September 10, National Suicide Prevention Day. So little-miss-truth-and-beauty should probably write something inspiring, eh?
And yet, I feel like a total faker writing on this topic, since I was wrestling with my bullshit brain over this particular issue as recently as last week. (Now, don't go panicking on me, I wasn't in any imminent danger, I can keep using cutlery. It's just that there are still some bits that sometimes need some wrangling, or distracting with shiny things occasionally.)
But... I do know a bit (!) about suicide prevention.
Back when I was a kid, and I didn't really have any understanding of just how fragmented my brain and soul were (a pretty genius survival technique – thank you, neurochemistry – which got me through some desperate times, but wasn't terribly useful in later years), I already understood there was an internal battle. I knew there was a bit of myself – or perhaps even a few bits of myself – that flirted with the idea of "accidentally falling" off the subway platform just as the train was coming. Nothing that could be seen as intentional, of course, because that would open up a whole whack of unpalatable scenarios, depending on whether I succeeded or failed in my "accident", but... you know... elbowed off by a distracted commuter, caught by a big whoosh of air... anything that could keep me from being hospitalized and never taken seriously again if I survived, or turned into "the bad guy" if I succeeded. Fortunately, there were a lot of other bits who thought this wasn't such a good idea, and so I would plaster myself to the back wall until the train had safely passed. That way, even if one of us got the urge to dash, the rest of us could probably catch her before she reached the edge. To this day, when I go back to Tronna, I still tend to hold myself at the back of the platform, because the memories of those days are so intense, especially in the stations that haven't been re-tiled since the '80s (which I think are most of them... amIright?)
So... forget being a faker. I am a MASSIVE SUCCESS STORY when it comes to suicide prevention. I'm here to tell the tale.
The tale begins pretty early – although I can't pinpoint the exact date in my sometimes-swiss-cheese memory, it was some time after we moved to our new house partway through grade 3, but sometime before my brain finally caught up with my gut and could put a name to what my father was doing to me, which was grade 6-ish (which I acknowledge is a pretty long time in kid-years, but funnily enough, this didn't seem to be one of those so-important-it-imprinted-itself-in-my-timeline-forever moments). At some point in there, I first stumbled across my mothers suicide notes – yes, plural (and may I suggest to those of you who really wish to mess up your kids, that you should not only keep all your suicide notes as momentos, but you should keep them IN THE SAME DAMNED DRAWER as your nail clippers).
And so, it became my mission to keep my mother alive – inspired, in part, by the declaration on the occasional note that she wasn't actually going to do it this time (then why write and keep the note?!?), but would wait until "the girls" had grown and no longer needed her. So I had to strike the perfect balance between making sure she knew we still needed her, but not needing her in a way that would tax her already-limited resources. Because if she killed herself, we'd be alone with dad, who I already knew wasn't safe, even if I still couldn't necessarily articulate why. (And why her "I just can't handle this right now!" declaration when I finally was able to articulate why sent my brain and soul into a million more fragments of hopelessness.)
Of course, she never knew I knew (officially, anyhow, because who the hell keeps a pile of suicide notes next to the nail clippers and thinks they'll never be discovered?!?). So even when she remarried and switched the bedroom furniture around, I could still monitor the pile in the new drawer (which now included a whole bunch of things a young teenager should never have to see, but that's what happens when your mother keeps marrying sexual predators... but I digress...) and try to keep her (and us) safe. Shortly after that marriage dissolved and I was away at university, my sister found her stash of notes (hopefully not the other stuff) and confronted her about them – so I thereafter could never be sure whether the lack of notes meant she was feeling okay or had simply found a better hiding spot...
Before all that, though, was grade seven. When sexual predator #1 (a.k.a. "Dad") was still living with us. And someone who shared my desk in Mrs. Vanderhoof's class had left the lyrics to (what I later learned was) the M.A.S.H. theme song, "Suicide is Painless". (In hindsight, I've often wondered if it was my first childhood crush, Mark, who a few years later failed to plaster his back firmly enough against the back of the subway platform – but again at the time, it didn't strike me as strange that someone would leave notes such as these in easy-to-find places.)
I was entranced. And grateful to whoever had placed these beautiful words in the desk for me to find. They were so very obviously written specifically for me (!) A love note of sorts. I'm not sure if it's because part of my brain did 'get' what this paper was, and chose to not reveal it had been found, but instead of taking my "love note", I copied it out, word-for-word, and left the original in place. And when I got home, I copied it out again, in better handwriting. And considered making a beautiful calligraphy of it to hang on my wall, but... either Mom or Dad found one of the copies, and they hid away in parental discussion, before "the talking to".
Mom's part of the "talking to" was to explain to me how wrong and selfish suicide is (yes, really), and not really "painless", and then to pass me along to Dad, who was beside himself with worry, and needed "comforting". So everything obviously got a whole lot MORE jumbled up in my mind – yes even more impossibly more than they already had been. But I sure as hell knew I'd better stop showing interest (at least detectably) in such things, and keep my back fully plastered to the wall on the subway platform.
Unfortunately, not all of my bits agreed with this decision.
And those bits can still scream pretty loudly sometimes. Like last week, when I felt at the end of my rope, and broke down and asked for help with a pretty crappy situation – and was met with a super-thoughtless comment, by someone who should really have known better. And all those little voices started shouting about how I'm totally on my own, I'm too much, too needy, the world would be a better place without me, I'm too exhausted with this, it's never going to get better, blah blah blahdeeblah.
So, what does an Awesome Suicide Prevention Expert do in a situation like that?
Well, I can start with what NOT to do. Because lots of people seem to believe the best thing to do is tell someone to "just think positive" and it'll all go away. Yeah, right. (I knew my initial gut reaction had been correct when hubby told our then pseudo-therapist he was having suicidal thoughts, and she told him to "jump up and down, because you can't be depressed when you're jumping up and down – yes, really).
First of all, do you not think that a depressed and suicidal person would LOVE to "just" think positive?!?!? This isn't simply a case of the blues, people, this is some serious neurochemistry going on. Neurochemistry that makes it FUNDAMENTALLY IMPOSSIBLE to feel positive. So making the person feel guilty or ineffective or like a total loser for not being able to think positive is not going to help. You're probably going to drive them even deeper into self-loathing.
And EVEN WITHOUT THE CRAPPY BRAIN CHEMISTRY, the only people who can think positive all the time have to be delusionally psychotic. Because guess what, sunshine? The world isn't all happiness and rainbows. Children starve, innocent people get killed, mudslides happen, tornadoes happen, people can be total assholes. Random things happen that are totally out of our control, and yes, MANY OF THEM SUCK.
Even without a brain injury and/or chronic malfunction, shitty things can happen. Thinking positively about crappy things is actually NOT HEALTHY. Every single bit of science around trauma and mental health these days is telling us that the healthiest thing we can do for ourselves is ALLOW OURSELVES TO FEEL BAD when bad things happen. Cry, wail, shake your fist at the heavens, find healthy ways to comfort yourself, but MAKE YOURSELF FEEL THE FEELS.
Allow yourself to feel the feelings. Even if – ESPECIALLY IF – they're feelings that people generally don't want you to have. Feel 'em, get 'em over with, move on. Trust me, feeling your feelings and letting them run their course requires SO MUCH LESS energy than pretending they aren't there until they finally start eating at you from the inside out and you're having to double-check your proximity to the back of the subway platform.
So please, unrealistically shiny people, stop trying to convince us that life is all happiness and rainbows. Because freaking science has shown us that YOU DON'T GET RAINBOWS WITHOUT SOME RAIN HAPPENING FIRST.
It's a necessary part of the process
(Trying to convince us otherwise is both unhelpful and crazy-making)
Mental Health Pet Peeve #2: IT GETS BETTER. Sweet Jayzus...
Okay, it may sound really nice and hopeful in the moment, but it totally glosses over the fact that we're in REAL LIFE, not some frigging Disney movie of Happily Ever After.
Sure, it gets better. But then it gets worse. And then it gets a little better. And then it sucks donkeys. And then it gets better again. And then you're really soaring. And then something awful happens and it sucks again. And then it gets better, and then it sucks again. Because... LIFE.
Promising an ever-upward trajectory is totally unrealistic. And once again, makes someone whose brain is already out to get them feel like a total failure when life inevitably takes one of those downward dips. (Maybe if I'd jumped up and down more...)
