It's hard to write about suicide in any kind of coherent way, because suicide makes those of us who are left so overwhelmed that we are incoherent. Those of us living, who lost someone to suicide or who have witnessed dear friends cope with suicide in their family or even who know that someone we admired in the public eye who completed suicide, are left with confusion, sadness, guilt, helplessness, anger. We are left trying to pick up pieces and make sense of them in our own feeble ways.
I don't want to assume that all people commit suicide because they are depressed. I know that there can be varying factors - drug use, compulsive disorders, PTSD, some kind of terminal diagnosis. That being said, I am writing this today primarily for people who love someone with depression, because that comes with its own set of anxieties and vigilance. It's own long term pain.
It's hard to imagine, for those of us who haven't experienced crippling, chronic depression, what it's like to feel that way every day. (Though most people have had brief thoughts of suicide or escape from life in some way). And if someone you care about experiences this sort of depression, they probably aren't sharing the depth of it with you. I'm surprised about what people carry and hide from those they love. But if they are sharing it with you, the feeling you get is drowning. You offer idea after idea, or days of supportive love, love without advice, love with advice, hospital stays, doctor recommendations, mindfulness meditation books and articles from Google. Sometimes, there's a little movement, but then things seem to move back to the former heavy stasis. Today, I am writing for us - the witnesses and loved ones. The ones trying to make sense of this unknowable.
Several years ago, a client of mine with a more come-and-go kind of depression recommended a book to me - Hyperbole and a Half, a graphic novel written and illustrated by Allie Brosh. She is not only hilarious and insanely talented, but a person who deals with mental health issues too. She depicts depression in a way that gives me insight as a helper. After only half-reading this amazing book, I recommended it to a client of mine with deep, treatment resistant depression. We read it at the same time and we both had an a-ha moment that I will share below, using a frame from her book:
There are some other good books about depression by people who have endured it, including suicidal thoughts. The ones I really like are The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon, A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer (Not exactly about depression, but he uses examples from depressed periods in his life to talk about trust and vulnerability and relationships), and Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.
I wish I could give you an answer that will always work for helping your friend, your mom, your brother, your neighbor with his or her depression. But you already know that it's not possible.
When things are impossible, I turn to poetry, music and art. For me, these help get to that place beyond rational knowing, but a place I know to be truer than rationality. So... I'll share this last bit with you...a song that has a bittersweet place in my life history - Ripple by the Grateful Dead,
I remember riding in the backseat of my former in-law's car one gorgeous, cool, summer evening through the Green Mountains of Vermont. It was 2000 and my now ex husband and I were engaged. Life was before us. This song played on the car CD player and I began to cry quietly in the backseat. "There is a road, no simple highway, between the dark and the dawn of night. And if you go, no one may follow. That path is for your steps alone." Funny, but as I remember it, I don't think I shared with my fiance that I was crying. It felt too personal.
Something so exquisite flutters on the edge of our awareness, if we let it. It has something to do with being both intricately connected with others and all of creation and at the same time our life path is only our own. Those we have ever loved in our life are on their own path too.
Whether it is depression, addiction, bi-polar disorder, some combination of mental illnesses - even physical illness -- we on the sidelines hurt because we are limited. We are limited because this is what it means to be human. Our love has no limits, but our actions and control of another person have limits.
"Limited" is not to be judged bad or good. It just is. I'll let the lyrics finish the blog today, because I don't think I could say it any better. Take care of yourself, all you caregivers. Take care of yourself, all you who are hurting. National Suicide Prevention Hotline
Ripple by the Grateful Dead
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?
Perhaps they're better left unsung
I don't know, don't really care
Let there be songs to fill the air
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone