Stigmas in Suicide Terminology

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This article may contain trigger warnings: suicide is going to be discussed-mostly the terminology behind it though. Still, better safe than sorry.

I was having a discussion with a professor a while ago and it came up that I wrote for The Mighty. She asked what it was that I wrote about and without hesitation I said “Suicide”. It wasn’t until much later that I reflected on the conversation and realized that perhaps it seemed like I was sending a message that I didn’t mean to be sending.

I think that depression has a really bizarre way of making you rehash your interactions. My fears were that I was going to have to deal with a well-meaning email asking if I was mentally in a bad place, or worse-a phone call from the counselors on campus asking me to come in at my earliest convenience. I have the fear that if enough people find out I have a mental illness that it will come back to bite me in the ass and prevent me from living my life. Which is ridiculous for exactly two reasons.

  1. A LOT of people know that about me-because I don’t view it as something I need to keep quiet about. I’m going to talk about it because I’m not ashamed of who I am.
  2. Not a damn thing is going to prevent me from living the life I want to lead. And that’s a promise to both ya’ll and myself. If I want it, I will achieve it. The end.

So I made a “cover-my-butt” email and sent it to her. Which was probably the lamest thing I could have done. But it ended up working out in my favor because I got to talk about something that I feel strongly about-stigmas surrounding suicide survivors.

I have issue with the terminology used to talk about suicide. Not because I believe that we shouldn’t talk about it (because we should) but because of the words we use that imply things we don’t mean. Ultimately, it comes down to two questions.

  1. What is it that clearly communicates suicide (or living after) without bringing with it the negative connotations?
  2. What do we call people who live after, instead of dying?

So I was thinking about it, about all that I knew and had at my disposal and about what to use instead. Here are some phrases and my thoughts. (If there’s a *, it’s because I’m going to discuss that phrase later on.)

Commit Suicide: This harkens back to when suicide was a crime-and attemptees* who lived were tried as criminals. (From Google (and Wikipedia): “Before the Suicide Act 1961, it was a crime to commit suicide, and anyone who attempted and failed could be prosecuted and imprisoned, while the families of those who succeeded could also potentially be prosecuted. In part, that criminalization reflected religious and moral objections to suicide as self-murder.”) This implies that people who die on their own terms* are criminals, and those with suicidal ideation are nothing more than premeditating murderers. That’s not right.

Successful Suicide: I have problems with this phrase because “success” will always carry the connotation of (From Google: “accomplishing an aim or purpose”) and it seems like when people use that phrase, they wanted the person to die. I can’t get behind that.

Unsuccessful Suicide: This is the bigger problem I have with “successful suicide”. If an attempt is made and the person lives, under “successful suicide”, that person would be labeled “unsuccessful”. The problem I have with that is that a person who attempted suicide and lived would have reached a point in their lives where they felt there were no other options and the first thing they will hear is “You couldn’t even kill yourself.” You are telling someone who probably felt like they failed at life in every possible way that they also failed at death? That’s a TERRIBLE idea.

Died from Depression: I brought this one up as an alternative, but the truth of the matter is this one is very conditional. I was reading just recently about a police officer who chose his death because he’d become corrupt and didn’t want to go to jail. In this case, it wasn’t depression, and therefore it isn’t applicable to use this phrase. However, in a case like say, Robin Williams (may his soul rest), “died from depression” is completely applicable.

Died From a Complication of Depression: Like the point above, this is conditional. I framed this one by saying the following: If someone had cancer and the coroner put on the cause of death “pulmonary embolism”, we wouldn’t say “They died of a pulmonary embolism.” We’d say “They died of cancer.” The embolism was a complication caused by cancer. The problem with “Complication of Depression”? It takes a while to explain and is extremely conditional.

Selfish Suicide (also: Coward’s Death): I take offense to this one-and many others do as well. If there comes a time when suicide is being seriously contemplated because of depression, it is the furthest thing from selfish. The person will usually feel that taking themselves out of the lives of their loved ones will make those loved ones’ lives less painful, less complicated. Or perhaps it’s a matter of not wanting to continue hurting (either physically or mentally, or maybe both). Neither of those things are selfish or cowardly (and in fact the Google definition of Brave is: “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage”). (A case could be made for incidents like the cop story I mentioned, but that’s a different post for a different day.)

