Ever wonder what it takes to attempt suicide? To put the rope around your own neck? Swallow enough pills to kill yourself twice? Or lay yourself down in the snow until you stop shivering and the cold soothes you to sleep? The answer is surprisingly simple.
Dr. Thomas Joiner in Why People Die By Suicide gives four keys that make it possible for someone to die by suicide. From my own experience, I say that Dr. Joiner got it right. He hit the nail on the head. And one of those keys is the reason I’m still here – after more than 30 years of seeking an end to the pain.
Before giving you the keys to stopping suicide, let me shock you just a little by revealing what one of the keys is NOT. Getting help from a “mental health practitioner” is NOT a key to stopping suicide. In fact, some of the supposed help they provide can vastly increase the chances of someone you love dying by suicide.
The next time you’re reading Women’s Day, Good Housekeeping, or any other magazine marketed to women, take a second to read the ads for antidepressants. It’s frightening that each of these ads is followed by up to three pages of warnings about what the drug can do to you or someone you love.
Especially look for any text that surrounded by a thin black line. That’s called a Black Box Warning. It’s the strongest warning the FDA has to alert us to possible dangers from drugs. Judging from the name, you’d be right to think the Black Box Warning means a thick, heavy black line with the word “WARNING” printed in it. But that’s not the way it works. It’s just a thin black line. There’s nothing to tell you or me that it’s supposed to be roughly equal to the red garbage bag and biohazard symbol used in hospitals for getting rid of really dangerous waste.
There’s a far simple, and safer, place to get help than running to “mental health practitioners.” As you see from the keys themselves, the best place for us to find help for the people we love is inside our own hearts. Our love and compassion is the best defense against the despair that drives a suicide.
The four keys that make it possible for someone to commit suicide are also the four keys to stopping suicide.
Key #1 – Feeling Disconnected
Notice it says “feeling” disconnected rather than “being” disconnected. I grew up with both parents in the house and two siblings. But I was also the third child in a family with two children, and never allowed to forget it.
My life was connected to family that appeared normal from the outside, yet I will go to my grave without ever feeling connected to my parents, sister, or brother. That’s a terrible burden to bear. It’s easy to understand how such constant pressure leads someone to seek an end to their pain.
Fortunately, the antidote is simple to obtain and use. Just reach out and connect with each other.
The most popular excuse today is “we all have busy lives.” Heck, I’ve said it myself while apologizing to someone for being thoughtless. But it really is just an excuse. Caring about someone and connecting with them takes time and effort. It’s so much easier to think someone else will look after it, right?
But here’s a thought…We all pretty much believe in six degrees of separation, right? So what if we all made a point of really connecting with six people in our lives? Even if five of those people are in our families and only one is a friend, we’d still end up with a much more closely-knit community. It’s worth the effort, don’t you think?
Key #2 – Feeling Ineffective
I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve fished for compliments to get rid of this feeling.
Just a couple of days ago, I cleaned a storage room for We Care (the local food bank). When it was finished, the difference was like midnight and noon. Even I could tell it was a good job. But I still wanted outside validation enough that I went to Denise (Executive Director) and Lori (Operations Manager) to get their praise.
On the bright side, I told them straight out that I was fishing for compliments. That was a bit of comic relief, and it’s good that I’m fully aware of what I’m doing. They were also genuine and generous in giving their compliments. So we all ended up happy and feeling good about ourselves.
The trouble comes when you feel as though you just can’t get anything right. Everything seems to go wrong all the way down to how you talk to people, and you start feeling like a burden to the people around you. That’s when “feeling ineffective” starts building onto, or into, feeling disconnected. You can see how these two keys feed on each other.
That can lead to positive results just as easily as it does to negative. When you connect with someone, it’s natural to encourage them. Just as Denise and Lori gave me strong, positive feedback on the newly cleaned storage room, we all naturally compliment our friends on things they do well. That feeds our self-esteem and lets us feel effective.
A Word Of Caution
We’ve all met folks who stay down in the dumps no matter how much you connect with them or encourage them. There are two things I have to say about that sort of situation.
The first is that sometimes people need a good swift kick in the arse more than they need a shoulder to cry on. I’m the founder of the Cranium Ex Rectum philosophy, and I’ve received that kick as well as given it to myself and others. Sometimes we all need a stern and loving parent far more than we need a kind, coddling friend.
