I must admit, I didn’t want to write this post. Each time I approached it, I got too emotional. But, just as with any of my other posts, this is not about me. I never know who may be touched by my words. I openly share my experiences, with the hope that at least one person—and hopefully more—will find support, encouragement, guidance, acceptance, or just the sense that you’re not alone….
And before we go on, let me tell you, regardless of how lonely you may feel, “You are not alone.” The older I get the more opportunities I have to see that there are so many others who feel as I feel, who’ve been hurt as I’ve been hurt, who understand the isolation I experience. I pray that if you feel alone, as I have so many times (and still do, more often than not), that you will stick around and give life the opportunity to show you that there is a tribe that gets you. There are others who understand and can relate to the effed up stuff you’ve experienced. You can be loved as you are, and supported…. All these things are new discoveries for me, so I’m glad that I chose life on the many days that giving up felt like my only option.
Trigger warning: #suicide
By now, most people have heard of the devastating news about Twitch. I hesitated to write this post because I didn’t want to seem like another person jumping on social media to talk about this to capitalize on this tremendous loss. I refused to take his death as an opportunity to ride the wave of a trending topic. A Black man is dead, his wife is a widow, his children are fatherless, and his loved ones and fans are devastated. Empty posts for likes at this time are heartless. I wanted to write a post of substance.….
I also hesitated to write this post because it’s an emotional trigger for me. I battled with depression (including suicidal depression) for decades. I’ve gotten one step away from taking my life several times. My family had no idea about the suicidal thoughts. Many will find out as they read this post.
I’m writing this blog post to offer some clarity regarding things I hear people say each time we receive similar jarring, devastating news about a celebrity….
“They were always uplifting everyone else.” “Just hours ago, they seemed so happy.” “We couldn’t even tell.” As someone who has MANY times, been in a horrible emotional state, but still took a call, or had a text convo, cracked a couple jokes, uplifted the person, ended the chat with a laugh, and then immediately went back to my pre-conversation depression, I can tell you that if a person doesn’t want you to know, you won’t. Pain can be compartmentalized.
“They are so selfish.” “People looked up to them.” “What about their family and their friends?” When a person is struggling with suicidal ideation (thinking about or planning #suicide), more often than not, the person’s intentions are the complete opposite of selfish. Often that person feels they are doing the world a favor. They are convinced (typically irrationally) that they are: the issue, the cause of an insolvable problem, and through their death the problem will be solved, and everyone will be “better off.” The person feels certain that there are no other viable solutions to the problem that they’ve been ruminating over. It’s not true, but in this altered state of mind the person’s access to other options is limited and they begin to see leaving as the only way out. To them, suicide is not an act of selfishness; it’s an act of desperation. And for some, they honestly believe, it’s an act of ultimate sacrifice.
When news like this hits, it’s jarring. AND we must realize that our commentary matters. In the moment, we may think that no one we know would ever be contemplating something like this. Unfortunately, there may be someone in your household who secretly is having similar thoughts right now. If they hear you commenting about incidents like this in a way that is not supportive, you can guarantee that they are not coming to you to talk. If your child, spouse, friend, or parent hears you saying, “committing suicide is so stupid and selfish,” or that “people who do that are weak,” or “What’s wrong with people? They need to go pray and stop letting the devil use them,” or all the other things people tend to say, you can guarantee that you just missed an opportunity to save the life of that loved one.
Just because you wouldn’t do it, doesn’t mean that those around you haven’t contemplated it. Unsupportive commentary by people who lack empathy creates a greater sense of isolation for those struggling with suicidal thoughts. What if your loved one saw this as an opportunity to finally tell you that they’ve been struggling with these thoughts secretly, but they heard you call the newly deceased every negative term that came to mind? They’re not going to talk to you. You just shut that door.
You may read this and say to yourself, “No one I know would do something like that,” but how many thought Twitch was going to do it? Who thought Anthony Bourdain, Ray Combs (host of Family Feud), Don Cornelius (host of Soul Train), or Robin Williams (beloved hilarious actor) would do it? We saw the video Twitch posted. He was smiling, dancing, and interacting with his family that morning!
One of the most jarring things, when we lose someone to suicide, is that we didn’t see it coming. It’s one thing when the person is constantly moping around, and “seems depressed,” but when you just spoke to the person a week ago, or saw them post on Facebook a day ago, or just shared a laugh with them an hour ago, it can flip your world upside down.
I’m writing this post for numerous reasons. The main thing is that we need to talk about it. I admit that I am uncomfortable talking about it. When people I care about tell me that they are feeling depressed or even that they don’t want to be here, I deflect. It’s too overwhelming to think that someone we love could choose to exit prematurely. And I accept that I am not helping by not being available to them. I refuse to let his death be in vain. I am seeing myself and how I can make different choices moving forward.
When people need to talk, it may be outside our comfort zone, or even our emotional capacity, but we need to figure out what we CAN do, and what IS within our capacity. Maybe we can’t be the person they call and give the details every night, but we CAN tell them we love them and help them feel wanted, liked, and appreciated. Maybe we can’t support them to come over whenever they’re feeling down, but we CAN help them Google therapists that can support them in respect to their budget. Maybe we can’t sit through all the details of why they hate their life for hours every day, but maybe we CAN afford to pay for their first few sessions with a therapist, find them a support group, or give them an hour, to vent, today.
