I did a favor for a friend this week. No big deal, truly, just helped her get a kid signed up for something. The directions were a little complicated and she was being pulled three ways at once and I’m good at clicking in boxes on the Internet. Hell, it used all the secretarial skills I’ve developed over my professional career (thanks, patriarchy!).
She thanked me, publicly, because she’s nice and because it’s what you do. Just a short “Y’all, she saved my bacon today, PUBLIC LOVEFEST!” thing on Facebook.
I swear, I’m getting to my point. And my point isn’t an ego-stroke, although that thread certainly was. My point is that, halfway down the thread and buried, another friend (let’s call her O) said “She stayed up with me when the diseased part of my brain was telling me to kill myself.”
You know what’s funny? I’d completely forgotten.
“I thought briefly but clearly about killing myself. That’s when i messaged you.” How do you forget that?
You forget it because it’s routine. You forget it because smashing the patriarchy is hard sometimes, and it becomes usual to hear “but death would be a relief.” You forget because “I’m tired today” never means you need sleep, it means you can’t roll that rock up that hill anymore and you just want to lie down and be done, forever, with no more rocks and no more hills in your future. It’s a lot to ask of a person, being alive all the time. As another friend said: No-one asked me. I didn’t consent to this.
So you whisper to each other in the dark corners of the internet. You tell each other the little tricks you’ve learned, like “make a to-do list of things you have to accomplish before you die that’s so overwhelming you’d rather live than work your way through it.” You learn who’s got extra energy in the spring and who’s got it in the fall and you lean on each other when you’re weak and you hold each other up when you’re strong.
My friend B works in sex and mental health education. Because there’s overlap, ok. Yesterday we brainstormed answers to the ongoing dialogue she’s having with teens about seeing suicidal people in online communities. How to respond when you don’t know someone well enough to know if they’re lying for the attention. (Hint: if someone’s lying about being suicidal because they desperately need attention? They need healthy, supportive attention either way. Even if they think they’re trolling. It’s ok to give them some. You can set boundaries. Which is a whole different conversation. Except when it’s not.) The gut response to want to believe they’re lying.
Because if they’re telling the truth, maybe you’re responsible for what happens next. If you believe them, how much of their story do you assume? What part of their burden becomes yours to bear? What if you say all the right things and they do it anyway?
I don’t have answers here. I wish I did.
All I know is, there’s a lot of us out here. A lot of folks who think about dying a lot of the time. A lot of people who have a plan, who know how they’ll do it, the polite way, the way that’s easiest on friends and relatives because, fun fact, most of us do know we’re loved.
But when we find each other, it’s not for suicide pacts. There’s no drama, no cult. There’s just a hand to hold yours, a voice to say “That’s hard. I don’t have the answer.” We know it rarely helps to hear “it will get better.” Because so many times there is no objective evidence there to point to, and if we had the energy left for faith we wouldn’t be so tired all the time. So we say “I’m here.” We say “I’m holding this space for you” and “I like the shape you make in my heart.” We say “I’m glad you’re here” and “thank you for telling me” and sometimes we send each other goofy selfies of our ugly-cry faces and have a pathos competition until we can laugh ourselves back to the face the world needs to see and we stop thinking about the pills or the knife or the gun or that particular bridge pylon on Highway 30 or the way the river looks cold and they say hypothermia is a pretty easy way to go.
And we forget, sometimes, that it happened, the way you forget sometimes about the time you saw those cool red boots – yeah, those, and now that I reminded you about them you still want them don’t you? Because it’s just another thing that happened on another day, and it means simultaneously nothing and everything.
We don’t promise each other it will get better or that it will never happen again. We just promise, like O did, “Next time I will try not to be preoccupied with how to go to the bathroom to pee without being scared.”