September can mean a lot of different things to different people: fall is here and the hills will be lit afire with changing leaves, the temperature outside cools to a comfortable level, kiddos go back to school, university is in session, life takes on a slower more regular schedule. September is also suicide awareness month. I am what people in the industry (yes there is a suicide industry) call a suicide loss survivor. I had never quite put label to my reality until I started researching for this post, but there it is: I am a loss survivor. Nearly ten years ago I split up with a man whom I had been with for several years. He had battled with depression and suicidal thoughts for the majority of his life. Soon after our split he decided to assert his last act of control and committed suicide. Needless to say, my world was rocked. Not only had I been learning to live without my partner, but all of a sudden I had to learn to live with all of the questions, guilt, and pain of what he had decided. It was suddenly and sharply real that I would never see or hear him again. Though we had not worked out as a couple, he was still the person at that time who knew me better than just about anyone else in my world, and he would no longer be in mine.
Most loss survivors go through the same feelings and emotions; disbelief, numbness, anger, guilt and a hole deep, deep down inside. When left behind after a suicide there are no answers, only speculation and that speculation is so deeply painful. Loss survivors begin to question what they themselves have done wrong and it is common to hear of people close to the suicide victim taking their own lives not long after or being put on to suicide watch. I do not believe that many people with suicidal thoughts take this reality into consideration, especially when feelings of loneliness are intertwined in the person’s psyche. Susan Rose Blauner hits on this fact when she writes in her wonderful work on mental health and suicide survival, How I Stayed Alive When My Brain was Trying to Kill Me, “I wonder if they ever consider the fact that they are choosing to kill someone while wounding many others”. I had never quite thought of Mark’s suicide in those terms but it rings true still today. Suicide is a violent act, and those who care for the person are being caught in the crossfire. Though they may not have a physical ailment, it can be mentally debilitating. One thing that loss survivors or suicide bystanders need to remember during the time of hurt, blame and loss is that everyone who attempts or succeeds at suicide is doing so for very personal reasons. This is their last act of control in a world that has spun out, it is their release of the pain and anguish that they have been dealing with, it is their decision. Blauner writes, “I think that when you don’t know what to do with your pain and are feeling unloved, suicide seems like a better choice than life.” It is this escape from pain that drives most suicidal tendencies. It’s not that those who are suicidal don’t want to live; it’s just that they can’t deal with the pain any longer.
Fortunately there are many different resources available for people who need help, though we can as a society do much better in dealing with mental health crises. Whether you are feeling at the end of the line and ready to leave it all or are a suicide loss survivor here to pick up the shattered pieces left behind, know that there is help. The key is that you will have to want to get help and crucially, feel that you deserve help. Nationally there is the suicide helpline. It runs 7 days a week 24 hours a day and can be reached by phone at 1-800-273-8255 (talk)or online https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .
It doesn’t matter what part you have to play in a mental health crisis, the people on the hotline are there to help. Whether you are a concerned friend or family member, a suicide loss survivor or someone on the brink, they can lead you in the right direction off the edge. There are also several other web pages that have been started by suicide survivors that are a great resource for all involved to see that you are far from alone in what you find yourselves faced with: http://www.itgetsbetter.org is one of the more famous, started by Dan Savage (of the Savage Love column and podcast) and his partner as a response to the shockingly high rates of suicides amongst LGBTQ teenagers. It has resources and many different videos of people discussing their life and how at one point it all felt hopeless but that if you can hang on it will get better. Another http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=urgent_crisis_suicide_prevention
is a page put out by the depression and bipolar alliance which is a little more scholarly in appearance and full of information. The last online source that I have for you (and please be aware that there are many many more available and I just personally found these to be comprehensive and useful) is http://www.lostallhope.com/ . Lost All Hope is a web page that was created by suicide survivors and is a sort of crowd sourced platform, on which people share their story and support each other. There are also plenty of references to books and other sources. I found the chat space of this page to be very eye opening and a great safe space to find those who have been through similar situations. Unfortunately the suicide horror is one that is shared by many others.
Here at the Jackson County Public Library we have partnered with Vaya Health to offer a mental health screening kiosk that is private and easy to use. It is located on the second floor next to the young adult section. The same mental health tool is offered online at http://www.vayamindful.org/ . Please use whichever one feels more comfortable. Vaya Health manages public funds for mental health, substance use disorder and intellectual or developmental disability services in twenty-three North Carolina counties, including Jackson, Macon, and Swain. I tried the kiosk myself and found it easy and private. They ask a couple of demographics items at the beginning which are used solely for statistics purposes — a name is never attached or personal information of any kind. I did look through the privacy statement as well and Vaya Health was very explicit in the fact that they do not gather personal information, or sell any information to a third party. The demographic stats are solely for informational purposes to help Vaya Health better serve the community. It also must be noted that the information that the mental health screening does offer is not to be a replacement of a medical diagnosis. One of the best options that the kiosk offers is that they have the numbers and people to connect you with immediately to get the help that you need. If you do not feel comfortable with either of those local options you can call the Vaya Health directory line where they will connect you with mental health resources in Western North Carolina, 1-800-849-6127. You can use that number for yourself or for someone that you are concerned about in your life.
Just remember that asking for help does not make you weak, it does not make you broken past the point of no return. On the contrary, asking for help is one of the hardest things that we humans can do. I was lucky to have a large and loving support system, and for months I thought that I had myself under control. I am after all a Taurus and like a bull it’s hard for me to seek help of the personal kind. Then one day it just hit me. I was past the point of denial, of numb disregard. I felt simply broken, lost. I didn’t know where to turn and I thought that I would never be able to let the pain leave. I believed in a way that I deserved to live with it. I could no longer stand it. A friend referred me to a lovely woman who was able to take me on at a sliding scale after I told her my circumstance. She was able to change my life and the trajectory that I was on. I never thought that I would benefit from such an arrangement and neither had Mark — that is exactly why he never got help. I chose not to follow his footsteps.
Here are several books available in the Fontana Regional Library System: