Suicide is a terrible thing. The loss of actor and comedian Robin Williams is a somber reminder to all of us that depression is a horrible disease and it can drag anyone down. That is why we try to be ever so vigilant here at Postpartum Progress in encouraging you nonstop to take care of yourself and your emotional health and seek help when you need it. Suicide is never the best answer, even though we know and understand why and how someone could get to the point she believes it is the only answer.
In 2010, 38,314 Americans died from suicide. By way of comparison, there were 16,238 homicides in the US in 2011. I’m willing to bet most people have no idea that suicide happens more than twice as often as homicide. We have to talk about it. HAVE TO. I received a post today from a friend, a single mom who is a social media professional and PPD survivor, about her recent thoughts about suicide. I think her words are important and I’m glad she’s allowing me to share them anonymously with you today:
In the past weeks I’ve wanted to speak up, speak out, shout to the world that I am not okay. That I am most definitely and certainly not okay. But, aside from a trustworthy few in whom I’ve confided, I’ve stayed silent. Why? Why is someone who wants to be helped so afraid to be helped?
We live in a self-help society. There are books and shows and podcasts and platforms of every magnitude telling us how we can help ourselves and that we should, in fact, help ourselves. But we can’t always do that. I can’t always do that. I have spent weeks trying. Staying silent while switching medications. Telling only a select few even though staying quiet to so many others felt so wrong. I have spent more than 4 years being an outspoken advocate for maternal mental health as a postpartum depression survivor. But this? This general depression and anxiety that was swallowing me up in darkness? I couldn’t shout out about it. Why?
In the last 7 months I have been told things like, “You have so much to be grateful for.” And, “You have the life you wanted.” And, “Things are good in your life – what do you have to be anxious about? You have a good job. Your kids are healthy. You have friends. You should be more grateful for those things!” I am sure if you’re reading this and you’ve been in a dark place you have heard similar phrases and they always feel like a punch in the gut. They smother me with guilt and just intensify everything that feels wrong. Why couldn’t I just be happy with what I had? Why was I sad? What was wrong with me? Why would anyone want such a self-loathing unappreciative jerk in their life?
The darkness came suddenly and swallowed me. I haven’t been well in months but when the blinding darkness came it came quickly without warning. I was completely lost and could visualize taking my life. That was the first time I’d ever found myself in such a dark place. I was familiar with self-harm thanks to the time I lost to postpartum depression. But the idea of suicide was new, and I always imagined I’d be scared by it and yet instead I found peace in it. A sliver of peace in this hell I was living in, this hell in my own head. The idea that suicide is an easy way out, a permanent solution to a temporary problem, or selfish (all things I have seen people refer to suicide as over the last 24 hours regarding Robin Williams)? Not one of those things felt applicable to that moment when I stood in my bathroom and tried to grasp at anything to pull me away from ending my pain. From a pain I realized I’d likely feel again even if I got out of it this time, a pain that it seemed no one understood, a pain that was so sharp, real, and intense that even the most horrible ways to end it seemed like they would be a relief.
The things that saved me from hurting myself recently aren’t the things people list that one should be grateful for. It wasn’t my kids, my family, my friends. It was honestly that my house was a mess and my car payment was late and these were things I didn’t want to anyone else to be burdened with. The irony is that my house was a mess because my mind was a mess – I haven’t been able to pull it together enough to clean these days. Unfortunately exactly a week later I was in the same place, and one friend, without really knowing what she was doing, pulled me away from the ledge. She encouraged me to find a release, and at that moment it didn’t matter if it was the most unhealthy outlet. Just find one. Any one. Whatever it took. That night do something, anything, to get to a different day.
There’s not much joy to hold on to when you’re feeling so much incredible and dark pain. Trying to be grateful what other people see as the good things becomes nearly impossible, if not completely. For me, this time, it was my vices that saved me. And maybe that’s not sage advice, and maybe you shouldn’t listen to that. But being told to pull it together, being told to be happy with my life, being reminded that I had things to live for … those things didn’t reach me. Someone telling me to just DO whatever it took to get to another day is what saved my life. And as the world feels whatever it feels about the apparent suicide of Robin Williams, as we mourn or are angry or place blame in any number of places, I just feel intensity. For me this is messy, and complicated, and hard, and triggering. For me there’s a little less hope. Still, I have fight left in me. I will do what it takes when those days come to just survive until tomorrow.
We must start asking why people are afraid to say anything. We have to question why we, as a society, have become so “help yourself” that we make it hard for anyone to feel safe asking for help. We cannot allow this conversation to stop in a day, or a week. We can’t fall silent because there are too many who are where I was. There are too many that today are considering finding relief from their pain in ways that could cost them their life. We can’t settle for this. As it turns out my life is worth so much more than I thought it was. I just needed to get to another day, and another, and another to see that. The world wouldn’t be better off with out me, or you, or your neighbor, or your cab driver. The world isn’t better off when someone loses their life in the grip of depression.
If you are not sure if you should be talking to someone about your self harm thoughts, I’d like you to read An Explanation of Suicidal Thinking in Plain Mama English. And if you are considering suicide, please tell someone. Call your doctor or call the people at 1-800-273-TALK. You may not know them, but the people who answer that line really do care about helping you.
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