Posted on

Belated: National Suicide Awareness Day and Thoughts About Suicide from your Friendly Neighborhood Madness Shaman

This isn’t going to be easy to write, so please bear with me.

I have a long and complex relationship with suicide. When I learned that yesterday was National Suicide Awareness Day, I felt I wanted to write something to encourage those who may be contemplating suicide to get help if they can. Y’know, one of those posts that lists a bunch of hotlines and websites where you can talk to someone if you’re thinking about killing yourself.

I couldn’t bring myself to write it, and at first I didn’t know why. So I meditated about it, and eventually the truth began to come out of the confusion. I wouldn’t be able to write an essay about why you should get help if you’re suicidal because I am in the midst of a depressive episode, and it would either be, or feel an awful lot like, hypocritical if I gave a blanket “suicide is never a solution, get help” sort of message.

I’ve written extensively about the fact that I have mental health issues. They used to be a lot worse than they are today, but I was never “cured” or “in remission” or anything like that. I just found a place between “so crazy I can’t have a conversation ” and “stone cold sane” and started building a new life in that place. Most people know that it involved a shamanic crisis. Some people know that part of that process was me trying to kill myself, only to have a talk with Loki and wake up a little groggy, but otherwise okay.

That was not my first suicide attempt. I tried to kill myself four times while I was growing up. I never told anyone and did not get help. I was already in state-mandated therapy for other reasons, and I knew that if I told the therapist the truth, my life would change drastically in ways that would not, in the end, really help me at all.

I have a general policy now, that when someone tells me they’re going to kill themselves, I will do what I can to keep them from doing it. Most of the time, it comes down to me calling their local police department and having the police pick them up. I have learned that although this policy has saved the lives of people I cared about, it had two completely unintended and, ultimately, heart-wrenching effects. One was that people who ended up in a hospital because I called the police not only didn’t take the therapy seriously, but also stopped talking to me and in one case, killed themselves later on without talking to me. The second effect was that when two of my friends decided to kill themselves, they purposefully didn’t tell me. In one of those cases, the person was killing themselves in order to end their life with dignity rather than suffer a terrible illness, and many of my friends knew about the person’s plan but didn’t tell me because they were afraid I would call the police.

It puts me in this terrible position that I don’t know what the answer to is. I understand at a heart-level what it feels like when there are no other solutions, and I can be a really good ally to have if you want help finding solutions that can’t be seen when you’re in the thick of it. I know a lot of really good mental health programs, and therapists who could give a rat’s ass if you’re poly or kinky or queer or trans or “alternatively spiritual” or whatever flavor of freak you are. It is an important part of my madness shamanism to be able to enter into another person’s point of view (that is tainted by their madness) and help them get to where they want to go from inside the madness, rather than most people who are staring at you from the outside and can’t really get deep in the trenches because they just don’t see why you feel the way you do, or why you’re making the choices you are. I can do that, and I’ve helped a lot of people that way.

On the other hand, I am obviously not a medical professional. I’m just some dude who lives in the suburbs who has had a lot of experience with being a mental health patient and general crazy person; but this does not qualify me as a person who always knows what to do when a stranger, friend, or family member tells me they want to kill themselves. Sometimes it can be hard, because I have to push past my personal relationship with this person and the emotions that well up because of it, and put on my “work hat” – and I’m not perfect at that.

In addition, sometimes getting into the muck with someone means that I push them out, but I leave myself behind. I’m still someone with multiple pysch issues, and I’m not free from triggers. My life is far from peachy, and it only takes a split second for me to let the muck suck me in.

That’s not why I’m depressed now, though.

It hit me last week, as I was reading a memoir. I read a single sentence, a passing mention of something that had happened to a family member; it said “{family member} had not recovered from their divorce.” (Emphasis mine.) It hit me like a medicine ball to the stomach. I literally stopped breathing, started trembling, and broke down and cried.

