Anthony Bourdain. Kate Spade. Two names forever linked through one killer: Suicide.
Just to be clear, they are only two of the estimated 105 deaths by suicide in the US each day.* That’s over 700 suicides each week . Multiply that by 52 weeks and you end up with a yearly rate of over 38,000 deaths…it’s a staggering number, one that has been growing exponentially in recent years. And those numbers are only for the US.
Worldwide there is one suicide every 40 seconds.*
I could go on with statistics, but I won’t. There are plenty to be found in other posts and articles and online sources, so I’m taking things to a more personal level.
In the past I’ve mentioned my own battles with depression. I have visited those creepy corners where dark shadows lurk. At times I’ve had my own suicidal thoughts.
Too many times.
For anyone who has never gone through this, it must be difficult – perhaps impossible – to understand why someone suffering doesn’t reach out and talk to someone, seek some sort of help. Lately, especially with this past week’s two high-profile suicides, I have seen a lot of press about how we can help those considering suicide: hotline numbers, vows to listen to those who need to talk, etc. Facebook is rife with the cut and paste posts vowing the door is always open, yadda, yadda, yadda. That’s great if it works. I am in no way discouraging those posts. But why don’t they typically work?
I have mulled over what it might take for someone to ask for help; more specifically, I’ve mulled over what it would have taken for me to ask for help. What I came up with? I would never have reached out to someone when I was in that space. As for now? I’m not so sure I’d be able to do it now either, though I’m closer.
Shame: Suicide’s Ugly (AF) Friend
My reasons? Let’s see…
–I cannot speak as to why others don’t reach out, but my number one reason is Shame. Shame is the ugly beast who persuaded me my life was hopeless. It said I had made a lot of bad choices, that I was a terrible mother and wife and friend. Shame told me many things about myself: that I was broken, that I would never overcome, that I must suppress my disgraceful “flaws.” I would wager that most of us who have depression also have a crud-load of shame that pairs with it.
–I was convinced I would be doing the world a service by leaving. I believed that not only was I NOT contributing to this world in a positive way, but that I was making things worse. When the darkness enveloped me logical thoughts were blocked, as if there was a shield surrounding me repelling all that was rational. When one thinks they have royally screwed everything up, that they are broken – and I was sure I had, that I was – that’s when the Ugly-AF Beast (Shame) shows up and agrees with you; tells you you are worthless. Shame is a conniving MFer.
When the darkness enveloped me logical thoughts were blocked, as if there was a shield surrounding me repelling all that was rational.
–Was I really going to call someone at a time like that? I already felt worthless, like I had messed up my life and maybe even the lives of others. Was I even worthy of receiving help? Beyond that, was I capable of being helped? Remember, Shame let me know just how broken and unfixable I was. And calling someone to chat about it would only spread my darkness that much further. Who wants to be someone else’s Debbie Downer? Certainly not me. I’d done enough damage to others. In my warped mind, by not reaching out I was actually protecting you.
…by not reaching out I was actually protecting you.
–Over the years Shame discouraged me from committing to things, be it volunteering, getting a job, even being part of social groups…you know, the kinds of things people tell you you should do to help work through the depression. I never knew when the next bout of depression would strike. When it did, I withdrew; I could not be relied on. Shame reared its ugly head once again, convincing me it was better to not renege on commitments by not having any on which to renege.
Take all of the above and add in a society that contributes to the shame – under the misled guise of being helpful – with such statements as:
“You have so much to live for/so much going for you. What do YOU have to be depressed about?” (I saw this one a lot in the comments regarding the deaths of Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain)
“You need to get up and move, do something physical. Get out of bed/off the couch/[insert your own form of ‘laziness’ here]. You’ll feel much better if you get moving.”
“Snap out of it!”
“You have it so much better than many others in the world. Count your blessings.”
