Time to Break the Silence About Suicide Loss
I used to say: “If I could touch just one person with my writing, I’d feel my purpose had been served.” By now, I have had many tell me my words and thoughts helped them, and it is no less gratifying and humbling each time I hear it. But now, I find my thoughts are changing.
Today, after once again contemplating the latest suicide to touch my life, however lightly, I realize I want to do more. Instead, I am now thinking: “If my words could help just one person see they aren’t really alone; they don’t need to hide their feelings; they can reach out for help before they put someone through the pain of being a suicide survivor, I would truly feel the experiences I’ve had and the words I’ve written have meaning and purpose.”
I know it’s a lot to ask as I’m not sure someone contemplating suicide would want to read about the experiences of a person who’s lost someone they love in a manner they might be contemplating. Yet my hope has always sprung eternal. Perhaps one of my articles, stories, or books will fall into the hands of someone who is still sitting on the fence between feeling unneeded and outcast and making a choice with no do-overs. Maybe they’ll see in my words that there are people who will listen and don’t expect them to be cheerful all the time. There are people who are willing to share their triumphs as well as their tragedies; people they can trust and who won’t judge when they remove the masks they’ve crafted to hide their imperfections. They’ll learn like I did that people actually love you for your imperfections rather than in spite of them.
Maybe Suicide in Adults is Preventable
For years, my focus has been on the ones left behind, and I’ve even developed a somewhat fatalistic attitude about adults who take their lives. In some ways, it came about as a means to heal my own heart and heartache. I chose to believe suicide was the only choice the person believed they had left, and because they’d learned to hide their true feelings so well, couldn’t conceive of anyone caring enough to listen and let them pour out their sadness, their fears, and their feelings of hopelessness. In short, they didn’t believe anyone would hang around if they removed their painstakingly crafted false persona to reveal the imperfect human they’d convinced themselves should never be shared, even with those closest to them.
What if just one of those people who were struggling to keep it all together behind a cheerful or even humorous mask was given a real chance to believe people cared about their whole self, even the broken parts? What if they could see how those misguided beliefs were actually more hurtful to those who loved them because they were being shut out? What if they realized and acted on those misconceptions instead of allowing themselves to spiral ever downward until they convinced themselves the world would be better off without them? What if they discovered the truth: that the world needed them in all their messy, imperfect glory?
Might a life or two be spared? Might at least a few of those contemplating suicide based on a combination of misinformation and lies they didn’t even realize they were telling themselves think twice or even three times? Would they reach out to those whom they thought their suicide would spare and ask for the help they dared not believe was truly there?
Learning to Recognize a Burden That Needs to be Shared
This is a case where I’d rather be wrong. I’d rather learn that an adult who contemplates suicide can learn they needn’t bear the burden of pain alone. I want them to know they don’t have to hide behind their masks to spare us. That for all the times they were there for one of us, they can safely allow one or many of us to do the same for them. More importantly, I want them to know they deserve to ask for help and receive it without question or judgment, but with an enormous serving of unconditional love.
I think the worst thing that can be written about someone after they take their own life is that they brought smiles to thousands of faces, or they could always be counted on to help someone out, or they were always cheerful and loving and giving. To me, that means one of two things; either they were especially good at hiding their true feelings, or nobody took the time to look into their eyes and see how often they were putting on an act, not only to fool everyone around them, but to try to fool themselves. Their final act is proof enough they couldn’t hide the truth from themselves and they died trying.
We all know people who are struggling. Whether it’s aging parents, kids, jobs, or something else that makes it difficult to cope, none of us have a perfect life. Too many are like I used to be (and in some ways still am), believing our friends and family have troubles of their own and don’t need to be burdened with ours. It might surprise you to learn that by helping you, they’re stepping out from under their own burdens for a bit. It gives them a break from their own problems and struggles to help you see things from a different angle. And in so doing, they might even find a way to lighten their own load too.
Using Our Communities For the Benefit of the Members
Humans by design are meant to be members of communities. Whether that community is family, a religious organization, a social activity, or a shared characteristic, those communities give us a sense of belonging, a sense that we are not alone in the world. Without a community, we start believing the terrible lies we tell ourselves, and ultimately lose all perspective on our value to the world, our community, ourselves, and our family and friends. We berate ourselves for being imperfect when imperfect is exactly what we’re supposed to be.
Tonight I let myself believe, if only for a moment that there was something wrong with me because someone was interacting with everyone around me, but not me. I mentioned it to a friend, half joking, half complaining. I believe she said something because he was kind enough to correct my misconception. Now take that small blip in my personal radar and imagine someone who feels passed over all the time, but who wouldn’t dare mention it to anyone. Those seemingly minor blips multiply until they become mountains, even though they have no real substance.
Creating Our Own Safe Place, And Putting it to Good Use
We all need a pair of red Adirondack chairs, or whatever comfortable space you can create where we invite friends to talk and share, have a glass of wine, a cup of coffee or tea, and be themselves. And we need to remind our friends repeatedly that they are there for the asking. Too many of us will continue to believe we’re a burden unless we’re asked several times. Ask.
My friends have an open invitation to occupy those chairs with their beverage of choice whenever their burden gets too large. I need to keep reminding them of my willingness to support them, as they do so selflessly for me. And if there happen to be more than 2 of us, I have a patio table with 6 chairs where we can share beverages, or a meal and bring all of our bubbling, fulminating mental goo to the surface for a big, healthy purge. Each of us in our own seemingly small way can do a great deal to eliminate hopelessness in the people we care about, just by paying attention and offering our time.
You’ll Never Know When a Small Effort Will Make an Enormous Difference
Perhaps the key to cutting the suicide numbers is to take a lot of it back to the community and exercise our compassion more regularly. I know I’ll be looking a lot more carefully at those I know who are always giving for others but rarely if ever asking for help themselves.
Listen to voices heavy with resignation. Look into eyes which have lost some of their sparkle. Observe those who seem to lack energy. Do everything you can to assure them you’re serious about giving them a place to set down their load for a while and just be. And think about how devastating it would be to learn someone gave up when a bit of your time could have made the difference. Think of how gratifying it will be to know that small amount of time made a difference, even if the words are never spoken.
Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, Virtual Assistant and advocate for cats. Sheri believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. She is available for article writing and ghost writing to help your website and the business it supports grow and thrive. Her specialties are finding and expressing your authentic self. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author.
Be sure to watch this space for news of the upcoming release of “Forgotten Victims: Healing and Forgiving After Suicide”.