I had a short conversation about suicide the other day with a woman on Twitter. We were discussing the mindset of someone who is suicidal and how not to try to help them. What caught my attention was her statement that people who are suicidal are generally not rational, so trying to reason someone out of killing themselves is not helpful.
I agreed with her point because I think she’s right. At least in my case, and in the other cases I know personally, the suicidal person isn’t thinking rationally. They are hurting and they don’t see any end to the pain. They feel like they are wrong or that they just don’t fit the rest of the world. They feel alone or that the ones they will leave behind are better off without them.
Some of those things may be partly true, but they’re not all true and none of them are 100% true. The problem is you can’t just tell the suicidal person “You’re wrong.” They’ve already done the math, they’ve just come up with the wrong answer, and telling them to recompute doesn’t help.
As an observer, you may not think what they’re going through is a big deal. Unless you know them really well, you probably don’t understand just how big of a deal it is to the suicidal person. You do not see what they’ve been thinking and feeling, what personal hell they are trying to escape, or what underlying mental illness they may be struggling with. None of the stressors look to you the way they do the suicidal person, but the suicidal person certainly thinks they are a big enough deal that they’re willing to kill themselves.
One of the pitfalls of failing to recognize just how big of a deal the suicidal person is going through is thinking they’re making a big deal of nothing or that they’re being suicidal for attention. For the love of God, don’t say what you’re thinking! They probably are blowing things up, but what they need to hear is that you care, not that they’re wrong.
In some of the dark times I’ve been through, I’ve been so turned around and twisted up in my thinking, that suicide seemed like a valid way out of the never-ending carnival fun house I seemed to be living in. I knew it was selfish, and I knew it was wrong. I was hopeless and desperate. I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong and that the world would be better without me.
I doubted everything, especially my sanity and my chances of coming back to the real world. I even doubted whether I was really suicidal not. Was I just so fucked up that I was pretending to be suicidal to make myself feel pitiable and important? What kind of person would do that, I wondered. Surely I must be really far gone if I’m trying something so sick.
And whatever I had been before, I then became very self-loathing and very certain that I needed to go. If someone had tried to “help” me then by telling me to stop being such a drama queen or to stop making such a big deal out of nothing, or if they had told me I wasn’t serious? I don’t know what I would have done, but I probably would have felt rejected, like my feelings didn’t matter. I would have felt like I had permanently lost that person’s respect and that it was only a matter of time before I lost everyone else’s (if I hadn’t already). I don’t know that I would have pulled out of that line of thinking.
Fortunately, no one tried to help like that. The few people who knew I was suicidal showed that they cared about me. And ultimately it was my routine that got me through. Getting up, eating breakfast, going to work. Putting one foot in front of the other, over and over, going through the motions but not the emotions of life. I took care of my loved ones, not because I felt anything at all for anyone, but because that was the right thing to do. And because I knew at least two people cared about me, even in my dark place, I kept putting one foot in front of the other.
Slowly but surely, the emotions started coming back and I found reasons to live as well as reasons not to kill myself each day. I still struggle with the same stressors and the same feelings of being crazy and hopeless and helpless. When I’m in a dark place, it feels like it’s not getting better and it never will, but step by step it is getting better.