Trigger Warning: suicide, suicidal thoughts, grief
Earlier this week, I received the news that a friend of a friend passed away. He had taken his own life, leaving his partner to discover his lifeless body, and his friends to discover emotions some already knew, but nobody ever wants to. I didn’t know Leo very well, though I had met him a few times, and I’m certain that I will miss the opportunity to get to know him.
Whether we know someone well or not does not seem to ever dictate how we are affected by their lives or their loss. Just look to Facebook and Twitter for the death reports of some celebrity or politician – people will rhapsodize endlessly about how they’re devastated, or inspired by their cause, or “lost without them.” We find ourselves and our society endlessly talking about the latest overdose, or the golden years of an entertainer, or the values and lessons they learned.
Suicide is different, though, because the reasons are rarely clear, and even when we “know” why, we still wonder. We ask why someone would do such a thing, what drove them to that point. We ask how we could’ve missed such a thing, that we “should have known.” Suicide, though, by its very nature is an illogical beast, spawned by irrational thoughts.
The thing with suicide, though, is that it isn’t just a single event. It’s a trigger event that sets off waves of destruction, and even those who aren’t directly linked to that person, who aren’t close to them, are affected, and the ripple effects are wide spread and devastating to everyone within reach. We’re all affected, particularly in the queer community, and doubly so in the trans community.
That’s why I used the analogy of a tsunami: The earthquake is the suicide itself, the loss of our friend and comrade, the tsunami wave is the wave of emotion and grief that overcomes everyone who was close to that person, and the destructive and disruptive effects of that wave will continue to spread across the community, to friends of friends, distant relatives, and people you never anticipated. In the worst cases, the tsunami can trigger yet another major disaster, such as what we saw in Japan with the nuclear disaster – in human terms, someone else who looked up to you as a role model, big brother or sister, and their rock in life, may see your decision as the next logical step for them as well.
When my best friend passed away suddenly last year from a massive heart attack, I admit freely that there were many times I genuinely considered following her. To me, the grief was all but too much to bear, and the only thing that kept me grounded was the realization that people around me understood what I was going through, and, in some cases, had already been through the same thing in their life. I was surrounded by many of her other friends, family, and those who all were experiencing the same incredible sense of loss that I was, and some of them hadn’t even had the chance I did to get to know her.
For me, though I didn’t know Leo so well, I have been swept up by the waves, and though I know I will make it, I am surrounded by the misery, heartache, and incredible sense of loss felt by too many friends. I am left facing myself, and my own suicidal thoughts and tendencies in a very stark and harsh light. In a situation I would have thought myself to be safe in, I am now witness to the fact that there is rarely any such thing as the perfect protection, or “that one thing that will make me happy and safe.”
When I opened this post, I mentioned that Leo was found by his partner. For me, while I always knew privately that there is no such thing as a guarantee of safety and happiness, I believed that having a partner would make me happy, give me a definitive reason to live. It brought out some very uncomfortable questions for me, and these were things that I really am still working out for myself, and probably will be for some time. I also know that while nobody should ever pin their hopes and their reason for living on a single thing or person, if it gets you through the night, then sometimes that’s good enough.
If you have to find a reason to live just day to day at first, then that’s fine, because eventually, and I promise you this, it gets better, it gets easier. You go from one day to the next, and you suddenly find you can make it through a few days, a few weeks, a few months. Eventually, and soon, you learn that your reason for living is inside, your own.
Depression and suicidal thoughts are never easy to deal with. It’s far too tempting to allow yourself to drown in those thoughts, and it’s often a very self-perpetuating circle. Asking for help is always hard; our pride, our fear – that we might be ‘locked up,’ our self loathing – hating ourselves for feeling this way, for letting it get this far, for not being in better control of our emotions. Asking for help, though, is never a sign of weakness or wrong.
Call a friend, or some family, anyone who you think will understand. That person you stopped talking to six months ago? Call them. I once called a friend I hadn’t spoken to in almost a year, and they didn’t hang up, they didn’t turn me away, and they didn’t belittle me. They listened, they offered just the right mix of pity and caring, with a little bit of helpful advice. Nothing trite, just a thought about my situation, and then, when I started to collect myself, they helped me dig into the root of the problem just a little more.
If you have one, call your doctor or therapist. Tell them what’s going on. They should know, because it can help your treatment with them, and they will also have good resources, and doubtless a good deal of experience in these matters. In the worst of all cases, go to the Emergency Room, or call 911.
Should you feel that you still have nowhere to turn, nobody to talk to, or are afraid of being judged and looked down upon by those close to you, consider one of the many resources available. The Trevor Project is a suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline specifically for LGBTQ youth, though if you’re in a crisis, they will never turn you away. They can be reached any time at 866-488-7386 (866-4U-TREVOR).
The National Suicide Hotlines are available at 1-800-784-2433 (800-SUICIDE), and 1-800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK).
People care, especially when you think nobody cares. Speak up, don’t create another tsunami.
Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, you can also go to http://www.queermentalhealth.org/suicide/ for more resources or information on how to deal with suicidal thoughts.