TRIGGER WARNINGS: self-harm / suicide
A friend hit me up this week broken-hearted that yet another one of their friends had taken their life. They asked if I might explore the complexities of dealing with suicide and raise general awareness here on Bummed Out Baker and I am going to do my best. Please know that I mean to approach the topic with the utmost sensitivity, and am writing about it not for sensationalism, but in hopes of providing solace or understanding regarding suicide.
My first thought on suicide is that it is, of course, deeply personal. When someone takes their own life, unless you’ve been in their very position, the idea of teetering on that edge between life and death is incomprehensible. However, more people than you might think have contemplated the act, several of whom are the people in your life you’d least suspect.
I’ll begin by laying my cards on the table. In 2008, before I was properly medicated under the supervision of a good psychiatrist, I hoped for death most every night. I was 19. I feel like chronic depression (or other mental illnesses) are like addiction / sobriety, in a way. If you’re an addict who doesn’t keep a close eye on the maintenance of their sobriety, a trigger that leads to a slip could sneak up on you. (In this vein, I can’t help but think of the tragic death of the wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman. Read the moving piece from his partner here.) Mental illness is similar. Sometimes brains need a medicinal switch up, and if you’re not monitoring the effectiveness of your current (or absence of) RX, dark thoughts and ideas can begin to infiltrate your psyche and then start to seem reasonable. Something else to be aware of is that suicidal ideation can be heightened in the first several weeks of taking a new medication. A medication can also blatantly make things worse – the whole thing is a precarious trial and error to be treated with sensitivity and care. While my thoughts of death still come and go, with therapy and medications I am able to better manage with self-talk. Like I’ve said before, I don’t know when the cloud will left, but I know it eventually will.
I believe suicide to be about interiority, something happening on the inside that feels irreparable, a drought of hope that can never be replenished due to circumstance or chemical imbalance. After the initial shock, denial, and guilt, some people believe suicide to be selfish. An English teacher of mine in college opened my eyes to an alternative idea when she likened viewing suicide as selfish to wanting someone to walk around in shoes that are killing them with blood and blisters for the rest of their life, simply because it would make you (another person) feel better. When you think about it, of course that’s not something anyone would want for a loved one. But feeling that there is no way out is also something no one would want for a loved one. One of the hardest things to accept is that someone else’s suicide is not your fault. The layers of complexity continue.
When I was in high school in the early 2000s, we had about one kid a year die by suicide. Another kid would’ve gone to my high school, but he took his life while still in junior high. Kids. While this was post-Columbine, it was before the violent normalization and seemingly general acceptance of mass school shootings and before the internet loomed over every young person, a constant highlight reel produced by their peers. Social media is like a mutant toxicant that’s arrived to plague people in their formative years, a time that’s already painful enough. There is incredible pressure to be or look a certain way, and much of online presence is edited and curated to portray an idealized façade. I am 30 years old and cannot imagine that kind of weight, so I can’t fathom what it’s like to be a 15 year-old today.
While some people with suicidal tendencies are proactive towards death, others are indifferent, not trying to die while also not caring if they, in fact, do. This is different from the fleeting feeling of invincibility that typically couples with adolescence. It’s a step beyond, a matured nonchalance rooted in numbness caused by depression.
Suicide is often discussed in private, hushed tones with tearful words recounting the devastating circumstance of a self-inflicted death of a loved one. When we openly talk about suicide and self-harm, though, we make it okay for people to come out and talk about issues they may be having, which can lead to life-changing help.
While it may sometimes seem suicide may be the only route to relief, it’s simply untrue.
What can you do?
- Create community by normalizing the open discussion of thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Delay judgement. Open yourself to people and be receptive to what others have to say. Talk about it!
- Call any applicable government representatives to voice your concerns about prioritizing mental health resources and accessibility to the general public.
- If you have the means, donate to mental health nonprofit organizations. These orgs often provide resources, community, and solace to those in need and are unable to find elsewhere. At this point in time, these operations are a societal imperative.
- This is a bit pointed, but snuggling and talking to beloved pets, especially dogs, lowers BP, is calming, and helps pare down stress. There’s a growing body of research that points to mental comfort of being with your pet. (See: Harvard Health) I often tell my golden retrievers “You bring me so much comfort and joy!” while giving them belly rubs and ear scratches and I don’t know if they know what I’m saying, and I most certainly sound nuts (spoiler: because I am), but it sure does make me feel better.
- Always, always remember, if you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
I’ll leave you all with this touching music video. It’s a couple years old, but remains important. Also, Logic looks like Steve Brady. Bonus!
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