A literal shit-ton of jarring life experiences have happened to me in the last year and a half. It’s been a year since my marriage fell apart and I had to move out in a matter of a week. I’ve had friends die. I’ve been in the hospital and had multiple surgeries, one of which I almost didn’t survive. My financial situation changed drastically, and things I hadn’t had to worry about for years suddenly became life-shaking realities. My diabetes, which had been mostly controlled by diet, got much, much worse and is contributing to my overall health. I had to move three times. I walked away from parts of my life that meant a great deal to me. I moved far away from most of my friends and it’s not as easy for me to go to social stuff and no one lives close enough to just “drop by”. I spend a lot of time alone. I don’t drive, so I am always relying on the kindness of friends to help me do simple things like go to doctors or run errands. Not very long ago, I didn’t have enough gas to get me to the ER, nor could I afford it (I went anyway, but the way I got the money was not easy nor did it make me feel good about myself or my life).

I’m not writing this because I want people to sweep in and start solving my problems. I frequently don’t post about problems in the day-to-day because I don’t want people to think I’m walking around with my hand out. Or people whom I could help – something that makes me feel good about myself and my place in the world – decide I am too engulfed in my own shit and ask someone else. I also know that there are people who celebrate (publicly) when I am depressed or sick or just not doing well; there are others who think I’m making it all up, or just trying to get people to give me money/attention/pity/etc.

I’m writing this because on National Suicide Awareness Day, I want to say something not just about suicide, but about the suffering and anguish that many people who don’t kill themselves go through. It’s one thing to tell them suicide is not the answer, but it’s a very long and intricate process to actually make other answers seem viable and attractive to someone who is that lost. It’s extremely difficult to remember that it’s not about you, or how much you love them, but there are years (or decades) of neglectful upbringing, or traumatic experiences, or biochemical imbalances (in some, but not all), or plain ol’ suckitude, that brought them to this place, and a single act of happy-making isn’t going to solve the problem, or in some cases it can actually make things worse. That no matter how strong and sane you are, the person likely needs a professional if they can get one. If not, you have to choose – are you going to put your arm around them and really commit to walking them back to a place where they are functional? Are you going to do the homework to find them a professional to talk to that won’t get sidetracked by their freak factor(s) (ask me sometime about the therapist who thought all my problems were because I went to Rocky Horror a few times a month!)? Can you be strong when they engage in behaviors you know are bad for them or are symptoms of their mental illness?

Writing love on your arms is pretty, but there’s a whole lot more involved if you want to help someone come back from suicidal ideation.

I feel like I want to say something about what it’s like to have a loved one commit suicide, and how I (and others) never forget, never really move on. Many suicidal people convince themselves that their friends and family are better off without them, or that they’re a burden rather than a blessing, and that once they’re dead everyone will feel relief. It is just not true. Even when I know that the person was truly in hell, physically or emotionally or mentally or all three, and that maybe now that they’re dead they suffer no more; it doesn’t make the grief any less, or the feeling of failure you feel that you couldn’t help them, or that they didn’t reach out to you, or that you didn’t fully grasp how bad it was.

On the other hand, I am a strong supporter of body autonomy, and in my case that includes the right to off yourself if that’s how you want to go. Not only do I support people with terminal or end-stage/uncurable chronic illness having the right to decide to die sooner rather than suffer through months or years of pain and suffering; I support the right of people who just want to control the way they die. Even when I’m doing well and mentally stable, the idea that I have to surrender my life in a way not of my choosing seems foreign and oppressive. It’s my life, and I should have the full right to do with it whatever I want, including ceasing it’s function. If someone truly and sincerely asked me to help them die, and they could make a cogent case as to why they should, I don’t know that I would say no.

Suicide is not a black/white thing, like everything else in humanity. It’s not all bad, all the time, no matter what. But frequently, it’s not the cure for mental illness, either. Even now, in the midst of a bad depressive episode, I know that I don’t actually want to die; I just want to stop feeling terrible and having terrible things happen to me or those I care about. I want a quick and easy answer to my struggle. Death is attractive in moments like this, but I know it’s not the right choice for me now. Doesn’t mean I don’t think about it, fantasize about it, or don’t allow myself to imagine a plan.

