Trigger warning: mental health.
Simply put, suicide can kiss my ASS. If you’re a fellow family/friend survivor, I’m sending you tons of love this week and a not-so-gentle reminder: It’s not your fault.
While I deeply appreciate all of the suicide prevention information being spread this week, it can be hard on us who didn’t “prevent” it.
If you want to chat, vent, drink wine or eat frozen yogurt in the rain (that should be a lesbian love song), hit me up.
I posted that message to my personal Facebook page this morning after reading about – and crying over – the death of Anthony Bourdain. I didn’t cry when Kate Spade died, and I’m not sure why Bourdain’s death hit me harder. Because I’d watched and enjoyed his show? Because his death was the second in the week? Because his sharp features and wicked sense of humor reminded me of my brother, who died the same way?
Whatever it is, it’s made me sad. And livid. Then guilty. I find myself cycling through all of the same emotions I did when my brother Aaron died in 2004. And that last one, guilt, is the trickiest because of what I alluded to in my FB post. We talk about suicide prevention the same way we talk about suicide in general: in broad brush strokes that don’t begin to do justice to the complexity of mental illness and without any examination of managing the pain of someone who literally doesn’t want to be alive anymore.
Even the phrase “suicide prevention” doesn’t begin to capture the enormity of what it means to try to keep someone on earth who is hell-bent on leaving it. Suicide isn’t a forest fire, you can’t just prevent it by not tossing a lit cigarette into the forest or stamping out your campfire. You’re being tasked with convincing someone that life is worth living, that there is hope, that you want to love them through whatever it is. Suicide prevention means successfully fighting the seductive lure of ending their pain once and for all.
And it’s not your fault if you failed. Or if you didn’t recognize that this depression was deeper than the last one and would be fatal. Or if you convinced yourself that your loved one wouldn’t actually do something so drastic and final.
I’m always in awe of other survivors who have been able to transform their pain into some kind of advocacy or action, who start walks or foundations. Everyone’s pain and grief is different, and I’ve manifested mine into a stubborn love of life, over-the-top birthday celebrations and a gratitude for every day above ground, no matter how shitty it is. Because I know better than anyone that it can always be worse.
I want you to know that whatever your grief looks like, and however it’s manifested itself, it’s OK. It’s yours and no one else’s, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation for it.
I am not a clinician, an expert on mental health or particularly sane myself. This essay isn’t intended to downplay the importance of preventing suicide. It’s a love letter to everyone who sees the words “suicide prevention” and immediately feels a heaviness, a reminder of the life we weren’t able to save.
It isn’t your fault, and I hope you’ve gotten to a place where you can forgive not only the person who left you behind, but yourself, your friends and family.
Go easy on yourself and maybe turn off the news this weekend. Conjure up happy memories about your lost loved one. Or chuck it all and do something you love, that reminds you why this sometimes brutal life is also so precious.
In case it’s helpful, here’s a link to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Yes, that’s me being held by my Mom, who I must say is rocking those sunglasses, along with Rebellious Val and Aaron.