Last week, the Rome community lost someone who was very special to a lot of my friends, and I’m truly sorry that I never knew her.
I have watched as people that I love share stories of what a vivacious and giving and wonderful person she was, about her work with youth and her passion for so many great causes in the world, and about how important she was to them.
Unfortunately, only those very close to her knew the part of her that struggled deeply with depression. Many of those who are mourning the person they knew are also mourning the person they didn’t know, the person they wish they could have helped, the person who wished only to relieve the intense pain with which she grappled.
That’s the way it works with suicide, especially in the glossed over social media world in which we find ourselves.
We tend to only know the beautiful, gifted, motivated and fabulous sides of our acquaintances online. And, even in person, when we ask each other how we are, we really only want to hear the good stuff, and that is generally all we really want to tell, too.
If we are lucky, we have friends and family close enough to reveal their darker sides, and generous enough to receive ours. That is where the real stuff lives and heals, in the darker sides.
One of my beloved TedTalks, titled “Confessions of a depressed comic,” features Kevin Breel talking about his near attempted suicide as a teenager and what got him through the struggle.
Breel talks about how he was kind of living two lives. There is the life that everyone else would describe: the son, brother, friend, standup comedian and teenager. And, while he would also use those same things to describe himself, he would also have to add that he is someone who struggles intensely with depression, but no one else would know it.
Depression is something that we have a hard time understanding, and an even harder time talking about.
I have a good friend who is very open about her journey with depression and, while I am so glad that she feels safe enough to share her feelings, I often don’t really know what to say. It makes me feel awkward, but mostly frustrated that I can’t just tell her to focus on all of the things that are great about her and the things for which she should be thankful. That isn’t at all helpful for someone dealing with depression, even though that is always what helps bring me back from the blues.
“Real depression isn’t being sad when something in your life goes wrong,” Breel explains. “Real depression is being sad when everything in your life is going right.”
Suicide is what happens when people who seem to have everything going for them cannot turn off those negative thoughts and simply reach a point in which ending their life it is the only relief they can imagine.
In discussing this week’s tragedy, I have learned that I have several friends who have attempted to end their life at some point. Every single one of them who shared with me will tell you that they are so happy it didn’t work.
You may have seen a video online in which Kevin Hines describes his thoughts of regret in the very second after he threw himself from the Golden Gate Bridge with the intention of ending his life. It is a truly powerful story.
Over 2,000 people have died jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge since it opened in 1937 and about 1% of jumpers have survived. Hines reveals that every single one of those survivors have said the exact same thing that he does, that the millisecond his hands left the bridge, he regretted it. His greatest panic as he fell was realizing that his family and friends would never know that he didn’t want to die in the end.
Fortunately, Hines did survive and, while it was a long road of intensive therapy to get him back to a normal life, he admits that he still deals with those negative voices that led him to that brink. He has learned how to control those feelings, and he is glad to be able to process the weight of his decision with his family, something that will never go away.
He realizes now how powerful the support of his family and friends are in his life.
“It’s OK not to be OK,” he says, “but it is not OK not to ask for someone to back you up.”
September is National Suicide Prevention Month and it is important that we take this local tragedy as a cue to learn how to help each other and ourselves to deal with the feelings that lead people to such painful places.
Every day in the U.S., 123 suicides occur and those numbers are climbing during this difficult pandemic crisis that has people more isolated and dealing with more desperate circumstances than normal.
Check on your friends, and not only the ones you are worried about. Make sure that those around you know that you are here to help. Show compassion for those you see struggling, no matter how you feel about the choices they are making. We often cannot even imagine what they are going through.
If you are struggling, talk to your friends and family. Let them love and support you and help you to deal with whatever is causing you pain. Even if you have no one to reach out to, find a stranger, call a support line, believe that there are people who care.
You are not alone. No matter how much it may feel that you are, you are not alone.
In memory of the people that we never knew, let’s support each other through this difficult time. It is truly the least that we can do.