Hi, Sorry To Burden You, But I’m Thinking About Killing Myself.
When I lived in residence at university, my neighbour killed himself.
The night he died, he came into the bathroom while I was brushing my teeth. I said “hey”. He said “hello”. I reminded him of a long standing offer to play Starcraft, and he said he might play, but he had a lot of studying to do.
Two days later they found his body on the banks of the Red River. He’d jumped off of the Bishop Grandin Bridge.
I had been the last person to talk to him, and at his funeral all I could do was ask myself over and over what I could have done, or how I could not have noticed. Some people might say that there was no way I could have known, or that once he had made up his mind that there was no stopping him.
For all I know he was bursting at the seams, wanting to tell me something. Maybe all I had to do was ask. If only he’d felt safe enough to speak. If only I’d been brave enough to ask.
Imagine if everyone who ever felt the need to jump off a bridge, take a bottle of pills, cut themselves, hang themselves or put a bullet through their brain had walked up to someone, anyone, or maybe even you and calmly said what they planned.
That they planned to end their life.
Would you be shocked? Would you call for help? Or would you think that you’d just been forced to bear the burden of another’s life?
You probably don’t think that this would ever happen to you. You secretly, or even not so secretly hope that you’re never in such a situation.
Don’t worry. People with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and a host of other mental illnesses don’t want to burden you with our lives either.
We don’t want our families to worry, or our friends to see us cry or our employers to see us at less than our best. We don’t want to inconvenience you. We don’t want to be any trouble. We know how busy you are. We know that maybe we aren’t the only ones who have problems. For all we know you could be just like us, but we can’t tell, because if you’re like us you’re not letting on either. But it’s more likely that we’re alone, because why would anyone want to deal with the horrible things we think of ourselves and the terrible thoughts we have in our minds? You all have more important things to do with people who are much more capable than us, who also have the benefit of not wanting to kill themselves without any warning.
Except there is warning.
I’m sorry that we don’t always make the signs easy to spot. I promise we’re not trying to do it out of spite. Sometimes it’s out of a compulsion born from a chemical imbalance, or from anxiety that can only be put to rest in the most final of ways.
We hide the signs behind smiles and lies, and hope that no one sees the pain behind our eyes.
We hide our pain not because we don’t need help, but because the thought of hurting others with our pain is more than we can bear.
That burden can incapacitate, overwhelm and forever destroy us.
Eight months ago I found myself on the Bishop Grandin Bridge, staring over the same ledge my neighbour probably stared over.
I kept hoping, wishing, begging for my phone to ring, or for someone to stop, even if it was to just ask me the time. Anything to stop me from hopping over the edge. I’d been hoping, wishing, and begging for nights before, but when the days came I was able to put my mask back on. And when people asked me how things were going, what was up, or how I was doing, I would just say -
I hadn’t showered in days, my room was piled uncharacteristically high with dirty laundry, pizza boxes and fast food wrappers, and yet saying “I’m fine” was enough to get me a free pass to another night of suicidal ideation.
I was terrified of people asking me how I was doing.
I felt weak, powerless, and ashamed that I couldn’t just buck up and fix my life. That I couldn’t get over it. Of course I was going to lie and say I was fine even when I wasn’t. I had an image to maintain.
I’m sure that my friends were afraid to feel powerless, or helpless if I was to tell them how I felt.
I was bursting at the seams, wanting to speak, but unable to. I know that my friends are brave enough to ask, but something held them back. I was able to make the phone call that saved me. Many can’t bring themselves to dial.
We all suffer from the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
That stigma stopped me from speaking up, even to save my own life.
That stigma stopped my neighbour from reaching out.
That stigma stopped my friends from asking me if I was thinking about killing myself.
That stigma stops your friends, your family, your boss and everyone you know from asking for help, or asking if someone needs help.
Suicidal people aren’t just going to walk up to you on the sidewalk and tell you how, when, and why they are going to kill themselves.
But imagine if they felt like they had that option.
If you think you have a friend or a loved one in trouble, go talk to them. And if you’re in trouble right now, open your arms up to help. You’re not alone.
Update March 30, 2017: It’s been 3 years since I wrote this article for Bell Let’s Talk, and I’m now married, happily employed and managing my condition without medication. It can be better, even though it still might not feel like it every day. It took a long road filled with help and support to get here. It’s ok to ask for help and to talk about what you’re going through.