After a certain age, you get the benefit of looking back at your life and you're able to see those points where events touched you down to your deepest core. These are places where you mentally and emotionally have nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. Thinking of my own life, there is no better example of this than having experienced people close to me attempt (and in one case succeeded* at) suicide. At these points, well, life lays you bare.
I can't speak as someone who has attempted suicide myself. That's just not part of who I am, regardless of what I've had to face in life. I suppose that's a good thing, however, every now and then I do get thoughts of "well why me?", where I wonder why this gift (if you want to call it that) wasn't shared with some important people in my life. It almost becomes hallow in a way, a form of survivor's guilt that while bad, is clearly better than death. Put another way, it's as if I can intellectually understand why people attempt/commit suicide, but I can't feel why they do it.
None of the above is an attempt at requesting pity or creating a moral equivalency between the "here" of being impacted by suicide vs. the "there" of actually committing the act. In point of fact, I get to write this posting but yet, for example, my brother isn't around to read it.
All I can speak to now is what I've experienced and what I've tried to learn over the years.
Speaking of experience, there is nothing that can prepare you for that first call of "This is ____________ your ___________________ attempted to harm themself..." (or words to that effect). Enough times and you become numb to it, which is its own special form of punishment, once the guilt at becoming numb begins to set in. No one should ever treat an attempt at suicide as being anything less than the life-altering event it actually represents.
Experience noted, what have I learned over the years? A few thoughts:
- Life truly is precious. It's just not possible to prospectively comprehend what it's like when someone leaves your life after taking their own. There are no words that do it justice. All that's left are old pictures, almost ghost-like memories, and the occasional vivid dream.
- We are all unique. Each of us deals with the drivers of suicide in different ways. For some, those drivers don't have a high degree of power over our lives. For others, they seem to be a constant voice from a dark corner offering a solution that, in hindsight, is actually searching for a suitable problem...a problem which, for all but the terminally ill (perhaps) doesn't actually exist.
- It creates ripples. Maybe a way to describe the impact that suicide has had on my life is to explain it as being something that created ripples. These ripples have the staying power to last years; maybe until the end of my own life (from old age, hopefully). Sometimes these ripples re-appear when I see or experience something that brings back a jarring memory or two.
Lastly, and at the risk of sounding a bit more preachy, I'll add this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Whether the "YOU" is someone experiencing suicidal thoughts or someone who has just such a person in their life, the biggest lie of suicide seems to be the idea that "no one can understand how I feel". While that may be true on one level...no one can ever literally climb into another's head and experience their life from that perspective...it is patently false from another, namely that a 100% 1:1 connection on an emotional and experiential level is not required for successful mental health treatment and wellness.
So please, if you read this and know of someone struggling with significant mental health issues, try to help. See below. If you are struggling to deal with the aftermath of suicide, know that you're not alone and that there is help for you as well.
Life is worth living.
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(*) "Succeed at suicide": The irony is that the only successful suicide is the one that fails.