by Wendy Keller, author, speaker, survivor
If you’ve never seriously considered committing suicide, chances are high you’ll judge this article as “bad” or “wrong.” That’s OK. It’s not written for you. It’s written for the thousands of people all over the world – including someone you know – who are considering or even plotting the end of their own life right now.
The first time I made careful plans to kill myself I was 11. My family was going through a terrible time and I couldn’t devise any other way of escape. Then, when my children died when I was 26, I was in such unfathomable emotional, physical and spiritual pain that I made quite a few suicide attempts – all thwarted by the fact that I was handicapped, in a hospital bed and monitored by nurses 24/7. Those are my credentials for writing this, but this article isn’t about me. It’s about you.
It’s about you if you’re making active plans to kill yourself; if you’re constantly evaluating what would happen if you went through with it; if you’ve tried and failed; if at this very moment you believe things are so bad, so painful, so hopeless, that they can never get better no matter how much longer you live.
What do you do if you’re counting the days until your last:
My moral responsibility (and probably legal, too) is to tell you to seek immediate counseling. Call the nice people at the Suicide Prevention Hotline. They are trained professionals and you really ought to at least hear what they’ve got to say. The rest of what I’m about to write is stuff that eventually convinced me not to die. Maybe it will help you, too. I was on the fence about the matter for years. I would lie to my therapists if they asked me. Secretly, I had all the Goodbye Notes, the method, everything organized, instructions for my remains, I was ready to check out at a moment’s notice. So far, it’s been almost 22 years since my kids died and I haven’t done it. Here’s how I figured out life is better lived:
1. I got real. It’s easy when you’re at The End to think no one cares and no one will miss you when you’re gone, but the truth is, yes, people will. When I was a teen, a guy I barely knew died in a motorcycle accident a short distance from where I was waiting for him. I still get queasy when I think about it and it wasn’t even a suicide. Suicide is one of those things that has a ripple effect much, much bigger than you imagine. Lots of people will be affected, hurt or permanently damaged if you kill yourself. (PS – Suicide is NOT revenge on anyone! It doesn’t prove anything, and even if it did, you won’t be around to gloat over your victory.)
2. I decided to give myself 90 days to change my life. This sounds stupid, I know. But I decided that if I couldn’t pull it off in 90 days, I’d have given life my best shot. But I expected more from myself than anyone else could ever have expected of a bereaved mother. I got my hands on the “Personal Power” program by motivational speaker Tony Robbins. It saved my life – and changed my life. I’m grateful to this day. It’s not about whether you listen to Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, The Secret or Robert Schuller. It’s that you find someone who seems to have some tools and you give it your 100% best shot for a period of time – long enough to see if it really works. 90 days is a good number. If you still want to kill yourself in 90 days of flat-out 100% effort to improve your life, well, no one can blame you. But you MUST do your best for those 90 days. (What have you got to lose, right?)
3. I kept a journal. Not like “Dear Diary, I want to die today.” Instead, I bought one of those small comb-bound notebooks that fit in a pocket or purse and every hour or two, I’d rate how depressed I was at that very minute, what I was doing and who I was with. I looked for positive patterns. The little things that helped me get through a couple of hours. I’ve never used drugs or alcohol, so I’m not talking about substances. I’m talking about nice things, like walking in the park or listening to birds in the morning or the smell of freshly baked bread, stuff like that. Then I tried to do more of those things, just as an experiment.
4. I stopped hanging out with negative people. We all know someone who thinks that their life is so bad and it’s all a rip-off. You know someone who thinks it’s never been worse in society or the economy. These people will go on for half an hour about their alleged proof that things are so debauched, we’re all going to hell in a hand basket. Well, here’s a news flash: plenty of writers in ancient Rome a couple thousand years ago were writing and saying the same things. “No, no, but THIS time really IS the worst in human history…” Tell them to get over it already! Get away from people (and television programs) that suck your brain cells out, decrease your energy, make you feel worse. If you see someone coming and you feel dread, it’s a warning that they’re not good for you. If you hang out with them and you feel MORE sad and hopeless, it’s a sign they’re not good for you. So for now until you’re stronger or until you die, get away. Get far, far away.
5. I cut myself some slack. People who are contemplating suicide are hard on themselves, on the world, on the people around them. We see everything black and sad and bad. This isn’t a game. Being suicidal isn’t a way to get attention (except from a mortician!) You’re sick in the head. You need help – I hope you get it. But even if you blow off seeking professional help, cut yourself some slack. Be nicer to yourself today than you were yesterday. Say something nice to yourself, even if you have to lie and grit your teeth to say it. When the whole world sucks, there’s one person who should be your ally: yourself.
6. Find something to hope for. It doesn’t matter what it is. Maybe it’s the coming of Spring. Maybe it’s the last day of school. Maybe it’s seeing a friend on the weekend, the next episode of your favorite show, or the next Harry Potter book. Just think about something, someone, somewhere you really love. Go ahead and hope for it. Pretend if you have to for now, but let yourself hope. If someone you love is dead, can you hope that your life could be a noble testament to the love you shared? If someone has left the relationship, can you hope to love someone else that much – or more – someday? If you’re in chronic pain, can you hope for a cure, a method, a painkiller, or even that you may be able to eventually manage it and still live a productive, happier life? If you weren’t depressed, what could you hope for? Time may not heal all wounds, but things pretty much move in a cycle here on Earth. What goes down eventually comes back up. It gets dark and then it gets light. Life gets hard and then it eases up a bit, or even gets good. Maybe your hope could be just seeing what happens down the road. You might be curious about what happens next as if your life was a movie. It’s possible the best is yet to come.
7. I gave up. I’m still annoyed by this fact, but giving up for me was accepting that I am NOT the Grand Mistress of the Universe. I’m just a normal, average woman who went through some really bad stuff. Lots of other normal, average women have also gone through bad stuff. We all lack the power to make things perfect in our lives. About the time I gave up trying to rationalize, negotiate, wheedle, beg, plead and whine with the Universe/God/Jesus/Buddha/Allah/the Great Pumpkin to intervene and fix my miserable life; around the time I gave up struggling against What Is, well, that’s when I realized that “You’re here, you may as well make the best of it.” I told my brain to shut up when it started down the suicide planning path. I re-read and then shredded all my Goodbye Letters to family and friends. I committed 100% to those 90 days, no matter what. I stopped talking, thinking and researching “painless” suicide techniques. I gave up on control, on trying to make things perfect, and started working on just being present in my life. Being half in and half out of your own life is literally half-a$$ed, if you think about it. Give up on changing stuff that can’t be changed. Figure out how to deal with the reality of your life – put your energy in that. You might surprise yourself at what you can achieve when you stop wasting energy plotting your own demise or fighting What Is.
I hope some or all these strategies will work for you. Seems like it would be a shame to lose you. You’re stronger than you think you are; you have more power to change your life for the better than you think you do; you have less power to change What Is than you think you do; but you’ve also got a whole lot more to live for than you think you do. Stick around – you never know. The next chapter in the story of your life might be the best one so far! (Really! I’m living proof!)
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