Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day. As some of you already know, I experience suicidal ideation (under very specific circumstances), so encountering the sister of someone who had successfully acted on their own reasoned ideation was a sobering event. Apart from myself, I had never met someone caught up in this same dynamic before and their feelings are undoubtedly as complex as my own. The common ground between us was the experience of helplessness. His sister described listening to a similar kind of ideation to mine. Her brother was as rational as I – the only difference was that he succeeded whereas I had ‘failed’.
There are not words enough to express my gratitude to this sister. Despite her own profound grief, she was able to sit alongside me without any judgment or censure… and she validated me. She understood that it was possible to arrive at this ‘death choice’ in a rational way and then follow through. She knew I wasn’t ‘joking’ or ‘attention-seeking’ because she had direct experience of the devastating consequences. For someone in my position, this is the greatest gift one human being can give another. It’s not so much the listening that counts, it’s the validation – the shared recognition that something can be so seriously and rationally wrong that it causes someone to choose death over life and act on that choice. This is about as deep as it gets on the ‘life’ side of suicide.
As WSPDay progressed, many and various suggestions were posted for addressing the problem. Some work with the thought-processes of what is being expressed. Whilst such interventions can be helpful if our reasoning is irrational, they fall at the very first post when it is not. Those who approach me from this angle frequently get stunned into silence when I sharply explain the route I took to the edge of this abyss. I get angry because the proffered solutions are the equivalent of treating the outcome of open heart surgery with a box of Elastoplasts. I already know my own worth. To those in the suicide-prevention ‘biz’, these interventions may form part of your tool-box but they are the equivalent of using a hammer when a drill is required and are more likely to contribute to the problem than resolve it. You are going to need to go much deeper to get at the stuff I am dealing with.
For those who understand this need for depth but have never actually lived it, quoting Viktor Frankel, who said – from his own experience of the Holocaust – that the key to survival was to have found meaning, also works to a point but not with me. As a shaman, I can give chapter and verse of the meanings I have applied to my suicidal ideations and whilst you are right, you also miss an important issue. I may still here to write this but this wasn’t achieved by turning away – my achievement came from walking straight into my ideation with my eyes wide open. Perhaps you might like to consider another Holocaust wisdom instead. It was Bruno Bettelheim observed that those who survived were those who were able to express their feelings; it was those who didn’t who died.
The feelings and emotions involved with a rational suicidal ideation are deep, broad and long. Most ‘normals’ cannot hear them which, for those of us down here on the edge of the Abyss, adds to the problem in spades. Such ‘normals’ exhibit tendencies to label folk like me as ‘attention-seeking’, ‘manipulative’ or claim that we’re ‘making it up’ or ‘don’t really mean it’. My personal response to such attitudes is to walk fast and hard into my suicidal abyss without a backward glance because it’s the only way to prove them wrong. I intend to present them with evidence of the real-life consequences of their own ideation. These are going to be much harder to deal with than simply acknowledging we were wrong and, consequently, can actually change the situation we all find ourselves in.
To address my kind of suicidal ideation, we all have to understand the very specific emotional ground we are standing upon. The common ground both Frankel and Bettelheim share with me is that they drew their conclusions when facing their own deaths. Much of the advice from those who have not lived the experiences is going to be untested theory which is useless at best and lethal at worst. If folk genuinely want to help those of us on the suicide abyss, it helps to understand the following.
Most of us with suicidal ideations normally, at the very bottom, actually don’t want to die – what we want is for something harmful within our life experience to die instead but find ourselves helpless because try as we might, we can’t change it. Over an often extended period of time, we come to believe that killing ourselves is the only way to effect the desired change, which is to stop what is occurring to us. During that time we will have tried various options and failed. Sometimes it is true that we need to understand our internal psychic structures to make the necessary changes – this is the area of expertise suicide prevention excels in, so despite their failures with me, lets all be deeply grateful for the work they do for others who can respond. These strategies only fail with me because I know how to effect change in myself – my problem is that the changes don’t impact upon my environment. When I am walking into my suicide abyss, it’s because the world refuses to change, not me. I walk in full awareness of my feelings (Bettelheim) and chock full of meaning (Frankel) because I want to change my environment so badly I believe its worth dying for.
The trigger is always the same: abuse.
I refuse to consent to abuse. I believe there is nothing wrong in my refusal – I like and admire the woman-who-is-me for her courage and obstinacy in the face of such behaviour. I refuse to be ordered about or governed by those who behave abusively and if they refuse to change, then I reserve the right to refuse to live. Anyone capable of sitting alongside me when I am in this frame of mind will hear, if they’re willing to listen, example after example of abuses I have challenged or confronted and how the abusers refused to change. In these circumstances, what the listener needs to attend to most – especially if they carry social responsibilities – is where the ‘system’ has failed. Somewhere in the reporting will be personal actions the listener can take but there will be no comforting tickbox list for this. Each conversation is unique, each potential action will be personal to the individuals within the dynamic and, remember, the chances of the listener failing to effect the necessary abuse-reduction are likely to be equally high as well. Nevertheless, it is this – deep listening followed by action – that makes the difference for me personally. It is this that marks the turning point – where I step away from the edge and begin the return journey to life because someone changed their actions as a result of mine. Someone did something they would otherwise not have done because of me. The change maybe minute but it is no less valuable for that. Sometimes what is done fails and I turn again to face the abyss but this time I know there is one more person trying to change the situation with me. I am no longer alone because another is facing down the problem and I want to help them as much, if not more, than I want to help me. If I do die, then my companion at the edge of the abyss will have more evidence to show they were right and the perpetrators of the abuse were wrong. As far as I am concerned, this is a win-win situation for all of us because, with each additional person ‘getting it’, at least we build the hope that the problem of abuse can be changed.
The road back from the suicidal abyss is very long, slow and painful for everyone involved. It has to be taken step by step. The kind of change I demand, as I confront and challenge my abusers, needs to be effected by as many people as possible for it to work. The long-term abuse of ‘helpless’ people by those with power to behave otherwise is not just wrong, it’s a crime against humanity. It’s a crime whether it’s perpetrated by those at the top or those who follow their orders and if that’s the world society wants me to dwell within, it can fuck off. I refuse. It will be over my dead body before I consent to such an arrangement because it breaks the law and I am a desister.
Is my strategy effective? Well, considering that I have been using it for nearly twelve years and I’m not dead yet, it would seem that it might. All I would say is that I’m sick of having to live on the edge of this abyss whilst so many of my peers are tumbling in through a lack of understanding how this dynamic works. Perhaps, for this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, my contribution might make enough of a difference that it saves the lives of some of my peers because, in a world ruled by increasing and unrelenting criminal abuse, it is quite evident that the wrong somethings and someones are dying.