Fiore: You are not alone
“Call me tomorrow. Please.” This was a text I received at 12:23 a.m. on February 18. I read the message at around 5 a.m. when I woke up, and I took a deep breath.
It was from a childhood friend who was going through a very difficult time. Cody would call very late at night in crisis, and our calls would typically last a few hours. I was happy he was reaching out and was more than willing to be a support for him, yet there was a wearing-out period.
Over the months worrying about Cody and feeling like I could never give him enough, I was exhausted. I hadn’t heard from him for a few weeks when this text came in. I read it and had the thought, “I just don’t have the energy for this today.”
On my morning walk, I thought about Cody again and called. It was 7 a.m. My call went straight to voicemail and I felt slightly relieved. I tried calling him again that afternoon and followed up with a text. Nothing. I reached out to some mutual friends to share my concern. Then, I found out the next morning that Cody had taken his life shortly after sending me his text.
Acknowledging the pain
There is no way to articulate the emotions I felt in that moment or over the next few months. At first, I experienced pain and sadness, which was followed almost immediately by shame and guilt. Devasting thoughts raced in my mind, such as, “How could I have felt that I didn’t have time for his call? How come I didn’t call him right back? How could I have missed this?”
If you have ever had any of these thoughts, you are not alone. This is one of the unique aspects of grief with suicide, shame and guilt. It’s hard not to go down the road of “what if “and blaming yourself. And, it’s not helpful. What I do know is I do the very best I can with what I have at the time. We all do. Just as we lose lives to cancer, we also lose lives to mental illness. And the feelings we’re left with can be complicated.
Navigating suicidal ideation with someone you love, or grieving the loss of someone who has taken his or her life, is excruciating. There is nothing like witnessing someone you love in so much pain. It taps into our own pain.
Having spent a great deal of my life in suicidal ideation myself, here are some things that were helpful for me:
- Telling someone: You are not alone. You are so loved. I am worried about you. I’ve noticed (fill in the blank), and I’m concerned. I’m so glad you told me.
- You cannot heal pain by taking away the pain. Things that tend to not be helpful include trying to make it better; giving advice; saying things like “happiness is a choice, go for a walk, try yoga, it’ll be better tomorrow, shake it off or just try a little harder.”
- Acknowledging someone is in pain does help. Sitting with the pain helps. Helpful things to say include: “I get you are in a lot pain. How bad is it? This really sucks. No one ever got a feeling wrong.”
- Keep showing up in the person’s life. Send a text. Say I love you, you matter, you are not alone. Give a hug. Have coffee. Check in. The person may push you away (withdrawal is a symptom of depression), but keep showing up.
- Get support for yourself. Navigating mental illness and suicidal ideation with someone you love takes a lot and you will need support for yourself. You cannot help someone out of the rabbit hole if you are in it with him.
It’s worth asking
If you are worried someone you know or love is suicidal, ask her directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” You don’t have to be 100% sure to ask the question. If you are wondering, ask! If you can’t ask, find someone who can. Just by asking this question, you can reduce the suicidal ideation by up to 80%. If the answer is yes:
- First, show gratitude. Say things like, “Thank you for telling me. I’m so glad you told me. Thank you for trusting me.”
- Let the person know he or she is not alone. Reassure him or her: “I don’t know what to do, I’m just so glad you told me. We’ll figure it out together.”
- Connect with resources. Do not leave the person alone.
- Call the Colorado Suicide Lifeline at 844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255. You can call this number if you are worried about someone and don’t know what to do.
- Locally in Eagle County, call the Hope Center of Eagle River Valley at 970-306-4673.
- Call 911.
- Go to the nearest emergency room.
If you are uncomfortable speaking about suicide or want to know the warning signs, consider taking a suicide prevention training. SpeakUp ReachOut’s training sessions are offered at no cost and teach the warning signs for suicide and how to connect someone to help. Please visit http://www.speakupreachout.org for more information.
Whether you have lost someone to suicide or have thoughts of suicide yourself, you are not alone. So many of us have been touched by suicide and have locked our grief away. We cannot heal by ignoring the pain.
It is time to realize we are not alone and time to bring the darkness to light in community conversations. Shame cannot survive once the silence is broken. Speak up and reach out. There is support, there is help and there is hope. Together, we heal.
Molly Fiore is the program director of SpeakUp ReachOut.