March 14, 2019

In the Wake of Suicide

An old friend of mine recently took his own life.

I hadn’t seen him in years. The only communication between us for a good while had been on Facebook, but I certainly feel a sense of loss. If you’re over 30, you may be keenly aware that the passing of years and the roads which we travel in life may separate us physically, but the connections which bind us together remain for the rest of our lives.

Then I hear the news of his passing, and that it was by his own hand.

How does one respond to something like that? I fancy myself a bit of a wordsmith, but several days have passed since I first heard the news, and I have not yet been able to craft words which would properly honor the memory of my friend. I, like so many others, simply don’t know what to say.
“It was unexpected.”
“I’m shocked.”
“He was such a great guy.”
“He seemed fine.”

And the ubiquitous…

“Why?”

Death always presents us (the living) with challenges and questions, but suicide is an especially difficult case. What can drive a person to believe that the only remaining course of action is to intentionally exit this life?


Sudden tragedy?
In some cases, we see that a person’s choice to commit suicide was spurred on by some significantly traumatic life event. The death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the collapse of a career, or even being caught in a compromising situation like adultery or being brought up on criminal charges… In these cases, we can at least see something which explains the pain and turmoil which the person was feeling.

My friend, by all accounts, had experienced no such trauma.

Depression?
Mental illness is still a bit of a taboo subject, in spite of the advances made in clinical diagnoses and treatments in recent decades. There remains an unfortunate lack of understanding and empathy toward those who suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and so on. The truth is, if you haven’t experienced it for yourself, you can’t understand it – at least not fully.

When my wife first exhibited symptoms of depression some 20-ish years ago, I must sadly admit that didn’t “get it.” I tried to empathize, but if I’m honest, I fell far short. It was very difficult, and I was extremely frustrated by it. Then about five years later, I began having issues of my own. I quickly found myself looking back and realizing how little I really understood what she had been dealing with. In a strange way, I’m actually grateful for my own anxiety disorder, because it paved the way for a far deeper understanding of my wife’s condition.

Anxiety and depression of the clinical varieties are far different beasts than normal, day-to-day worries. You can become paralyzed, unable to take even the simplest of actions to pull yourself out of the mire. Worse yet, you “know” that you should be quite capable of dealing with the things which are troubling you. You may even be aware of potential solutions or strategies which will help, but the overwhelming senses of hopelessness and helplessness bar you from taking any action whatsoever. The frustration which you inevitably feel with yourself compounds the issues, and it’s all too easy to slip into some very dark places.

I’ve been in those dark places. They may creep up on you slowly, or they may ambush you without warning. There are times when everything seems pointless. Activities you once enjoyed no longer motivate you – in fact, they fill you with a sense of dread. People, even those whom you love the most, are exhausting. Everything which once brought joy into your life now seems like a sad, cruel joke. You just want to crawl under a rock and…

…yeah.

I believe this must have been the case for my friend. It’s almost cliché to say that on the surface, everything seemed normal. He seemed fine. He was at the height of his career. He was in a positive relationship. He was respected by his colleagues. He was loved.

And yet…

What can be said that hasn’t already been said countless times before? Every word seems insufficient, but still I feel obligated to say… something.

“You will be missed.”
“I wish I could have been there for you.”
“You will never be forgotten.”
“Prayers for the family.”

My words feel hollow because they cannot fill the void left behind. In the end, all I can do – all any of us can do – is keep going. Keep living. Keep on keeping on.

Please, if you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The pain you feel - and believe me, I understand it – doesn’t have to define you. There is a way back. Talk to someone. A friend, a family member, a coworker, a therapist, or even a total stranger if it comes to that. You are important, and we want to help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255

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