Contributions by Jen Ziegler.
*Please note this post talks about things that will be triggering for some including suicide. I encourage you not to read any further if you’re not in the right place to do so.*
Suicide. Let’s say it together. Fucking hard right? As a writer, I know how powerful words can be and suicide is one of those words that can literally make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
This has been weighing so heavily on my mind and on my heart. I would say I can’t believe how many instances of suicide I’ve heard about this year – but I’d be lying. I’m not surprised at all. And every single time, regardless of who it is, their story brings me to my knees. Because I, and many people just like me, feel the pain and consequence of suicide on a deeper level than most.
Why? Because I think about suicide. A lot. Because I understand the pain that is felt by someone contemplating taking their own life.
I know that’s a hard and uncomfortable thing to hear. (Imagine sharing it with the internet.) I’ve never quite figured out how to tell my support system that I’m thinking about suicide. I’ll tell a select few that the ideation is bad or that I’m feeling they’d be better off without me. And though I know I’m not trying to seek attention (and I hope they do too), there will always be a part of me that holds back for that exact reason. There will always be a part of me that just convinces myself to go it alone and “figure things out.” To say I’m okay when I most certainly am not.
It’s that same part of me that has avoided sharing this as long as I have. So why now? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s this crazy pandemic we’re living through. Maybe it’s because we’re approaching the time of year that’s typically more difficult for those suffering from depression. Maybe it’s the same reason I share any of these blogs, to begin with – the hope that if it helps even one person, it will be worth it.
So what do I say to someone when I’m struggling? Oh hey, how’s it going? I’m okay, but I’m thinking about suicide a lot.
Cue awkward silence.
How would someone even respond to that? That’s the problem, most people don’t know how. And it’s not their fault. Suicide continues to be a thing that nobody talks about.
So what if we changed the dialogue?
In January, this beautiful person named Jen came into my life through an existing friend. The second I met her, I felt immediately connected. I was drawn to her energy and light. And then out of the blue, she posted this incredibly brave and vulnerable video to Facebook that was truly a lightbulb moment for me. In 26 minutes she put into words what I’ve spent much of my life trying to explain. In 26 minutes, this basically stranger, made me feel less alone. Made me feel understood. Made me feel heard. Jen introduced me to Sue.
She said, “suicide is this promising, sexy woman named Sue…that you think if you dance with and go home with, all of your problems will go away. You’ll sleep better… and things will be quiet….and the calm will come.”
But the most powerful part of Jen’s video was suggesting we flip the script on suicide.
What if we just danced with Sue? What if we could openly tell our loved ones we were dancing with her?
What if we saw her and danced with her but we didn’t go home with her?
Like Jen, I too have danced with Sue for many years of my life. And it’s scary and vulnerable and nauseating to say that. It’s scary to tell your loved ones that you’re thinking about suicide.
There are so many myths and misconceptions about suicide. 5 of which really resonate with me. While some of these may be true for a small subset of people, they are mass applied to everyone which is not only stigmatizing but damagingly unfair.
- People who are suicidal want to die. Not true. Let me be clear, I don’t. I don’t want to die. Do I want things (i.e. my mind) to be quiet? Yes. Do I want the calm to finally come? Yes. Do I want the pain to stop? Yes. Do I want to actually die and leave behind this beautiful life I’ve built? Absolutely not.
- People who are suicidal are severely depressed. Sometimes this is true but not always the case. Suicide ideation can be caused by a variety of things including triggers of past trauma and varying mental disorders, including depression. If. can also be triggered by substance use and addiction.
- People who are suicidal are attention-seeking. Honestly, it’s quite the opposite. How many times does someone die by suicide and people say “I had no idea they were struggling.” Or how many times does a friend or loved one come out and admit they are suffering from depression and no one had a clue. The stigma is so negative around depression and suicide that those of us in the trenches often don’t tell a soul. We suffer in silence and that is a dangerous place to be.
- People who die by suicide are selfish. This one really stings. I get that it stems from anger. It’s easy to be angry when someone takes their own life. But the reality is that when someone is thinking about suicide they genuinely and I mean genuinely believe, in their core, that those around them will be happier and better off without them. They feel like a burden. They are in no way trying to hurt those they love, it’s quite the opposite. They want to stop hurting them.
- Talking to someone you think is suicidal will only push them more towards suicide so it’s better to ignore it. This could not be more wrong. If you worry someone in your life is considering suicide, the worst thing you can do is ignore them. Often times people just need someone to talk to. To know they aren’t alone in this crazy and scary world.
I distinctly remember the first time I danced with Sue and strongly considered going home with her. I was 15 years old. It was a significant enough event to trigger this heavy desire to take my own life. To stop the hurt and the pain and quiet the noise. But I didn’t.
Following that I considered going home with Sue several other distinct times in both my teens and young adult life – some of which I’ve shared on this blog, including during the throes of postpartum depression. Most recently was last year, when I was diagnosed with bipolar and borderline personality disorder.
But I’ve also danced with her when things were seemingly well in my world. Stable. Even happy. As someone living with bipolar, anxiety, depression and borderline, Sue is an ongoing part of my story. Through therapy, I’ve come to terms with the fact that she always will be.
I danced with Sue today. And yesterday. And the day before that. She often visits me at night or when I’m alone. That’s the thing about Sue. She promises me that things will be better if I go home with her. That the noise will quiet. That the calm will come.
But I’ve also learned a lot about Sue, after all, we’ve been dancing together for so many years.
A year of intensive dialectical behavioural therapy and a precise cocktail of medication remind me that Sue, for lack of better words, is a lying bitch. Her promises are empty and unfounded.
And so most nights I can easily turn down her request to dance. Other nights I sit on my bathroom floor, listening to music. We dance together until my sleeping pill kicks in and I drift back off to sleep. Some nights I text or call someone in my support system who I know will be there to listen. Who will trust me when I say that I’m not okay but that I’m safe. That I’m only dancing.
Honestly though, my feet are tired and blistered. Dancing with Sue is exhausting. And I know I’m not the only one. So many people are dancing with Sue and far too many are going home with her.
Not everyone has a support system. Not everyone knows that Sue is a liar. That she’s manipulative and very convincing. And even the ones who do, sometimes make a rash decision they can’t come back from. Sue appears in our most vulnerable moments when our voice of reason is nonexistent.
If you’re dancing with Sue, tell someone. Ask for help. You aren’t seeking attention. You aren’t selfish or weak. You’re someone worth loving and your life is worth living. Dance with her, just don’t take her home.
Though Sue and I may continue to dance, I know she’s not worth taking home. I have too much actual dancing of my own to do. So do you.
Title Lyrics – “Reaper” by Sia