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When I read on Facebook about Marie Osmond’s teenage son committing suicide, it brought knowing tears to my eyes. Of the 19 comments, not one of them mentioned compassion for the son. While my heart certainly does go out those left behind, I immediately empathized with the excruciating pain and utter hopelessness he must have felt to have done such a thing.

Having committed what was labeled a serious suicide attempt, I’ve been in that terrifying place.  Although I can’t begin to know what he or anyone feels or thinks, I have my ideas.

To my surprise, no one has asked me specifically about my feelings at the time of my attempt which, I think, is part of the problem perpetuating the negative cycle of suicide. Attempting suicide carries a huge stigma of shame, is hush-hushed, and no one wants to talk about it because it makes people squirm uncomfortably.  I believe that only by sharing honestly can I heal fully and help others.

I’ve heard people say that suicide is a selfish act, but I didn’t see it that way at all when I tried to take my life.  In fact, I thought of it as a selfless act.  Now, I know how terribly skewed that sounds, but then, I honestly thought that the world, especially my kids, would be better off without me.  My opinion of myself was that low.  That’s the kind of thinking that leads to a suicide.

When I tried to kill myself, I had many of what I considered to be good reasons and a blur of painful thoughts and memories ran on an endless loop in my head.  The mental movies played out in intricate, garish detail all the worst “what if” scenarios possible in the future and the most horrible scenes of my past in full color.  Over and over.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find the pause button to make them stop and hadn’t slept for any amount of time in weeks.  I was desperate for some peace and rest.

My brother and best friend in the world, had died 11 years earlier of AIDs and although I didn’t know where he was, I wanted to go be with him wherever that was. Several of my relatives had taken their lives and through the learned power of suggestion, I saw killing myself as a viable option. I was also two weeks into a new antidepressant which could have been a contributing factor.

Regardless of the circumstances, the bottom line was that I didn’t have the vision, faith, or hope to see a way out of my despair nor did I have the tools, energy, or drive to begin to know how to help myself.  Now, I want to scream at anyone who is suicidal telling them that they will not always feel this way even though I know they won’t believe me right then nor do they want to hear this kind of talk.

Life is a lot like the story of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz which is chocked full of meaningful metaphors.  Life is a journey which is going to include good witches, skipping on the yellow brick road, and emerald castles, but tornadoes, bad witches and flying monkeys are going to show up from time to time too. Expect them. They’re part of it.

A problem arises when we buy into the illusion of a wizard who’s going to solve all of our troubles.  In life, there is no such wizard, and if we think we’ve found one, they most likely turn out to be nothing much behind an elaborate screen like in the story.  In the Wizard of Oz, the wizard flies away in a balloon, leaving Dorothy once again to face her own problems.

With the help of the ruby slippers, a symbol of the power Dorothy had within herself all along, Dorothy makes her own wish come true and saves herself.  Like Dorothy, we all have the power to make our own wishes come true and transform our own realities.  This power lies in our brains.  (See blog: What’s In Your Mental Health Tool Box)

We each have to find what works for us.  Employing the power to change our own lives may mean altering the neurochemical balance in our brain with other chemicals, consciously directing mental processes which, because of neuroplasticity, change the physical brain and its functioning, such as meditating, visualizing, keeping a gratitude journal, or making behavioral lifestyle changes such as exercising, eating healthier and limiting neurotoxins.  In most cases, overcoming depression will most likely require a combination of some of these, but everyone has the power to start changing their life for the better.  We are already wearing the ruby slippers.

When someone is suicidal, they cannot fathom this concept and will hate you for even suggesting it.  That’s OK.  They’ll get over it.  Someone who is suicidal needs a person to extend a hand, intervene with force, if necessary, to keep them safe until they can do so themselves and begin to take the steps towards healthier thinking.

I didn’t like it one bit and was mad as hell at those who saved me and were continuing to ensure my life.  I thought, “How dare they!  This is my life. Why don’t they mind their own damn business?”  Now, I am forever grateful.  Be a bother.  Butt in.  A suicidal person will not appreciate it at the time, but they will later.

My advice to anyone in that dark, suicidal place is to quit running and stop struggling.  Exhale.  Surrender.  Have a break down.  Sink into the pain and despair.  Feel it.   Allow it to move through you. And it will. You won’t stay there forever.  Experiencing your feelings won’t kill you.  Suicide will. Ask for help and actually allow it.  If the first thing you try doesn’t work, and it probably won’t, keep at it.

