Monday, June 11, 2018

Three Ways to Fight the Stigma of Suicide

Celebrity Suicide June 2108

Last week was a sad week for celebrity suicides. You may not have known much about those who took their own lives, but if your social media timeline was like mine, you were connected with many people whose hearts were touched by the news.

We began the week with the passing of Kate Spade, a fashion designer who built a handbag empire and turned her name into a multi-million dollar brand, then finished the week with the passing of Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and CNN host whose stories about exotic cultures and food entertained audiences worldwide. They both chose to hang themselves—a gruesome end to their stellar careers.

Many people ask themselves, “Why? How could this have happened‽” I’ve seen others sneer. Some even faulted the departed for selfishness because they left behind grieving loved ones. These are the typical responses one finds online. The internet is filled with many insensitive souls who are drunk with their own superiority, but generally, most people are good at heart. Suicide shocks them to their core.

We expect moody teenagers or troubled individuals to struggle with those fatal urges, not successful individuals at the height of their empires. I sometimes suffer from the same misconception that many people have: I equate money and success with happiness. How often have you thought you’d be happier if you just had more money?The problem is that successful people are too busy to make time for physical or mental health checkups, or they fear the public response to their private problem. In a way, their success costs them their lives.

Although I knew of both celebrities, their deaths did not impact me in the same way as others that I know. I never purchased a Kate Spade bag, and since I don’t have cable, I’ve only caught Bourdain’s show here and there at doctors’ offices over the years. What did impact me was these events happened on the same week that I was dealing with my own suicidism. What strange and macabre timing.

Somewhere about 73 days ago, I was lying in bed, trying to quiet my mind from the stresses of life, when it suddenly occurred to me that my problems would be solved if I killed myself. Just as suddenly, I was horrified at the thought. Where in the world did that come from‽ I sat upright as if launched by rockets.

The monsters in my bedroom don’t live under my bed. They leap out from the shadows and wrestle with my mind. I hadn’t experienced anything like that—with such intensity—in years. Suicidal urges are few and far between for me these days. There is a reason for that. I am still here today because I’ve developed a set of coping strategies that I follow immediately. They keep those dark urges in check.

When my thoughts take a deadly turn, I pray for help, and also immediately tell somebody in my support network. Then I schedule a followup with a mental health professional.

Those three coping strategies have turned me away from many darkened corners. If you tend to mock prayer, think of it as a form of mindfulness. If you mock that, too, make sure you tell somebody what you are struggling with. Suicidism thrives in the dark. It feeds on fear, depression, and shame. You must shine light on it or risk it growing. Part of shining light on that darkness is sharing what you’re going through with a professional, yet spilling your guts to a stranger can be embarrassing.

Suicidal urges are often considered shameful and embarrassing. People generally don’t like to admit that they are struggling. This isn’t Tumblr where kids post photos of their slashed arms. Pride, stigma, or fear keep most people quiet. If I’m describing you, then please consider taking action to preserve your life.

However, I can’t pretend that sitting in a chair and telling a stranger that I wanted to kill myself isn’t surreal. First of all, the urge passed months ago. Second of all, I have no idea how this person will respond to what I am sharing. That is the part that can be unnerving. I recommend taking things slow, sharing innocent details about your life and gauging their reaction before pulling back the curtains for the whole sordid show.

I force myself to follow this coping strategy because it is important to hold myself accountable. I cannot let suicidal depression take root and ruin my life again. If telling a stranger is the price I need to pay to keep those urges at bay, then I gladly pay. I’ve been in the dark wishing I was dead. I’ve lived with that as a daily urge. No thank you. I am glad that I crawled out of that darkness and embraced living instead. It’s been twenty-six years since the worst point in my life. That means twenty-six years of upsides—the entire life of my oldest child who I would have robbed by taking myself out of her world.

Opening up about your suicidal urges with people you trust is a frightening step, yet it is so crucial to shrinking the power that suicidal urges have. If the families of the celebrities who recently took their own lives are anything like the other survivors of suicidal loved ones that I know, they are wringing their hands wondering what more they could have done. They blame themselves for not being there when it counted. I can’t say what Spade or Bourdain did or didn’t do in the days leading up to their fateful decision, but if you can learn anything from their deaths, reach out. Don’t hold this darkness inside. Your life is more valuable than you may realize. Stay connected with loved ones. Share your burden. It might save your life.

If you are looking for help with a suicidal loved one, my book has suggestions for you.