training - a lot of training. In fact, trained personnel are often not trained enough.
Twice I've called Suicide Hotlines in the middle of the night, only to hang up on them. I don't know what they teach those people. Maybe you're only supposed to call if you have a gun to your head. But I deeply desired someone anonymous to listen. I just needed to funnel these inchoate thoughts into semi-tangible words. Instead of listening, I twice received "counselors" who seemed offended that I wasn't in the middle of my suicide plan.
Years ago, I met someone who worked as a counselor at Northwestern Memorial's Mental Health Hotline. He told me of a woman who called in every night as she was going to sleep. None of the counselors knew who she was, but they were all aware of this "regular." She simply wanted to say good night to another human being, and they were generous enough to let her. Technically should she have been using the Suicide Hotline? Maybe not. But suicide isn't about technicalities. It's about terror and fear ... it's the monster who is uncontainable by protocol.
I've learned to stop talking to friends when I feel suicidal. I only get responses which frustrate me. I get responses which try to fix me, change my mind, block me or shake me. I get responses which have more to do with them and are completely unhelpful to me. Adages like "We love you" and "It's not fair to other people" are not helpful when I am longing for relief.
So, what would help? What, pray tell, could a Non do or say when confronted with this knot of. Life and Death?
Well, first of all, it would feel so great if someone would just say, "You sound like you are in so much pain right now."
To know that I'm sitting with someone on the same page always helps me breathe a little easier.
And then maybe something like:
"I'm not where you are right now, so I can't honestly say that I know how you feel. I'm not going to try and fix you - if you're this far along, I'm sure you've tried and thought of everything. So I can't *do* anything for you. But I can sit and listen. If you feel like you're having to hold yourself together ... if you feel like you just want to let go for once, I'll listen and let you let it out. And because I'm not in your position, you don't have to worry about me. I'll sit and stay steady while you let go and get it out of you."
It is likely that many of us will know someone who commits suicide. My freshman advisor locked himself in a car and turned on the engine during my spring break. A friend hanged herself at the magic age of 27. Sometime before the age of 30, a slightly distant aunt drank insecticide and lay down under the enormous cherry tree at the family house. These are just a few.
And anyone in the arts will know someone who takes their own life. Why the arts? Because we are creative people who live in the realm of vulnerability and uncertainty. We embrace independent thought, and some of us will take it as far as choosing to take ultimate control of our lives.
Will I someday take my own life? I don't know. But I do know that I am solely responsible for my happiness, and I am the best judge of the best path. Some have said that they would never commit suicide because of the hurt it brings to others. But I also know firsthand that living out of commitment to others only breeds resentment and eventual hate. So either I live with inner peace, or I die. That is my commitment. And as a Suicidal, the fact that I get to choose gives me breathing room.
Robin Williams, Godspeed. All of Genie's wishes have now come true.
* I do not speak for all Suicidals. I only write for the illumination of a particular mindset which is not extensively covered in the media.