This is not an essay or an article. This is me speaking from the heart. I am a suicide survivor. It’s only through providence or accidental grace that I’m here typing these words. So– To anyone out there who is contemplating suicide, stop. It makes the depression recede for a while and if you “succeed” in your suicide attempt, your depression will go completely, taking you with it. There are two things you should know about that- a) the people you leave behind will pay the price of your act- You will leave Them depressed, which is hardly fair. And the more they care about you, the more you will hurt them. So, don’t. Plus though I cannot guarantee (no one can) that things will get better, they will inevitably get Different. And Different is always easier for a while. The plans you’re hatching, your obsession with how and where and when- that’s all the depression riding you. It’s just a horse you’re on. Get off. Take this attitude: Okay, I was going to kill myself- So I’ll consider that I succeeded. I killed off the old me and now I’ll just wait to see what comes next.
Norman Fischer) gave a great teaching in a retreat I was on last year- “Let’s see what happens.” It’s arrogant to think you know what’s coming. You don’t. Your plans to kill yourself give yourself the illusion of control. But you’re not controlling anything, you’re opting out. Well, enough preaching.
I was a young mother, with two small boys, and I’d been in and out of psychiatric facilities, diagnosed as manic depressive, Major Affective Disorder, borderline disorder, even “pseudo-neurotic schizophrenic.” I’d been drugged up and cooped up and therapized until the cows got lost, and still I was suicidal. Years later, my son would ask me about this- Did I not love them? Did I not care about the effect on them? (He asked me this consequent to his dad’s suicide, but that’s a story I haven’t the right to tell here.) And the answer? Oh my god, yes. I loved my two boys beyond anything, beyond words, beyond compare, beyond life itself. And the thought running my life was- They are so wonderful, perfect, amazing. And they deserve a good mother, a great mother, a perfect mother. I am not that mother. I am a mess of a mother. I am erratic. I don’t know what to do. I know how to love them- that came before they were born. But I don’t know how to help them. And then- all at once- Yes, I do know how to help them. I’ll remove myself from their life so their father, who is a good father, a great father, can find the perfect all-nurturing mother to complete the family picture. I planned for suicide, thinking it a sacrifice I would make for my beloved children.
[That’s a side little message in all of this. If you are a suicide survivor in the sense someone you love has killed themselves, I would say this. Don’t take it as a sign they didn’t love you. That’s your anger talking. It may have been a (totally misguided, wrong-headed, depressed) Expression of their love for you. And don’t look too hard for a reason. I had a minor satori after meditation the other day, and it came in the form of this statement: “Nothing happens for a reason.” That may not make rational sense, but it makes deep intuitive sense to me. Of course, on a certain level, people look for a reason, find it, apply a solution, and make things better. “The plants in the garden are not growing.” (Problem) What is the reason? Maybe I’m not watering them enough. (Source of the problem.) Solution: “I’ll water them more.” Result: Plants grow better. But on a deeper level- there is no Reason for what people do- Everything is because it is.
I am wandering off track here, but the point I’m trying to make is that even if you could ask a suicide- Why did you do it?- they would almost certainly not be able to give you A Reason that would satisfy you or even make much sense. If you know someone who’s committed suicide, or if you’re contemplating it yourself (I hope you’ve already reconsidered)- try to think of a reason that would satisfy those left behind. Whenever something hurts us deeply, there is no one reason, and usually no host of reasons, that satisfies our grief-stricken “Why?” “Why now?” “Why you?” “Why me?” No person is an island- We do the things we do because we do them. But I want to tell you what happened.]
I was living in Maplewood, NJ, and I decided to kill myself. I was around 30 at the time, married to a husband who loved me, with two great little boys, aged around 4 and 6 and I had been hospitalized and released (more story there, but not now)- and it was Christmas time and I was “home” but I was depressed and miserable and all the medications and the hospitalizations and the therapies had, in my view, failed to “fix” me. And so I went up to the medicine cabinet when I thought my husband was sleeping, and took every sleeping pill and “downer” in there (there were many)- And my husband found me, lying on the floor dying, and somehow got me in the car and rushed me to the hospital emergency room, leaving our little boys sleeping in their beds, without adult supervision. I knew none of this, because I was already mostly not there.
