Saturday, June 17, 2017

thoughts on suicide

after a couple of high-profile suicides in my world, i thought i'd address the subject.

i've said many times that suicide is the saddest and most shocking thing anyone can do. if you've never seriously considered suicide, then, chances are, you can't comprehend that state of mind. it isn't something that just happens one day. it isn't the result of "being sad". it isn't because you couldn't get to a person "in time". people don't kill themselves because they got some ice cream on a hot day, but their dog snatched it when they weren't paying attention, or because they had a bad day at work or broke a nail. it can seem this way to outsiders, but, in reality, the camel's back is being broken by a straw.

suicide is the end result of a long and persistent struggle in which a person's spirit is slowly crushed by an existential hopelessness. it isn't a "solution" to anything. it's similar to being lit on fire and running, in a panic, to whatever is going to extinguish that flame. it's a desperate attempt to alleviate the agony of a dying soul.

i can't really say that "mental illness" is always the cause of the condition, although "depression" usually is. i guess it depends on how you define mental illness, but one can certainly arrive at that point simply by his perception of reality. one may see his reality as truly hopeless in the long-term. he may see himself as unloveable or unable to achieve his most precious goals. that can make you feel that your life is a prison from which you can escape in only one way, or a walled pathway that never ends and never changes. what's the point of taking the next step when it only leads to another step the same as the one before except that your feet hurt a little more? why continue walking?

i see so many ignorant platitudes about how it's never "the answer". you don't know what the answer is for other people. maybe it is the answer. imagine that you were seriously injured in a car accident. as the car comes to rest, you slowly realize that your bones are broken, you're bleeding at a worrying pace and generally disfigured. imagine the panic of that realization.

"am i paralyzed?"

"am i ever going to walk again?"

"will i lose limbs?"

"what can my life ever be after this?"

only you can decide if your life will truly be worth living at that point. of course, everyone around you will be assuring you that it is, but they don't know. they're only saying that to make themselves feel good, or because they think that's what they're supposed to say , or because they don't want to lose you, regardless of what living means to you. that's kind of how depression is. it ravages your psyche. the longer you struggle with it, the more damage it does. sure, you will heal after the car accident. but what will you be left with? you may recover from depression, but will everything still work? will you be a fully-functioning person? maybe not. maybe not in important ways. will life be worth it in that state? only you can decide. maybe it truly won't be worth it. if a house catches fire, you can put the fire out, but you'll still be left with a burned house.

when you're sitting on the edge of your bed, with a gun in your hand, or in the bathtub with a razor blade, or whatever, every cell in your body is fighting you for survival. the depth of pain and hopelessness required to overcome that survival instinct is unfathomable for most. you don't get there without having suffered severe psychological damage. i'd argue that severe depression can be overcome and that much of that damage can be recovered; maybe all of it. i wouldn't argue, however, that suicide is preventable in a meaningful way by simply "getting to him before he pulls the trigger". at that point, the damage is done. the way to help people is to pay attention and understand when things are going wrong for your friends. it may be really hard to determine. there's a good chance that, even if you're paying attention, you won't catch it.

severe depression is an insidious thing. yes, it causes more damage the longer it persists, but it also has the tendency to destroy time. what i mean is that, when one is suffering,the time spent in that condition can be like time spent in a cave. sometimes people can struggle for years or even decades and when they come out of it, they're years behind where they would have otherwise been, which contributes to the diminished value of life. 

all of that said, you can help people. i think the key is to be aware of your own ignorance. you don't know what they're going through if you haven't been there. recognize that. don't offer "solutions". don't give "pep talks". this isn't something you can fix. just be there, listen and be a silent sympathizer. don't shy away from physical contact. those things can ease the pain enough to make it tolerable. a lot of the problem is a feeling of isolation and some moron full of clich├ęs and platitudes can be even more isolating because it makes you feel like even the people you try to find solace in can't understand you. if you can't understand a person's condition, admit it. tell them you don't understand, but that you care and you want to help. think of yourself as life-support; you may not be able to stop the inevitable (and, ultimately, maybe that's for the best) but you might help a person hold on long enough to recover. suicide isn't always preventable, even if you do everything "right", but you can take comfort in the fact that you, at least, offered shelter.

asking people to be aware of themselves is like asking cows to pole-vault, but if you truly care about someone who's suffering and who's confiding in you, you'd better give it a shot (self-awareness, not pole-vaulting) or you may be the only one who lives to regret it. 


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