Ultimate Act of Self-Care: First, let’s break this down. Ultimate (From Google: being or happening at the end of a process; final). Self-Care (From Google and Wikipedia: In health care, self-care is any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.) Now, if you adhere to this very textbook-esque definition, I don’t have a problem with it. The only thing is, not everyone adheres to the same textbook if you catch my drift. “Ultimate” can be seen as synonymous to “highest” or “best”. “Self-Care” has been construed to mean anything from eating well and exercising to splurging on unnecessary items from the store or eating whole pies by yourself. It is this connotation that would imply selfish behavior. However, if we take this to mean “Last deliberate, self-initiated act of addressing an unmet need” then yes, this is good.

Die on their own terms: This is one of the ones I’ve been leaning on. I see it as factual, kind and flexible. The problem with it? It seems to get a lot of “Huh?” faces when I say it-to which I have to reply with the stoic “Suicide”-which defeats the purpose a little. Now, not only does this phrase fall on the ears a little gentler than suicide, it has the open endedness that accounts for mental health, “the police story”, physical disability choices and more without carrying any specific connotation or implication. And should someone live? Then this phrase starts to fall apart a little.

Suicide attempt: (From Google: make an effort to achieve or complete). I know this is really what’s been used in the past, but just as with “success” this seems a little insensitive. Now, I don’t know if there’s anything better for this act. My problem with it comes from the fact that if you attempt something you’ll either “fail” or “succeed” and we’ve already gone over that issue.

Planned/Spontaneous Suicide: These are relatively new introductions to the vocab choices.The only issue I have with these goes back to the “committed” issue. Planned sounds a lot like “premeditated” and that is definitely a word association with crime. The problem I have with spontaneous is that for the person, it’s almost never spontaneous. The thoughts are there-whether the “spectators” see it or not. Spontaneous just sounds like a cop-out for people who weren’t paying attention to the signs, or who weren’t around.

Suicide fatality/Non-fatal suicide: I tried this set, and with mixed success. I think it works better than “Successful/Unsuccessful” but it’s so mechanical. This is what I expect medical professionals, counselors and other “professionals” to use. Having been in the medical field for a short time, I understand that this phrasing would come in handy for clear and precise communication-which is why I was using it. But it seems disconnected, cold and jargon-y.

Attemptee: The person who lives is often faced with more issues than they had pre-incident. And I mean that in the kindest way possible. With that in mind, as I discussed above, I’m not sure “attempt” is the right verb choice. Depression can warp the meaning of words quicker than anything else, so for the sake of the person, perhaps this isn’t something to use.

Victim: This goes back to “crime” ideology. And for that reason I can’t get behind it.

Survivor: This is the one I use for the simple fact that the definition means exactly what I want it to. (From Google: a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died). Other people may have died from the same method-and that person lived. It carries with it the same respect as it does with other things you survive: cancer, sexual assault, natural disasters, etc. And it denotes that the living is still in progress.

 

 

So, readers, what do you think? Anything I missed? Anything you agree or disagree with? What do you use to talk about suicide?

 

I Get It.

I woke up this morning and had one of those moments where you examine things really quickly (almost like a recap for a television show) and come away more informed. It was definitely not something I do often, or even planned, but the thing that came out of it is a nugget of truth I will carry with me.

People want to speak and be heard-not just listened to.

I reflected on the various interactions I have and am privy to seeing/ hearing. I mean, I can tell you that one of the things which makes me upset the quickest is being asked a question to which the answer isn’t going to be paid attention. It’ll happen subtly at first and then all of a sudden the questions are robotic and I understand that I’ve been ignored. That’s what I mean by hearing vs. listening. I can listen  to music-but until I understand the lyrics, the deeper meaning, I’m not actually hearing it. Active listening, I’ve heard it called.

People want to be heard and believed.

Here’s another little piece which plays off of the first truth. We all have that one thing we wish we could tell other people without fear of judgment (or worse). Maybe it’s something like you ate the last donut. Maybe it’s more like you have a mental health condition. Maybe you were the victim of a crime. Or maybe you just feel too stressed, too hurt, too tired to carry on. No one speaks up about their story because they don’t feel like anyone will believe them. And it very rarely matters what exactly their story is-it’s that they don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable with their audience.

Do you know why?

Think with me, if you will, about a child who won’t eat what is on their plate. Do you know a pretty typical response form the parent? “There are starving kids in Africa who would love to have what you don’t want. You’re being wasteful.” And the thing is, it is that mindset that carries into adult life. We trivialize the suffering and experiences of others for the sake of making it seem “not that bad”.  Struggling with depression? “You just need to pick yourself up-it could always be worse.” Struggling with trauma? “You’re exaggerating. It’s not like you were X.”

