It took me several attempts to write this post and gather my words but the tragic death of my favorite chef and author Anthony Bourdain, who died of an apparent suicide attempt last Friday, made me sit down and type. News like this are still shocking to me even though I worked in suicide prevention for quite a while and just finished my research on suicide notes for my Master’s degree in linguistics and discourse studies. Firstly, I want to emphasize if you are feeling alone, depressed, hopeless or suicidal, know that you are not. Crisis Services Canada launched the first National Suicide Prevention Service in Canada. Dialing 1-833-456-4566 from anywhere in Canada will seamlessly connect you with a local crisis or distress center 24/7, 365 days of the year. This website may also be helpful: http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca
After I hear of a suicide, the first question that always comes to my mind is why did the person do it. Why didn’t they see a way out? What was so painful that they chose death over life? What drove Kate Spate, the famous fashion designer, or Anthony Bourdain, to commit suicide? Were there any signs or signals these two send out and nobody paid attention? When I worked as a police officer and dealt with a plethora of suicides, the first thing people used to say was, “He seemed so nice. So calm, so content, I don’t understand why he committed suicide”. I am usually not encouraged to question certain paths that people follow and take, so facing suicide still throws me into shock and into pausing, questioning, thinking and asking.
Usually, whenever a path changes, I am befuddled but this leads eventually to another path which is better aligned with the new goals I hope to reach. I ask why, determine why, and then, of course, recalibrate my actions around the newly shaped goal or purpose. Some people cannot do this, they do not see a way out. They are stuck. There are no moments of real clarity and revision.
A couple of years ago, I was crying to my then-husband in the kitchen because I felt a weird sensation of sadness creeping up my back a couple of hours after I got released from the hospital with my newborn son. Postpartum depression with a mix of baby blues at its best – a horrible feeling, but I eventually snapped out of it. What made me snap out of it? My mother.
What is depression? A friend described her depression as silently drowning in a toilet bowl and someone keeps flushing whenever she tries to crawl up. There is a lot of stress and challenges in my life these days but what is it that keeps me moving forward and getting me back up after being punched? I reckon, my inner incredible strength and my support network.
However, sometimes this darkness gives me chills, especially when I am very exhausted all day. Then it is hard to make decisions but these feelings pass and I see the dark shadow rolling by smiling at me. These days, I feel it is important and more critical than ever to talk about mental health. I have to admit that even after having studied suicide for a long time, it still seems very hard to fathom. Below I want to share some thoughts and writings I collected that helped me through difficult times and for my research with the suicide notes.
People who die from suicide don’t want to die.
A person doesn’t try to end her life “because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.” – David Foster Wallace
Depression is a disease, not a personality trait.
“Even though science has proven it a million times over, our culture doesn’t yet fully recognize that MENTAL ILLNESS IS A BRAIN DISEASE, just like hepatitis is a liver disease. Depression (and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and everything else) affects our brain — the organ we use to make decisions. If you’re suffering from suicidal depression, it doesn’t matter how beloved you are or how much you love your family or how much money you have, because your brain is telling you that despite all those things, suicide is your only option. (Or that you need to isolate yourself, sleep all day or other behavior that a healthy brain would recognize as bad decisions.) This is one reason mental illness is so deadly: the part of our body that’s affected is the same part that’s responsible for our behavior. It’s like if you broke your leg and then had to use that leg to walk to the hospital… Depression is an ILLNESS. It’s not weakness. It’s not your fault. And it’s impossible to think or reason your way out of it without help, due to the part of your body that’s ill.” Emily McDowell
Depression isn’t just sadness.
“[Some] imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow and unendurable.” – Kay Redfield Jamison
“It is very hard to explain to people who have never known serious depression or anxiety the sheer continuous intensity of it. There is no off switch.” — Matt Haig
“It feels like I’m desperately homesick, but I’m home.” — Sarah Silverman
“Is there no way out of the mind?” — Sylvia Plath
There’s nothing selfish about suicide.
Some people say that “it’s selfish to leave children, spouses, and other family members behind… What they don’t know is that those very loved ones are the reason many people hang on for just one more day. They do think about the survivors, probably up until the very last moment in many cases. But the soul-crushing depression that envelops them leaves them feeling like there is no alternative. Like the only way to get out is to opt out. And that is a devastating thought to endure.” – Katie Hurley
People don’t “commit” suicide, they die from suicide.
“This is a much less judgmental, more straightforward way to talk about someone who dies from mental illness. They are not ‘a suicide’ any more than someone who dies from cancer is ‘a cancer.’” – Kelly Williams Brown
I am sending out love to anyone who needs it – I especially include myself these days. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Things will get better. Please reach out for help if you are in need.