Thursday, October 5, 2017

What suicide does and does not do

Last night, I found myself having to grasp for the right words and thoughts as my daughters lost another classmate and I have spent a lot of time since this news observing from afar the grief of this young girl's family and close friends via posts on social media and reliving and reanalyzing my own past experiences.

A lot of thoughts have run through my mind. What can we do to save our young people from suicide? Why does it seem to be happening so often? Are my kids really as happy as they seem to be or are they hiding some sort of pain that I am missing?

It's a lot to consider. It's a lot to worry about.

When I was around their age, suicide was pretty much unheard in my life of until I got a phone call at age 16 on a sunny July morning in 1990. The only portrayal of it I remember from before that was in "Romeo and Juliet" and there was nothing about the play or the movie that made it look appealing at all.

Fast forward to 2017 and I worried about "13 Reasons Why" when it premiered on Netflix because I had read the book not long after it came out. I openly shared my thoughts on it with my kids because I knew that they would watch it and a lot of their friends were watching it.

I didn't ban them from watching it or try to pretend suicide did not exist or should not be discussed. I've always been very open with my kids about my experience because I worried about what they might be feeling and what their friends might be feeling. I hate to think about how one quick decision can cause so much pain for so many people.

My main concern was not necessarily that the show romanticized suicide but that it mainstreamed it, showcasing it as a viable option, projecting on their screens and possibly into their minds that suicide was the ultimate way to get people back for whatever they had done.

Does suicide really impact the bullies and the rumor spreaders or whoever that you might think you will punish by this terrible final act? I don't think so. I think suicide lets the people we desperately want to get away from off the hook, like in "A Christmas Story" when Adult Ralphie comments, "We knew darn well that it was better not to get caught."

Of course, I don't know if people actually do commit suicide in order to punish those they consider to be their abusers. Maybe that is part of it but I think that most of the time it might come down to just being an escape from all of the pain and what can you truly say to that?

I say this - if the abusers or the bad situation you are in is a part of high school, focus on the fact that high school is a minuscule part of your overall entire life. Four years. Once you are out, you have more control over who you associate with and where you can go. It frees you up to finding and surrounding yourself with people who care about things you care about and who are concerned for your well-being. I know that the school years seem like they last forever but they don't. I'm almost 27 years out. Some days it's hard to figure out where all the time went.

However, I'm not here promising that adult life is all perfect with no problems. What I am saying is that no problem is forever. It does get better. I know those words ring hollow when you are stuck right in the middle of a terrible situation but your life is worth more than any bully, any abuse, any situation that you seem trapped in. There are people who care. If someone doesn't listen, move on and tell someone else. Find a favorite teacher. Tell your friends. Tell your counselor. Tell your parents. Tell the parents of the friends you trust. You are worth so much more than just giving up. You keep telling people. If you feel you've run out of options locally, call a support line. Friends, tell your parents, teachers, police officers, anyone that will listen and act, if your friend comes to you saying they are depressed or if they are talking about suicide.

I write from experience. I wish I had done more. I wish I had known what to do. Maybe the outcome would have been different. Maybe not. I could use as an excuse that it was unheard of all those years back but the real key is that suicide was just something I was not and am not capable of and I saw my friends problems through my own mindset so I never consider that the people I knew might be capable of something I felt that I was not.

That leads us to this: if suicide doesn't punish those you punished you, what does it do? Let me tell you. It destroys a part of the people that really love you and this part never grows back, altering them and the paths their lives take. They will replay the final conversations over and over, searching for answers that they never truly find no matter how many parts of the puzzle they manage to piece together. The question of why is never completely answered, NEVER.

They will feel guilty when they recognize the signs in hindsight even if they didn't understand the signs at the time. They will wonder why how much they cared about you wasn't enough to save you and why it wasn't as powerful as whatever it was in your life that took you away. They will become hypersensitive about the people around them who remain, constantly worrying about what is not being said, always afraid that this will happen again and they will typically push away relationships due to the trust issues that will stay with them for months or even years.

Every memory they have of you, no matter how happy it was at the time, is pulled into the sadness. I recently read "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace" by David Lipsky, one of many books that have some relationship to suicide that I have read over the years (I ended up in the library the following week in 1990 and started reading and never stopped, I guess as a part of some mission to make sense of it all) and I highlighted this quote a few weeks ago. It seems perfect to share here:
Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: Eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in its direction.
Also, the memories of this can come back without warning after being weeks or even months of not thinking about it. They can come back unexpectedly via an old photo or a certain date, typically not the day it happened or a birthday but the day of some turning point (oddly enough, for me it's Thanksgiving) or just something someone said or when an old song plays or even by visiting a place we both happened to be at the same time (Oddly enough, it happened to me in August at a high school football game). Whatever causes it, the question of why comes back, just as fresh as if it just happened and that is quickly followed by the wonder of who I might have been had life gone in a different direction and that is quickly followed by the paranoia and worry of what signs I might be missing and could this happen yet again.

To me, another tragedy of suicide (one of the many tragedies of suicide) is the swiftness of the decision. Though maybe considered and tossed around in the back of their mind for months, the decision to actually move forward with suicide seems to be typically brought about by one final event (the last straw) and the final decision is made hastily with no consideration of its finality.

Suicide deprives you of your future happiness. It spits in the face of your worth to those who love you and the value you have in this world. It deprives people that you might have had an impact on that you haven't even met yet of knowing you. Future generations are impacted by your absence.

Consider one of my favorite quotes by Leo Buscaglia which discusses not just the value we each have but how we can impact each other and how our impact might be the only thing saving someone from making such a terrible decision:
The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It’s overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.
Why share all of this? Partly, I just needed to stop thinking about it and get it all out of my brain so I can move forward. Mainly, I feel that if there is the slimmest chance someone will read this and realize that they are far more valuable than they or the people around them might think, it's worth typing this up and posting it here.

There are options of support if you feel you have exhausted all options available to you locally.

Three of those options are:

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