I've been on this journey of mental health self awareness for about 18 months now. In that time, I've learned a great deal about myself and the people I've chosen to surround myself with. I've been a little slow to learn about things like my disease and suicide however.
Don't get me wrong, I knew the numbers and statistics. I know where to find the depressing data on youth and veteran suicides. All of that information is just fodder and candy for impact advertising and motivational speakers.
My most recent epiphany? Nobody commits suicide. We may die by our own hands but we did not kill ourselves. Something pushed us to do it. If a cancer patient denies treatment, their cause of death is not listed as self inflicted. IT IS NO DIFFERENT WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS OR BULLYING.
I have friends who have attempted to end their lives. I stand by the assertion that it wasn't a desire to end life that drove them to it. It was their disease, the voices in their head that pushed them to end their suffering, to see no other way out.
“He committed suicide” creates the false narrative that the victim was actively engaged in the decision. Often, the reality is the complete opposite. We are barely engaged in life let alone our actions and behaviors. Trapped in the prison of our minds, the disease that locks us away takes over many of our day to day operations.
Imagine going through every day expending all of your effort to appear functional and coherent during shallow exercises. Business meetings, water cooler talk with coworkers and customers, grocery shopping and the morning commute are all things we manage in a barely conscious state. We have become actors portraying a life while not actively living it.
None of those scenarios require feelings or true engagement. Fast forward a few hours to family time and we may seem coarse, disengaged, angry or distant. We've simply no energy left to maintain a facade that requires us to behave in a deeper and more meaningful way. Breaking out of our minds prison, even for those you love, isn't an option. The disease does the talking and acting for us.
What about the kids, bullied for weeks, months or years on end? Do we blame them for having a hand in their own deaths? We shouldn't. The failure wasn't on them for not being strong enough to stand up against a daily torture. The sometimes neglectful behavior of the people they relied upon to protect them and primarily those who engaged in the abhorrent behavior. They were killed by someone else. It was only their body that provided the vehicle for their murder. That is not to say that every child who dies by their own hand was neglected. However, someone missed the signs. Someone overlooked bullying behavior. Someone was the bully. Sometimes, we do all we can and still miss the signs.
Sitting here, drinking my tea and watching through the window at the birds coming and going from the new feeder on my deck, I am unable to think of an instance where the blame of suicide should fall to the victim.
No, suicide does not exist in my mind, and I will do my best to end the use of the term. In an era when we are working to end victim blaming, it's time to stop it in these instances as well. We can do better than we have, and I will take a stand, finally, for what I believe.
The photo above is my own.