Ever since the first time I heard the song “Why” by Rascal Flatts I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about it. (If you haven’t ever heard the song before, you can listen and read the words here. It takes just a few minutes, and it is well worth your time.) The first time I listened, I cried. Deep, sobbing, heart-wrenching tears. Because this topic is very very close to home.
I have put off writing this post for a long time. The first time I heard the song, I was in a pretty good place. It didn’t seem like the right time to bring up suicide. Not the right time to share my personal struggle with the world, my family, or my friends. And the last thing I want is pity or worry from other people.
But recently, a person I knew and respected committed suicide, leaving behind a family that my heart breaks for. At roughly the same time, I picked up a flyer from the psychologist’s office about a walk here in Boise for suicide prevention, sponsored by the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). (I’m planning to do this walk, and anyone who would like to join me (or donate) is more than welcome. There is no charge to participate.)
The stars seem to be aligned just right, and I’m feeling a strong desire to make my voice heard. So bear with me, and please understand that I’m not asking for your pity or your worry or your help. I’m in therapy, I’m on medication, and I’m working through my issues. My goal is to help people become more aware that suicide is a very real, very scary, very personal struggle for a great many people.
I first encountered suicide as a teenager. A boy I knew, who lived in my neighborhood and went to my church, began writing me letters talking about killing himself. I was young, and scared, and unwise. I kept this information to myself, and did the best I knew how to help him (which meant I tried to be his friend and wrote him letters back even though he was considered “weird” by all the other kids and I was embarrassed to have other people think I might actually like this guy). His suicidal letters to me continued off and on for a number of years. I never did tell anyone but my (at the time) best friend. She didn’t know what to do either.
Another teenage experience with suicide came at school, as a friend wrote a note that a teacher found in class, which had the letters “DBWB” at the end. He’d been dumped, or his advances had been spurned, or something along those lines, by a girl we both knew and were friends with. The note was very depressing, very desperate, and the teacher handed it over to the school counselor who called him, the girl, and me in to talk. “DBWB” stood for “Don’t Bother Writing Back”. It was taken as a thinly veiled suicidal message. I recall the counselor showing the boy this note, and then watching him as he took it from her hand and proceeded to eat it. It was surreal.
Several years ago, my life was coming apart at the seams. So many things had happened over a short period of time and I was feeling desperate and hopeless, worthless and depressed. I found myself face to face with suicide. If I hadn’t been so scared, I think I would have gone through with it. I was in a very, very dark place. But fear, guilt, and obligation kept me alive that day.
My oldest child has voiced suicidal thoughts and intentions many times over her short life. She has expressed her frustration with herself, her life, her feelings, her actions, and her circumstances in ways that have been very frightening, especially coming from one so young. She is in therapy and medicated, and we are working on her issues, but the words still come from time to time, and my worry for her is very real.
A few weeks ago, I found myself again staring suicide in the face, thinking to myself that it just wasn’t worth the effort, the pain, the work, the worry, the misery any longer. It was a fight deep in my soul between the part of me that wanted to give up and the part of me that didn’t want to cause pain to the people who love me, the people who count on me, and the people I care about. The struggle was intense. The sense of relief suicide posed to me was almost too much to ignore.
But I’m still here. Am I happy? Sometimes. Am I well? I don’t know. My life is again being turned upside down. My world has crumbled and I’m trying, again, to rebuild it. But it is work – slow, hard, exhausting work. And there are days when I don’t feel like going on. Days when I think it would be better and easier for everyone if I wasn’t here any more to cause pain and hurt, or to feel those feelings myself.
So what keeps me here? I guess the first reason is I have an overdeveloped sense of obligation. That my needs are less important than the needs of others. That my misery is less important than my children having a mother or my husband having a wife. This obligation and strong sense of guilt have driven me to do many things over the years, many of which I detest, but I realize that I may owe my life to that obligation and guilt. The next reason I’m still here is that I’m in therapy again. I’m trying to learn that my feelings are valid, real, and acceptable, even though they’re not good, happy, or pretty. But probably the biggest and most important reason is that I have people around me who care. People who have listened to me talk about these difficult times in my life, who have heard me relate my suicidal days, who have seen me when the depression was overwhelming, and who still love me, associate with me, and treat me like a regular person. Those people – my family, my friends, my doctors and therapists – have been a lifeline to me.
I’m working every day to rebuild myself and to become truly me. Trying to find a way to start again when I feel so much like giving up. And some days are really, really terrible.
My point in telling these stories is to make it easier to see that people, all kinds of people, struggle with suicide. You might never guess it from the outside. I seriously doubt anyone who knows me would suspect I’ve been suicidal (aside from the few people I’ve talked to about it), even so recently as two weeks ago. For some people it is easier to put on a facade. For some people the thought simply comes and then goes, before it really even registers. But for some, it’s more lingering. For some like me, it comes and goes, varying in intensity and duration. And for others (these are generally the ones you know about) the thought comes (often over and over) and eventually they act on it and that’s how you know they were fighting.
Mental health is a real issue. Mental well-being is every bit as important as physical well-being. Suicide in particular is a very real problem, and one that I suspect many more people struggle with than most of us realize. As the song above says, often we “have no clue” people are “masking a troubled soul”.
So what does this mean for you? What does it mean for me? What can be done, what should be done, what needs to be done? Love, acceptance, understanding. And support. Come join me and walk for the cause. Donate some money. Reach out to someone. Tell people you care, and mean what you say. Be a real friend. You can’t save everyone – our choices belong to us alone – but maybe you could be the reason someone hangs on just a little longer.
