“You have to go through the falling down in order to learn to walk. It helps to know that you can survive it. That’s an education in itself.”
~ Carol Burnett
A bit of a heads-up: I am going to tackle something here I’ve never tackled. I hope you choose to stay with me because I’d love your comments at the end. This is a conversation that needs to happen. Should you choose to stop, however, I understand. It’s delicate and not necessarily smooth reading.
Let me ask you something. Have you felt despair so profoundly–have you found yourself at the bottom of the barrel–that you wanted to end your life? Did you get to the point where you started thinking, “What’s the point?” or “There is no way out.” Beyond that, have you tried to end your life? Have you hurt yourself instead? More than once?
September, being Suicide Prevention and Awareness month, is the perfect time to have this conversation. PLEASE join in at the end. (Or, National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, if you prefer. http://www.nami.org/ 800-950-6264).
I’ll call her Rose. Only because I know her to be a beautiful person. We’ve known each other since birth, and it can’t get much better than that.
Two years ago, Rose tried to end her life. I’d had no idea she was in that frame of mind. No one had any idea. She’d been at my house four days earlier. We’d taken pictures. We smiled in those pictures. All of us. I felt ashamed later when retracing the timeline. How could I have missed her pain? How did I not know? What didn’t she want me to see?
A few years prior, Rose was diagnosed with a rare illness for which successful treatment had been limited. That and other conditions caused intermittent, severe pain. We thought it had been managed, or at least better managed through trials of various, strong medications; but, that wasn’t necessarily the case. In addition, other hardships had occurred, significant hardships and losses, and for her, life had become one struggle after another. While aware of the illness and the hardships, none of us understood the extent of her emotional pain.
Electronics caused headaches, so we’d settled into a nice chat-by-phone system where we’d call and talk, sometimes for hours. She openly discussed her suicide attempt, and blamed it on the medications, many of which caused suicidal thoughts. I used to marvel over her strength and sense of humor, told myself if anyone can overcome this, it would be Rose. After many a chat, she had actually inspired me.
We spoke regularly, until this past winter when she cut me off. I’d been fooled.
Letters were sent for months, until one seemed to contradict what she’d previously said on the phone. I called, hoping for clarification. I was met with extreme and very uncharacteristic anger, a woman who had become blunt and rude. I was stunned. And, it hurt.
One family member didn’t think much of it until it happened to her a few weeks later (but to a lesser degree). The seemingly unaware response from Rose’s sister was baffling. I didn’t know what to do. Something was terribly wrong. Rose HAD NEVER SPOKEN TO ME in this manner. What was going on?!!?
Then, things began to change. Nothing Rose said made sense. Scheduled friend and family events did not align with Rose’s announcements of upcoming, major life changes. Friends and family were clueless–one friend used the word “dumbfounded”–and it left us wondering what the hell was going on. No one was talking, and I’d been cut off.
Then it happened. I received a phone call that Rose had attempted to take her life, again. She appeared to mean business using two (or more) methods this time (instead of one as before). I can’t bring myself to ask, but I saw the scars.
There were several on each wrist. She didn’t try once, she’d slit herself several times. They looked deep. One scar on her left wrist looked like a Y, as if she thought she’d better do it again, to make sure. The scars were healing–the scabs were mostly gone–but they were red and purple. She had a purple, finger-width mark–scars I assume–on each wrist, close to each hand. What caused those I do not know. I don’t want to know.
It took my breath away. It made me dizzy. I wanted to vomit.
I suppose the take away is this: never, ever let it go if your gut tells you something is wrong. That gut feeling is there for a reason; it’s meant for survival. With one prior attempt and uncharacteristic anger, I knew. I can’t say for sure what I knew, but I knew something. I also felt the beginnings of despair. I’d tried. I shared my concerns–I’d spoken up–but my concerns went no where.
As upsetting as this may be, if someone is bent on leaving this earth, I believe they will find a way. The rest of us can intervene, and intervene, and intervene, but if someone really wants out, they will get out. I’m not interested in blame; it has no place in this conversation. Still, I can’t help but wonder what might have happened had someone connected my thoughts with erratic behavior they may have seen. Rose hid her pain; she did a damn good job hiding her pain because she wanted no one to know. Others who’d been in better communication may have seen nothing and thought I was nuts. It’s a circular thought process.
Maybe this can be a shout out to families and friends. Maybe it’s a call for better communication. Maybe it’s a powerful reminder to listen to our gut and for ALL OF US to pay attention. When someone we know changes, when behaviors become erratic or irrational, we need to listen and act. It could save a life and help someone get the help they need.
I’m not sure that we have to fall down before we can learn to walk. But, it may well be true. I believe we benefit from knowing we can survive. If we believe there is hope we may try. We may not know how, but simply knowing it’s possible may be enough to help someone, just one person, take that first step to move beyond the pain. It’s the reason I’m sharing.
I talked with Rose this weekend. She is living in a new place, and she’s getting help. Her medications are managed, and she is getting much needed rest. She is talking about her experiences and spending time with family. She likes her counselor.
❤ ❤ There will sometimes be clouds. There is always sunshine. Just wait. ❤ ❤
September, being Suicide Prevention and Awareness month, is the perfect time to have this conversation.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). 800-950-6264