In the past week, two suicides have rocked my community and my facebook newsfeed. First, a local mother, Jennifer Huston, went missing. When they found her they ruled her death a suicide. Not long after, Robin Williams shocked the world with his death as well.
In all the discussions I’ve seen, something has been bothering me. I wasn’t able to put my finger on it until now.
I am someone who has dealt with suicidal ideation, depression, mania, and mixed states, as it appears Robin Williams may have. I will probably revisit that periodically as long as I live. I maintain a constant state of vigilance about my mental health.
I suppose it’s good that awareness is raised, but at the same time, so many people talking about it are just repeating all the cliches. Most of all, I hear, “If only they had reached out.”
Edit to add: Now it is coming out that Robin Williams had a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. I am seeing posts about how it all makes sense now, or is somehow more palatable. I’m not buying it. Euthanasia when there is no longer hope for respite is one thing. Suicide when facing a difficult diagnosis is another. The diagnosis may have set him over the edge, or it might not have. But it wasn’t a more valid reason to kill oneself than any of the other reasons people who kill themselves use.
If you want to prevent suicide, reach out to your friends when they are at their best.
I do believe reaching out is a good thing, but it actually can make things worse if the people on the receiving end don’t know what to do. And guess what? Lots of times there is nothing to do.
For me, when I am really hurting, I need a complete lack of judgement – combined with compassion – combined with waiting it out – combined with practical measures to prevent harm – combined with practical measures to help snap me out of it. In all my years only one person has struck that balance and actually helped me.
I’ve learned that even the people who love me the most and know best what I need can’t really help unless I am in the right frame of mind to be helped.
I also know that given a swing toward mania in the midst of depressive thoughts, or a swing toward depressive thoughts while in a bout of mania, something very bad could happen very quickly.
It’s a very lonely place to be. There is so much work to do to become the depressed person who can both recognize and accept help.
If you are in crisis in the USA,
call 1-800-273-8255 now!
The reason I am alive today is because I trained myself, during my most sane moments, to define what life should look like and feel like. I’ve set rules for what I will and will not do. One of the things I do is reach out! Yes, I’ve called that suicide prevention hotline myself, more than once. I’ve also worked hard to understand what physically underlies my mental states and to do my best to address those issues. I’ve trained myself to recognize delusions, and to set boundaries for myself when the world is suddenly so clear (but clearly wrong).
I have set rules for how I behave, what I will eat, who I will contact, what thoughts I will parade through my mind, and how I will spend my time when the waves of delusion, pain, despair, exuberance, grandeur, come. I have willingly sacrificed the potential for my own greatness and traded it for relative stability.
I have made it all public, which helps with accountability, because even as shame can trigger suicidal thoughts, sometimes shame is my savior.
It also helps that by making that public, I have educated others on ways to help me, personally. Despite my precautions, I know I am not safe. Even if it never takes me, I am not better than someone who dies from this illness.
The reason I am alive today is because I trained myself during my most sane moments.
I don’t know whether Robin Williams or Jennifer Huston reached out. I don’t know whether they were “selfish,” but I seriously doubt it. I don’t know whether anyone could have helped them. I don’t know if they are “in a better place.” I’m pretty sure they are not being punished by anyone’s god. The people they were and the people they left behind don’t make this more or less a tragedy.
If you want to prevent suicide, if you want to support your friends who deal with depression, reach out to them when they are at their best.
You may not be able to tell if your friends are battling these demons. Have this conversation with even the friends you think are fine. Ask them casually if they’ve ever had these kinds of feelings. You may be surprised to find they have.
Discuss plans for what to do if things go bad. Learn to identify the signs. Don’t wait for the crisis moment. Help them preempt it.
Then, if the bad times do come, help them carry out their plans for riding out the bad times and returning to health.