Last weekend, someone I love took his own life. It brought a whole new rawness to the mysteries I ponder over suicide. It brought sadness and wondering and questioning from places that did not feel very good.
In the aftermath of the unexpected suicide of our beloved actor, Robin Williams, there was this heightened awareness of the possibility that anyone, at any time, could chose to end their own life. I appreciated that it suddenly was not the elephant in the room, and scatterings of suicide hotline ads lined public places and television commercials. People were having conversations about how a person gets to that place. It saddened me though that it took someone so iconic to bring about that shift. It saddens me more that once the shock wore off, we went right back to our comfortable lives and forgot about the life around us that keeps being snuffed out at their own hands.
I will tell you, after working on an ambulance and in the ER for 13 years, the ones that actually do it are not the ones you think. Yes, often times the warning signs are there, but too often it is the person who never brought it up, the person who everyone thought had it all together, the person who had no reason to feel that way. Their loved ones stand in stunned disbelief. Those calls are some of the ones that haunt me the most.
One of my son’s classmates died by suicide not long ago. The star of the team. The boy who made everyone feel like a friend. The boy no one expected. What if that is exactly why he did it? That’s a lot of pressure to maintain the status everyone looks up to. That pushes the door wide open to feel not quite good enough. I watched my son wrestle hard with the questions, and I didn’t know what to say.
It’s all around us. It’s in the young boy angered by his parents’ divorce, the teenage girl struggling to fit in, the elderly man no longer visited by his family. It’s in the movie star who seems to have it all, the business man who gives the perfect pitch, and the mother grieving the loss of her child. It’s in the pastor’s wife, the put-together, the successful, and the disheveled. It’s not only in the trauma, it’s also in the mundane.
Depression isn’t always because something terrible happened, sometimes it just shows up. It’s stuffed and tucked and disguised and ignored, but remains that constant companion beneath the dull-eyed smile. We frown upon it; frown because they must be doing something wrong, they’re not trying hard enough, or they aren’t thankful for what they have. Wrong. Depression can show up anytime, anywhere. I know because I have fought it.
From bouts of post-partum depression after a few of my births, to a longer streak of hopelessness when my body was so worn, to a perfect joy-filled blessing-soaked day of wanting nothing but to cease to breathe, I realized this is not something so easily defined.
I do not know the answer. I’m afraid no one does. I want us to keep looking though. Keep talking about it. Stop shaming people for seeking the help of a counselor, or for needing to take anti-depressants. Stop entertaining your assumptions, and get out there and make people feel enough. Make them feel loved, and cared for, and seen. Be kind. Take the time to connect, even if it’s just for a few seconds. I feel like none of us know when we might be the one standing between a person and their death.
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