Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Give Yourself a Fighting Chance. Put Stable People in Your Support Network

If you struggle with suicide, depression or anxiety, the types of people you have in your support network can make the difference between them being a lifeline or a weight.

Sunken Boat by nasir khan

It’s been over two years since I was last suicidal. I wasn’t making dark and deadly plans at the time. I simply thought I would be better off dead. It was the matter-of-factness of the “epiphany” that startled me the most. It seemed perfectly logical. Fortunately, I’ve heard this logic before and immediately engaged my coping strategies. I let family members know, I prayed deeply, and since I didn’t have a current counselor, I reached out to a bishop for a recommendation. Quite quickly, I put the suicidal ideation behind me. That’s the benefit of coping strategies.

It also helps that I was able to analyze my feelings and separate my awareness from the emotional maelstrom. I could outthink the destructive thoughts. This is very difficult for many people, though. They get caught up in the emotional maelstrom. When the illogical becomes logical, they need help from a support network, but not everybody is so fortunate.

During my recent anniversary , I couldn’t stop thinking about K-pop star, Goo Hara. The last time I wrote about Hara’s struggle with suicide was last year. I don’t stan for K-pop cuties (okeh. Not much), but discovering her band was one of the happy moments I shared with one of my daughters after the divorce. When I heard about Hara’s struggles last May, I was shocked. I wrote about it last September during National Suicide Prevention Month, but when I found out she took her life two months later, I was devastated. I haven’t listened to her band in years, but I was connected to her story. I wanted her to pull through.

Unfortunately for Hara, one of the supports she leaned on was her friend, Sulli, a fellow K-pop star who took her own life in October 2019. Hara followed Sulli’s example a month later. This incident shows the importance of having stable people in our support networks who don’t struggle with what we struggle with. Social contagion is real. The actions of others can unduly influence our own thinking.

As I wrote last time, building a support network is very difficult to do, but it is vitally important for your well being. Even if your depression or anxiety never plunges into being suicidal, start building that network right away. Finding stable people who can comfort you with wisdom and care is a trial & error process.

I commented on this process in my book:

“…many people don’t know what to do with the confession—even church leaders. Are we just being melodramatic, they wonder? Are we just looking for sympathy? Are we trying to manipulate their feelings so that we can get something from them? Why don’t we just suck it up and deal with it like everybody else? They have problems, too. And on and on and on. Their lack of empathy can be summed up with one glib and unspoken question: “What is wrong with you?”

The problem, of course, is that not every ear is sympathetic or capable of understanding the answer to that question. Of course, not every teacher, counselor, church leader, family member, etc. is insensitive or incapable of helping you—in fact, I suspect they are in the minority—but when we are hurting, we aren’t very good judges of who is best to trust. “Wait a minute!” you may shout. Common advice for those experiencing suicidal ideation is for them to seek help—to reach out and let others know what they are feeling. I agree. That is an important first step. The trouble with this step is that not everybody is equipped to deal with suicidal ideation. They can handle a slew of human conditions, but perhaps not suicide.

Sometimes, they might be emotionally unable to process your pain, or perhaps they simply don’t understand what you are trying to tell them. You wouldn’t ask an ear doctor for a medical opinion on your foot, would you? Why assume that untrained friends & family will be able to help you with suicidal ideation? This seems logical now, but when we reach out for help due to the influence of depression and suicidal ideation, we are already not thinking clearly. What saved me when I reached out to that church leader was that I had something already in place to fall back on—a support network that I had relied on for years. This is why you should mentally prepare for a suicide emergency as you would prepare for a fire or earthquake emergency. Go over your plan before hand. Line up people before hand.”¹

It seems logical to reach out to people who are also going through what you are. If anybody is going to be sympathetic, it’ll be another person dealing with anxiety, depression, or being suicidal, right? However, consider for a moment how much energy you put into feeling “normal” each day—how exhausted you are by the end of the day. Your support friend is likely as exhausted as you are. They may not have the emotional strength necessary to carry your burden along with theirs.

My recommendation is to keep like-minded friends as friends, but build a support network with sympathetic and caring people who aren’t struggling with your same mental health issues. Camaraderie is important. However, when you’re floundering, you need people to pull your boat ashore when waters are choppy, not put holes in the bottom.

If you’d like to read the rest of the chapter featured in this article, you can find the book online at most major ebook retailers, or suggest it as a purchase for your local online library.

  1. Saying NO to Suicide by D.R. Cootey  ↩