I want to talk about suicide. Every time I hear or read about someone saying, “just reach out if you’re thinking about hurting or killing yourself,” I roll my eyes and sigh inwardly. If I told you, you might try and stop me from killing myself, then I wouldn’t be able to kill myself! That’s the real issue. People fall on a wide spectrum of hurt, trauma, sadness, depression, anxiety, and a wide range of emotions that go on and on. This feel good statement we make, while well intentioned, does nothing for someone clinging to the rungs of a quickly deteriorating ladder that is sliding deeper into a pit of despair. My hope is to give you insight if you’ve never struggled with depression and suicide, and if you’re currently there, give you hope for a way out.
What is Dopamine and Seratonin?
It’s important to have a basic understanding of dopamine and serotonin when discussing depression. Dopamine and serotonin are both neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers used by the nervous system that regulate countless functions and processes in your body, from sleep to metabolism. Some of the main symptoms of depression include:
- low motivation
- feeling helpless
- a loss of interest in things that used to interest you
ExpertsTrusted Source think these symptoms are linked to a dysfunction within your dopamine system. They also think this dysfunction might be triggered by short- or long-term stress, pain, or trauma. (Most of this section was directly copied from this website.)
What did that last part say? “Might be triggered by short- or long-term stress, pain, or trauma.” Well I don’t know anyone in the military who that might apply to! (Big eye roll here.) We obviously live in a high stress environment where stressers, both great and small, are a DAILY part of our lives. When someone is suicidal, it’s important to understand that their mind is not operating like it should. The wiring has been altered, either temporarily or permanently, and they simply can’t find the joy and purpose in life anymore. Many times they can fake it, go through the daily motions like a robot, but they’re barely treading water in their mind. The need to keep their head above the surface, just to breathe, becomes an overwhelming chore that grinds on them day after day, month after month, until a triggering event causes them to finally give in and kill themselves.
Without revealing too much about myself personally, I can tell you I’ve been suicidal; more than once, actually. My brother killed himself which caused me to go into a deep hole for a long time. A divorce, along with other events much later in life, sent me into a place I didn’t think I could recover from. It was a long slide into a dark void of nothing. I felt utterly helpless and alone. The traffic of people at work and in my personal life was like white noise buzzing at the periphery of my consciousness. They would say, “you ok, man? Everything alright with you? You need to talk about anything?” I lived with this for close to two years. Initially I would open up, but I realized that opening up meant that I had to relive the things in my mind over and over, and I eventually stopped. The advice some people would give was terrible. “Man, I’m sorry to hear that. It’ll be ok though. Things will get better eventually. This stuff won’t last forever. Have you ever tried (fill in the blank)?” Clichés from well meaning people, who honestly weren’t very interested in hearing about my problems, droned on and on. It became annoying and not worth discussing. I felt like my family members were tired of my sob story when they were dealing with their own things in life, so I stopped opening up to them. I sank further and further into that pit. The only thing connecting me to this world was my daughter, and the stretches between my time with her seemed agonizingly long, painful and lonely. I had meaningless sex with random people, drank myself into oblivion every night, and fueled the path to my destruction with a gasoline can of bad decisions.
After dropping my daughter off with her mom following a long holiday weekend, I hit rock bottom. The agony of not having her in my life overwhelmed any desire I had to go on living. After drinking a whole bottle of whiskey, I chambered a round in my pistol and put it to my head. I will detail the next few moments of that night very carefully. The memory and anguish of the absolute nightmare I lived in after my brother killed himself flooded through me all at once. I can’t think of words to describe the pure terror and horror I lived in after my brother, my best friend, died. How could I go on? How could I live without him? He has to be here. This ccouldn’t be real. I would wake up screaming in fits as he would flood every corner of my subconscious in my dreams, and I would live with that feeling every minute I was awake, living that way day after day for years. That emotion and sensation hit me all at once, and I realized I would subject my little girl, that perfect, innocent ray of light, to a lifetime of brokenness because of what I was about to do. That single moment was the turning point for me getting help, going to mental health, and fighting to be better than the mess I had become.
