Given the manner with which the United States has waged war on the understanding and eradication of mental illness in favor of creating a lucrative prescription-dependent Prozac Nation, it’s not surprising that many of mine (and probably your) family members, friends, and acquaintances have been simultaneously fascinated and tormented by the idea of a decisive and irreversible action to end the problems in their head. None of the people in my own life have committed suicide, but far too many have tried. Some have even shared their stories with me and exposed me – despite all of my own problems with depression, anxiety, and compulsive disorders – to a very real place that I had once thought to be fraught with contradiction and populated by the truly-crazed. It is thanks to them that I am able to offer the following pieces of observation, advice, and, above all – thought.
Attempted suicide stories can be funny.
There’s a reason some of the world’s best comedians are – or have been – incredibly, deeply, and irrevocably depressed. Darkness is a fertile ground from which humor can grow (, and if you’re reading this on the Internet and know how to use it, you already know all about this truth). But when a close friend of mine told me of her suicide attempt for the first time with laughter underpinning her voice, I was stunned. She laughed at the motive, she laughed at the attempt, she laughed at the pill bottle and the ambulance and the medical bill. Tears eventually filled the creases that laughter created on her beautiful face, showing me the most jarring and convincing argument yet for the inextricability of sadness and happiness. They are less contradictions than they are teammates; and it is the successful understanding and balancing of these two forces that makes for a healthy life and reinvigorated future.
Attempted suicide stories will be sad, but never devastating.
It’s important to remember the “attempted” part of “suicide.” Mentally or physically mutilated by whatever personal tragedy may be, a life has not been extinguished. As such, it should be celebrated. Cry with your loved ones, but not for them. They are not to be mourned, but to be listened to. Their voice still speaks and although their words may frighten you, it’s important that you hear and respond with appropriate language. Hold their hand, hug their back, pronounce your love. Show that your presence, however ill-prepared and feeble it may be in the moment, is ready to be a pillar as they embark on the never-ending process of personal growth and rebuilding.
Attempted suicide stories don’t have to make sense.
One of the most important people in my life told me that the moment that pushed him over the brink of depressive thought and into suicidal action was when his cat stopped sleeping in his bed. Wide-eyed, noisy, and oft elusive to the rest of the world, the cat was his always reliable confidant in a time permeated by frantic motion and loneliness. After a series of desperately bad situations and untreated mental illness, he finally decided to take his life after his cat decided the floor was a better sleeping companion. It didn’t make sense to him as he told me and it didn’t make sense to me as I heard it. But that’s OK – demanding answers is destructive. Take the story for what it is until the healing process brings clarity – not for you, but for the person whose life was nearly picked up and lost in a foggy gust of wind. Count yourself a fortunate friend should you witness their full spectrum of pain and relief.
Attempted suicide stories can have unresolved conclusions.
It’s rare to find someone who has looked suicide in the eye and isn’t still actively dealing with the problems that drove them to that place. The attempted suicide story is not the full story – life is the full story. The attempt is only a part of that life. As such, it’s incredibly important to reflect on the part that it is, but not to place it as something in need of any immediate definition.
Attempted suicide stories are allowed to be private.
Even if you know it happened, even if you know the details, even if you’re the closest person in the world to someone who attempted it, people still reserve the right to keep their story private. Their story is allowed to live in whichever capacity they determine – anything else would be absurdly invasive and counterproductive. All anyone can do is be supportive, be patient, and be prepared to see the nuances of life and death from a perspective that may be completely new and unexpected.