Do me a favor. Time yourself as you read this post. Start the clock. Right…now.
Aside from the title, this post has nothing to do with When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. He just happens to be coming to town this week and I am overly excited to see him.
This post is about suicide. I know, it’s not a thing most people feel comfortable talking about. That’s because there’s a stigma surrounding the issue of mental health, and it’s also because it’s heartbreaking.
What we talk about when we talk about suicide: depression. Most people can at least partially understand a sadness so raw one would do anything to make it stop. Sadness akin to being set on fire in the middle of the desert where there’s no water, and baby, you just got to watch your flesh burn.
Most people are all—Yikes! Get a therapist and some antidepressants. Problem solved, right?
Back to the desert, burning alive, now you’re given a shovel and told there’s a water table below. How fast can you dig? There’s no way to know if the water will be ten inches down or one hundred feet. You can barely grip the shovel’s handle after hours of digging and there’s still no water in sight. The hole you’ve created looks more and more like your grave, a comfortable resting place. This is when a stranger pulls up in a motorized swimming pool. They lean over the edge, slide their shades down their nose, and inform you what a big fat quitter you are as they drink a tall glass of ice water. Half your thighbone is exposed. The flames ate away the muscle. You used to be a runner.
Now a well-meaning third party hands you a garden hose. Feeling hopeful? It’s gonna take three months for the water to flow properly. You’ll get a trickle at best in a week.
If you stop digging BECAUSE YOU ARE ON FIRE AND IT IS TOTALLY NATURAL FOR YOU TO WANT TO STOP, the a-hole in the pool will tell you they’re ashamed of you, and you’re horrible for not thinking about the other people in your life, and how you shouldn’t be having any more problems because you now have hope of water.
Here we pause for a moment.
When we talk about suicide, we talk about depression. I’ve never heard anyone talk about anger—rage so concentrated you want to bash the a-hole in the head with the shovel and jump in his pool. Then kill yourself because of it.
When I was younger we used to sing this song, “Momma had a baby and its head popped off,” while holding a dandelion and flicking its yellow top off with our thumb. Earlier this summer, I had such blinding rage that I wanted to rip everyone’s head off just like those flowers. Standing in line at the grocery store took too long, as did the sleepy gas pump that clicked over twice as slow as usual. The TV played shows about armadillos. The radio played songs that reminded me of ex lovers nonstop. And Facebook…how I imagined punching a hole through my computer screen and not stopping until my fist blew right through Mark Zukerberg’s scrawny chest—then I’d send round house Chuck Norris style kicks to Moskovitz, Saverin, McCollum, and Hughes.
I’m not a violent person. To clarify, I’d never ever hurt anyone on purpose. I love Facebook and its creators. So all that anger went inwards and got bigger. My psychiatrist said this was increased irritability. Therapist agreed. Husband said it wasn’t so noticeable. Psychiatrist asked me if I didn’t want to consider taking boxing up again. Therapist questioned how I was taught to manage anger as a small child.
Therapist: What did your parents do when they were angry?
Me: Grab anything within arm’s reach and beat us with it.
Therapist: And you know it’s wrong to beat people, don’t you? It must be very hard and confusing not knowing how to manage that anger.
Me: You’re head is looking an awful lot like a dandelion right now.
Therapist: Do you think you can use a skill when you get angry like that? Let’s try taking a deep breath.
Me: Ever been hit with a block of government cheese?
Therapist: (who’s good at redirecting) Now, breathe away that anger and imagine eating the cheese.
Me: Should I imagine constipation while we’re at it?
Breathing sort of took the edge off of the small things, but it didn’t touch the fire that was burning inside. I wanted to get in my car and drive as fast as I could until my car exploded. Every day my mind replayed the glorious explosion—where I burst apart, one of my arms flying a hundred feet and landing slow motion in a grassy field. Rarrrrrrrhhhh. A leg here. An eye there.
I told my Sassy-Polish-Chain-Smoking-Best-Friend about it. About genuinely wanting to die, and more seriously, about knowing I could take my own life.
Me: I could do it. I really could. Because I’m not afraid like I used to be.
SPCSBF: So what do you want? A medal? Anyone can die. I could choke on gummy Lifesavers tomorrow. Air hole closed. Dead. Now pass me that second funnel cake. We’re eating our feelings today.
And people wonder why I feel so alone.
I have a list of well over fifty skills to employ in case I catch on fire and there’s no motorized swimming pool in sight. I stop and identify the thought. Drop it. And roll, and rolling looks a lot like distraction—take a bath, take a walk, watch a movie, paint my nails, pet my cat. In the meantime, I do what anyone who sees a fire does—I call for help. I have a list of ten people, friends, family, and a therapist that I can call at anytime. When one person doesn’t answer, I move right down the list, sometimes texting four or five people at a time.
Rarely, have I ever told someone that I felt suicidal when I called them, and that I was calling them to be distracted from those thoughts. I just pick up the phone and chat about the weather or gas prices or how I’d like to be a rock in my next life so I can work on my listening skills. To be honest, I’m ashamed of the thoughts. They make me seem so ungrateful.
A few times now, I’ve gone all the way through my list and no one answered until the next day. I didn’t urgently call two or three times in a row, or leave messages that said this was an emergency please call back. I called or texted casually and got no response. You don’t want to know what depression tells you when this happens… no one really cares about you… it wouldn’t matter if you didn’t exist…
Am I still a quitter if I’m on medication, seeing a therapist, recognize the thought, try to distract myself, utilize an emergency action plan, and I still am blazing? Even with all of this help there are still times when I just. Want. To. Die. I want to quit the therapy. Stop the medication. Say enough with the skills. And die. Because I’m hanging on really hard, and some days I don’t even know why.
What about people who don’t have access to all of those resources, let alone a network of ten caring people they can call day or night? What if all they can manage is a lonely social media status at two am?
Will you offer them a lifesaver?
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Krisin Brooks Hope Center 1-800-442-HOPE (4673)
Maybe mental illness isn’t the most comfortable thing to talk about. But perpetuated stigma’s and silence costs lives. Suicide takes the life of one person every forty seconds—that’s one million people globally each year**.
You can stop the clock now.
*For the record I love SCSPBF. She’s saved my life many times. That conversation should have been with a trained therapist. It was unfair of me to put her in that position.
**Health Research Funding. Org http://healthresearchfunding.org/many-people-commit-suicide-year/