After a recent conversation on the subject, a friend suggested I share my thoughts on suicide, in part, because it affects so many people, which if they read it, might resonate and realise that however trite it might sound, YOU are not alone! Please, just take the step, and ask for help.
Somewhat less altruistically, that maybe in the act of writing down my own thoughts, it would lead to some kind of catharsis for myself, because I have no issue admitting that I’ve had my own problems with these thoughts in the past. I figure, if someone that’s perceived how I believe I am to be, brusk, direct and all too often, insensitive to others feelings and needs can come clean about this, then it might encourage others to do the same. One cannot expect the misplaced value judgements of others to evaporate overnight if those of us affected, cannot find the courage to come out of the shadows and stand in the light.
Now clearly, I can’t speak for the experience of everyone who’s ever been affected by suicide or suicidal thoughts, just my own and the anecdotal evidence of those who’ve confessed to me, or I’ve come to realise after the fact without knowing until farther down the line, I’ve helped stay around, and while I’m far from an expert on the subject, I feel my experiences are no less valid. Also, apologies if the following seems a little fractured and incomplete. I’m no writer, just sharing a few thoughts.
For anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to have ever been drawn into this ‘danse macabre’, the end destination is the same. When the music comes to a stop, we sit spent, emotionally exhausted, empty & with the belief there’s nothing left in the tank to give to anyone, most importantly ourselves. One battle too many have been lost, one injury too many sustained, the last rejection or loss of a loved one crushes you under the weight of its burden. The pain of all these cumulative life events drowns out everything else. You lose all sense of connection to those around you, who may well love you, who would certainly miss you were you no longer here. You may well be surrounded by love, yet not see, nor feel any of it. Or perhaps, worse still, you don’t feel worthy of it. The only thing that’s real and constant is your pain, and an overwhelming desire to be free of it once and for all, because waking to another day, with no hope and only despair, fear and yet more pain as your only companion, becomes unbearable. Ultimately, you believe that ‘checking out’ seems a very real solution to end all of your problems.
So why not ask for help? In short, stigma. Statistically 1/5 people have considered suicide at some point in their life, and weren’t it taboo to discuss it, I’m sure I’d know an awful lot more people that have considered suicide than I currently do, and sadly, those that I do know are the ones that usually succeeded, including in my own family.
That we have so many organisations at the moment in the UK fighting to end the stigma around mental illness in general, should be a testament to how problematic it is to be able to admit to having any kind of mental health problems, least of all that run to having suicidal thoughts.
In truth, you could ask 100 people who’ve come to this lonely place, and each would likely give you a unique answer and set of circumstances, but I suspect many would mention at least one of these:
Fear of judgement – Despite coming clean, you find your problems are dismissed and your feelings invalidated
Guilt or shame – For daring to show weakness, for being selfish and only thinking only of yourself
Feeling unloved – You might think that people you know simply don’t care enough to give you the time & support you might need.
We’re taught to believe that love, particularly amongst family is unconditional, yet at times it feels that it’s often finite. No fault of anyone reading, but when you couple the low self-esteem of the person in need of help with this belief, they’re less inclined to turn even to your nearest and dearest for support. You might think they’re weary of having to shore you up, weighed under by the problems of their own lives, and you feel like you and your problems are one burden too many.
Sadly, a cry for help is often derided as a childish bid for attention, a drama queen attempting to manipulate others, which in some cases could well be true, but how do you decide if the person in question is not in the middle of a genuine crisis? Does someone really have to be about to kick away the stool, or open a vein before they’re worthy of being taken seriously? A true acknowledgement that their pain is real?
A cry for help no matter the reason, is just that, so why is it so many of us choose not to respond to it in a human way? This question isn’t about attributing blame, just an opportunity to reflect as to our reasons, and why we often become indifferent to the pain of others, including those we love.
Writing as a man, however, I have to say for me at least, the main reason for not admitting the need for help? Vulnerability! The stigma of showing vulnerability, with all the expectation that comes with being a man, the world over is much the same, we’re meant to be strong, constant, a rock, protector, provider and emotionally unshakable, no matter what life throws at us. IMO, the weight of all of this expectation sits comfortably under the rather damning title, “Toxic Masculinity”. After all, not being able to express openly our vulnerable side for fear of ridicule and often rejection, even from those who’re meant to love us. This is certainly a toxic environment, in the extreme. Especially when you consider that some men believe it’s better to end their pain than admit the need for help because of a sense of shame in showing they’re vulnerable. Suffice to say, very few men I’ve encountered in my life have been taught it’s acceptable to show they’re vulnerable, for fear of the judgment of others.
Instead of acknowledging the need for and asking for help, people often engage in behaviours which are clearly anything but helpful. Abusing alcohol or drugs, unnecessary risk-taking, becoming abusive in relationships and saying or doing hurtful things to loved ones which only serve to sabotage their own happiness. A whole host of destructive behaviours, all of which are clearly counterproductive. Sadly, as a symptom of our own pain, we often push away and hurt those who might be trying their best to care for us during these times, especially when we feel the least deserving. This situation we create puts me in mind of a Swedish proverb, “Love me when I least deserve it, because that’s when I really need it.” A big ask, and a level of compassion I wish we all had in spades.
In short, I believe the fear of asking for help is often very much about feeling judged, and a fear of rejection for daring to show our vulnerability. Coupled with a belief in the seeming unwillingness of others to really hear and acknowledge what’s being said, and the validation that your pain and suffering are very real.
This really isn’t a time for vapid platitudes, but a time for genuine, judgement-free & unconditional support. A time for nurturing reconnection to those around you, and fundamentally the most important of all, for the person asking for help, learning to love oneself, in some cases, likely for the first time in your life.
I can’t begin to pretend to know all the answers, nor what works for every person who finds themselves in this dark place, but I will offer this advice: Please, never doubt, dismiss or disparage people who show enormous bravery in daring to be vulnerable and asking for help. Be the person you’d hope to encounter, were you ever to find yourself in this situation. Finding space to show a little empathy & compassion in our busy lives for others, can make all the difference.
If you want to talk, there are many support services, but for now, try Samaritans if you’re in the UK. Just call 116 123