Yesterday, the world lost one of the best performers/comedians I’ve ever seen: Robin Williams. His death, apparently by suicide, seems also tragic. How could someone who seemed to have what most of us want, feel alone enough to end his own life.
The story of Joseph Grimaldi comes to mind when discussing this. It’s a story about a man who goes to a doctor about his depression. The doctor tells him to go see the famous clown at the circus. The man then tells the doctor, that he is that clown.
I’m not a clown (insert joke here), but I’m all to familiar with suicide. I’ve had serious thoughts of, and even tried, to kill myself repeatedly. The first time, I was 10 years old. Since then, I’ve struggled with it many times in my life (most recently, right before I went to rehab).
I think this would be a good time for a much more public discussion on why people get to that point. Also, it’d be a good time to talk about effective techniques for helping people who are in such a dark place.
I can only speak from my experiences, so here’s some of my thoughts about when you’re “in the trenches”:
Stuff That Doesn’t Help
- Reality becomes a myriad of self-pity. Being told so isn’t a good thing though. Because then, it feels even worse and adds to the stigma of “what is wrong with me”.
- Reminders of what’s good (like, “You’ve got a great job.”, or “You’re kids are amazing.”) seem half-sincere. I recall feeling like people only wanted me to cheer up, because I was a burden to them. Again, this only made me feel even worse.
- The worst thing, ever, is to be told to get over it. It’s dismissive. It says “You’re feelings don’t matter.”. It says “Nobody cares how you feel”. Those statements only increase the desire to end it all. Feeling like you don’t matter is an awful place to be.
Stuff That Helps
- Accomplishment always helps. Getting something done, and having a small “victory” always makes me feel better.
- Exercise helps. I always feel better when I’m doing heavy cleans or squatting. Being in a CrossFit class, and doing the workout (especially with a team) always helps.
- Sex helps. For that matter, simple affection helps too. Being touched, being held, always makes me feel better. I think this is my “Love Language” http://www.5lovelanguages.com/ , which for me, is physical touch.
- Alcohol helps, for a while. However, prolonged exposure to drinks makes things far, far worse. A Friday night with friends is cool, but if you’re drinking alone and playing video games in the dark – not cool.
- Antidepressants help. I’ve been on and off Zoloft for 15 years. My mood swings seem less intense when I’m on it. That’s a good thing, because life happens. When it does, I’m less inclined to feel overwhelmed by it.
- More than anything else, being able to talk, helps. Nobody chooses to feel this way. Being able to talk about it, and just vent, is supremely helpful. Empathic Listening
- http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/5-tips-for-empathetic-listening.html should be required learning in school. I swear, it would save more lives, marriages, etc than any other learn-able skill.
In summary, I’d say that nobody can ‘fix’ the person with these issues. All you can do is listen, and provide options to do things. Getting out, working out, whatever, is the only way I know to get past all of it.
Something else, perhaps more important – I really hope recent events help to further remove the stigma about suicide. This is something that a lot of people struggle with, but are scared to talk about publicly. Being known for having thoughts of suicide is bad for employment, and bad for relationships.
That’s a damned shame.
If we’re a tolerant society, if we’re going to profess to be inclusive of all people, then we need to allow people to speak publicly about how they feel. Having thoughts of suicide doesn’t make you a bad person. It means there’s something up with your brain chemistry. It means that you might need help sometimes addressing that.