Can I just say it’s been an icing day sort of week.
To understand an icing day, you must understand its origins.
See way back in 2005 I met one of my best friends, Lauren. This was before I drove, so I was forever at the mercy of my parents (business owners, and thus workaholics) for rides. Normally I took a bus, but on Tuesdays I played in Band. Yeah I was a cool kid. Because only the coolest play second flute. Or fourth, or fourteenth… So Tuesdays my mom would have to pick me up after practice. Often she would instruct me to go with Lauren and her mom, promising to pick me up by 5. Problem is that she was always late. One day I was so upset with her (probably for no other reason than I was tired and hormonal), and after listening to me complain about my mom’s lateness, Lauren offered to make me a bowl of icing. She claims this is what her aunt or grandma or some other female relative did for her on a bad day. So she made me a bowl of icing and gave me a box of food colouring. And suddenly the day became better.
If only that still really worked today. If only all bad days could be cured with a bowl of icing. Now it would probably just give me a sugar headache.
All jokes aside, I have had my share of bad days. The days I didn’t even want to get out of bed. The days I wanted to run away. The days I thought to myself I can’t do this anymore, I’m done. But somewhere I found the strength to go on, and not at the bottom of a jar of icing.
In the comfort of a therapist’s office, the text message from a friend, the occasional self-pity cry. Not everyone finds the strength, or even knows they have it in them, or where to find extra strength when they need it. It’s not like they sell bad day pills at the pharmacy.
This weekend was the Annual Suicide Awareness walk in Barrie, and while I wish I could be there, obligations here in Ottawa meant that I couldn’t be there to support my mom and dad. I will however, be making a trip down to Parliament Hill for World Suicide Prevention Day, after my night lecture I will go and light a candle for my brother Troy.
Just nine days after turning 17 my brother Troy committed suicide. At 10 I had nowhere near the necessary tools to understand why someone would do such a thing. How could someone be that sad? That was nearly 12 years ago. I still miss him deeply, but I have now figured out how to work around the gaping hole he left in our lives. It took a lot of tears, and shouting, and writing, and therapy visits, but I am at a place where I am ok. Just don’t ask from about mid-November until the New Year, then you may get a different answer.
Every 17 minutes, somewhere in the world someone dies by suicide.
More people die annually at their own hands than they do at the hands of a murderer.
Did you know that more than 3800 Canadians die by suicide annually and that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds?
How about that males are four times as likely as females to die by suicide?
Or that in Quebec more people die by suicide than on the roads?
Maybe you’ve heard that 19 out of 20 individuals who attempt suicide, do not die, but that those who attempt a second time are 37% more likely to die?
What about the fact that the suicide rate among aboriginal populations is up to ten times higher.
No one likes to think about death, or admit to thinking about it anyways, especially not suicide. Minus issues of assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness, few would approve of such an act, let alone encourage it. And yet, in a way we all are encouraging it, at least through neglect – through our social taboos and refusal to face such issues and admit that people CAN be that sad, hopeless, anxious, or depressed.
The taboo on suicide dates back to the middle ages when survivors were punished for their loved one’s suicide by having their possessions and land confiscated, and being denied a traditional funeral and burial on holy grounds. Many religions today still view it as a horrible sin, or whatever the religion labels such transgressions, often telling people that they will be banned from whatever peaceful afterlife has been promised.
Today, the silence is deafening. Not talking about something doesn’t make it go away.
There is never a shortage of tragic tales of suicide, young lives lost. While the news presents sad stories of teens who were quite literally bullied to death. These are the cases that get the media’s attention. They are not the only cases. Most of them you don’t even hear about them.
Think about it – I can think of only 2 cases of Canadian suicides in the news in the last year. Think about that – two cases out of close to 4000.
There is no stereotype for an individual who will die by suicide.
Suicide isn’t a young people thing, about 20% of suicides are those over 60 years old, though again reporting and causal attribution become an issue in knowing the true number. It is not only for those who are bullied, or who have had a tragic childhood. Despite having apparently everything to live for, people make the decision to end their lives. What shocked me the most looking at Statistics Canada’s 2009 stats is that 25 children, aged 10-14, died at their own hands. They haven’t even gotten a real taste of life. They are so young. Almost 500 people high school and post-secondary aged (14-24) committed suicide.
I’m done presenting you with statistics though, because after all these are just numbers. Those numbers represent someone’s wife, someone’s brother, someone’s best friend, their soul mate, their uncle, their nephew, their classmates, their boss. Numbers cannot capture the importance each dash on the tally represents to someone out there.
I have been to the bottom of the pit, I have seen others at the bottom, I know what it’s like to be done with life. To feel like there is no hope left, that people will be happier without me, that I have run out of energy to fight. But I also know that there is an end to the pain. At the time it didn’t seem likely. But I survived. I fought, because I knew that there had to be an end, there would be a day I would be glad I didn’t follow through on those dark thoughts.