I also want to make sure people understand that there is a difference between thinking about suicide and actually wanting to kill yourself. The medical term is “suicide ideation”, which just means that you think/fantasize about suicide, and may feel suicidal, but either don’t actually want to kill yourself/die, or won’t go through with it. I won’t say everyone thinks about killing themselves at one point or another, but it’s a common experience. One of the ways I work with my mental illness is to remind myself that it’s totally okay to think about suicide, and a whole different kettle of fish to actually plan to kill myself. For me, it’s better if I let my thoughts flow as they will, rather than punishing or correcting myself if I’m thinking about something I “shouldn’t”. When I think like that, many of my compulsions kick into high gear, and I start doing very unhealthy things in the name of what I “should” be doing.

It’s also okay to call a suicide hotline even if you don’t have a gun to your head or a bottle of pills in your hand. These people want to talk to others, even if it’s just a friendly chat so you feel less alone in the world. If you have secrets you can’t talk about with anyone, it can be a big relief to call a stranger who doesn’t know your real name or where you’re from (and you can use many online programs to call from a number other than your personal home or cell, like Google Voice), and tell them your deepest darkest secrets. I first confessed that I thought I might be queer to a suicide hotline. I also talked to one when I thought my spouse was cheating on me and I didn’t want to get any of my friends involved. I called one not very long ago, for reasons I’m not going to write about here just yet. None of these times were moments out of a movie, with the caller literally putting the noose around their neck and begging the hotline volunteer to talk them out of it; it was more, “I’m feeling very lost and alone about this or that or all of the things in my life, and I’m not seeing many solutions or resolutions other than running away or killing myself.” There’s no meter or metric that you can measure your suicide ideation with to confirm or deny that you’re “suicidal enough” to call for help.

Hi, I’m Del, and I have multiple mental health diagnoses. I’m in a depressive phase and things don’t feel so good. Sometimes I think about suicide, but I don’t have any plans. I take medication for my depression, and I’m not afraid to say so. I know I will have to take it for a long time – it’s not a course of antibiotics that you take until you feel better. I have to take them until such time as situations in my life are more balanced and only then with the help of a professional – if ever. If I have to take them for the rest of my life, I would much rather take a few pills every day than ever feel as bad as I have in the past. I would rather take a few pills than go back to a psych ward. I would rather take a few pills and deal with a few side effects rather than spread my crazy onto all of my friends and loved ones.

I’m only going to list a few resources here: I figure you all have Google and can find the more nationally-known hotlines and services. These are a few places to start if you’re in need of a therapist who won’t judge or pathologize parts of your life that others might.

Kink Aware Professionals: This is a list of all different kinds of services, from lawyers to contractors to therapists. It helps if you’re close to a major city, but there are some out here in the boonies. I also like that they encourage listers to categorize how hep to kink they are: “Friendly” means they generally know what an average citizen knows about kink, and won’t judge you on it. “Aware” means they’ve done some research and have some understanding of kink/power exchange, and “Knowledgeable” means they either are kinky themselves, or know enough about the lifestyle that you’ll find yourself not having to explain an awful lot.
I should mention that I refer a lot of people, kinky or not, to the KAP because you’ll find that a therapist or counselor who is hep to kinky stuff is much less likely to lose their shit about other alternative lifestyles, including spirit workers/shamans or LGBTQ folks.

Poly Friendly Professionals. A similar list, except instead of kink stuff, these people are either polyamorous or aware/non-judgemental about being poly. I find poly-aware therapists are usually open to non-traditional relationships of all stripes and colors, including Godspousery. (Again, not all, but most of the ones I’ve talked to or worked with.)

The Open List: This is another list of professionals of all stripes that are welcoming to all those in alternative lifestyles, with a focus on non-monogamy. What’s nice is at the bottom of the page, they list other lists that have similar foci, should you not find what you are looking for here.

Broken Toys is a website hosted by Raven Kaldera that has many essays about kink and mental illness. Although the full title says it’s about Submissives, the articles come from all sorts of people in power exchange relationships from the Top and the Bottom. It’s not a place to find a therapist, but it does have some great essays both on what to do when you/your partner is struggling with a mental illness, and also first hand stories/experiences.