The second is that we can all do with a little help in administering that kick in the arse. Never, ever, send somebody off to find help by themselves. The community of “mental health practitioners” is filled with boobies who are more screwed up than you and me. There’s safety in numbers, and there’s wisdom in the presence of many advisors.
I make use of a counsellor and a psychiatrist, plus my own reading and studying, in dealing with suicide. It took time to find people I can trust, and I still don’t accept everything they have to say just because they’re saying it. When you’re helping someone, be sure to talk about the books you read and the advice you get. Have those conversations with other friends around. Maybe the most important thing that has ever happened to me is discovering that other people feel the same way as me, and have very similar experiences. And I don’t mean just once. That kind of reassuring discovery happens again and again.
Key #3 – Acquired Lethality
Our instinct for self-preservation is the most powerful thing we have inside us. So much so that pretty much every suicide who survives the attempt reports having changed their mind. The person who jumps off the bridge…The drug overdose…The person who chooses hanging.
Remember this: I never wanted to die. Every time I attempted suicide, I felt cheated and robbed of the joy that’s supposed to be part of life. I sought death because it seemed like the only thing I could trust to stop the pain. I never wanted to die. I wanted the pain to stop.
Mostly, it takes time and practice to overcome our instinct for self-preservation. Someone might start by cutting themselves and work their way up to more serious damage. Another might start drinking and shooting at targets before turning the gun around. In most cases, it takes time for us to work up the courage to really hurt ourselves and attempt suicide.
And let’s not kid ourselves. If you know someone who is hurting themselves, or making plans for how to hurt themselves, then they might need to go to a hospital. They might need the care of someone looking after them 24 hours a day. If they do, then they also need you visiting them every chance you get and participating. Stick your judgements, sarcasm, and questions in a box and focus on the person who needs your love and compassion.
Key #4 – Hopelessness
This one key can stand all on its own. Hopelessness can be like stepping off a cliff. It makes being connected, and being supportive of each other, the most important things we do each day. Because that thin thread of connection, that one memory of someone being kind, might be the only glimmer that penetrates the despair of hopelessness and stops a suicide.
I came home from a conference on top of the world. I was already working with two clients, and had lined up six more clients to start in March and April of 2013. That meant more than $300,000 of revenue for 2013. I even went home a day early to share the good news with Yvette.
Two days later we had our third anniversary. Our marriage was shaky and on the rocks, but Yvette gave me a card saying she was there for me.
Nine days after coming home from the conference – exactly one week after our third anniversary – a deputy sheriff knocked on our door. Yvette had filed for divorce, and obtained an order of protection because I yell and swear when I get upset. Nothing could have hit me harder. For a few days, I thought we might actually be able to save our marriage.
I went from hopeful, taking constructive action, and believing in my success, to mindless despair. I rented a car and drove to Laredo, TX, thinking to cross the border into Mexico. My “plan” was to wander off and die. Suicide by apathy.
The thread of connection that brought me back was faith in God. Like the character Riddick, no one can pass through everything that has happened in my life and not believe in God. I have always believed in God. Where I differ from Riddick is that God found me, and developed my faith in Him. This time, it was faith brought me back.
Other times, it was a memory, love for a person, even the very feeling of being cheated and robbed that allowed me to take back my life from the jaws of suicide. The one difference I see between all the other times I turned toward death and this one time is hopelessness.
Yvette rejected me. I felt like a complete and utter failure. I failed to love Yvette well, and I failed to connect with the kids. The one thing I wanted was a family. Suddenly it was gone beyond all hope of recovery. I was hopeless.
When you ask someone “How are you?”, be prepared to stop and listen to the answer. It matters. Whether it’s fire, divorce, storm, or the death of a loved one, we have no way of knowing when Hopelessness can strike. It can creep up on us quietly, or it can hit as fast as lightning. Either way, the one thing we’ll have to rely on is the connections we’ve made with other people. Those thin threads are our lifelines.
Are We There Yet?
You’ve probably noticed there are no easy 1, 2, 3 steps here. Pulling your head out of your arse – Cranium Ex Rectum – never seems to be quite that easy. It takes some effort.
After almost half a century of adventurous, exciting, and troubled living, I know this: It takes effort for you to be my friend, and it takes effort for me to let you be my friend. We are both worth the effort.
Make connections with people around you. Encourage people when they do good things. Stand by your friends while they get help. Give yourself credit for the good things you do. We’re not quite there yet, but we’ve made a good start today.