I identify with Dawdy’s article on a variety of grounds and many of his words have me thinking.
“Mostly, the suicidal show no clues that they are on dangerous ground.”
This is true for me only with people I don’t know. When people at work, friends, or family see me, they think that all is right in my world. I’m the type of person who keeps a pleasant expression fixed on her face and in general, has a bubbly, cheery attitude. (Co-workers, acquaintances, and casual friends would never know how negative and pessimistic I am.) If people found out that I struggled with depression to the extent of attempting suicide on 10 different occasions, they’d all be shocked because it doesn’t seem to jive with my “personality.”
People who really know me — those closest to me — know that when I’m suicidal, it’s extremely hard for me to not show. I withdraw from social contact, refuse to make eye contact, become extremely quiet or reply with a succession of short, one-word answers to questions, or corner myself in a seat or in bed with my head hanging down, eyes spacing off into somewhere. Those who know me should and can know when I’m suicidal. It becomes so obvious that I don’t need to say anything. I usually don’t tell anyone, but my body language speaks volumes.
Dawdy cites mental health experts who say that “suicide notes are unreliable indicators of what a person was grappling with.” That statement is somewhat amusing. Dawdy quotes radio host Doyon’s suicide note as saying that “she was despondent over finances and her radio career.” Doyon clearly stated why she was unhappy. It doesn’t give a complete picture but it’s a concise statement of what triggered her down the path to suicide. If I wrote a suicide note saying, “I’m killing myself because I have been struggling with depression and suicidal feelings for the past 10 years and I can’t take it anymore,” That’s a relatively clear indicator of what I was “grappling with.”
“Accepting suicide is wrong. And that’s precisely what societal silence amounts to—acceptance.”
Societal silence isn’t so much acceptance as it is ignorance. Society sees suicide and looks the other way. It’s the train wreck that they can’t bear to watch. It’s the one act in society that repulses humans like no other. The majority of Americans aren’t happy about suicides, in fact, most people express sadness and remorse over the tragic event of a person taking his or her own life. Suicides are very common in colleges — New York University had a string of them at one point — and the mental health and psychological issues are immediately addressed, ranging from how to manage a full load of classes to handling the break-up of a relationship. In the world outside of college, people do remain silent. And they look the other way. It’s not that people accept suicide as it is that they don’t want to deal with it. I would venture to say that society tolerates suicide as much as they tolerate gays. The attitude is more, “I don’t want to have to deal with it but since it’s around, I might as well.”
“As a matter of pure survival, I’ve adopted tactics to keep out of harm’s way. I don’t own guns and am scared of high places and never keep sleeping pills around.”
Dawdy’s approach to this is smart. However, I’m still at a loss at how to keep myself from thinking about hangings, drinking dangerous liquids, or throwing myself — oops, accidentally tripping — down a flight of stairs. Shall I get rid of scarves, my cleaning supplies, and live on the first floor?
Dawdy also tackles how teens became screened for mental illness during the 1990s. Considering that I went to high school during the 1990s, I was never once screened for mental illness. I was just considered “depressed.” Nothing ever delved into all sorts of this bipolar, manic-depressive stuff.
My moods frequently fluctuated in high school. I was up one minute; the next, I was down. I still function like this, although, at a less frequent level. I could be extremely happy walking down the hall, only to have my mood crash over anything: a snide comment, a nasty look, a bad grade, stubbing my toe, feeling like a smartass for answering a question correctly in class.
I’ve often debated whether if it’s not so much that I have a mental illness as it is that I don’t know how to “cope.” Much of that is that I don’t have enough faith. Over and over, I’ve been told, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” But I’ve been to points where I honestly said, “God, I can’t handle this. Please forgive me for killing myself.” I’ve been told suicide is the gravest sin anyone can commit. Growing up Catholic, I feared suicide because Catholic teaching is that a person who successfully commits suicide is plunged straight to hell. The Bible says that as long as a believer has his/her faith in Jesus Christ, there is no sin too great for God to forgive. This teaching has been reiterated by many Biblical churches that I’ve attended.
Now, my fear is gone. I believe in Jesus Christ, I’m a born-again child of God with the assurance of heaven. “And since no sin is too far out of the reach of Jesus’ grasp, then I can commit suicide and wind up in heaven, right? What a perfect way to get out of this world!” — or so my reasoning is.
Now, if I have enough fearlessness to face death, why can I not have enough fearlessness to face life?