There is much being said in the media and in our social media feeds about suicide and mental illness. Some of it is pure lament, some of it is an attempt at having more open conversations about these hard things, some of it is honest sharing about what it’s like to be on the precipice, and some of it is completely wrongheaded and cruel.
And then there is the stuff in between the good and the bad – those feeble (and admittedly often wrong-headed) attempts to be helpful, to fix this and somehow put the world back in order. To convince those in the darkness that we really want them to live.
“Suicide is selfish.” “Choose life.” “Choose joy.” “Think of the people you’re leaving behind.”
For those who’ve been anywhere near the place where Robin Williams was earlier this week, these statements can trigger you and do exactly the opposite of what they’re meant to accomplish. You know how useless it is to assume you really have any rational choice when the darkness takes over your mind. You know you can’t just “snap out of it”. You know you’re not really being selfish when you’ve become convinced the world would be a better place without you.
As one of those people who’s said some of those wrong things in her life… can you please find it in your heart to forgive us? Forgive us, but don’t let us off the hook. Tell us what we should say instead. Tell us how we should show up for you. Tell us how we can show our love in helpful ways.
Because some of us are desperate. Some of us are standing on the shore, holding the only thing we think might be a lifeline, making every feeble attempt we can to toss it into the raging current to pull you back to shore.
Sometimes we throw the wrong lifeline and we hit you on the head instead.
When my beloved first slipped into the darkness that had no name, I had no idea how to handle it. Five months pregnant with our first child, and completely unprepared and ill-equipped to support someone who didn’t himself understand what he was going through, I can tell you this… I said a whole lot of wrong things.
I tried to bargain with him. I tried to make him feel guilty. I tried tough love. I tried anger. I tried desperation. I tried dropping him off at an overnight care facility. I tried hiring the best psychologist I could find. I even tried to hide the phone when I thought he was making the wrong choice and then threw it at him and ran away when I realized I had no control over the situation. Yes, I threw things.
And then the next day, after I’d spent the day driving all over the countryside trying to find him, when he was lying in the hospital bed about to be wheeled into surgery to try to save the life he’d tried to end, I STILL said the wrong thing. Instead of saying “I’m so glad you’re alive. I love you.” I said “Why did you try to leave me? How could you do this to me and our baby?”
Because I didn’t know what else to say to convince him to stay. Because I didn’t want to be alone.
Fifteen years later, when he slipped back into the darkness, we thought we were better prepared. We thought he couldn’t possibly slip so far again. We got help. He talked to the right people. He promised he would never, ever try to end his life again.
And then one day I was rushing him to the hospital in another desperate attempt to save the life he tried to end. Again.
And STILL I said the wrong things. Because I was angry. Because I was desperate. Because I didn’t know better. Because I loved him.
Despite all of my mistakes, he found a way to forgive me. And he got better. And he worked, once again, at staring his demons in the face. And we worked at patching our marriage back together.
Because in all of that – in all of my blundering attempts to help him – he saw that it was love that made me do it. And in the mix of the wrong things, I also said some right things. And he says now that I saved his life.
It might happen again – to him or to someone I love. (Please God NO!) And I’ll probably still say some of the wrong things. Hopefully I’ll also say more right things than wrong. Hopefully love will be strong enough to tip the scales.
So I beg you – if you are one of those people being triggered by the wrong things being said – please help us. Please let us know where to stand and where to throw the rope. I know you can’t communicate it in the middle of your darkness, or you would. But if you’re currently not in the darkness and remember what it’s like, talk to us. Tell us what people said that were the right things. Tell us how to love you.
Because we love you. And we’re desperate.