Suicide, Revisited

I get it now.

Back in August, 2010, I wrote a blog post about Suicide. I had just learned that a friend of mine from years before had taken his own life at work, leaving behind a wife and four daughters. At the same time, I was struggling to write a passage in a personal memoir about another suicide that had touched my life. I was trying hard to understand it all, trying to figure out why someone would take that drastic step and end his life.

I concluded then that people who commit suicide are selfish and cowardly. I concluded that the real “victims” of suicide are the people they leave behind.

I didn’t get it then.

I get now.

It’s all about relief — getting relief from feeling so miserable that you simply can’t go on.

I’ve glimpsed this feeling a few times over the past eight months. The first time was in August, when I first realized that the man I loved and trusted for more than half my life — my best friend, in many respects — had betrayed me by cheating on me and lying to me and planning to keep me out of my only home. I had no idea what was going on at home and my imagination took off with a wide range of worst-case scenarios. I had no way to find out what the truth was. The shock and grief I was suffering made it impossible to carry on my day-to-day living without breaking down into sobs at seemingly random times. My mind was caught up in the tragedy of the situation; it wouldn’t settle down. I was absolutely miserable — I cannot imagine being more miserable than I was.

My only relief was sleep, but because my mind couldn’t rest, I could only doze fitfully, never quite getting the relief I needed. This went on for days.

When I went to see a counselor for help, at the end of our first session, she gave me the phone number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline. She really thought that I might be at risk.

And that made me feel even worse.

Later, when my mind cleared a bit and I was able to look back objectively at that week in my life, I understood why some people turn to the final solution for all their problems. They just want relief.

I should mention here that this is probably also why so many people turn to drugs or alcohol. I’m a pilot and I can’t take drugs and I was on standby duty at the time so I couldn’t even drink. But if I could, I probably would have turned to either one for the relief I so desperately needed. I think a lot of people do. It’s sad; this is clearly the way so many addictions get started. The substance offers the relief a person so desperately needs. But the substance is not a permanent solution, and repetitively taking drugs or alcohol for relief will likely do more harm than good. It certainly won’t make the cause of the problem go away.

Why a person feels so miserable that they turn to suicide for relief depends on that person and what’s going on in his life. There might be psychological factors; the man who killed himself by jumping out of the tour helicopter I was flying back in 2004 had a history of problems, was on medication, and had even tried to kill himself with a knife five months before. I don’t know the details of my old friend’s situation, but I have to assume he was under a lot of stress at home — or more likely at work, where he did the deed — and perhaps had other psychological issues that came into play. For these people, suicide was the relief they so desperately needed.

In my original blog post on this topic, I said that people who committed suicide were selfish. I now don’t think that’s entirely true. I think that they’re so overwhelmed with their own misery that they simply can’t think about others. I think that when a person takes his own life, he’s only thinking about one thing: how he’ll finally make his suffering end. At that point, nothing else matters.

Suicide is a horrible thing — and it’s not the answer. Getting to the root cause of your misery and finding solutions to make things better might be more difficult than simply giving up, but it’s ultimately more worthwhile. Not just for you, but for the people who care about you.

If you’re reading this because you’ve considered suicide, do yourself a favor and get the help you need. Life is worth living; you can get past your problems and see that for yourself again.

5 thoughts on “Suicide, Revisited

  1. Well written. Suicide is a difficult topic to tackle. Many people will (thankfully) never understand the hoplessness and despair someone contemplating suicide faces. It is deeply frightening, yet completely consuming. I cannot agree more with your closing statement: if you even *think* you might hurt yourself, get help! There is NO shame in seeking help. One of the best things I’ve ever done for myself was regularly attend a support group at the VA hospital. It saved my life.

    • I think part of the problem is that so many people facing that kind of despair also feel alone. I’m fortunate that I have friends and family members to support me. Although some of them admittedly don’t fully understand and just tell me to “get over it” — which is not very helpful at all — there are enough other people to give me the shoulder I need to cry on. But I suspect that too many people facing utter despair don’t have the support they need and feel alone in the world. Without help, they just give up.

      Fortunately, help is just a phone call away. And you’re right: there’s no shame in making that call. With the support of others — even strangers — things are a little easier to face.

      I’m so glad you faced your situation and got through it. Best wishes to you and thanks so much for sharing your comments.

  2. Maria,
    I remember hearing the news about the tourist jumping out of a tour helicopter. I thought to myself, at least he didn’t take the helicopter and everyone else down with him. Must have been horrifying. Did you suffer any post traumatic stress? I agree with your reasoning that the victim isn’t being selfish, but just can’t think straight. Sleep deprivation, to anyone that has not experienced it, is torture. Intrusive thoughts that won’t go away take a toll. The suicide victim is truly a victim. Counselling is one thing that can help. Don’t wait.

    • I think I did have some PTS symptoms at the time, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. It was a weird scene all around.

      As for me — well, I’m not suicidal, despite the lack of sleep. The thoughts are tough to deal with, but as I get my life back on track, I’m sure they’ll fade away. I’ve just grown to understand the kind of misery and despair that drives someone to extremes just to get relief. It’s a horrible place to be.

  3. The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. Camus.
    Suicide is for losers: man, money or any living thing are not worth a last breath.

What do you think?