What should/shouldn’t you do?
I didn’t tell you that story so you’d tell me how brave I am for sharing, or so I could catch some feel goods on social media. I’m telling you because it’s important to understand that no one was responsible for me except for me. I blamed myself for not reaching out and “saving” my brother for years, but that wasn’t my fault anymore than it would have been anyone else’s fault if I had taken my own life. I’m thankful I had a reason, and I’m thankful that reason screamed at me through the darkness before I slipped over the edge. My will to live eventually became my REASON to live, and I’ve been empowered ever since. I received help and treatment, and I can truly say I’m mentally stronger now than I’ve ever been in my life. I want everyone who reads this to process a few things though.
- People who are truly suicidal, and not “crying out for help” as they say, don’t want to be talked out of it.
They want to die. Giving them phone numbers and pamphlets to read isn’t going to do anything but give you a feeling of accomplishment.
- Your best meaning well wishes and attempts to cheer them up are not helpful.
I know you mean well, but your advice is probably bad. Your mind works right, and theirs does not. They are struggling to hang on mentally, and they simply can’t see the joy and cheer you so easily dish out. “Cheer up, man! I promise things will get better.” Well, no, they won’t; at least in their mind. This is it, this is my reality, and I don’t want to endure this anymore. The pain is too suffocating and I don’t want to keep doing this.
- You can help them, but it will take more than half hearted gestures.
You have to actually care. You can’t fake it. If you are serious about the mental health of someone, then you need to invest actual effort into hearing them. Sometimes just being near, and existing in silence with them, is the best thing you can do. You can’t fix the problem. Let me say this one more time: YOU CAN’T FIX THE PROBLEM!! Have you ever been to a funeral and you don’t know what to say when someone is crying because they just lost someone they love? You say things like, “I’m really sorry, he’s in a better place, he was a good man,” or whatever you can muster, but it feels disingenuous, right? You’re just trying to fill the awkward emptiness with your words, and those seem like nice words, so they’ll do. Try saying nothing at all. Be present, listen, and know that this person is hurting in ways they can’t describe.
- If you’re a leader and think one of your troops is in a rough spot, try being empathetic and taking your foot off their neck a little bit.
If someone has been a top performer for years, but suddenly they’re not, there might be a reason for it. It’s not probable they just decided to be a turd and stop working, or showing up on time, or whatever the issue may be. I had a very good field grade officer (who I dearly wish I could call out right now so every single person who reads this would know what a terrific officer he is) who knew something was off and did something about it. His empathy was front and center in how he spoke and treated me. Knowing your troops and responding to their needs can be the reason they live or die sometimes.
There is Hope
This last section is the most important, and it’s for anyone who is in the darkness and feels utterly alone. I want you to know I’m crying while I’m writing this, because I feel your hurt, I know how alone you feel, and it breaks my heart. I’m sorry that thing happened to you, that you went through that pain, that life is raw, cruel and doesn’t care about you. You are not alone though, and this is so important to realize. You are not the only person going through this. There are so many of us out there who have been where you are right now. There are so many who are CURRENTLY where you are. I know this next line may ring hollow in regards to where you are, but it will get better. There is nothing you are facing that can’t be overcome, and you can find joy again if you persevere and seek help. I’m living proof of it. You don’t have to live like this, you don’t have to continue in your misery, and there are doctors, psychiatrists, and mental health providers who can help. Just because you had a bad experience with one doesn’t mean they’re all bad. You can be free from this pain, and it doesn’t have to involve taking your life and casting that hurt onto someone else who loves you. Your mind and body aren’t working correctly, and even though you can’t undue the trauma that took place, it doesn’t have to rule your life any longer.
September 10 is National Suicide Prevention Day. Awareness starts individually by dispelling bad habits and ignorance surrounding depression and suicide. Take stock of those in your circle and make an assessment of how you can actually affect change with those closest to you.