My secret relationship with suicide started as a child.
I remember being little, like before starting school little, and praying to start life over. I would make little bargains in my head promising to be better if I could just have a different life. The reasons for that are not important, but it was the earliest time I remember being sad enough to want to leave.
I attended a Wisconsin Lutheran school. We were taught that suicide is a sin. This is probably where my moral objection to suicide began. Interestingly, in one theory of suicide, this moral objection is one of three parts that keep people from attempting suicide. At school and at home, I felt alone. Lack of belonging or a support group is another of the three parts of that theory of suicide. The third is feeling like a burden to others.
In high school, I dated a psychologically and eventually physically abusive guy. It was after breaking up with him, being stalked, having no support system, and then being detained against my will that I tried to escape the only way I could — A hand full of pills. He had no choice, he had to let me go one way or another. He chose to call 911 and off to the hospital I went.
My family ignored the event as a sign of my immaturity. My high school classmates gossiped and I was suspended from my sports team for 3 games for drug abuse. This is where I became aware that I was completely on my own. If I didn’t care if I survived, there was really no one else. I think that is where my strength began. I began breaking harmful patterns, and I started to fight for me.
This did not end my secret relationship with suicide, though. I was lucky to find real friends as I started my adult life and, eventually, a man who saw through damage of my youth to the woman I could and would be. But I still felt the darkness start at the edge of my mind sometimes. It made no sense; my adult life was nothing like that of my childhood. The truth is that pain like this isn’t rational. It doesn’t follow the rules. That darkness that creeps in plays with your reality and distorts it so that the mind thinks the only way out of the pain is to leave life. This distortion even convinces the mind that everyone else will be better off without you. Suicide is a liar.
It saddens me when I hear someone say that a person affected by suicide is selfish. They are not rational enough to be selfish. Suicide is the lie that says it is a favor to everyone else. Suicide is the lie that says everyone will be better off, able to move on, not have to worry anymore. Suicide lies to make a person think it is the only way out of the pain. Suicide is not a healthy mind. A healthy mind does not hurt itself. Suicide is not a person we know and love. Suicide is something separate from that person.
In my professional life, I responded to many suicide and attempted suicide calls. I remember them too often along with the spouses, children, and even pets of the persons involved. On a few occasions, the person taken by suicide was a co-worker or fellow firefighter or police officer. I grieve for them all.
To the wife who asked, “Did you think this would help?” I say, yes, he did. To the children who wailed in the front yard while I tried to save your parent; I am sorry we were too late. To the golden retriever cringing in your crate next to us as we worked on your owner; if I had known, I would have asked someone to take you out of the room. To the little boy who asked me if I could stay with him while the adults around him sobbed; if only I didn’t have to return to my job. To the father who lost a child, the widow, the orphaned children; I am so sorry for your loss. It was not your fault. They loved you, but suicide was a lie they believed.
As a peer supporter in my field, I have training on suicide recognition and prevention. I have asked people outright if they are safe or if they want to hurt themselves. I never hesitate. I listen, I pray, I support them, and I help them identify signs of trouble. When necessary, I call for help or help them find a qualified mental health provider.