Although it is geared towards teenagers, Kate Bornstein’s book Hello Cruel World is a wonderful list of 101 alternatives to suicide. If you’re depressed and web searching anyway, google Kate and listen/read/watch what she has to say on the topic; she and I feel very similarly about suicide. Her mantra is “Do whatever it takes to make your life worth living; anything at all.” She even hands out (and offers on her website) “Get Out of Hell Free” cards, so if your God(s) punish you for doing what it took to make your life better, she’s volunteering to do your time for you. Her only rule? “Don’t be mean.” Her book even has an app on Itunes, so if you can’t get the book, or if you need something right away, this is a good start.

Kate also has posted her own “It Gets Better” video on YouTube; it made me cry my eyes out in a good way.

I hope this terribly long and windy post helps someone, somewhere, to feel better even for a moment. Maybe posting this will help me feel better for a moment. Who knows?

About Del

A shaman who writes about spiritual things, but not in that namby-pamby "everything is light and fluffy" sort of way.

14 responses to “Belated: National Suicide Awareness Day and Thoughts About Suicide from your Friendly Neighborhood Madness Shaman

  1. heldc ⋅

    I have a jumble of thoughts I can’t get past my fingertips, but I wanted to say…something. I dunno. I heard you, it’s all I’ve got I guess.

  2. Thank you Del, for writing this. I’ve been suicidal, I’m not there right now, but I’ve been there, and may be there again in the future, and this HELPS. SO. MUCH. Thank you for putting this out there and making me, at the least, not feel so alone.

  3. Justine Speed ⋅

    Thank you.

    Just thank you.

    Every time, almost without exception, when your post lands in my inbox I read every word. Slowly.

    Pausing between sentences and ideas to let each one sink in.

    Because they always sink deeply.

    Encouraging me to continue the path of being authentic.

    Blessings and a smile,

    Phoenix

  4. Thank you, Del. Thank you for this.

  5. Del, this is an amazing post. Thank you.

  6. Reblogged this on Eating Monsters and commented:
    A poignant post on a difficult topic. Thanks, Del.

  7. devilkept

    From my own experience, not being able to find people on the provided lists local to me or who take my insurance, you can always call a mental health professional and explain, “I am happily [weird in whatever way(s) you’re weird] and need help from someone who can see beyond that positive strangeness to my actual issues].” It’s difficult, especially given how it can feel like rejection or defeat when someone tells you no, they can’t meet that criteria, but it’s worthwhile. I spoke with a handful of others who (mostly) politely told me I’d be better off with someone else before finding my current therapist who is utterly perfect for me. Entirely worth the effort if other resources don’t get you where you need to go.

  8. aeddubh ⋅

    Thank you for posting this, especially the parts about the difference between ideation and action.

  9. aeddubh ⋅

    Reblogged this on The Words Swim, Waiting and commented:
    As someone a) whose spouse has depression (relatively well-treated and managed) and made at least one (long-ago) suicide attempt and b) who has had the occasional suicidal ideation and c) who has once (long ago) held a gun to his head, I can really appreciate this post.

  10. Thank you for this. It’s a very thoughtful response to a complex issue.

  11. “It’s one thing to tell them suicide is not the answer, but it’s a very long and intricate process to actually make other answers seem viable and attractive to someone who is that lost.”

    Yes. This.

  12. suzys64

    Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Wendy

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve dealt with depression my entire. fucking. life. I very rarely talk about the times I’ve dealt with suicidal ideation. I wish the internet had been a bigger thing when I was younger – I was terrified to talk to anyone, at all, because I had friend who wound up in the psych ward and that was just about as scary to me as the thought of non-existance, as much as the idea of having to work through all that sludge.

    I love Auntie Kate’s Get out of Hell free cards. Whenever I get a chance, I pick some up and give them out. I have one of my own sitting on my altar, just incase.

    A note on friendly professionals – SO MANY are unaware of theses lists as well – the professionals, that is. I found my office, PHIIRST (Philadelphia Institute of Individual, Relational and Sex Therapy) through random googling when I couldn’t find anyone in Philly on the KAP or other lists. Kinky/Poly/Queer/Trans* friendly, and my therapist at least is very woo-friendly. They are very affordable and have sliding scale rates and even have students who have lower sliding scalre rates. Also, free condoms. :)

  14. Thank you for writing and sharing this, Del.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s