Before you think you know what this post will be about, let me warn you, it’s only tangentially related to the subject of suicide.
Suicide is not my favorite subject.
Suicide is a complicated, painful and tricky subject.
But suicide is the subject that prompted me to write this post today, thus the title.
But don’t worry. This post is about much more than that uncomfortable word I just said.
This post is about appreciating difference. Specifically, it is about acknowledging and really “getting” that the way the suffering or recovering person thinks is much different than the way the loving, supportive helper thinks. In other words, what one person needs could be different than what others believe they need.
Before going forward, let me iterate and reiterate that this is only my thinking about my life experience. These words only represent what I have experienced and what I have witnessed as I have tried to help others. In that way, these words can only really be helpful to those who relate on some level – or understand.
So, back to suicide.
The really unfortunate and annoying news is that I have suicidal thoughts. I have many, many, many suicidal thoughts. Its just the way my brain is wired.
I don’t like it. I don’t choose it. I don’t benefit from it.
It’s just the way my brain is wired.
I won’t go into my family history or my brain chemistry or my relentless efforts to eliminate or diminish these thoughts. That’s personal health information and, quite frankly, I hate debating what I’ve tried and what works or doesn’t work with others who may or may not have had similar experiences.
It’s just not helpful. At least not for me.
But, I will say that I have tried almost everything available, both traditional and untraditional. And although many tools help me to successfully manage the impact of my thoughts on my ability to function and thrive, few tools help to actually diminish those thoughts.
And so, I live with suicidal thoughts.
I live with suicidal thoughts the way others live with whatever they live with. Everyone has a condition, whether it is theirs or the condition of someone they love or care for.
Everyone has something.
That, to me, is comforting. The universality of discomfort actually helps me to keep my own discomfort in perspective most of the time. And proper perspective, for me, is life saving.
The problem with my suicidal thoughts is that they are ridiculously strong and far more persuasive than the thoughts of those who love me or are in the business of helping me.
This isn’t sad or a shame or awful. This is, for me, just a fact of my life. I think about my brain chatter the way I think about any medical condition. It needs to be dealt with as well as possible on a daily basis to avoid any periods of unavoidable health crisis.
Those who are against suicide, for good reason, believe that suicide is wrong or bad or not the answer.
I can’t disagree with any of that. I wouldn’t recommend suicide, generally speaking.
But my brain doesn’t have a problem with suicide. My brain tells me that suicide is a good thing – a better alternative than any of the other alternatives. My brain tells me that suicide is the right thing to do and that it’s inevitable.
If you’re reading this and you’re uncomfortable with those words, then welcome to my life.
Even I am uncomfortable with these words. In fact, I hate these words. I especially hate having to discuss these words from time to time. I hate the fact that I can’t just ‘get over’ the thoughts in my head. But these words live in my head, trying to take over from time to time.
So here’s the question I grapple with in trying to help myself and, more importantly, help others.
How do you help someone who believes what their brain or body is saying? How do you help them without defaulting to persuading them to listen to your helpful brain chatter instead of their unhelpful brain chatter?
The bad news is that I don’t have the answer. At least not today.
To date, no good argument about God, love, life, family or anything else I value most highly has been effective enough in the mental battle of thoughts.
It’s not that I don’t understand the arguments. I do.
It’s just that my brain thinks differently. And my brain thinks it’s smarter about this particular subject than the brain of anyone not living my life.
My 2016 is, in great part, dedicated to helping understand how to bridge the gap between helpful intentions and actions that are actually, effectively and even substantially helpful.
Toward that end, a few observations:
Everyone is suffering or recovering from or managing something. But everyone is different. What helps one person may irritate or agitate the next person. Just be aware and sensitive and open to considering a million different ways to be helpful.
Ask the person you hope to help what is helpful for them. And then honor what they say, assuming they’re a decent communicator.
And never underestimate the value of the tiny gesture.
Dropping off popsicles or magazines or hot chocolate might be the gesture that relieves the person’s pain long enough that they can manage the moment and move forward. Just be sure to thoughtfully match the drop off to the special limitations of the condition. Someone having trouble eating or drinking will welcome different treats. Someone having trouble reading or focusing will welcome different media. It’s better to ask what a good treat would be than to surprise the person with the wrong treat. It’s not that the wrong treat isn’t appreciated…it’s just not helpful. Surprises are for celebrations, not comforting.
Helping the person obtain resources that make life more comfortable are often invaluable. Does the person need groceries delivered? A space heater? A fan? A really great straw? Maybe they need a lift to an appointment or someone to go through their mail.
So many ways to help. So so many.
And, of course, helping the person to alleviate even the smallest stressors can help immensely. Ask them what they are most worried about and help them find a way to relieve the burden of that worry. Remember that a person who is struggling is often incapable of making even simple decisions. Your ability to help accomplish simple tasks might provide the person the break they need from life’s basic – but debilitating – stressors.
Just do something.
And never believe that anything short of face-to-face is unacceptable.
Send the email or text – even if it’s just an xo or a heart or a smiley emoticon. We complain about emoticons when we’re feeling oh-so-smart and bigger than life. But most of us welcome the same ridiculously simple emoticons when we’re feeling small and alone.
And, as I recently discussed with a friend dealing with his own family situation, don’t be scared of the person in pain. Engage the person in pain. The person who is engaged in any way with others is relieved, to some extent, while they are engaged.
And never stop asking or suggesting things that might help. The person you want to help might say no today but say yes tomorrow. The person you want to help might benefit from the 179th suggestion you make even though they poo poo’ed the first 178 suggestions.
And finally, at least for the purpose of this post, remember that the person’s condition is only a part or a piece of the person’s life. Remind the person, through conversation and engagement, that their life is far more than the present moment. Focus on their profession, their interests, their talents. Focus on their stupid collection of whatever stupid things they collect. Stupid collections of stupid things provide great comfort during difficult times.
Everyone is dealing with something. Whether you’re on the up side of life today or the down side of life, you can ask for help, be open to help or, hopefully, give help.
So do something.
Thank you to everyone who helped 2015 be better. Let’s all help 2016 to be better still.