And in a way maybe I only fought so hard because I saw first-hand what suicide did to my family, to my mother. Also, it sounds crazy, but one particularly bad day, I was at the end of my rope, and I looked up and saw my cat. And I worried. He was MY cat, who would love him if I wasn’t around? He didn’t particularly like anyone else, he needed me. Fortunately, that small ball of fur was enough to remind me that there were people out there who needed me. Even if it was just a cat. And I held onto that. I knew that I needed Troy, that my entire family and all his friends needed him. I have heard that those who are left behind, survivors (which by the way is a horribly ambiguous term – it refers both to those who have attempted suicide and those who lost someone to suicide), are more likely to take their own life than those who have not lost a loved one in such a way. Having survived it, I can see why that would be the case. The guilt, the self-blame, overwhelms you.
I was the last person to see my brother alive. While he was hanging himself, I was watching the credits of Snow White on the sofa. For years I beat myself up – what if I had gotten up to take the soup can out to the garage instead of watching the credits? What if I had said hello to him when he walked by? WHAT IF? But I have come to accept that I will never get the answers to these questions, nor will I be able to answer the WHYS. I can guess, I can hypothesize, theorize, try to put myself in his head, but I will never know. And I’m ok with that.
So I’ve been to the bottom of the pit, I’ve experienced what happens when someone decides to stay down there, I’ve seen people struggle back out. I get it. Not everyone does. We don’t like to think about how someone could be that sad. I have heard people refer to those who die by suicide as cowards.
They took the easy way out.
There is nothing easy about suicide, nor the events leading up to it. Coward implies that they are running away from something, that they are afraid. But it’s not like the first bad day people up and kill themselves. You cannot know how long they fought, how alone they felt, maybe they felt like they were doing people a favour, how badly they were/are hurting. Point is you don’t know. And getting angry and upset about the whole thing, or refusing to listen, to try and understand gets no one anywhere.
It’s easy to judge from the top looking down how easy it is to climb out of the pit of despair, but it would be a whole lot easier if you threw down a ladder.
What should you do if you think someone is going to kill themselves? Talk to them. Don’t leave them, offer an ear, and don’t tell them that it’s easy to fix their problems. Walk a mile in their shoes, see things from their point of view – I don’t mean join in the pity party and agree with them that life is hopeless, but just because the solutions seem easy to you, doesn’t mean the other person does too.
Don’t problem solve, criticize or minimize their problems. Ask if they are having thoughts of killing themselves. If they are ask if they have a plan and the means. Get them immediate help if necessary, stay with them, encourage them to seek professional help.
If they haven’t come directly to you, but you suspect, let them know that you are there for them if they need to talk, and that you care about them. There are a huge number of anonymous crisis lines and websites, a simple Google search will bring up a list of local supports. They don’t trace who contacts them, it’s totally anonymous. I have also included at the bottom several links to websites discussing resources for those contemplating suicide, who know someone who is contemplating suicide, or who have lost someone to suicide.
If you are contemplating suicide right now, know that someone cares about you. I don’t know you yet, but if you need a crying shoulder, I am always available. There are, as I mentioned a ton of resources (follow the embedded link to suicideprevention.ca for a full list of resources) and I want you to read this, and remember that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is nothing wrong with you, you’re not crazy, defective, or unloveable. You are you, and you matter.
Admitting suicidal thoughts and severe depression takes a lot of strength. Especially when we live in a society that discourages talking about mental illness at all, despite the fact the 1 in 5 people suffer a mental illness at some point in their lives. Even those who don’t suffer from a mental disorder, may find themselves hopeless. Remember – no stereotypes people. Men are allowed to cry and feel weak. Women have somewhat been given the go ahead to cry, and yet we still are not always taken seriously – after all – women just cry a lot, there is no reason, we just like to bust a leak in the tear ducks from time to time.
An exciting trend, or as exciting as such a tragic scenario can be, is that survivors (in the past attempts sense, though also in the lost loved one sense) are spearheading prevention and awareness campaigns. The apparent statistic is that 7% of those who have attempted suicide go on to die by suicide. As an article I read highlighted though – this means 93% of those who have made the decision to end their life, eventually decided that they wanted to live. That 93% is now stepping out, including such projects as Live Through This which document the stories of the survivors. By speaking out we are starting to show that this silence thing isn’t doing anything to help anyone, and breaking down the walls is the only way to let the light in. Or the best way.
Speak up, speak out. Love each other, try to understand. Break the stigmas. They’re useless anyways. Silence gets us nowhere.
And in the words of Dory, “Just keep swimming.”