Suicide can be extremely difficult to talk about. This week I heard a great explanation as to why this topic is often silenced. It feels as if no one remembers the person who committed suicide, since no one talks about it. Perhaps it is our reaction to the tragic sorrow of unexpected loss, so no one knows what to say or how to act.
In light of this, I took it upon myself to reflect on why we find it such a hard subject to discuss. Before my own personal reflections, let’s take a look at some truly tragic recent estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) related to suicide:
- Over 800,000 suicides are estimated for 2020 by WHO (That’s not even factoring in the expected influx due to the current global pandemic.)
- For every suicide, it is estimated that there are at least 20 suicide attempts.
As a disclaimer, it is important to mention these are my own thoughts and opinions based on my personal experiences. I recognize there are so many more issues that can play in, but I feel it is important to at least get the discussion started surrounding this difficult topic. I encourage you to comment and share your own thoughts related to how we break taboo and begin to actually make inroads in dealing with such tragically high suicide rates.
Sharing my own personal story involving PTSD, ADHD, addiction issues, the daily battles and overall darkness I was living in continues to be very hard.
The hardest part is to be vulnerable about my suicide attempts and the shame I carried about my compulsive gambling addiction and the lies it spawned.
Those two subjects still have an incredible amount of guilt and self hatred in my mind to this day.
Although talking about suicide continues to be difficult for myself and others, I believe it should never be taboo nor should it be associated with shame. Unfortunately we are often left to deal with thoughts of suicide while also trying to process shame, guilt, and inadequacy in total isolation. It is an unbearable weight to bear and it is precisely why more open vulnerable and non-judgemental dialogue needs to happen. We need to create safe places for others who are experiencing and processing very real pain, trauma and emotion. How do we get past the shame and guilt often associated with opening up about our struggles?
Most of the time when we hear about suicide from the media it usually involves a celebrity who has tragically ended their life. Everyone is stunned as we collectively gasp wondering how things got to that level even though, very often, that person has stated how much mental strain and pain they were dealing with in both direct and indirect ways.
It is not until after a person’s tragic death that we start to see all the warning signs that were present. How can we both individually and collectively listen and intervene before it’s too late?
People often think that talking about suicide and sharing in our collective human experience is somehow going to be triggering. For me, however, the moments I felt truly connected through shared experiences, vulnerability and authentic human emotion were some of the safest and most self reflective moments I had in my journey. Hearing about others struggles allowed me to feel that I was not alone and although it didn’t change the psychological pain, it certainly lightened the emotional load.
It may seem counterintuitive but my most suicidal moments came when I was seemingly happy on the outside but wasn’t connecting with others nor my heartfelt inner emotion.
My self hatred grew with every minute of happiness I felt, because I didn’t believe I deserved it. These were the only moments I contemplated how to end my own life. Feelings of isolation, inadequacy and unbearable pain were the worst during these outwardly happy times.
What are we personally struggling with under the mask of laughter and happiness? Are we willing to be vulnerable with others and admit we don’t have it all together?
On that note, during the 8 years I seriously contemplated suicide I never told anyone about my suicidal thoughts- including my wife! Only after my first actual attempt did my wife find out the depth of my despair because she came home at the exact moment I was trying to convince myself that dying was the right option. This resulted in 5 days in a closed ward which didn’t help in convincing me that suicide was the wrong decision. My mindset and outward expression continued to be… smile and wave… keep it together!
As my mind and body bounced back from what had happened, I was frightened of how easy it was for me to return to normal, as if nothing had ever happened. For four years, I carried this with me in an ever increasing tormented and destructive mind. Lies and self destruction we’re ever increasing in this period, and I still couldn’t muster the bravery to tell anyone…smile and wave…keep it together!
I ended up attempting to end my life a second time in October of 2019. I’m not proud to say this, but when I blacked out and thought it was all over, I felt a sense of relief. As friends and family found out I was sent to a closed suicide ward, for the first time, I actually gave it some serious thought and reflection. I’m not going to expand on my story of recovery as I talk more about that amazing journey in Episode #10 of the Band Together Podcast. Suffice to say, I have found tremendous meaning in my story through being courageously vulnerable.
Now in retrospect, I want to share a few reasons why I didn’t seek help earlier as it may shed some light on issues that still exist toward healing for someone struggling and how we as individuals and collectively as a society might be able to help.
Shame was by far the biggest issue. The PTSD was growing slowly inside my head, fuelled by my ADHD, topped off with addictions of every kind. It paints a pretty bleak picture of my health at the time. Although there was so much out of my control, I felt I had only made things worse by how I chose to cope with my demons and hence, the cycle of shame began to take hold. It was the gambling addiction where I felt the most shame. I lost money and had to tell bigger and bigger lies in order to cover for my addiction.
I felt like a failure to my family and it hurt.
As the depression began to get worse, my life spiralled out of control. I was in no rush to share my innermost thoughts as the amount of shame and guilt was truly an unbearable weight.
The dam finally broke when I had to write a day by day follow up for the future, including what triggered these waves of self harm and destruction for my doctor, psychiatrist and one of my guarding therapists while on suicide watch. While sitting there with the doctor, psychiatrist and therapist, I also had to come up with a “choose life” plan. Their line of questioning and guidance really helped me write down for the first time the stuff I had been hiding for so many years. The only way I was able to tell my family and friends about what I was going through was by showing them my psych report. In it were details of what happened in my apartment during my suicide attempt and everything leading up to me being put into a guarded institution after the closed ward. It also detailed what kind of treatment I was going to get in the next months and years.
I now realize this was the beginning of my healing.
My shame and guilt from those years will never be forgotten, and “I’m sorry” doesn’t even begin to cover it to those who stood by me in that time. Even though I still struggle with the shame to this day I now have family and a select group of close friends in my corner who know my struggle and are there to encourage and support me.
Is there a way to push past the shame we feel when we hurt those closest to us before it overtakes us? How can we as individuals and collectively as a society help those who are stuck in the shame cycle?
If I were in that dark place again would my response be different? I honestly don’t know, but at least I can recognize that part of me now. The self insight and past reflections might help me in the future, as long as the treatments, meds and my writing keeps me in check.
I will honestly admit, I want you, the reader, to engage and comment on the subject. It’s only together we can find some new tools to ease the darkness that suicidal thoughts brings. Maybe one comment or one thought is enough to save one life. I know how hard it is to talk about, that’s why I’m laying my head on the block and exposing my jugular in this blog piece, so to speak. After all, it might be my life you are saving.
The big question is still, why do we find it so hard to talk about suicide? Could our genuine discomfort about talking be what is contributing to the isolation and shame so many feel? Could vulnerability and authentic connection be the answer?
I hope this blog post is the beginning of a discussion around suicide in open and meaningful ways. If we can’t openly talk about our struggles without fear of being judged, thought less of or ridiculed, then we will continue to live in shame and isolation.