This is life. It's amazing sometimes, it sucks sometimes. Yes, it gets better – BUT it doesn't stay there permanently.
What DOES get permanently better is your ability to make it through the crappy situations. You'll hopefully learn something from each situation, but more importantly, you'll realize you can make it through each one. (Crappy day? I survived my childhood, a crappy day is Luxury!!! ;) ) And with the end of each relationship or tornado or career path, you're still you – and while you may think you needed that friend or house or job or self-concept to make it through the world, you've proven that all you need is yourself and your integrity, and the rest is just icing.
I'd love to be able to promise you that life is an ever-upwards trajectory, but it ain't. Ever-inward, yes. Ever-outward, yes. But sucky things will continue to happen. Natural disasters, economic downturns, death, deception, freak accidents. And no matter how well-balanced and grounded you may be, the world is filled with millions of other people, many of them so absorbed in their own brokenness that they won't even notice when their own crap bowls you over and knocks your breath out. It happens.
Until you can control everyone and everything on the planet (HINT: you can't, so save yourself the effort), you might as well accept that sometimes life is gonna suck.
So... lest you think those little fragmented voices have taken over Lyssy again... Realizing this is actually a good thing. Because the constant existence of bad events and uncaring people in the world means THE BAD STUFF ISN'T PERSONAL. It's got nothing to do with you. It's just the way the world works. (Now, don't go all defeatist on me – you can still go out and try to make things better, just be realistic with your self-expectations.)
Let's go back to last week. Somebody reacted to my despair in a ridiculously insensitive way. And sure, my broken bits started screaming "See? I TOLD you! The world is full of betrayal and meanness, and nobody will ever be here for us, because we aren't worth anything to anybody. We should just give up!!!!"
But do you know what this Awesome Suicide Prevention Expert did?
Awesome Suicide Prevention Expert said to those bits "yeah, I know that was a really hurtful thing that person just did. And I know it hurt really bad, and reminded you of all those other times that people you think we should be able to trust have betrayed us. Which feels awful. Because it was awful. That's why I protected you and said she shouldn't treat us that way, and she acknowledged her mistake and apologized. And I know it still stings, so I'm just going to sit here with you and your hurt until it feels better. And remind you that just because she said something thoughtless doesn't mean I'm gonna let her define how we think about ourselves. Because no matter how badly anyone else ever betrays us, you know that I never will."
The world will always betray each of us in big and little ways.
But that's no reason for us to betray ourselves.
The world may not admit its mistakes and apologize as easily as the person who skewered my trust last week, but that's the world's problem – you and I can't let the world's occasional unapologetic sucky-ness define us. We can't allow life's betrayals to convince us to betray ourselves. We're better than that. We deserve more than that.
It's not about the world getting better. The world is the world. It's about developing our own resilience. So that when the proverbial hurricane shows up, and the world is whirring and destroying everything around us, we can simply (ha ha – not that simple, but it gets easier with practice) hang out in the centre and wait it out. The "I" in the storm. And maybe when it's all over, the roof needs some repairs and we finally got rid of that lawn furniture we never liked much anyhow, but we're still intact. Integrous. (My dictionary says that's not a word, but I refuse to betray myself over it.)
"It" might not ever remain permanently better, but I sure as hell will keep getting better.
And now, even my little bits believe me when I tell them I won't betray them. That I have their back and always will. That we can make it through the crappy times. That it's okay to feel sad and mad and overwhelmed, because those things show us what needs changing. And even when there's bad stuff, there's still puppies and love and ice cream, so let's just build a blanket fort and wait for the pretty rainbow that shows up as inevitably as the rain.
So laugh, cry, scream, shake your fist at the heavens. Take a chance, trust a mere mortal. Trust your gut, trust your feelings. Honour your gut, honour your feelings. Sit with all your little bits (we all have 'em, absolutely nobody has made it through life scar- or bit-free). Be afraid, be lonely, be sad, be whatever and whoever you are. Be there for your bits.
Be that person.
Happy Suicide Prevention Day, from someone who's been an Expert for almost half a century. Your timing may be different, but if you're reading this, you're obviously an expert too.
Now THAT'S something to put in calligraphy and hang on your wall!