I’m not contemplating taking my own life. I am merely thinking about the impact of suicide.
But I am thinking about the shame that surrounds suicide, particularly for the family, and the mental health issues that aren’t discussed enough. I’m not here to make light of the issue; I want to talk openly about it even though it makes many people squirm. I’m not going to share statistics. I’m here to talk about how these were people.
Yesterday I stumbled on a post from my old friend Danielle, who I’ve known since my early teens. A picture caught my eye. Someone I knew, way back in my Hockey BC days. I read the post, which broke my heart. She had passed away from suicide. A promising future, starting her residency after medical school. Her name was Laura.
Several years ago, right after Christmas, my cousin Tyler pointed a gun at his chest and pulled the trigger. He too committed suicide.
We dance around the point. We speak gently about it, not wanting to offend anyone. And I understand. Suicide has been seen as a shameful, selfish act for years and years. It’s taking the easy way out.
Or is it?
My eyes were wide open after I read and re-read the 10 page letter that my cousin carefully crafted before he died. The anger towards past events that may have started paving his path was clear. But the calm and determination in his words, while confusing to me, clearly demonstrated he had resolved to end his life. And in a way, that gave me peace. Seeing inside his head, I felt I could understand his pain. He thought he was a burden and honestly believed the world would be better without him. Is suicide selfish? It may seem that way. But many people are looking to unburden their family, not create more burden. Remember, we’re talking about a person that sees things differently than we do. To us it looks selfish, because we’re left behind reeling from the pain. To the person who committed suicide, it may seem the most unselfish act they could do to make their loved ones lives better. Other people commit suicide not to unburden their families, but to unburden themselves from inescapable pain.
I hope that no one ever has to experience the kind of pain that is such a burden that death is the only fathomable option. But many people do, and will continue to.
Many (I would even guess most) people in this situation experience some degree of mental illness. Whether it’s depression, bi polar disorder, schizophrenia or any of the thousands of other diagnosable illnesses that cannot be seen. People suffer in ways you cannot understand.
I was first diagnosed with depression in the 9th grade. I was active, healthy, happy. But couldn’t shake the heavy darkness. I doubt I told anyone except my mom, who took me straight to the doctor. I quietly took little pink pills, feeling slightly better, assuming “slightly better” was what normal people felt like and just accepting that.
In university, I went through something very difficult. My depression spiralled out of control. I lost my friends, hockey – my identity. I was 19 and my world flipped upside down didn’t feel safe anymore. While this was going on, I didn’t leave bed for weeks. I’d get up to drive my uncle’s step-son to school some days, but the rest of the time I laid there, blankly staring at the ceiling, feeling empty. I didn’t go to class. I didn’t return phone calls. I was in a very dark place. A dark place where a bottle of pink pills seemed like a really good solution to the emptiness and helplessness.
Over the next handful of years I went on and off different drugs. Thinking I could kick this if I just tried to be happier, went to counselling, ate more broccoli. Depression is just a mindset, I’d been told. Even with my minor in psychology, and knowing better than to believe what I heard, I was affected by the stigma and didn’t want people to think I was weak.
As an adult, I found a new doctor and a new drug. I went from feeling slightly better to feeling normal. I stopped trying to go off drugs. Now they are just a regular part of my routine. They are what my body needs to be balanced, but there isn’t anything wrong with me. You wouldn’t keep insulin from a diabetic and say “just will yourself to not have diabetes”. Please don’t look at people with mental illness and ask them to will themselves better. It doesn’t work like that. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
I know there is darkness out there. Darkness that some people don’t understand because they’ve never experienced it. I am grateful that I found light, and that I’m happy and healthy today. But not everyone is able to find that for themselves.
When someone commits suicide, the people around them often feel ashamed. Why didn’t they see it? Why couldn’t they stop it? Your loved one hid their feelings as best as they could because they didn’t want you to hurt too. The world that person lived in looked so different from what you experience. The signs aren’t always obviously. And I understand that people often seem calm, like they’ve found closure, prior to going through with their final act.
Talk about suicide. Talk about mental illness. Talk about these things so the people that were lost to suicide can teach lessons to those who are struggling.
Don’t let it define you. It’s horrible losing someone to suicide. But it’s important that you find a positive way to move forward. Often people get stuck in place. That’s not what your loved one wanted for you. They wanted you to be happy, even if they couldn’t be themselves.
It doesn’t have to be a secret. It doesn’t have to be shameful. Don’t be scared to talk about the people, like Tyler and Laura.
They aren’t just statistics.
Their stories matter.