Trigger Warning: suicide, suicidal ideations
I’ve gotten really good at being able to compartmentalize the different parts of my life. Not in a way of avoidance, but in a way that feels necessary for my well being. For example, when I’m driving it wouldn’t be a good idea to cry and get emotional because that could be very dangerous. So I make sure that I keep my composure while in the drivers’ seat. While I’m at school, if I’m having a rough day with body image or depression I’ll try to stuff that down so that I can do what I need to do in order to be successful in school. Then once I get home I can deal with whatever it is I need to give some attention to. Bottom line is, I try to keep the various parts of my life separate. However, that becomes extremely difficult when your writing teacher assigns you to read an 8-page article about suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge.
I was sitting at my desk Tuesday night and began reading this article. The author began the piece by very vividly describing a man’s suicide attempt involving the Golden Gate Bridge. Immediately my heart started beating faster and I began having flashbacks of that part of my life. To clarify, my attempt didn’t involve a bridge, but when I was having suicidal ideations that’s one option that I thought of. Back when I was in that place mentally, I would be going about my day and then all of a sudden I would see these images in my head of myself dying in various ways. It was really disturbing, and something that typically only happens a little now around the time of the anniversary of my suicide attempt. But it’s something that caused me an immense amount of anxiety back then, and still does when that happens. So I was reading this article assigned for school, that was all the sudden triggering these flashbacks. Suddenly, my worlds of school and of my depression and suicidal attempt felt as though they were merging. Before I even finished the first page I wanted to stop reading, and I suppose I could’ve, no one was forcing me to read it. But my teacher specifically told us most of our next class would be about discussing this article. The article is a proposal argument and that’s what we have to do for our final paper. Why he chose a proposal argument about suicide I don’t know, but that’s what he chose. It felt necessary to me to at least read it in order to be prepared for our next class.
Throughout my process of reading, I had to keep reminding myself that I just needed to get through this, I just needed to do this for school. After I finally finished reading the article, I thought, “Oh no, this wasn’t the worst part. Now I have to sit through a discussion about it in class.” I could’ve chosen to skip class, but I’ve already missed as many as I’m allowed to miss in order to pass the class. So if I wanted to pass the class, that wasn’t an option. So I made myself go, hoping he would just explain how the author did things well in terms of structuring an argument, and not make it into much of a discussion. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The majority of the class was spent listening to him read various parts of the article, while explaining how effective and “near perfect” of an argument it is. But one part of our class was spent discussing how suicide is portrayed and how it’s typically discussed among people. He asked the class to say what they think of people who are attempting or committed suicide and how suicide is typically portrayed in our society. These were people’s responses, “Crazy, selfish, pointless, taboo, silence, weakness, attention/not serious about actually doing it, hopeless.” I almost got up and left class. I thought, “Oh wow, good to know the people I’m currently sitting around think I’m selfish, crazy, weak, or that I did what I did for attention.” I was tempted to just say, “Fuck you” to everyone and “How could you possibly say that? Did it ever occur to you how much pain someone is in? Did it ever occur to you that you sound heartless for calling suicidal people crazy? After all, they’re people too, just like you.” But I said nothing. I stayed silent. So I guess they were right about one thing.
I stayed quiet because I felt as though my emotions about this particular topic were too high to have a productive conversation about it. I knew I would come across agitated and most likely start crying because I was so hurt and offended, and I didn’t want to make a big scene in front of the class. Maybe I made the wrong decision, maybe not. But I thought I would at least blog about it, I figured this would be a more effective method for myself in wanting people to hear my voice.
I had never felt so uncomfortable in a classroom before. I felt judged, I thought I was a representation of the words that people said. I went into that classroom trying to prepare myself for any scenario, but I couldn’t have possibly prepared myself for what happened. I wanted to yell, I was on the verge of crying, I wanted to storm out of the room, I wanted to go home and curl up on my bed and cry. I wanted to get as far away from the people in that room as I possibly could.
To top it all off, my teacher then shared why it is that he chose this article. He said that many years ago he had lost a close friend to suicide. Initially, I thought, “Oh wow, maybe this is his way of trying to bring awareness to the issue.” Once again, I was wrong. He said that after his friend committed suicide, he didn’t feel sad, he felt angry. He didn’t understand because in his eyes his friend had a perfect life. He thought he shouldn’t have given up so easily. He then proceeded to explain that his friend had a 6-month-old child at the time when he committed suicide. He told us that now that kid is in prison because he murdered someone. He clearly stated that he thought what happened to that child was 100% his dead father’s fault. He said that he knows if the dad hadn’t done that, the kid wouldn’t be so messed up. Again, I wanted to scream at him and tell him how insensitive and hurtful he was coming across. I wanted to tell him, “You have NO proof whatsoever that the father is a result of what happened to the kid. I would agree that having a parent who committed suicide probably influenced him, but you cannot say that he’s 100% to blame. Please don’t say that about your friend, just please don’t.” But again, I said nothing, I stayed silent.
Truthfully, I didn’t stay silent because I was scared to express my opinion. I stayed quiet because I was in shock. I couldn’t grasp how the majority of my classmates felt about those of us who are depressed, have attempted suicide, or even those that committed suicide. I couldn’t understand why my teacher chose the article that he did. I would’ve been more prepared for something like this in my psychology class, but not my writing class. I didn’t feel like the classroom I was sitting in was a safe space. I didn’t understand what just happened, what I was in the middle of. I didn’t understand how this teacher who I’ve learned so much from and is a phenomenal teacher, could suddenly come across as such a hurtful person. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t even know what to think.
To those of you reading this that have ever felt depressed, have ever felt suicidal even in the slightest way, have ever attempted suicide, please know that you are not crazy. You are not weak, you are not selfish, you are not hopeless. You are someone who is going through a difficult time or went through a difficult time. You are someone whose fighting demons in your head, someone who needs compassion. You are not broken, you are not a bad person, you are not a lost cause. There are so many places to get the help that you need. You are not alone, and you are someone that I think of as needing a friend, even though you may want to push them all away. You are wonderful exactly the way you are, don’t lose hope.
To those of you reading this who know someone who has ever felt depressed, has ever felt suicidal, has ever attempted suicide, or has ever committed suicide, don’t you dare call those people crazy or weak. They are people, just like you. Anyone can be depressed or feel suicidal. So while you may think you would never do anything or feel that way, know that things change. No one is immune to those thoughts and feelings. Someone’s life may seem perfect to you, but that doesn’t mean that’s how they feel about it. You have no idea what’s going on in their head. Perhaps instead of assuming they’re happy and have a perfect life, you should genuinely ask them how they are, if they’re happy, etc. Ask questions, don’t make assumptions. The people you know who are struggling need love, support, someone to listen to them without judgment, someone to sit with them through those difficult nights. They don’t need to be made to feel as though something is wrong with them. They may already think that, but they certainly don’t need that belief to be reinforced by someone else. Please take the time to think about whether or not you are being compassionate to those people in your life. If you’re not, I would strongly encourage you to change that. Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you were going through an extremely difficult time, would you want people telling you that you’re weak, crazy, selfish, or attention-seeking? No, you would not. That would only make everything you’re already feeling worse. Please don’t make someone’s life more difficult than it already is. Please don’t think of people who are depressed or suicidal as a different group of people just because their mental health is different than yours.
We are all people just trying to survive this journey called life.