They are but a few, and they all ooze shame. Want to know why I didn’t – couldn’t – reach out? Those sorts of statements added to my already deep sense of shame, further emphasizing that I had a weakness to overcome rather than an illness. My strength of character was in question. Just to clarify, I am not laying guilt on anyone. If you have said these things to another I assume you did so from a desire to help not hurt. But it’s time to stop now.
The Stigma of Mental Illness
And here is where we need to begin when it comes to tackling these crises: we must undo the stigma we have created regarding depression and suicide and any other mental health illness…we must stress the fact that they are “illnesses” NOT weaknesses. This is not an easy task. Read through a few of the comments following articles on Ms. Spade’s or Mr. Bourdain’s death and it’s apparent there is much work to be done.
Suicide is anything but selfish. It is anything but a weakness. I never considered suicide “the easy way out.” Quite the opposite. The decision to stay in this world weighed very heavily on me. I actually felt shame that I didn’t have the courage to end it all and make things better for everyone else. How fucking crazy is that? Even when I [eventually] understood from a logical place that my depression was an illness, my inner critic still cried “Weakness!” Sometimes it still does.
The decision to stay in this world weighed very heavily on me.
Think about it, our brain is an organ, just as our heart is one. Why should it be treated any differently from a medical standpoint? Why do we act as if mental illness is about weakness of character? It has nothing to do with being lazy, “less than,” or weak. Some of the strongest people I know have depression. It is time to treat it like the illness it is. Would you throw a bunch of feel-good statements at someone having a heart attack and expect them to pull through without some sort of medical intervention? I think not.
Would you throw a bunch of feel-good statements at someone having a heart attack and expect them to pull through without some sort of medical intervention?
When the darkness eventually passed (which it thankfully did), I was a different person (until it hit again, which it also did). I saw things the way I assumed “normal” folks must see them. The clouds parted, birds sang, the sun shone. I reflected on the thoughts I’d had in my periods of despair, and Shame whispered, “Don’t tell anyone.” I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I did. Maybe that I’d be locked away, or that my friends and family would shun me – or worse, pity me. I sought normalcy. Caught up in the shame of my “weakness” I felt I had to hide what was going on inside.
I share this not so anyone will feel bad for me, but rather to offer up a window into the mind of someone who has contemplated suicide. It is great to be there for others, and even greater when those of us in need are able to take you up on those offers of help. But that is not always the case, and with this post is a plea: do not be so quick to judge someone going through it and why they do/do not seek help. These are battles fought from within. I can tell you that for me, those battles have been the toughest I’ve faced.
…do not be so quick to judge someone going through it and why they do/do not seek help. These are battles fought from within.
Why NOT Me?
What kept me from ever attempting suicide? That would be Fear. Specifically, I was afraid I was so royally inept that I would screw up any attempt to end my life, possibly rendering myself even more of a burden to those around me. The idea that if I failed my shame would be exposed, thus bringing shame to those around me, petrified me. It makes me cry to think about it.
What is even sadder is I know I am not the only one out there who has had or is having such thoughts. (And if you are reading this, and you are having these thoughts right now, PLEASE HOLD ON. As bad as it seems, this WILL pass. You are NOT BROKEN. YOU MATTER.)
I still on occasion go to those dark places, but the visits have been fewer and farther between. I have received help over the years via medicine and talk therapy…and they BOTH have had a healing place in my continuing recovery. And don’t get me started on how many people told me to stop taking meds, that I should find a more organic way or that the meds would mess me up (Seriously? I was already messed up!). I felt guilty that I needed them (here comes Shame once again); as if I was weak for using my meds. Yet in the end, I took them. And guess what? They helped me.
I don’t have the answers. I can only tell you my story and the insights I gained from living it. Namely, that depression is an illness; that we must release the stigmas and shame attached and focus on treatment. What worked for me may or may not work for you. Therein lies a large part of what makes mental health diseases so frustrating: they can vary from one person to the next requiring different solutions.
I sincerely hope that sharing my experience sheds a slice of insight for someone out there. I welcome your comments, thoughts, and suggestions.
*source for above suicide statistics: https://save.org/about-suicide/suicide-facts/