In the emergency room, I was so far gone, they couldn’t get the trach tube down my throat, and I was losing consciousness fast, and they needed me to rouse enough so that they could get in down there. At least I think that’s the back story. What I remember is none of that. I remember just beginning to feel a little relaxation, a little something else than depression. And suddenly there was this tall dark thin man who hated me, who was in a fury. He was shouting at me- What’s your name? What’s your name? And I couldn’t find it in myself to answer. And then he slapped me Hard on the face Whap! Whap! What’s your name? What’s your name? And from somewhere in my gut I said Lyn. But that didn’t satisfy him. How old are you? How old are you? Whap Whap! And I remember feeling/seeing dimly how much he hated me. He was yelling at me, and hitting me, and he gave me no mercy. No mercy whatsoever. And then after minutes (?) of this torture, I dimly dimly heard “We got her.” (Which later I would realize meant the trach tube was in and the poisons were being pumped out of my stomach and I would live despite myself.) And the moment they said, “We got her,” the tall dark thin man sat back in his chair and looked at me with the greatest love and tenderness that I have ever known from anyone and he smiled a sad sad smile and tears rolled down his cheeks and I realized he had saved my life.
The next day, he came to see me in the hospital and we cried and laughed together a little. And I never saw him again, and I don’t remember his name. But he was an ER doc or attendant in the hospital closest to Maplewood, NJ, in the early 70s. And I have a fantasy that he will read this story here, and recognize himself, and write to me, or comment. Of course there are many many suicide attempters in our country, but I think if he were to read this story, he would remember.
The years went by, and eventually I got well, eventually I became a chaplain working at St. Luke’s in Milwaukee, and I raised a woman from the dead. But I’ll tell you about that another day.
This is just to say- Don’t try to kill yourself. The most dangerous time for such an attempt is not when you are at your worst. When you are at your worst, you are paralyzed by depression. No. Suicide comes as the first “plan,” the first “idea” you get for dealing with your depression. And what you don’t see is that this “solution” is proposed by a double agent, by your depression in disguise. Life is so Interesting, so wild and unpredictable. Here I am, roughly 37 years later, and I see everything differently. I have three granddaughters now, and they are a strong joyful presence in my life and I love them. And I love my children: my two boys are grown into wonderful kind creative human beings, and I have a later in life daughter who is wonderful kind and creative as well.
Please don’t kill yourself. We can’t afford to lose you. You, too, may have children or grandchildren in your future. I remember someone of my current age (67) talking to me when I was in the cut-throat years of my life (my 20s) saying to me- “It gets better. It sucks to be your age.” I was so struck by that, because middle-aged and older people were always coming up to me and envying my youth. But I want to tell you that, from my perspective now, that person was right. Here I am, with maybe a decade or two of a full life ahead of me at most. And I can’t wait to find out what happens.
And the last two things I’ll say about suicide are this: First, nobody can stop you from killing yourself, so don’t count on them to do that. I used to read about Virginia Woolf and Ann Sexton and Sylvia Plath and get all romantic about suicide. What a crock! Secondly, people often try to kill themselves because they are so afraid of dying. That, too, gets better. I don’t want to die. I’m still afraid of it- still worry when I get some strange symptom (and I have strange symptoms more and more: my dad used to say that when we grow older, our symptoms become more interesting than we are)- but I’m not terrified any more.
So don’t chicken out. Don’t kill yourself. Don’t kill anyone. Killing yourself is not an act of love, take it from a suicide survivor. Do something surprising and creative- Stick around and see what happens. You’ll be amazed, I promise you. I thank whatever gods there be for that tall dark thin man who saved my life.
ps And now, at 71 (unbelievable), I’m not even afraid to die.