Before turning today’s post over to contributor GC, who writes forcefully but anonymously because of family concerns, here’s an example of how some of us are taking the silence around suicide and shoving it aside.
Last week, I walked into a Brooklyn bar where several people who had attempted suicide had gathered to celebrate a unique project, Live Through This. New York photographer Dese’Rae Stage is taking a series of portraits of attempt survivors just moments after they tell her their stories, and now she’s raising money to take the project national and visit other cities. There’s no anonymity. Everyone shares their real names. One person involved is Kevin Hines, who’s well-known for speaking publicly about his attempt and recovery. In his portrait, he looks totally at ease, smiling.
Other beautiful portraits lined the walls of the candlelit bar, and in the young, impossibly cool crowd I could barely pick out Dese’Rae’s mingling subjects from anyone else. Her own portrait _ she has a tattoo that must be seen to be believed _ was also on display, because she’s an attempt survivor herself.
Here was a rare example of truly taking the message mainstream. We know that thoughts and actions of suicide can happen to anyone, and that it’s possible to move on. But we have to say this more prominently, more creatively and more often. We have to find new ways to slip this idea into everyday life, beyond the supportive circles of mental health groups or suicide prevention organizations, or we risk talking mostly to ourselves.
Another example I just came across is Australia’s Soften the Fck Up campaign aimed at getting young men to open up instead of letting troubles drive them toward suicide. It was created by some social entrepreneurs, and it’s driven largely by video messaging and Twitter. In the original video under “Why We’re Here,” there’s no mood music, just a series of guys talking bluntly to the camera. Elsewhere on the site, other guys openly share their stories.
With our new blog, one small step you can take is finding the social media buttons at the bottom of these posts and using them widely. The stories here are for everyone, whether we imagine they need it or not. Remember that many people, like GC, can do a good job of hiding. Another modest step is the AAS’ T-shirt contest, which you could make quite interesting. Here’s a chance to take over suicide prevention messaging with some firsthand thinking. GC’s post mentions some of the well-meaning comments that we’ve all heard from people who haven’t had this experience themselves. Any ideas for what people really should say? Send them here.
“I’m sick of these things being swept under the rug,” Dese’Rae once told me. “I think it’s best to tell these stories so that people will know they’re not alone.”
And now, here’s GC:
Fear of suicide. This statement can be taken in one of two ways. The first is that some people are afraid to talk about suicide for fear of sparking thoughts about suicide. The second is that when someone knows you are feeling low and have attempted before, they are afraid of losing you and react in ways that may or may not help. Suicide attempters are at higher risk than non-attempters.
I’ll talk about the second interpretation first. I have a friend who is having me motivate her into writing by having me contact her every day for six weeks. What sparked this was, she read my blog about my recent near-suicide attempt. Now her ulterior motive is to keep me alive the only way she can think of, by having me write to her every day. In return, she has to write at least two pages a day for her own well-being. She needs my help to pursue her writing, which is important to her more than anything.
We are also guarding a human connection that is valuable to us. My writing keeps me alive, and because she doesn’t want to let me down, that helps her to write. She has this idea that people need human connection in order to stay connected to what they truly need to do, even if that connection is between polar opposites. She is bubbly and athletic, a motivational speaker, while I’m someone who is in chronic pain and disabled because of it.
I have to say that since I have been writing, I have been in better space. I would not say that I feel more connected, but I don’t want to let her down, so I try and write a little each day. Our rules are to email each other when we are done, and we are allowed our birthdays and Christmas off. For days where it is not possible for me to write because of whatever reason, we have given each other three passes on writing. Sometimes, because my pain or sleep deprivation is intolerable, I find that it can help me be creative and write about things. I don’t have a censor when I write. Whatever I think at that moment, I write it out.
I sometimes feel exposed because I am bearing my soul to this person I met through a friend on Facebook. We both belong to the same organization for suicide prevention. I am guessing that because she thinks of me as a sibling, and she did lose her sister to suicide many years ago, she does not want me to end up that way.
I am anonymous when it comes to my blog but not too much, as I pass these blogs on to my personal Facebook site, where my family members can have access to it if they were inclined to read it. Most often they do not because they are not online as much as my other friends are. I do not tell my family what I am doing. It would be heartbreaking and awkward for them to read what I write and then get asked at the dinner table what I meant by something I wrote. To be honest, half the stuff I write about, I forget. It’s an outlet like no
I am not going to lie and pretend that I don’t think about killing myself every day. It is a constant struggle, and I think that I worry a lot of my close friends who actually get to know me or who read my blogs about my struggles. But I think the reason why my blog has been so successful is because people can relate to what I write.
As far as the fear that talking about suicide can bring about a suicidal crisis, that is a common myth. Talking about suicide can actually prevent one, but some people are just not comfortable with the subject, and so they will say stuff that they think the person who is miserable wants to hear, like, “You have your life ahead of you,” “Don’t be so down, things could be worse,” or my favorite, “You have so much to live for.”
People don’t understand the pain that is involved in depression or in thinking about suicide. I have problems. Quite a few. I have mental illness and chronic physical and mental pain. I have been thinking about taking my life since I was 8 years old. Today, I think that pain stems from the fact that I am really a male and not a female. I knew at a young age that I was different, and back then, there was no expressing how I truly felt. I really think that if I had gotten help sooner, this would have come to light sooner, and I wouldn’t be in this pickle today about what to do with my transition.
I’ve recently started a new journal. And like every other journal before it, the first thing that goes into it is my crisis response plan, which is taken from the Air Force Guide to Managing Suicidal Behavior.
When thinking about suicide, I agree to do the following:
Step 1: Try to identify my thoughts and specifically what’s upsetting me
Step 2: Write out and review more reasonable responses to my suicidal thoughts
Step 3: Do things that help me feel better for at least 30 minutes (examples can include trying to sleep, playing Internet games, listening to music, etc.)
Step 4: Repeat all of the above
Step 5: If thoughts continue or get specific, and I find myself preparing to do something, I will call a suicide hotline or someone that I trust. Sometimes hotlines aren’t so helpful, but calling a friend is
Step 6: If I cannot reach the above, I will call my therapist or psychiatrist
Step 7: If I am still feeling suicidal and I don’t feel like I can control my behavior, I will go to the ER or call 911
I have found that having this is useful when I have been hospitalized, because it provides a plan of something that they need for discharge, and I always carry my journal.