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The Other Side of Suicide

July 31, 2013

When we think of a suicide attempt, often two options come to mind: the person succeeds and dies, or fails and lives. For someone who is experiencing a mental illness such as as depression this is a strange paradox: death is success, living is failure. This paradox occupies the mind of so many people who see suicide as a way out of the pain they are feeling. For family and friends, the paradox may not become apparent until after the attempt is made. For many people dealing with mental illness, the paradox seems ever-present. Living itself can feel like such a chore, such an exercise in futility that every waking moment is nothing more than wasted consumption of air that could have been better used by others. For years I fought with this paradox in my own mind.

Death is success. Living is failure.

Looking through this lens, it isn’t difficult to understand why someone would want to commit suicide. Dying means getting to the other side of the pain to a place where there is no more sorrow. Dying may seem like the only way to get to the other side.  But this is not true. There is another way:

Living.

There is no kind of living like that experienced by someone who has attempted suicide, planned it, or otherwise seriously thought about it. There is no kind of living like that experienced by someone who has looked into the abyss of their own death by their own hand and decided to come out of it stronger. Every waking moment is no longer futile, but a fight for survival. Every additional day is a gift. When the amazing moments of life happen – graduations, promotions, raises, new births, awards – they are so much sweeter because a person can say “if I would have killed myself I would have missed all of this.”

This is the other side of suicide.

Noted psychologist Dr. Barbara J. Brown says that suicide is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” She’s right. The pain that people experience are often due to temporary circumstances that can change. Death, however, is unchangeable. Death is a permanent solution but it is not the other side of the pain. Living is the other side, but first someone has to decide to live. Just as ending one’s life is a decision, living one’s life is a decision. And the pain of mental illness can cloud people’s judgment so that they think they are living when they are really just existing.

Several years ago I looked into the abyss. Specifically I looked down from an overpass while considering tossing my body into the oncoming traffic several feet below. A year before that I sat in a dark room alone with a knife in my hand, slicing my arm. I wanted to cut my wrist but it hurt too much. In both cases I decided that death was not the best option. I put the knife down and called friend. I stepped back from the overpass and check into a psychiatric program at a hospital.

But I did not start living until years later. After years of therapy, prescription medication, and self-medication, I decided that I didn’t just want to exist, I wanted to live! For me, living meant getting past some of the fears that held me back previously. I went out more, tried new things, and ate new foods. I bought new clothes, developed new friendships, and made a concerted effort to live and enjoy life. It wasn’t easy but I’m so glad that I did it. I stopped self-medicating through God’s power.

Living is success.

When I looked out from the overpass several years ago, I was in graduate school. I withdrew after having my second major depressive episode. A few months ago I completed graduate school, and was a speaker at the recognition ceremony. When I think about the experience of addressing my fellow classmates at our graduation, I have to think about how far I’ve come. I have to think about how pain was a daily companion, how depression consumed years of my life, how I might not be alive if not for the people that God sent into my life. There are still improvements that I want to make in my life, but key difference now is that I’m living it. I’m no longer existing. I’m living.

I am on the other side of suicide.

There are lots of other people on the other suicide. There are people who have looked into the abyss at one point but are enjoying and living life they never have before. Let’s not think about death as success. Let’s celebrate life as the other side of suicide.

From → Wellness

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