Life is scary. Life is constantly scary, and cruel, and messy and hard. Adding onto that a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, and the world is much darker than it is light. Some people know how to shut the darkness out, but others feel lost in it. I don’t believe that either of those is more right than the other; I believe that each person walks on their own path and that we are blessed to have others walking along beside us. I also believe that when the darkness is so encompassing, a person may not be able to see the people walking beside them, and may not be able to spot any kind of hope.
Over 40,000 people die by suicide in the United States every year. A terrible, inconceivable, devastatingly large number of people. Two painful weeks ago, one of them was close to me. I have a lot of conflicting feelings about what happened: sad, angry, confused, relieved, lost. My friend died after years and years of fighting some of the fiercest depression that I’ve ever seen. I knew that she ached daily from the weight of it. People did what they could to relieve her load, but I know that the person holding the weight still carries most of it on their own back. She wore depression on her back, and on her arms, and in her lungs, and all through her body. No one could take that.
We live in a society that is slowly, slowly allowing hard conversations to happen. Suicide is an elephant in a room, one that people feel that cannot talk about, so instead they joke about it and dance over it and under it and around without facing it head on. I sometimes wonder, idly, what would happen if we made suicide the center of attention rather than a whispered, shameful secret. I wonder what would happen if people were brave enough to ask the people in their lives if they were okay, or if they needed to talk, or if they were safe, or if they needed a person or a hand to hold or someone to tell them to put down the bottle of pills or the razor blade or the loaded gun or to turn off the car or untie the rope. I wonder if my friend talked to anyone the day she died. I know that not every person reaches out for comfort or for help. I wonder if someone tried to make her feel better by ignoring what she said or what she didn’t say and by staying on subjects that made them feel comfortable, because no one is comfortable with suicide. No one should be comfortable with suicide.
Last year, a few close friends and I participated in the Out of the Darkness walk, a way to bring awareness to suicide as well as giving hope to those struggling with depression and other mental illness and survivors of suicide loss. The event was put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and it was excellent and informative. Scribbled across our walking path were chalk messages from others who cared deeply: messages like “we’re here for you,” and “if you feel too much, don’t go,” and “we’ll miss you, Jennifer,” but also messages that said “Cheer Up!” and “Smile!” And I think a large portion of Americans believe that if someone who feels suicidal can just cheer up, then they’ll be fine. Sadly, smiles don’t heal the Darkness. Depression and other mental illnesses that cause people to complete suicide are incredibly serious and need treatment, just like any other illness a body faces. “Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.”
I want us as a society to be brave enough to ask hard questions. I want us to look someone in the eye and ask them if they are suicidal. I want those who are feeling suicidal to know that they are not alone in their feelings, and that there is treatment available to them. There is a National Suicide Prevention Line that anyone feeling suicidal can call at any time to talk with someone (1-800-273-8255). There is an online chat that those in crisis can use at any time. There are programs that train people to recognize the warning signs of mental illnesses and suicidality and to know what steps to take next. There are organizations like AFSP or TWLOHA that help bring awareness to suicide and offer hope to those struggling with suicide.
Emily, I love you, and I ache when I think about how much I will miss your sweet and beautiful presence in my life. I am sorry that you felt that Weight for so long, and am glad that you no longer have to carry it. But there is an Emily-sized hole here and we will all miss it being filled. Be at peace.