This is a pro-life post. I am pro-life. I believe every one is. Including suicidal people. I say this because (as regular readers will know) I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation for most of my life. I am happy to say that it’s more than six months now since I thought it might be a good idea to kill myself.
But here’s the thing; I never wanted to die. Not really. I wanted the pain to end. I wanted to make the pain I was suffering go away. I wanted to live torment-free and know that the torment was gone for good. The sensible, logical part of my brain went through a slew of possibilities before, sensibly, logically, deciding that suicide was the best answer. How I’m actually still here is anybody’s guess – but I am. Maybe it’s because only the good die young.
Years ago, I heard the brilliant Professor Rory O’Connor speaking. Energetic, passionate and compassionate, Professor O’Connor was conducting research on suicide and he made an impassioned plea to everyone listening:
‘If ever there is a question to choose between life and death, choose life. Choose life!’
His words echoed in my head for months and years afterwards. On some of my dark days, I repeated them mantra-like adn waited for how I was feeling to catch up with what I was saying.
Today – World Suicide Prevention Day – I’d like to share two lists with you. First up is a list of things I would urge you to do for yourself if you are suicidal.
- Have a mantra and repeat it to yourself. This can be anything that steadies your soul. Choose a religious one if that helps. Or find an aphorism that works for you. For years, mine was ‘It will all come right in the end: If it’s not all right, it’s not the end’. My current favourite is ‘When you’re going through hell, keep going’ alternated with ‘You are never alone’ which echoes in my head in the voice of the wise friend who first said it to me.
- Seek help. Even though you feel you’re not worth it, believe me – you are. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Have a message set up, on your phone, and ready to send to five or six people who know you and know your history and that you might – on occasion – be suicidal. It’s best if this note is kept short ‘I need help. Pls call me back if you can’ works for me. Then, when (or if) you do send the message, you will know that whoever gets back to you is self-selecting and you’re not intruding.
- Go somewhere safe. Even if the safest place for you right now is in bed, get back into bed. If it’s in your friend’s kitchen, go and sit in your friend’s kitchen.
- Ring a dedicated hotline – like the Samaritans or Pieta House. You are not ‘bothering’ these people by phoning them, you’re keeping them in a job. Make the call.
- Find a photograph of you that you like and that captures a moment when you were happy. Keep it in your wallet or somewhere you can find it in a hurry. Look at that photo and remember where you were when it was taken. That happy person is in there still. They will be back, if you just wait a while .
Secondly, if you become aware that someone you know is suicidal, please be mindful of what you say:
1 Do not tell a suicidal person that they are being selfish. In the same way that you wouldn’t tell an asthmatic that their asthma was selfish.
2. Do ask if there is anything you can do – and offer something concrete; a cup of tea, a hug, a walk, etc.
3. If you think the person is ‘just looking for attention’ give it to them. If they are that desperate for attention, then they are desperate.
4. Don’t underestimate the power of witnessing; just being with a person and allowing them to feel what they’re feeling without trying to ‘fix’ it. It’s okay to just sit and say ‘I am here for you’.
5. Don’t dismiss the feelings of a person who says they are suicidal. If you feel you can’t cope yourself, ring a dedicated hotline like The Samaritans or Pieta House.