Confronted with a loved one’s attempted suicide it’s easy to feel helpless. Don’t.
Mark still won’t answer my calls. Every time I reach out I usually greeted with a barrage of explicates via text message that do their best to hit my heart. He is like a wounded bird who fell out of tree, shaking with fear and shame, disorientated, but won’t let anyone touch him. Not even to help.
It’s hard loving someone who doesn’t love themselves. Especially when my life was a long, drawn- out suicide of substance abuse until I decided to get sober about three and a half years ago. Our journeys of self-hatred, although varied, were born from a variety of factors. Painful childhoods, trauma, abuse, genetics, and environment are all nasty elements that can pull a person into the deep depths of depression-induced hell.
Nature versus nurture becomes a silly debate. Perhaps you attribute your mental state to your impoverished upbringing or lack of education. There’s no forum to talk about your pain in the mean streets of the inner city. Then what to make of me? An upper middle class background built around materialism, secrecy, strict religious doctrines and a parent in the deep despair of an alcoholic bottom. No, neither of us had it easy, but God forbid we talk about it.
We are still feeling the reverberations of Mark’s last suicide attempt. The mildest of the four, but still serious enough to provide a lingering traumatic effect for all parties involved. The most intense was a 90mph drive straight into a tree about seven years ago. It’s a miracle he’s still alive.
Suicide doesn’t happen in a vacuum, although I suspect he hopes it does. His quest for death is personal, secular and directly related to his mental condition, professionally classified as borderline personality disorder.
As I read the other stories associated with National Suicide Prevention Week, they resonate so strongly, this topic is so near to me, that it takes my breath away, just like it did the afternoon of the emotionally fraught 911 call just three months ago when I found out the cops got to Mark and he was still alive. They encouraged me to hang up because I was crying so uncontrollably and told me they’d call me back in about 15 minutes, which they did. The call center and they cops reached back with kindness and concern as he was committed to a pysch ward at a nearby hospital.
This time the sacrifice of family approval is worth the cost, as it isn’t about them at all. Their ego, much like mine, can’t seem to get out of the way sometimes. This article is for Mark and for all the lost souls out there that feel that no one understands . Why ask for help, right? What’s the point? Well, why not? What do you have to lose? Maybe in that tiny moment of grace everything changes. I know it did for me.
I write in hopes that maybe one day Mark will realize what a powerful, magnificent creature he is to behold. His intelligence and humor are bright and bold, but he keeps his gifts hidden snuggly in the shadows of his torn-apart heart.
Depression, mental disorders, pain and addiction – why to this day does our society immediately associate the conditions with shame? A cancer survivor is greeted with open arms: “You made it! You are so strong! What a hero! Tell that cancer who’s boss!” A suicide survivor is greeted with nothing, nothing but a the whispering hiss of “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” When one of the closest members of my clan discovered my emergency call for Mark, I was classified as a drama queen and was told that I was “over-reacting.” Again, God (and family) forbid we talk about it.
So where do we go from here? Well, hell if I know. But here are some things I’ve learned along the way that might help both the one sitting silently in the horrific cage of their dark, incidious thougthts and all the parties affected:
- Don’t ever take any cry for help lightly. Mark can hate me from here until eternity for my actions, but I don’t regret a thing. I love him. He is so important to me and if something had happened that evening I don’t think I could go on without him. Suicide is never just a “cry for attention.” No matter what, sound the alarm.
- Don’t quit before the miracle. Hokey right? I heard it in meetings as I counted the days and wanted to punch someone in the face. If that is your immediate reaction to this credo right now, GOOD. You have to surrender to the pain before you can begin again. The first part is admitting deep within your defiant little soul that you need help. Depression is a disease that tells you there is no hope. It’s a jedi mind trick. You are stronger than that. No one should ever give up on a quest for happiness. I’m living proof. My life has profoundly changed since January 16, 2012. It was the first time I tried to move through a day without any self-prescribed mood changers and stopped fantasizing about jumping in front of the F train.
- Service Saves. Another simple expression for some complicated folk. I didn’t invent it. I just put it to good use. You are a mess? Go hang out with someone who is a bigger mess than you. Go work in a homeless shelter for a week. Go tutor at an inner city school. It’s miraclulous that you can read this right now. Did you know that only 28% of the entire population of Afganistan can read? I’m guessing you were probably born in the land of the free, went to school, and have some street smarts. My suggestion is to go help someone. I don’t know why or how it works, but I don’t fight it anymore. It lets me keep safely away from depressive thoughts. And for those who have faced a tradegy, helping others in need helps dissipate the neverending heartbreaking riddle of “Why?”
- Shut up. My own advice to myself that will hopefully let Mark know that yes, I am listening. I learned the hard way that you can’t give advice to someone who lives in a sea of anger and depression. Mark doesn’t want to hear it. Neither does your loved one who is contemplating taking their life. I’m a big believer that those of us who suffer from depression or addiction can only help ourselves by admitting defeat. Unless someone is ready to take that step there is absolutely nothing you can do. It’s probably the most painful truth of all.
- Love wins. Number four definitely sets off tears, especially for parents with teenagers in trouble. Too many lives too soon. But there is an action you can take. It’s simple: LOVE. Just do your best on the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly to let this person know you love them. No matter what. That really is the only action you can take — letting them know you’re there for them and you’ll happily help them get professional help and that you think they are the greatest. Now and always.
- Love Never Dies. People do. Love carries on. I’ve lost someone to suicide. Have you? You are allowed to keep on loving them. Even when it was too hard for them to do it themselves.
Mark, if you are reading this, I love you to the moon and back. You are the most amazing person I know and I hope you truly feel that in your heart someday. I hope you stick around for a long, long time. You are a miracle. God doesn’t make any mistakes. You are here for a reason! Even if it’s just to drive me crazy. You are so wonderful and I will never, ever give up on you.
And for the rest of you crazy diamonds out there, shine on. Getting sober was like being a snail torn from its shell, asked to walk across broken glass, and then swim in a sea of lava. But somehow I made it through those early days. It still isnt easy some days, which is why I take it one day at a time. If this note sparks one little ember of hope, don’t be scared to reach out. You’ll be shocked when you find out how many people truly do care or know exactly what you are going through. I’m so happy to discover I’m not alone. We just like to keep a low profile.
If you are feeling helpless, or considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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