Suicide Inside Us
Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Robin Williams. Chester Bennington. Everyone was surprised when they heard the news. How could we not see? Why didn’t they ask for help?
If someone was to tell me that my life would end the same way, I wouldn’t be surprised. Well, I might be mildly surprised. I would definitely be curious about what it took to finally break down my resilience. But shocked? Not at all.
I’m a bright and happy person 90% of the time with a beautiful life that I live in gratitude for, but let’s talk about the other 10% when I get caught on the jagged edges of my soul — the dark, twisty corners of my personal universe where everything hurts, and even the silence screams.
But too often, the bright and happy people don’t talk about the 10%. We pretend that it’s not there because we’re so sure the other 90% of our lives will save us. I’m not sure it will.
We have suicides inside of us.
At least, some of us do. We can see the fault lines in our souls, the places where we are the least stable. Anyone who has stared into the darkness and glimpsed a plan or a temptation to follow it knows what I do:
We are all capable of losing just enough hope to look for a way out.
I’m not looking for pity or understanding. I’m reaching out to those with that 10%, maybe more, of darkness inside them who don’t feel like they can admit that it exists. This is for you. Because if we can’t face it, can’t admit it, and even go so far as to pretend it’s not there, we certainly can’t fight it or prevent it.
We all have different coping skills and resources.
I’ve found that I’m incredibly tenacious, and I have a number of motivations to stay alive. I have children to raise who will need me for the rest of their lives, and I have books that want to be written. But my life has had its share of pain, and while I know that it’s also had its share of privilege and joy, there have been moments that have broken me down to the point that I know I have suicide inside me. It’s a possibility, but it’s one I work every day to make improbable.
One way I do this is to make a list of the reasons I’m holding on. Honestly, they don’t have to be lofty reasons like raising kids or living to see all my stories in print. I stay alive for mornings paddling on the lake and sunrises while I’m running, for puppies, for the magnificence of staring at the ocean or into a starry sky, for love in all its beauty, for sleep, for cozy blankets and warm fires, for coffee, for the scent of honeysuckle, for kisses, for gray days, for falling leaves, to hear my children laugh again and again and again, for friendships that have kept me whole when I felt like I was falling apart, for Christmas mornings.
I list as many things as possible because sometimes none of it seems to matter, and I need to remind myself of all the things I’ll miss when this part of life is over. We need reasons. It doesn’t matter if they’re big ones or if they matter to anyone else. We need to anchor ourselves to this life because we are necessary to it. We have a purpose, and we can’t serve it if we don’t go on.
I believe that. I have to believe that because I’ve seen my own darkness, and I’m not denying that it’s there. There are fault lines I could fall into, and on my worst days, I have to be careful where I step. And on my best days, I’m throwing out lifelines to myself for the days that I know will come.
I feel like many suicides are impulses in the moment that all hope is lost.
If we know those moments could be there, we have to learn to navigate that minefield. We have to be careful what we focus on and how we manage our thoughts and emotions. We have to be more careful because we have more to lose if we’re not.
People who have the potential for suicide, people like me, have to be stronger than the darkness that pulls us. We need more coping skills and resources than the people who could never imagine their lives ending in that way. We need the light so much more because it has to balance a powerful darkness.
Therapy, self-help books, a strong support system — they can all help.
But the help we most need is ourselves. We need a plan to fight the darkness, a whole arsenal of defenses to make sure that our lives don’t become a tragic ending at our own hands. Maybe admitting that the darkness lies there, mostly dormant, is a way to shore up those defenses. But maybe learning to navigate the dark times without stepping on the fault lines is also necessary.
We can’t see in the dark. So, we learn to use our other senses. We learn to heighten our joy rather than just amplifying our darkness.
We can’t afford to hope that others will save us.
We can’t even hope entirely that we’re capable, as we are, of saving ourselves. So, instead, we construct our defenses — not against the world. Not in a way that keeps us wrapped up safe and protected. We construct defenses against the darkness that would take us if it could.
We lean into our joy, we build our hope, and we connect and keep connecting to others because the web of those connections might be enough, someday, to hold us securely to our lives. And we build a web of connections to the things we love from rainbows to jumping in puddles to the sound of our favorite song playing as we sing in our cars.
Yes, I have suicide inside me. I’ve seen it. Maybe it’s inside you, too. But we also have joy, hope, resilience, and a million tiny reasons to live to see another day.
So, hold on. Find your reasons. Construct your defenses. Rewrite your ending. But, please, stay.
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