Suicide doesn’t happen overnight.
I’ll be really honest here. Suicide for me was the great eject button on a flight I didn’t think I had any control over. I remember sitting at my desk at my last full time job thinking, “If this is all there is to my life, then I think I’m just going to pass on living it.”
I was in existential pain pretty much 24/7 by that point. I slept maybe three hours a night. But I don’t think that anyone besides my husband really knew that. I am a people pleaser, and my suicidal thoughts didn’t over power that urge. I smiled. I did my job the best that I could. Sure, things were starting to slip – but no way in hell was I going to admit that. Which brings me to my first point:
Suicidal people don’t look like suicidal people. They usually don’t ask for help until it’s too late – and they aren’t out for your sympathy. If someone is suicidal and asks for your help, take them seriously. It doesn’t matter what you “think” someone at the end of their rope should look like. We all hide our pain in different ways.
And I say this to hopefully get across the universal truth that we can all become inundated by pain. Because the heart of the matter is this: Someone doesn’t become suicidal over night. I’ve never met someone in all of my time behind closed group therapy doors that had one thing happen to them that changed everything to the point of unbearable. Even if it was a triggering event – there was so many messages there before.
Suicidal people are made by little messages over time telling them one thing over and over: you are not built for this life. They believe they can’t ever be happy here. They believe they are bad for other people and the world would be better without them. They believe that their life is so irrevocably far away from the life that they want that there is no possibility of them ever having happiness. There is a fundamental disconnect between the life they’re living and the life that they thought was “supposed” to be theirs.
I know these things because I’ve been intimately acquainted with these thoughts and heard them from so many, terrified, sad desparate people. But I tell you this because I think that there is a lot of hope in knowing that a suicidal mindset is one of negative conditioning. If there is a crisis, then different action altogether is required. This link to the National Suicide Prevention site will give you lots of great info. But how about we help our friends who struggle with mental health (like me) before they ever get to the crisis stage?
Stow your expectations at the door.
Every single person’s best life looks wildly different from the other. Forcing someone into your idea of a happy life doesn’t make them happy – it makes them feel like they’re broken.
Understand that loyalty, friendship and love look completely different coming from different people. Don’t withhold affection from someone who is suddenly unable to be the same amount of involved in your life due to mental health issues. Include them as much as you can, on their terms. Maybe you don’t have hour long phone calls anymore – but texting is great for your anxious friends.
Accept people for who they are, what they love and who they love or accept that it’s your problem that you can’t. There are so many people out there hurting right now because they think THEY are the problem – when really bigotry, racism, homophobia and hate are the problem.
Make plans with the struggling people in your life. Understand that just because they don’t initiate doesn’t mean they aren’t starved for attention. Be patient if they have to cancel, and keep trying. Bringing someone back into the world is a painful, arduous process – one that requires first convincing someone that this is a world they can belong in.
We are all learning how to live life well, and the bottom line is that we need to give each other a lot more grace and freedom in the process. If you’d like more tips on supporting people with depression, please read my other post: Depression is not a character flaw. And comment below if you have more wisdom on the matter or just need some support. No matter what, you are not alone.