When celebrities kill themselves, an increase in suicides tends to follow. In the months following Robin Williams' suicide, suicide rates increased by around 10%.
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are not two people I ever thought I'd mention in the same sentence. They seem to have nearly nothing in common. They were both struggling with darkness in a big way. And they killed themselves in the same week.
Suicide makes me terribly sad. I feel a deep connection to suicide because I had such an intense infatuation with it for over a decade. I know that beast quite well. The idea of it taking someone's life makes me cry and it makes me angry.
Suicide is preventable. It's a really scary thing to prevent, though. You can't prevent your suicide if you're unwilling to give anyone any kind of subtle hint that something might be amiss. A ton of people have no interest in speaking to someone about their sadness.
When I was suicidal, I had a lot of dialogue that went like this: "If I tell her I want to kill myself, she's going to call the authorities and it's going to fuck up my whole plan. I've already made my decision. It will only break people's hearts if I tell them what's on my mind. They know something is up, they just don't care about me. If anybody actually knew the real me, they would want me to die."
I survived through my suicidal years, and it's not because I reached out. I didn't go to someone and tell them all this shit was on my mind, the way I really hope others will. I blacked out on xanax and white wine and screamed it at my dad, and then found myself in a psychiatric hospital. I was a sloppy drunk with access to fantastic mental health care.
It was while I was in care that I learned how to prevent any future suicidal tendencies. There are a lot of ways to cope with emotions in a way that allows you to feel them appropriately while addressing the bigger picture and your role in it.
this is not a fight
Stop thinking of it as a battle. I am not at war. I am mostly a little bit depressed most days. At least, right when I wake up. If I follow my morning routine and things are generally consistent, I stop noticing my depression after a few hours. I am not battling mental illness. I am sitting with it. I drink tea with it. I ask my depression what it needs and I am gentle.
I fought really hard for a long time. Being on the front lines is exhausting. In any war, years of taking bullets and trying to heal them while still taking more bullets would lead any soldier to prefer death. I had to get off the battlefield and go rest. That's why I'm alive today.
I haven't wanted to kill myself in six years. I think about suicide all the time. I have thoughts that flow through and say, "ugh, that was stupid. Kill yourself." And then the thought passes, just like every other thought. If I get a lot of them in one day, I write myself a note and I let someone know, "man, I had a lot of intrusive thoughts today, it really bummed me out."
I was speaking with a friend about my six years on this journey. I said, "I wake up every day and I choose life." I've been thinking about that and I think I would reword that sentence. I don't choose life. I chose life six years ago. The door to that decision is closed, I already picked which one I want. When thoughts come up that contradict my decision, I know they are not the thoughts I need to be listening to. You do not have to fight.
pick your favorite coping skills, make them small
I got stuck in an undertow about three months ago and it was really scary. I was sucked into an extreme darkness for about three hours. An undertow is what I call the moments when my critical talk takes over and beats the shit out of me. This doesn't happen very often, because I have a really solid compassion practice. It feels like someone else is screaming at me. It's the pissed off part of my ego. It is mostly triggered when I feel like I have accomplished nothing in my life.
On the second hour, I told myself that I was going to do three things, and if those three things didn't work, I would call a professional and follow their recommendations for what to do next. I wasn't feeling suicidal, I just felt like I couldn't breathe and I was in a lot of pain. What's really cool about that is that the three coping skills I tried worked just the way they usually do, and I was feeling better within an hour of trying them. I was also exhausted and slept for ten hours that night. I felt like I had just taken a beating, and I needed to take some deep breaths.
Here are the three coping skills I tried: I made a list of three things I'm grateful for, I did three nice things for myself (brushed my teeth, wrote myself a note, asked Jonny for a hug), and I decided to reach out to three people. Two of the people I texted were in the car together and they were at my house twenty minutes later.
It is really important to prepare future you for the shit storm. You know how you get. Try to write a short note to freaking out you and give yourself a piece of advice you think you would actually follow in that moment. Start seeing what might work for you by practicing new skills when you're feeling good. If you know how to do something and it's easy, you're more likely to actually do it when you're in a shitty spot.
The suicide hotline is the fucking best and I think everyone reading this should call it, just to practice. I called the suicide hotline every day for thirty days and all I said was, "I won't keep you long, I just wanted to practice calling because sometimes I get suicidal and I want to know how all this works."
I have called the suicide hotline during four times of crisis in the last six years. It's my backup number for when I am convinced that none of my friends want to hear about my problems. I don't call it regularly, but because I know how it works and I know everyone there is super nice, I always have it in my back pocket.
The suicide hotline is awesome because you don't need to tell anyone in your real life what is going on. You can call and talk and get some clarity. You can ask questions and get some guidance. You can also call just to have someone listen and validate and care about you. You don't have to have a gun in your hand in order to qualify for the suicide hotline. You don't even have to have tears in your eyes.
Also! There's a text line that I have not tried! CRISIS TEXT LINE! Text "home" to 741741
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were game changers in their respective fields. They were also friends and family members and they were so special to the people who loved them. Everyone is special to someone.
For some, these very public deaths will be further motivation for suicide. For those suicidal folks, I have one thing to say -- this is your story. You do not need to die. You can choose where this goes. I know, I know, it doesn't feel like it. Call that number, text that friend, look up that therapist you heard about. Speak this out loud. This is a story that only you can tell. This is your story. Cherish it.
If your friends are struggling, give them the opportunities they need to talk. It is never your fault if your friend commits suicide (I almost didn't type that because sometimes I feel like I could have prevented Trevor's suicide if I'd just been a bit more annoying). However, as a friend, you have an awesome opportunity to be a listener.
Talking about suicide does not automatically enroll you in the nearest state-run acute care hospital. You can talk about suicide openly and without judgment.
You can validate and give love and hugs. As a friend of a person struggling with mental illness, you will need patience and understanding. Willingness to have the same conversation as many times as necessary. Willingness to have no answers. And if your friend is struggling in a way that you think needs more attention, you are not shitty for calling a professional. If you're not sure where to start, you can start by calling the suicide hotline and asking them what you can do to help your friend.