Wednesday, June 29, 2005

a very grey day




It’s a very grey day.

There are many things I’d like to write about – cute Duckie things, sad global political things, arcane and profound Buddhist things.

But something’s come up just recently that takes precedence.

The plant where I work is small, employing less than two hundred people. The town where I live is small, maybe ten or twelve thousand people. I don’t know a lot of the folks who work here, and I don’t know a lot of my neighbors, but I’m more familiar with them than I was in, say, NYC, where opening up to strangers is general anathema.

But I know faces. My job brings me around to new faces in the plant (new to me, anyway), so when I heard that someone had had a death in the family, I was familiar with the names and faces, if nothing else. If you hang out for long enough around here, you start to realize that most folks are related in one way or another – I think here there’s more like three degrees of separation instead of the standard six.

So I went up to the front office to do my morning mail check and chat with the ladies, find out what had happened. (Management is usually in a meeting around nine o’clock, so we can get away with a few minutes of catching up from the twelve hours we’ve missed.)

I asked what was going on, who died?

There was an uncomfortable silence. This is unusual – the front office folks will generally pass along news, whether it’s bad or good, so the brief pause before they told me was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

The daughter of an employee, whose sister also works here, killed herself.

I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know how she did it. I don’t want to know. What I am witnessing now is the effect this is having through the plant. Folks who knew her are visibly upset. Others are shaken and stunned, like myself.

This woman left behind a 14-year old son or daughter, I don’t even know which. My brain locked up when they told me and I didn’t really hear anything else.

What I thought first was how lucky I am, and then, hot on the heels of that thought, how damned unfortunate that this woman didn’t have the resources I do for help.

I can talk to my husband. I can write my experiences down here and sometimes get feedback from my friends and family. I can, and do, make use of the Samaritans network of support, which is a non-profit organization based in the UK. They provide completely nonjudgmental emotional support for those in need, including those who, like me and this woman who died recently, experience suicidal emotions. I can go to therapy. Maybe not on the timetable I want, but I can go.

It occurs to me that I don’t even know what the point of this post is. Ah – that’s why. No one wants to talk about suicide. No one ever wants to let it linger in their head. And if you’re in a position where you may know someone who wants to kill him or herself, let me tell you from experience, it’s not a good idea to avoid the subject. One of the predominant myths about suicide is that if you talk to a suicidal person about it, it will push them to do it. Wrong. Bad wrong. If you don’t talk to a suicidal person about it, it enforces the isolation that is such a huge factor in suicidal ideation in the first place.

Here’s how it works: I feel alone sometimes. Sometimes I want to kill myself. I am ashamed of feeling like this, especially with all the gifts I have been given in life. So I won’t talk about it. And I will feel more alone and isolated. And my pain grows so strong and so frightening that it grows larger than my ability to cope with it. Especially if one of my methods of coping is talking to my friends, and I’m too ashamed to talk to them.

That’s part of my cycle. It probably wasn’t her cycle. Everyone’s different. I don’t know what pushed her over the edge of hope and frankly I don’t see the point in going there right now.

But I wish I had known her. I wish I could have showed her what I know about the darker urges in the human heart. I wish I could have been there for her, like so many people have been there for me, long enough for the urge to get small enough in her head that she could bat it away, at least until she could get some more help.

I’m providing a little more information here, in hopes that if you read this, you might get some use out of it. Maybe you can help someone. Maybe you can help yourself. Maybe you can be more aware of some options when you think someone might be in trouble.

Here are some risk factors for suicide and suicide attempts (from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.) Follow the link and read the rest of it. It’s important.


  • Past History of Attempted Suicide
Between 20 and 50 percent of people who kill themselves had previously attempted suicide. Those who have made serious suicide attempts are at a much higher risk for actually taking their lives.
  • Psychiatric Disorders
Substance Abuse, particularly when combined with depression
Personality Disorders, especially Borderline, Antisocial
  • Genetic Predisposition
Family history of suicide, depression or other psychiatric illness
  • Neurotransmitters
A clear relationship has been demonstrated between low concentrations of the serotonin metabolite 5-hydroxyindoleactic acid (5-HIAA) in cerebrospinal fluid and an increased incidence of attempted and completed suicide in psychiatric patients.
  • Impulsivity
Impulsive individuals are more likely to act on suicidal impulses
  • Demographics
Sex: Males are three to five times more likely to commit suicide than females.
Age: Elderly Caucasian males have the highest suicide rates.

This is the national number for support.

National Hopeline Network

Tel: 1-800-SUICIDE
Toll-Free in the USA
Services: Telephone, 24 hours

You can also email and get a response back in about a day.

I'm giving you all this information because according to the AFSP, "75% of all suicides give some warning to a friend or family member." And because not responding in this way to what happened here would feel like a betrayal of my own history.

See, not everyone has friends who are therapists. And not everyone asks for help. I think I'm constitutionally incapable of asking for help from a friend. I much prefer the kindness of strangers. But my friends and family - we count on each other to check in, make phone calls, have dinner, go on walks, see movies, socialize. That's how we keep tabs. That's how we stay connected, and how we live.

Keep living.


Tammy said...

Glad to see your expressing your feelings. You are always in my heart and thoughts. Remember I am just a phone call or 20 steps away.

James said...

You describe suicide so well. I totally feel isolated when I tell someone that I am feeling suicidal and they just change the subject. Today is one of those days. I got denied disability and now must see a lawyer and go to court. This is a daunting challenge and very scary for me so your post was perfectly timed. Thank-you.

Living through another day.

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