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/23676432@N05/

12 Comments

  1. Beautifulyl said, thank you so much, the importance of opening up that dark closet and shedding light on the emotions and factors that push us to our limits is so so vital. I will share your page with everyone I can and feature it on our blog as well! Thank you again, so grateful you are amoungst the living!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Wow! Thank you for your kind words and support. I really believe that not talking about suicide is a large part of the problem. It makes people feel so uncomfortable and awkward. Both the ones who attempt it and others. I know, when I began being honest and talking openly, it took away any sense of shame. I refuse to let myself feel shame. It is a choice. Only by talking about it freely, out in the open, can we begin to help ourselves and others.

  2. Nico Ortiz Reply

    Great article Debbie 🙂 helps me a lot to think this issue from another perspective, thanks for sharing your experience. I agree with you to allow oneself to feel the pain, and no struggle with it, it needs courage. Theres some human aspects i didnt want to deal with, but well, if we dont accept this human condition, with all its uncertain, maybee we never get to walk into that red shoes 😉 a big hug from Chile, Southamerica.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Nico, thanks for commenting and for the South American hug!!:) I found that running away from the pain and all the mental anguish of that was MUCH WORSE than the actual pain. Only by facing our issues head on and moving through them can we begin to heal and become whole. We need to help each other do that. I think, part of helping is talking about suicide. Like I said facing the pain will not kill. Suicide will.

  3. Suffer from depression myself, so I hear a lot of this from inside. One thing: my brother lived with us for some time after a suicide attempt. He was still very depressed, and I think the stigma of which you speak affected him as well. The thing that was worst for him–and I only know this through a kind of epiphany I had–was that the #1 response from family was to offer advice, things he could/should do to get his life together, to get over the feelings of rejection that had triggered the attempt, etc etc. He would bring up his experiences and pain, and then the instinctive response would be “Well, here’s what I’ve learned about how to deal with feelings/situations like that,” and his response would be to counter-argue angrily with reasons why these pearls of wisdom were not going to work for him or whatever. And then we’d feel like, well what do you want us to say then?

    The epiphany came when I suddenly looked at that last sentence as not a merely rhetorical question. What DID he want from me? We were having a beer in a local pub, and he was talking about his situation and the bad sh*t that had led to where he was, and I’d been through this whole circle enough times that I didn’t want to go there again, so what WAS this conversation about then? And I realized I did NOT have to advise him, he wasn’t looking for advice. Advising him was taking away his authority over himself, treating him as less than the author of his own life, treating his problems as if they were something I knew more about than he did, as if to say “If only you were as wise and smart as me, you’d be all better.” Well, no wonder this just made him more angry and depressed. I mean, someone describes a bad situation in their life, offering advice is just the knee-jerk thing, but you could see where it put him in a certain box: You are the weak/awful/hopeless one who Attempted Suicide; I am the Wise Benefactor.

    All this running through my head as I sipped my beer and listened to him trying to describe yet again the depth and keenness of his despair. And I realized what he was really saying was that he hadn’t made the attempt because he was stupider, or less wise, or more cowardly than other people; it was because he was in a state of pain of such severity. And I suddenly realized the one thing I could give was to simply say, “You know, you’re right, that was a really sh*tty thing that happened, and I can see why you’d feel that awful. I don’t know that I’d have done any better under the circumstances, and you are right: it well and truly sucked.” And leave it at that.

    It genuinely helped. It actually made a huge difference in how we related around all those issues after that. Viewed from outside, at least, it marked a real turning point for him–to simply have someone accept that when you’re in that much pain and not seeing any way out, it’s understandable to come to that point. Obviously I didn’t want him to do himself in, but I wasn’t implicitly or explicitly burdening him with an extra layer of shame and self-recrimination on top of what he’d already suffered. And it made a huge difference.

    Just my far-more-than-2 bits, but your post touched on this stuff for me in a lot of ways and I thought it worth sharing.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Mr B., thank you for your heartfelt, personal comment. You are SOOO right in intuiting that your brother just needed a safe place to express his pain. And, you are right again upon surmising that when someone is not ready to do anything to “get better”, all the well meaning advice is just demeaning and can make them feel even worse. It is just more fuel for self criticism. I know, in my case, it only further made me think “What is wrong with me that these things do not work or Why can I not do this?”

      People need simply to express and feel the pain first and foremost. They do not need someone to tell them how to solve the situation or what they need to do. (And they DO NOT need to be institutionalized somewhere with plastic sheets with no contact with family or loved ones. I won’t even go there! I am writing a book. I go there in the book.)

      First, they just need to feel. Short of a professional therapist, there are not very many people in life who can just be with someone when they are hurting and share their pain. A suicidal/depressed person can greatly benefit from an empath who shares their pain and helps them to process it. There is a fine line between allowing someone to “play the victim” and wallow in self-pity, but they have to be allowed to feel it, before they can heal it. (New slogan: Feel it to heal it!)