If you are suicidal, there are people who can help. There is a hotline (1-800-237-TALK (8255) I wish I had known about this years ago!!!) staffed by people who will talk, listen, and help you. Call them. Call a therapist. Talk to your doctor. Life doesn’t have to be all misery. And it really is worth living, despite what you might feel. Your life is meaningful, your existence is important. Please feel free to talk to me should you find yourself in need of a listening ear. I understand that dark place all too well.
Hey thanks for sharing. You always give me hope that not everyone out there just puts on that happy face never admitting these dark feelings. I am going to look into some volunteer opportunities for you. The last couple weeks were nuts at work but now I can look around and hopefully find something that fits what you’re looking for. You’re one of the bravest people I know and I mean that. To share as you have is so amazing. Thanks!
Thanks, Heather. I appreciate you looking into it. I’m getting in touch with the AFSP chapter that is (hopefully) starting up out here and I’m hopeful that will be a good place to start.
And always know that you are NOT alone in negative or dark feelings. It is so taboo to talk about them, but feelings are valid, real, important, and acceptable, in whatever form they take. Feelings do not equal worth, or actions, or worthiness. Feelings are simply that – FEELINGS. And if we try to shove them down or hide them eventually they bubble up to the surface and then you’ve got more than you know what to do with.
Hi! Sorry it took so long to get back to you but I have an email full of options for you. I asked one of our people here who works on our 2-1-1 phone lines and they were able to give me some resources that may help you find some good volunteer opportunities. Do you have an email I can send them to? Let me know and I’ll forward it on. 🙂
I know how had it is to write about this and I am so glad you bravely did so. The stigma surrounding suicide has much to do with our culture tying it to sin. Not true! Is it a sin to want to find clarity in the darkness? No. It’s a sin for others to shame and degrade those of us who have had these moments and those who have acted on them.
Amber, I so agree. You are so right – the judging needs to stop. The only helpful reaction, in my opinion, is LOVE. Suicide is a plea for understanding, acceptance, help, etc. Not helpful to turn it into a shameful thing. I admire you for what you’ve done.
Thank you for having the courage to write about this, Christine. So many more suffer in silence than ever make known their very real, and very personal struggles. You are certainly not alone in this. Thank you for making it OK to talk about it.
I’ll also add that you are an amazingly skilled writer. Thank you for using your talent in such a powerful and important way.
Thanks, Adrian, for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate your support. I want so much for people to know that this issue is REAL, that it doesn’t make you BAD, that it doesn’t mean you’re a SINNER, that it doesn’t make you BROKEN or CRAZY. None of that helps. There is such a stigmatization surrounding suicide that it is not addressed openly or adequately.
Christine! You are an inspiration! Thanks for posting this!
I was looking for tips on how to make curly orange peel, and somehow found your comments about suicide.
I am compelled to write to you and to say that you are right, you should not put your loved ones (family and friends) through the loss of suicide.
I am approaching the 2nd year anniversary of the loss of my mother. She took her own life on approximately 1-11-2011. We dont know the day for sure. After two or three days that she wouldn’t answer her phone, we had to have the police forceably enter her home. What they found, my poor sweet little mother with a gun in her hand and a hole in her head, will haunt me and my sister for the rest of our lives. I am still a broken and sad woman, two years later. I loved her so much, and the realization that she did not love me enough to keep me from this tremendous hurt, has broken my heart. I beg you to think of your children and husband and friends and do not do this to them. They deserve better. You are not only ending your own life.
I walked in the AFSP walk in October 2012 in Seattle and will be starting a survivor support group through the AFSP in January. I also encourage those affected by suicide to reach out to the AFSP, a great organization.
And one more thought: while I believe that suicide is a sin, it is not a sin that cannot be forgiven. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John3:16 My mother made a mistake, and committed a sin, but I know she is forgiven.
Thank you for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to post here. I’m so very, terribly sorry for the loss of your mother. I can only imagine the pain you must have felt, and that you still deal with on a daily basis.
If I may, I’d like to share a bit of perspective from the side of the suicidal person. Bear in mind this is simply my experience, and I make no claim that your mother felt this way. But perhaps it is a possibility, and perhaps it will give you some comfort.
I love my family. I love my children, my husband, my friends. I love them all so very, very much. But I have been severely suicidal more than once in my life, and I can tell you that while the choice to take your own life may seem selfish to an outsider, in my mind at the time a large part of my motivation for ending my existence was to ease the burden on my family. To spare them the hurt I was sure my emotional state and physical presence was causing. There was a large amount of “they’d be so much better off if I wasn’t even here”.
Now, bear in mind, when I was suicidal I wasn’t in a great state of mind. I felt terribly hopeless, like there was no way things could ever get better, and that the best option for me and those I cared about was to simply end all the misery for all of us. I knew it would hurt them, but I felt that hurt would be smaller and less damaging than my continued existence.
I see now, now that I’m in a better state of mind, that suicide was not the best option, and I’m very grateful that I didn’t go through with it. I’m extremely grateful for organizations like the AFSP for providing a resource for people in such distress and pain. I walked in the AFSP Out of the Darkness walk here in Boise this year as well.
One last thought. I know a lot of the world looks on suicide as a sin. I do not believe this is the case. I believe that God knows the intents of our hearts. Suicide, in a twisted way, was to me the seemingly best option in a list of terrible choices. I urge you to consider this with regards to your mother. Only God knows her intent. And while she may have been misguided, there is the (in my opinion) strong likelihood that her intent was to spare the people she cared for the pain and hurt she felt her existence caused. Her act may have been deeply rooted in her love for you and others she cared for. This doesn’t make it the right choice, by any means, but hopefully it can give you a small understanding of why she may have done what she did.
Thank you again for taking the time to post here. My heart aches for you and all those who are left behind because of suicide.
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