“Someone saved my life tonight, Sugar Bear. You almost had your hooks in me, didn’t you, dear? You nearly had me roped and tied, altar and bound hypnotized sweet freedom, whispered in my ear. You’re a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly, fly away, high away, bye-bye…” -Elton John, Bernie Taupin
If you’ve seen Rocketman, Elton John’s biographical movie, you would know that he was highly addicted to drugs to mask his pain from childhood on, as many people do. This song is actually about someone saving his life from a drug overdose, supposedly, but it didn’t make the movie. Generally, addiction is tied to mental health in some way or another. However, some people do use drugs as a way to choose to leave this world. “Accidental overdoses” happen, I’m not saying that they don’t, but sometimes, overdoses are not “accidental”.
I don’t really know how to start this one so I’ll just get to it…Recently, my best friend in the entire world (also one of my soul mates, I believe in more than one) lost her son. He shot himself in his car after a fight with his girlfriend. I don’t say it this way to sound crass, but to be blunt about how horrific suicide can be. When I spoke with her on the phone, finally, I said, “what can I do?” She told me all that I could do was to keep doing what I was doing and listen and keep her mind off of it.
But I had to do more than that. So I told her about all of the times that my life had been saved by someone else, including her. We now live about three hours apart, but we didn’t always. See, I met her when I took a writing class at the local library (I was working on some fictional ideas at the time) and, the minute she walked into the class, I knew I had to know her. And that I probably already did, in some way. That’s what happens when you meet a soul mate; you just know. Despite the fact that I’m a heterosexual woman and so is she, we hit it off immediately and I loved her from the beginning in an inexplicable way. We used to joke that her husband might think that we were having an affair. We had so much in common in our first five-minute conversation than I’ve had with most anyone I’ve ever met. So our friendship naturally grew from there.
She never knew that my ex-husband was abusing me during that time, but I didn’t feel alone because I always had her to talk to about other things and we would spend time doing whatever in between my crazy busy schedule with school and jobs and internships. And, as I told her on the phone recently, the worse it got for me, the harder I tried to make things happier for those around me because I couldn’t fathom anyone feeling as low as I did. I remember passing a woman on my way into Goodwill one day (big thrifter here!) who said to me, “Look at that beautiful smile!”. It didn’t make my day, it made my fucking month. Are you following me yet?
And, at the end of my marriage, I wanted to die. But I had her. And a body of people in my grad school program who would make feel like my life mattered, that I was smart and funny and sweet. I had people at my night job who made me feel needed and important. They complimented me and made me feel like there was still good in the world. Life was meaningful and rich, until I was home.
“Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend, somewhere along in the bitterness, and I would have stayed up with you all night, had I known how to save a life…” -The Fray, 2005
But those people, those little tiny compliments, those bits of love falling here and there, they saved my life. SHE saved my life. An invisible man saved my life. God saved my life. I didn’t go looking for help like I wish I would have on my own (our marriage counselor reinforced my belief that I was the reason that I was being abused, what a dumbfuck), but God found a way to get it to me and, somehow, always has. I’ve been lucky. Other people in my life, not so much.
My Father, who suffered from Bipolar 1 and most certainly PTSD, tried to commit suicide so many times. It wasn’t a big mystery to me before people I knew started dying from suicides and drug overdoses. Have you ever cleaned baked-on vomit from the inside of car after someone tried to overdose there? No? Well, I have and survived it. So much for a childhood.
When I was sixteen, the “stick-boy” to my “stick-girl” hung himself and it killed me on the inside for a long time. It stills burns when I think about it. I remember my brother, who was also close to him, sitting behind me during the service reaching out and holding my hand the whole time. “Stick-boy” told someone he was “checking out” and that person did nothing about it. I will likely forever blame that person for what transpired. It is right? Probably not, but, to me, when someone basically says that they’re going to kill themselves, you don’t just do nothing.
The real truth is that there are two types of suicide (this is my personal experience and theoretical ideology): Planned and impulsive. Likely, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent either, but there are things to do to de-escalate situations so that people don’t feel like there is no way out. Some of us, unfortunately, suffer a lifetime of depression and trauma. Trauma can’t be medicated, it can only be healed by working through it. When I say it “can’t be medicated”, I mean, the symptoms can attempt to be controlled using medications, but the trauma itself must be pulled out, examined, and packed again away neatly. Depression can’t always be medicated either (symptoms aside) so, be kind. Be kind to all you meet. Compliment someone new three times a day. Learn from my stories. Don’t ignore the signs. If you know the person, you will know when they are acting out of character.
In suicide prevention 101, people are taught that someone planning out a suicide begins to give away things that are important to them. (Much like someone who knows that they’re about to pass away who wills their things to people while they’re still alive.) Here are some things that you might not know (these are from both experience and education): People who know that they are choosing to leave this world soon might improve in mood, both drastically and suddenly. To the family, this comes as a relief, especially if the family member has been depressed for a long time with seemingly no help in sight. The reasoning behind this is the relief that the pain will soon be over because they have planned a way out.
Another barely known secret (you learn these things if your parent is constantly in the hospital for attempted suicide), is that, when someone starts a new medication, like an anti-depressant, their energy level may rise before their mood rises. What does this mean exactly? It means that someone will continue to be depressed, but now have the energy to do something about it, i.e., commit the act of suicide.
You cannot save a life. But, you can read people. I give people thirty seconds. (Everyone who I’ve told this thinks I’m either batshit crazy or too judgmental.) I’ve been wrong twice. And right Every. Other. Time. Don’t lose that sense that we have as children. Listen when people are speaking. If you are worried, call the police. They can do what is called a “wellness check” on a person. They may be mad at you in the short-term, but don’t you think possibly saving a life is worth it?
So, I suppose you can save a life, but only if you know about their intent to commit suicide, and only sometimes. Thinking that they’re just saying something to “get attention” is bullshit. If someone cries out for help, you can’t be an “innocent bystander”. You become a guilty bystander if they die. I want to provide you with other resources for suicide prevention and understanding. I hope that what I have written here has helped you and, possibly, someone you know, despite the fact that I’ve provided both anecdotal information and facts. Here are some other resources to help you if you suspect someone in your life is contemplating suicide:
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