We can tell them the truth and support how we can:
– “I don’t know how serious you are right now, but know that it would gut me, and I’d never be the same if you left this earth. I love you and I want you here.”
– “I am struggling to hold myself together right now with all that’s going on, and I hear that you’re hurting and that matters to me.”
– “I’m so grateful you told me. I’m sorry you’re struggling right now. I just want to be honest, I’m afraid to say the wrong thing. I’m not good at this, but I love you and I’m willing to try.”
– “I hate that you’re hurting right now. I really think that talking to a therapist is a great idea. Let’s see if we can find one that matches your needs because I hear that there are free therapists available through many hospitals and clinics.”
We need to focus on what we can do, rather than on what’s outside our capacity. We need to pay attention to the messages we are sending our friends and loved ones. We need to grow up and stop thinking that being sensitive to others means we can’t be free. Being free to be a jerk, should not be our top priority.
We need to pay attention to how we talk about circumstances like this when we see them on the news. We need to use these opportunities to let the people we love know that sometimes life does suck, and if they’re ever at a point where they feel life is not worth living, to let us know because we are here for them and want them around.
I reached out to a dear friend of mine, yesterday, and created a plan. I have plenty to live for and love my daughter with all I’ve got. AND I know that in the past I dealt with suicidal depression. So I reached out to my dear friend and told her that we need to have a symbol or emoji or something that lets her know that this time when I’m saying “life sucks,” it’s not just PMS. Call me immediately, or the second you can. (The emoji I chose is this symbol.) So she knows that if I send this emoji, or use it as a reaction on a voice message, that I’m not just having a bad day. And she knows that I will never use it as a manipulation tool to get her to call me any other time. It’s not for “crying wolf.” If she sees that, she knows I’m in distress and reaching out for support. We also discussed that she may not reach out for 45 minutes as she puts her life in order to be available for me. She has a child and husband that depend on her, and a busy schedule. It’s a realistic plan. I have no intentions of leaving this earth early, AND I know that life can come with a BS combo that could knock me back into feeling hopeless. I’m not waiting ‘til I’m in that kind of state, when I’m not fully capable of asking for help, to have this conversation. I’m establishing it right now. And if you’ve ever dealt with suicidal depression or have been really depressed lately, it might be a great idea to meditate on who your safe person is, and consider having this conversation.
Know that someone can be in that level of distress in one area of their life, and still show up as expected in so many others. Just because a person doesn’t seem depressed, doesn’t mean they are not dealing with depression. I write empowering posts, and have primarily uplifting content, and I am presently dealing with moderate depression (according to my doctor who just evaluated me two days ago). If Marlene Dillon Empowerment Specialist can be struggling, anybody can.
I’m going to end with my story—my personal reason for sharing this. A few days before 911 I was really depressed. I had been struggling to bring in enough money to move out of a situation that was toxic. I was tired of being frustrated with my life. I called one of my closest friends and told her that I was planning to take my life that night. I told her how I was going to do it and that I was just calling her first. She blew me off and rushed me off the phone with a, “Girl, just call me tomorrow.”
When I called her, I was probably only 85% certain that I was going to do it. When she brushed me off, I was so pissed that I grabbed my paper and pen and wrote my suicide note. I wrote an extra special P.S. to ensure she was aware that how she handled that phone call solidified my decision.
I don’t remember exactly what crossed my mind that caused me to not take that drive that night. I just remember that something “told me” to reach out to my former counselor in the morning, as a last resort. I called her, and she made room in her schedule. I drove an hour and a half to see her, and thankfully she helped me make sense of my struggles. She gave me hope. She’s the reason I’m still here, today.
Not everyone will listen to that inner voice. Some people will hear those dismissive words from a loved one and let that be the nail in their coffin. I am writing to encourage you to be mindful of your words and how you deal with people who say they are depressed. Take as many opportunities as you can to let the people you love know that their presence matters. Use my words above to find ways to introduce this conversation. It is an awkward one, but I believe we’d rather deal with discomfort now, than devastation later.
I don’t have all the answers. And you could do everything right and a person could still make that choice. Please know that if you have been left behind by someone under these circumstances, that none of what I’ve said means it was your fault. The choice belongs to the person. My intention here is to help you understand ways that you and I can be supportive to the people who are still with us.
Sometimes we think people know how we feel about them, or that we are here for them, but they need to hear the words. Suicide is on the rise, and our children and seniors are the most vulnerable. We have to have these talks. We have to be more careful about how we discuss this topic. We need to let our loved ones know that we want them here.
Love, prayers, and blessings to you and yours,
Marlene Dillon Empowerment Specialist
Co-Founder SISTAMoms Author of I’m Proud to Be Natural Me Owner of MDillon Designs & PublishingYvonne Monique Livingston LLC The Art of Black PsychologyYvonne Livingston#healingourfamilies#talktomeandsee#Proud2BNaturalMe#suicideprevention#twitch
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Marlene Dillon Empowerment Specialist is a single mom who lovingly shares her insights here for free. BuyMeACoffee offers readers a great way to support her work. You can securely send her a gift (a cup of matcha) as a thank you for this post. Simply tap the photo. Then, to the right of the screen, choose “Support” (to send her a one-time gift) or “Membership” (to give monthly). You can even add a thank you message! Blessings!