On Silencing

8 Sep

face in hands

Hello lovely readers. Today, September 8, is the start of National Suicide Prevention Week.

So, let’s do some talking.

I’ll likely write a slew of articles this week. Book reviews, rants and ravings, maybe a poem or two. But to start it all off, I thought I’d start with a more personal article.

Because for me, suicide is a highly personal topic.

I cannot point to a single day, a single moment, and say “that’s when I first became suicidal.” I cannot even say when I first learned of suicide. It’s one of those things – and perhaps that is sad – that I have just always seemed to know about. I can remember being six or eight or maybe even as old as ten (though I think that is less likely), sitting on the couch of my house’s “play room,” surrounded by the trappings of a middle class American childhood, and wondering about running a knife from the silverware drawer downstairs across my throat. I don’t remember what in particular I was wondering – perhaps how much it would hurt, or what it would feel like, or how long it would take to bleed out – but I do remember hastily shoving the thought back to some dark corner of my mind and thinking no, that’s not a good thought. Jesus wouldn’t like it, because suicide (according to what I’d been taught somewhere along the line by my Catholicism) was a sin. And because suicide was a sin, it was out of the question. Period.

Again, I don’t know why I was thinking about suicide at the age of six or eight or less-likely-ten. Perhaps my father had gone into an alcoholic rage at my mother again. Perhaps there had been yelling. Perhaps there had been crying. I’m not really sure. You see, at that young age of six or eight or just-maybe-ten, the thought that something might be “wrong” with my household hadn’t really registered in my consciousness yet. Things like parents’ having separate bedrooms and the sound of yelling echoing upstairs after bedtime – that was just the way things were. That, for me, was normal.

For years, all I had was the occasional twinge of a particularly painful cramp in my soul that made me wonder if the constant vague sense of unhappiness that colored my life was, perhaps, something out of the ordinary.

Why do I go into so much backstory? To make the point, perhaps, that when over my junior and senior year of high school I progressed from “vaguely unhappy” to “clinically depressed” to “self-injuring and suicidal,” it was so much a progression of the natural order of things for me that there really are no milestones to remark at. One year I’m unhappy but still counting on that future tense. The next I’m going home every day after school wondering if it will finally be the day I kill myself. Try to rewind or fast-forward or pause somewhere between those two, and it’s all just a blur.

I suppose I mention all of this to give grounding to my opinions when it comes to suicide. No, I cannot speak for everyone on this point. But hey, I’ve had a fair amount of first-hand experience (not to mention second-hand experience in the way of mental health counselor training and acting as a peer mentor), so I do know a thing or two.

If you really want to know more about the nitty gritty of what my experience has been like, I suggest you look into my memoir, Drop Dead Gorgeous (more info here). But I suppose that what I want to say in this particular thought stream is that if I were limited to making only one statement about suicide, it would be this:

We need to talk about it.

Suicide should NOT be lauded, but neither should the dead be scorned. I know it’s scary as hell to say “I want to kill myself” and scary as hell to hear, but the taboo that so pervades most society and leads people to die silently so they don’t have to face the disapproval and disgust that appears all too often in other’s eyes – THAT is unacceptable.

I know suicide and depression are excruciatingly tricky to tackle effectively. I’ll write more on that later. But hey, practice makes progress, right? Parents and friends and doctors and teachers and police and janitors are never going to develop muscles capable of supporting someone if they never try to use them.

So first off, let’s ditch this condemnation of people with mental health struggles as “weak” or “weird” or “incompetent” or “lazy” or “untrustworthy” or “to be avoided.” I know that suicide is horrible and awful. But that doesn’t mean that people thinking about it are, or that talking about it is.

So let’s talk, people. What do you have to say?

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