a person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.
Let’s agree to stop linking suicide to the word coward, shall we? I’m not sure about you, but I know death scares the hell out of me. I don’t want to die, and I don’t want those around me to die. If I could live forever I would. By definition, I’m more of a coward than those who commit suicide because of my fear of death, which I happen to consider dangerous and unpleasant. But what we’re neglecting to discuss is how serious mental illness really is. As a community we rally around it, but when it’s close to home it’s too taboo to speak about. Well I’m sorry to say it is a very real thing and it’s not going away. It’s more powerful than people realize, and if you can’t imagine ever being as “selfish” as Chester Bennington, or Robin Williams, or Chris Cornell, or Kurt Cobain, or a family member, or a close friend, then consider yourself damn lucky because you survived it and they didn’t. You have been spared and your mind didn’t successfully trick you into thinking the world and the lives of others would be a better place without you. But don’t call them a coward. These people did ask for help, and you know they chose help, and they embraced that help. You know this by the prescription bottles labeled with their names they left behind. So don’t think for one moment they didn’t try. They did. Sadly, it wasn’t the type of help they actually needed and they were exhausted. Mentally exhausted.
Are they weak? Perhaps. Out of control? Maybe. In pain, and suffering more than you? Absolutely. Mental illness is stronger than all of us.
It is also a whole lot bigger than a phone call and doesn’t stop at finding the magic mix of prescription meds because that’s a journey in itself. It’s a long-term recovery with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. A few years ago I was diagnosed with the panic disorder acute anxiety. Behind a smile I was scared, living in a constant state of panic, couldn’t handle social situations, and the overwhelming stress actually began to break down my body. I would casually joke about it, and brush it off, but the truth was I was in horrible physical pain, never slept, and lived with an elephant on my chest, and knot in my stomach 24 hours a day. My hair was falling out in clumps and I was always feeling as though the bottom was about to drop thinking about the “what-ifs.” It was a chain reaction and frankly enough to drive a sane person crazy. I know I felt on the brink quite a few times.
So what was I so petrified of? What haunted me? You name it. Basically, my shadow and everything else. Things and situations that I never gave much thought to before this. Anxiety swallowed me whole and it came out of nowhere like a bat out of hell. It consumed me and within days I immediately hopped on the therapy train because my #1 priority is being mom, but more importantly being a mom that is present, and showing my growing daughter that it’s OK to ask for help — not just telling her.
Finding a solution.
As quickly as anxiety was chewing me up, it was spitting me out. When I could sleep, I was waking up in the middle of the night thinking I was suffocating to death. My throat was closing and I couldn’t catch my breath from a panic attack brought on by who knows what. The attacks were increasing and becoming more common, so the doctor recommended I try some meds combined with relaxation exercises, which by the way, still ’til this day doesn’t do squat for me. Finding the right meds was a trial and error and another level of hell in itself. But I had to give it a shot, I love life too much to live it this way. I might have suffered from anxiety and scared, but I wasn’t depressed or sad. Just incredibly nervous. That was until meds were added to the mix.
Some of prescriptions made me so sad that I could barely go 5 minutes without crying. It was the worst rollercoaster ride ever since you need to give the meds time to work. Other meds made me feel so numb I couldn’t process any feelings whatsoever. I was on a hunt to feel “normal” again, but I quickly began to forget what normal was. That’s how I know first hand the strength that meds can have on your life and the way it can change your thinking patterns. The last thing you’re thinking about is other people. Not because you don’t want to, but because you are so alone you actually can’t feel others around you. It’s impossible and you are already living in a parallel universe. It’s as though you’re in a dream like state, looking in from the outside and everyone has moved on, but you can’t catch up to them. They’ve already gone on with their lives. And while we’re on the subject, let’s be very clear, it’s not a selfish thing, it’s an “I’m not in the right frame of mind,” thing. Just like Chester sang, “I’ve become so numb, I can’t feel you there.”
Again, if you can’t imagine this, be grateful. Because it’s real and happening to people all around you living with really big demons behind those smiles in utter silence. That’s why suicide often comes as a surprise when it happens.
People do seek help.
I’m grateful that I immediately realized something was not right. That I actually needed help from the help I originally sought. I’m grateful I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. I’m grateful I didn’t wait to do something. And I’m so grateful that when I desperately dialed a friend to talk and they didn’t call me back I didn’t take it personally because that could have destroyed my world and the world of my husband and daughter. Because people do reach out. They reach out all the time, more than you realize, but they aren’t going to leave you a message telling you their world is falling apart. Sometimes they just need to hear your voice.
If you are on the other end of that line, and no one answers your call, I want you here. I do not think you are selfish, and by no means a coward. I know you want help.
What you CAN do…
Let’s work on empathy and forgiveness, shall we? Let’s bury the words “coward” and “selfish” for good when discussing the acts of suicide. Just because you can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it is not going on in the mind of someone else close to you. Just remember, by labeling these acts, you are possibly preventing your own friend or child from coming to you because they will think you don’t understand and will judge them. They’ve heard you loud and clear repeating that it is weak, selfish, and cowardly. Believe it or not, they care what you think much more than you realize and they already feel they’ve let everyone down, and now you too.
Don’t be that person.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You can even text them or talk to them online.