Aug 20, 2019 Suicide and its Silence
I live in a state with infamously high suicide and depression rates. While there are no clear cut answers as to why this is – is it the high altitude? The culture? The number of guns? Opiods? The lack of access to mental illness treatments/counseling?
Honestly I don’t think there is a one size fits all reason, but it is rising, in my state and across the USA. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported that in 2016 suicide was the 10th leading cause of death and it’s only gone up.
I know this falls outside my normal blog posts. It’s heavy and honestly suicide was just a stat for me as it might be for you. But it was made real 4 months ago when my good friend and cousin, mother to 4 beautiful young children took her own life. I felt the silence and the stigma around her death. Then last week a work associate re-posted a blog about his suicide attempt. I was surprised to learn about the act itself and read about it, because there is always some instinct to be silent about an attempt at suicide.
However, after reading his post I felt a dialogue begin and I wanted to participate in it. For healing, to get rid of this notion of disgrace that surrounds it, and for people to feel like they aren’t alone. Here are his words. Words that I want to share because they show healing, a scar, and grit.
The Choice of Suicide
Note: I wrote this a year ago today, August 12, 2014 — the day after Robin Williams killed himself. Once it was done, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share it. I speak of something I did that only a handful of people know, and I wasn’t sure I wanted it out there. I felt I needed to write it at the time, but I wasn’t sure I needed to share it. And so I didn’t. Eventually deciding I would sit on it for a year, and see how I felt then. Here we are, a year later, and I’m still not sure. But this is a serious issue, and I feel a big contributor to the issue, is that people don’t talk about it. I don’t want to be another person not talking. And so I have decided to share this piece. Mostly to say it out loud, and be one less person pretending it didn’t happen. To be one less person helping others feel alone by being silent.
When I was 19 years old I took my own life. Not because I wanted attention, or was crying out for help, but because I couldn’t see any way to keep going. Because I felt like I had dug myself into a hole so deep, and I couldn’t see any chance of escape. The choice became live in this hole forever, or free myself the only way I could see how. A mere 17-months removed from my Dad’s death, it seemed a bonus that I could stop the pain, the hurt, the loss, the confusion, the disgust, and the sadness — AND I could see my Dad again. Funny that for years I rebelled and repelled against the Christian doctrine, and yet in that moment of hell, I chose to believe there was some sort of heaven.
Recent statistics state that every day 90 people in USA kill themselves. One suicide occurs every 16 minutes. Globally over 2,740 people kill themselves each day. One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world.
Those are startling numbers, and yet none of those numbers are as painful as 1. The one person that you love that takes his or her own life. The one life that we have, that in a moment we can’t bear to live anymore.
I have no idea what’s going on for each of those 2,740 people each day. I do know that one day back in 1990 I was one of them. And from that experience, perhaps I can empathize with a sliver of what some of them feel. Maybe I understand just a little bit about the immeasurable insanity of that choice.
In the wake of Robin William’s suicide, someone wrote on Twitter, “I don’t know shit about suicide, but I do know it ain’t a “choice.”” I responded saying “It is a choice, but in many cases a choice akin to jumping from a Twin Tower to your death or staying to be engulfed by flames”
If you witnessed footage of those acts on 9/11, they are likely still scarred into your mind. Most humans I know felt tremendous sympathy in the horror, and could imagine doing the same thing. That is perhaps what made it so horrible to watch, and still to think about. The horror of that decision, that choice. The horror of a feeling where jumping out of a building, and plummeting hundreds of feet to a horrific death is the better of two options. How does one make that choice? What must be the feeling in having to make it?
Robin Williams was a beloved man. He brought much joy to many, and most that met him praise his kindness, generosity, and spirit. Perhaps for those reasons, mixed with a diagnosis of depression, people feel a similar sympathy for his death. Most are talking about how painful it must have been, and within that also see a blessing — that he is somehow in peace now. And maybe he is.
I’m not here to make a bold declaration about what suicide is or isn’t. For as I said, I don’t know. I look back on my decision to take my own life, and I can call myself a coward — but it doesn’t seem genuine. I didn’t see a better choice. It was stay in the burning building and die painfully and slowly, or jump. That’s how it felt. And so for me, that’s how it was. Maybe for Robin too. Perhaps in that, I understand a sliver.
Clearly I did not die that day in 1990. And with my survival came an exorcism of sorts. This is not uncommon, as Al Alvarez discussed in his book The Savage God. For me, on the other side, I was out of the hole. The event washed the slate clean, and I started anew.
In that I am blessed. I have never found myself that low again, and yet I think about it so often. And when I do there is never a feeling of weakness or regret that surrounds it. I don’t feel or see another way it would have happened. I don’t know how it cleansed me; I just know it did. But I will never forget the clarity and enormous relief I felt as I lay down to die. The peace. The calm. The end.