First I need/want to say that this is probably one of the more difficult things I’ve ever tried to write, for a couple reasons.
The first being that when you are or have battled with depression or suicidal thoughts, talking about it at all very often feels like attention seeking behavior that you’ll inevitably be criticized and mocked for. Because that’s what it looks like, and it’s how it feels when it comes out of your mouth. And feeling like you’re asking for a pity party, or sympathy, or hugs, or tender loving care, or a “you brave little soldier, I acknowledge your pain,” can be humiliating. People don’t want that. In fact, it hurts to imagine coming off that way, but more about that in a minute.
The second reason being no one wants to hear what I want to say. Not other people who are battling depression and suicide, not their loved ones, not people who want to post about Suicide Prevention Day (SPD from here on out) and raise awareness, and definitely not the people that want to use the internet for aimless scrolling and cat videos.
What I want to say isn’t going to be easy to hear, for different reasons for all of those groups.
The third reason is that (as sort of implied by the second) this by no means applies to everyone dealing with suicidal thoughts or depression. It’s not a perfectly homogenous group. Some things that help some people hurt other people who are dealing with the same type of thing. So even if I come forward and say what I’m trying to say, not everyone affected is going to feel the same way about it. And that makes it hard to move forward.
But in spite of how shitty it feels to try and say something, and in spite of the fact that hardly anyone will read this stupid post on a blog no one gives two shits about, and the ones who will won’t be happy about what I have to say, I think it needs to be said.
Because I still believe social movements are supposed to be about more than just the unaffected being aware or made aware of the problems the affected face, and the affected venting about them. I believe that while that needs to happen too, social movements are supposed to be primarily about enacting positive change in the problems we find with society and for individuals in it. And that means critically assessing how we approach and deal with those social problems through our movements, and talking about it. That’s what I’m trying to do here.
I’ll try to come out and say it. I’ve been on both sides of the coin here. So I know how hard and frustrating and scary it is to watch someone you care about struggle with depression, thoughts of suicide, and self harm. I know how utterly fucking useless you can feel watching that happen to someone you care about and not knowing what you can possibly do to help at all.
We don’t need to measure and compare which side has it worse, they both suck in different ways. I sometimes feel a small desire to tell the people struggling with helping a loved one that what they’re going through doesn’t come close to comparing to how it feels to be on the other side, but honestly there’s no need and it just makes everyone feel worse. Don’t compare the two.
So I know that when you’ve known or know someone who struggles, and SPD rolls around, you really want to show you care and try to get other people to care maybe. So you take to social media and post a touching status you wrote or a quote from someone about the day, or depression, et cetera. And you mean well. You want people to know that they can reach out to you for help (I assume), and/or that someone somewhere loves them so they shouldn’t end their lives. You may have spent years watching someone you love hurt, while you’re stuck on the sideline with no idea how to do much other than hold them while they cry or tell them things will get better.
But while some forms of that support can help, other forms of it can hurt.
As I said earlier, there’s this inexorable problem with depression/suicide/self-harm: At the moment at least, it’s often viewed as cries for help. And sometimes it is.
But when the last thing you want is to come off sounding like, or appear to be just pitifully desperate for love, because you’ve seen people mocked and belittled and for that behavior, having someone make a specific day to pat you on the back and say “I acknowledge your pain” is horribly uncomfortable, belittling, and embarrassing. But it’s a bit more serious than just how it feels too.
Because often the rhetoric (often times from the loved ones looking for ways to help, but not always) about suicide tries to fight that mocking of attention seeking and the like by saying things like “Suicide isn’t selfish, it’s brave,” or “It’s a last ditch effort to save yourself from something that seems inescapable and all consuming.”
And I understand why a person trying to help wants to say that. In the face of observing harsh treatment from others, you want to give love and hugs and support and a soft place to fall and a shoulder to cry on. You want to be a warm safety blanket that will help the person you care about get better. You just want to fucking help somehow, because you hate seeing them hurt, but you don’t know how.
But here’s the thing. The one no one wants to hear. Sometimes, some of that, with some people, is going to make what they’re going through much worse. It’s going to make them hate themselves more for getting your attention and sympathy, because now they feel like they were just pandering for it. It’s going to make it harder for them to talk about any of it, because now anytime it comes up in conversation, on tv, in a movie, in a book, they feel the pity look you give them and they feel weak, and broken, and fragile.
And all of that pushes them back into, or deeper into their depression. Because they’re now more alone because they can’t talk to you about it because you pity them. Because they hate themselves for garnering that pity. Because they do feel weak and broken and fragile. It starts to make them feel like they’re more of a problem and a burden than anything else. It makes them feel like maybe being dead and having you grieve for a while would be better than stringing you along unable to help and forcing you to watch them struggle.
Basically, when you try to be a shoulder to cry on, sometimes you help, and sometimes you drive them closer to the edge.
It depends on the person, and it depends on you, and it depends on the situation, and it depends on how you’re trying to help.
But I can tell you that organizations like “To Write Love on Her Arms,” all about and filled with smiling faces ready to hug it out and pat you on the head and tuck you in with a warm glass of milk, can very easily make you hate yourself so much more, instead of actually helping.
I can tell you that posting a warm and loving Facebook status trying to make people aware can feel like bringing attention to something you desperately don’t want to have people think you want to bring attention to.
I’m already really sorry for how much it might hurt you to read this. It hurts writing it. But there’s one more thing.
Sometimes, not always and not with everyone, tough love might be the better option.
I might have a “friend” who was kept alive by telling himself that suicide WAS weak, selfish, and pathetic, and that he was better than that. That going through with it wasn’t brave or a last ditch effort to avoid what’s otherwise inescapable, but actually just a refusal to step back and realize that nothing, even depression, can stand up to the slayer-of-all that is time. Telling himself and that in a few years, what drives one towards jumping out a window or dragging a knife across a jugular might be a bad joke. With enough time, it might just seem childish and silly that it ever had so much effect on him.
And I can tell you that trying to say that to someone struggling as an outsider is not only incredibly absurdly hard to do, but a lot of the time it might not help either. I don’t have a “Do this instead,” after I got done telling you what not to do that works for everyone, unfortunately. Because not everyone who struggles with depression is the same. So it’s not that simple. And I know that makes you feel more useless and hopeless and I’m sorry for that.
I can tell you that my friend was a little taken aback but thankful when a friend of his told him they probably couldn’t forgive him if he killed himself. It takes a lot of balls to say that. A lot. While I know my friend said harsher things to himself than that, I can’t imagine having the guts to say that to someone I cared about who was struggling. (And again, I’m not telling you this is the “thing to do” to try to help everyone.)
But being a shoulder to cry on isn’t always the answer, because sometimes it does more damage than good.
And while taking to Facebook to say you care about the people who are struggling and want to raise awareness may help some, maybe even someone you care about, you may also be killing others.
So do with that as you will I guess. I won’t ever be trying to just “raise awareness” by posting my sympathies to social media, because I can’t stand the thought of hurting some, even if it helps others. The cost is too high.
Maybe I’m just personally more pragmatically oriented than emotionally oriented, but I can’t imagine I’m the only one, and those of us, like my friend, would rather hear you say “Tough it out,” and “Don’t you dare give in,” than “I’m so sorry,” or “It must be so hard,” or “You are loved and we want to help you.”
And for people with that pragmatic orientation, and because of hating feeling like it’s garnering pity, Facebook posts doing the latter can really suck for people dealing with suicide, depression, and self harm.