Monday, August 13, 2012

On Suicide

A friend took his life this weekend. I knew it was coming, and it still tore me apart. I found out at choir and spent too long sobbing in the bathroom before I was able to return and pretend to sing. At first I returned to the song "if the way be full of trial, weary not". Not great timing on my part.

I've had friends both attempt and complete suicide before. Once a roommate locked herself in the bathroom, took a bunch of pills, and cut her wrists. We had to break down the door. I remember watching her pretend to resist as the EMTs wheeled her away on a stretcher. She was someone who threatened it frequently in order to get the attention she felt she needed. This was an escalation of her demands. She was sending a message that said "if you don't love me enough, you don't deserve to be called my friends." I'm not guessing at that message, it was in her note. She didn't want to die, she wanted people to prove that they loved her and wanted her around.

Another time, a past roommate completed suicide. She was someone that I had enjoyed spending time with, but she held some of the same patterns of behavior as the first roommate. She placed demands on her relationships that were beyond what others were able to sustain. She did this in more subtle ways, but sent the same message. We hadn't been in touch for a long time and I heard that she completed suicide. A few of us went to her funeral, and when we talked to her mother about being her friends, her mother's response was "she always told me she didn't have any friends." What a nasty overt attempt to guilt and place blame on the mourning. All it did was send the same message that was in the other note.

Those incidents, as sad as they were, really just made me angry. How dare they try and place the burden for their actions, their emotions, and their desires, on everyone around them. Honestly, I'm still a bit angry with them. I'm not allowed to say it, of course, but if you know me at all, I'm fine with saying things that you aren't supposed to say. Their actions were selfish, plain and simple. Whether they intended to complete it or not, whether they did complete it or not, it was not so much a "cry for help" as it was a tantrum for things to go their way.

This weekend was different. He decided it was time to end things, and he made it happen. He was done. It wasn't a cry for help, it wasn't a message to the world, it was a soul who was tired of battling, tired of being alone. There were people around, trying to help, but he had chosen it and at that point, there is little anyone can do to stop it.

In the process of informing our friends, one person said to me "I'm sorry he didn't get the help he needed." But that wasn't it at all. He had all the help the world could possibly offer, and it didn't change what he wanted. He wanted to be with his mom. To stop fighting whatever depression or loneliness he faced.

Wanna know a secret? I've been there. Beyond "cry for help" is the place where you are thinking to yourself "if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it right." For me, the turning point came after someone informed me "we don't want you here, we don't like you." That person spoke from some hateful emotional place that I still don't understand. No matter how much I struggle with a person, I don't think those words would ever come to my lips. But at that point I had already been trying to figure out a way. And part of what saved me that day was that I didn't want the hateful person to be right. I wasn't going to be an increased burden by trying to send a "message". So I was either going to complete it, or not attempt it at all. And since I couldn't figure out how to really end things, I had no choice but to keep going.

My friend found a way. And I cried in the bathroom because he'll never know that it gets better. Because the lives he could have impacted will be less rich. And because between the two of us, I'm not sure who was more brave, but I'm certain he did and could still have done more good than I will.

There are plenty of studies that talk about suicide. The great academic combinations have evaluated who attempts, who succeeds, what interventions work, and what "motivates" it. These are interesting, but mean little to those left in the wake of lost friends. I could spout statistics and give you the proper counseling procedures for evaluation and intervention but that won't do us any good. Here's what will do us some good: talk about it.

Tell the people around you what they mean to you. Don't be that person who asks others to love them, love others first. Don't demand evidence from others of friendship, but choose to trust and love the best in others and act accordingly, offering your own voice of support and encouragement. Don't be insincere. Don't be that person that hands out insincere encouragement like cheap Halloween candy, but see the best in people, believe in the best in people, and support them in that greatness. Take time to be truly present in your relationships. We live in a world where Facebook and texting have replaced real faces and conversations. Reach outward. When you are they person who is down, make an effort to talk to two people each day: one person that can help you, and one person that you can help. Make those real conversations. There is strength in saying "I am hurting" and there is power in saying "tell me about your hurts".

I don't know that I could have changed things for Jason. I know that by the time I knew anything, I certainly couldn't have helped. But I wonder if ten years ago I could have been more sincere in my behavior. I wonder if two years ago I could have thanked him for all he did to encourage me, invite me, and support me at a time when I was kind of lost. Even if they wouldn't have changed the events of the past week, they would have changed our friendship. Gratitude can only make the world better. Do you know why I didn't speak up? Because I thought he'd see me as silly. What a stupid reason to have regrets now.

So forgive me if I'm a little more mooshy in my affection. I have amazing friends who do so much good in this world. I know incredible people whose smallest actions change night to day. I want to be like those people. I know its not in my nature. This is a long-term goal. If it comes off as silly, you'll just have to endure it while I refine the process.

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