      My other brother also did this for me. He refused to join in a pity party, but he let me cry (I mean, until snot came out of my nose!) and express without trying to fix anything or make me feel better. Having already tried to commit suicide, to see me upset freaked most people out and had them thinking “Is she going to do it again?”

      My relationship with my brother has deepened and forever changed. Thank you for being there for yours. That is what it is all about. Blessings to you.

  4. Vanessa L. Reply

    Beautifully written article and some great points about how crafty suicide becomes in making itself as the only option, the one thing that will end suffering and make the person less of a “burden on others”. I speak to many people with suicidal thoughts and when they tell me that they are too “chicken” to attempt suicide, I always tell them that I think it takes a lot of bravery to have to wake up every day in excruciating pain. I admire your bravery in speaking so openly and honestly about your own struggle. I truly do not think people understand how fully suicidal thoughts can take over any other type of thinking.
    The more we address this as a society, the harder it will be for suicide’s lies to gain traction. Suicide is as old as time, who knows why our mind goes to that place in times of stress and trouble. We can only learn how to battle our adversary together and help more people survive the war.
    I’m glad you survived.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you very much for your kind and encouraging words. I never thought about that, but you are right. It does take a lot of bravery to wake up ever day in pain. It also take a lot of bravery to begin to change it, but it CAN be done.

      I think, suicide, becomes an option far too often because people do not know any other way to cope, to think, or to live. There is such a simple, yet profoundly different way to live which can make all the difference….it is as simple as changing our thoughts and understanding and controlling our minds. It certainly will not work in every case, but it sure did for me, and I am willing to bet that it will for the majority. Depression, for the large part I believe, is a learned way of thinking. It is all in how we learn to perceive and create our reality with our minds. We can learn to do differently. It really is that simple, but it amazes me that more people do not know this or teach it.

      I am glad I survived too. Now, I have a passionate mission!

  5. Thanks as always Debbie for your courageous and healing words. Coincidentally during a business meeting I attended yesterday my friend got a call with the news that her sister-in-law, who had been depressed for quite some time, had killed herself – leaving behind young children. Suicide has touched my family too. Close relatives have attempted and my daughter-in-law’s brother ended his young life a couple of years ago. She was devastated.

    My first encounter with suicide happened almost 30 years ago when I happened to be one of the last people to speak with a woman before she went home and overdosed on sleeping pills. I was shocked by the news and was really angry with her psychiatrist for giving her those pills because he was well aware that she was suicidal. He was a colleague of my then husband and when I told him how upset I was with the doctor for giving her the pills, my husband assured me that once a suicidal person has made up their mind, there’s nothing anyone can really do. I tried to take solace in that professional opinion but I kept wondering if I had done something or said something, maybe it would have made a difference. It still haunts me to this day.

    She worked at the library next door to where we lived and I had noticed her personality change over several months, but that last day she seemed so much happier – even smiling. Since then I’ve learned that this often happens when suicidal people have made the decision.

    I sincerely appreciate your honesty about how much you hated the folks trying to keep you alive at the time, yet I’m also left struggling with a sort of survivor’s guilt about the one’s who don’t make it. Those of us left behind can torture ourselves with thoughts of what we could have done to prevent that final terrible act. I think this is why some people have characterized suicide as selfish.

    I am SO grateful for your presence in the world and the healing of your life. Thank you for sharing your light.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Linda, thank you for sharing your experiences. Also, thank you so much for your encouragement, support and example.

      I do think once a person has made up there mind to commit suicide, other than 24 hour surveillance, there is not a whole lot that can be done to prevent it. And, that kind of is not very effective because they have to have already done something to warrant surveillance. A person wanting to commit suicide can be very crafty. I wanted SO BAD to try again after I survived, but someone was with me 24 hours a day for weeks and they took all medications, alcohol and knives out of the house. I was so mad, humiliated, and insulted. I thought “This is MY house, dammit!” Now, I see and agree with the reason for it. (I write about this in detail in my book which I just finished the raw writing for BTW. Now, to work with a writing coach.)

      I do think antidepressants, sleeping pills and other medications are prescribed way too readily. It is partly the doctors’ fault and partly the consumers for wanting a “quick fix” for whatever ails them.

      The bottom line is that there is no quick fix. We have to do the work. The fix is a lifestyle. It is a daily practice of learning to live differently, eat differently, and thinking differently, which you know, through neuroplasticity, changes the brain permanently. I do acknowledge that there is a physical basis for some depression, but, I believe, most of it is learned and is the byproduct of our lifestyles which are anything but healthy for the mind and body.

      Suicide is just sad all around for everyone: the victim, the close survivors, the acquaintances. I hope to make a difference here by getting the word out. If I can do it, anyone can!

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