Firstly, I'm no authority on suicide. I'm merely a (former) suicidal person. (I say 'former' because, like a recovering addict who craves a fix, I think the desire to commit the deed always lies dormant in those afflicted.) Most people, even some closest to me, don't know that. That's one thing about those who suffer from this: They will hide that shit in the deepest depths of themselves. They won't let you know, and do their best to keep it hidden, and they're good at it. It will often seem like everything is OK, because they're ashamed to ever bring it up. So it "comes as a surprise." It's a hard thing to talk about. Nearly impossible for some, if not most. I've been fighting the demon off for almost 20 years, and while not completely out of the clear, I've gained better defenses, more strength, and I'm at a place where I can see the light much better.
I don't think anyone can truly understand what goes through a person's head when in the suicidal state, unless you've actually been in it. Depression gets misinterpreted as "sadness," as though someone is "sad" and would rather die than live. This is not the case. It's not a sadness that hangs over one's head so much as an intense terror. It's like the scariest demon from a childhood nightmare is chasing you down. It's like being locked in a room in total darkness and hearing nothing but constant deafening screams. Or to steal words from David Foster Wallace, when comparing it to being trapped in a burning high-rise: "It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling 'Don't!' and 'Hang on!', can understand the jump. Not really. You'd have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling."
If that's true, then it can be taken that nothing will help. Or rather, we don't know what will help a specific person in that specific situation. Either a person has to jump, or find some way to battle the impending flames. It can also be taken from that, that a suicidal person does not want to die. They want to live. Therein lies the struggle. They are trapped. So where does one find the key?
I know what has helped me, but that doesn't always transpose universally. I will say a few things have been good friends, the right medications, and time — that's a big one. Time. It takes time, and more time, and even more time, but within that time, you've got to want to get better, and work toward it. It comes down to a battle of willpower. A person cannot be talked off the ledge so much as they must step off themselves.
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Where does this leave the person who wants to help them off the ledge? While they need to "go it alone" this isn't to say that you can't be supportive along the way. You'll find yourself at a loss for words most of the time, but just being there helps a lot more than you know. They're trapped, remember. They need you nearby. To not feel alone. To know there's someone just outside those walls, waiting, and not giving up on them.
It's going to be a struggle, and it's not going to be fair to you, but it's not fair to them either. It's part of who they are, and it comes with the territory of loving them. These are people whose tendency is to withdraw, because they think they deserve to be in that dark place, because in their mind they are unlovable, but you, in fact, are their saving grace. (Also, please know that we are sorry, and we feel guilty for laying this burden upon you. The truth is we are confused as well, because we don't know what's wrong with us either.)
Keep in mind, you may not always know who amongst your friends is suffering. Therefore, you must be there for everyone, all the time. That might seem like a daunting task, but all I really mean is, be kind and thoughtful and take care of one another. Check in with your friends every now and again. You're doing something right because you're already in their life.
Now, to those trapped in the darkness, there is work to be done. You've got to realize there is a key, hidden though it may be, but I promise you it's somewhere in that dark room with you, and it's your job to find it. It's gonna take patience, and that's a hard one, especially in a world that is becoming less and less patient, but there are tools to help you in your search:
READ. Read fictional books, read non-fiction books. Do research. The more you shed a light on the subject, and gain knowledge about it, the less scary the demon is. Reading words and hearing stories from people who have gone through similar experiences literally changed my life, so I'm living proof words inspire others.
TALK. It's gonna be tough, but it helps immensely. It might take some time to find a person you trust enough, or to find the courage to publicly discuss it, but that's OK. I have mixed feelings on publishing something like this, and it's taken me 20 years to get to a place in my life where I can be more objective about it, but I can already tell it's helping me, and coming forward will be a huge relief of the weight you've carried on your shoulders this whole time.
(Side note: A lot of this sounds like cliche, sentimental, kitten-on-a-poster-hang-in-there shit, but I swear to you, it's the capital-T truth.)
SEEK HELP. If you're having any of these feelings or thoughts, something isn't right. I cast off psychiatrists and medications in my early 20s due to bad experiences, and because I didn't trust them, but also because I was stubborn, and thought I could figure it out and deal with it in my own way. I proceeded to spend the next decade in the dark, and finally, here in my 30s, I began to realize I was never going to overcome anything without some help. No matter how hard I tried to outrun, it kept catching up. Last year, I took a big step forward when I walked into a psychiatrist's office and began treatment. While it's still taking time to figure out, and is by no means any cure-all, it has made a world of difference. I feel as though I wasted a lot of time in my 20s being unhealthy, time that I wish I could get back. It's been a long road, with much learning along the way, but I see now that it was the necessary one for me to take.
So think of it as one big quest, taken one day at a time, my friend. In the least, you have to picture it that way. You have to teach your eyes to see beyond the walls in front of you. The recovering addict is not trying to quit drinking for 20 years, they're just trying to make it through the day without a drink. And eventually they'll wake up, and it's been 20 years, and they no longer crave that drink.
I've been on both sides. I've penned three suicide notes in my life. I've come extremely close to the edge. I've heard the news of complete strangers, and I've known people within my close circle to jump, and I understand why they do. To the fullest degree I understand it. And it breaks my heart each time, to know that that demon won, because those they left behind were the light all along.
Joe Chang is a Charleston musician in the indie-pop band Gold Light.