Can you blame anyone for not speaking up? How many of us have felt more than a little dejected because someone just didn’t get it?

I talked about feeling the need to keep talking, but the thing is, I think what I needed to know more than just “keep making a statement” was that I feel it so strongly because these fundamental needs aren’t being met.

When I talk about my troubles, my passions, my thoughts, I am frequently met by vacant stares and “Mmm.” Or head bobs. I want to speak and see change in people’s hearts and minds. I don’t want to know about how lucky I am-because I already know. I don’t want to hear about how I’m overzealous or over-emotional or “in excess” in someway. You are trivializing my experiences.

So what do we do?

We change.

We hear.

We believe.

We accept.

We love.

Going Dark

I am a hurricane with skin.

I’m falling apart perfectly.

I’m an earthquake between gritted teeth.

I am a massacre with open arms.

I am a plague entombed in jokes and apologies.

I am cosmic radiation in a hoodie.

I am turbulence lulling you to sleep with a song.

I am a sniper with baked goods.

I am fire swirled in a coffee cup.

I am a breakdown that’s gone too far.

I’m a subtle reminder that time doesn’t change.

I’m the weight of the world, on your shoulders.

I am devastating loss with no answers.

I am the teardrops in the rain.

I am depression.

I am rage.

I am loss.

I am conflicted.

I am broken.

I am doubt.

I am a tsunami wrapped up in cells and fat.

I am the pieces on the floor.

I am one of many.

I am the past that keeps you from sleep.

I am the present that feels more like a curse.

I am the future that was taken away.

I am the blackest skies and the deadliest waters concealed in two eye balls and a smile.

I am grief.

I am frustration.

I am hopelessness.

I am darkness.

I am the end.

Angels on the Moon

I shared, a while ago, about how there were some quotes that really spoke for me, almost. As though those words embodied all the thoughts I had about a particular subject. And although I know that there is need elsewhere, I need to once more, complete a mental purge with some quotes. This time, though, there is only one song, and it’s been the “fight song” of my heart lately, guiding me even when I’d rather sit and “go dark”. I want to bring it up, because it’s more than just that though, it’s my lullaby, my mantra, my shield. And something that powerful has to be worth discussing. I’m copying the lyrics in and then in parentheses, I will add what I “hear” when I listen to them.

Do you dream that the world will know your name? (Do you need validation?)

So tell me your name (You can validate yourself)

Do you care about all the little things (Do you obsess about things?)

or anything at all? (Or drown in apathy?)

I wanna feel, all the chemicals inside (I want to live, without medication)

I wanna feel (I want to breathe freely)

I wanna sunburn, just to know that I’m alive (I want to live a life I’m proud of)

To know I’m alive (A life I can be sure has no regrets)
Don’t tell me if I’m dying (Don’t tell me if I made a mistake)

‘Cause I don’t wanna know (Because I can’t let that get me down)

If I can’t see the sun, maybe I should go (This depression isn’t the only way)

Don’t wake me ’cause I’m dreaming (But neither is mania)

Of angels on the moon (I have to be my own angel)

Where everyone you know (For myself, but also for those I love)

Never leaves too soon (To enjoy my time with them fully)
Do you believe, in the day that you were born (Do you have faith in yourself?)

Tell me do you believe? (In the you of the future)

Do you know, that every day’s the first (Each step you take)

Of the rest of your life? (Is just the beginning of a better adventure)
Don’t tell me if I’m dying (Don’t tell me I’m not worthy)

‘Cause I don’t wanna know (Because I’ll know you’re lying)

If I can’t see the sun (Even if I don’t always believe it)

Maybe I should go (I have to keep trying)

Don’t wake me ’cause I’m dreaming (And I won’t let you steal my sunshine)

Of angels on the moon (Because I’m finding hope in the darkness)

Where everyone you know (My light will shine brighter)

Never leaves too soon. (Each time the wind extinguishes it)
This is to one last day in the shadows (Just get up one more time)

And to know a brother’s love (Find happiness in the world)

This is to New York City angels (Find the path to where you want to be)

And the rivers of our blood (To make your sacrifices worth it)

This is to all of us (Because you’re worth it)

To all of us (I promise)
Don’t tell me if I’m dying (Let me find my own way)

‘Cause I don’t wanna know (Even if it may take me a while)

If I can’t see the sun (I know it can’t always be heartache)

Maybe I should go (But hold my hand when it is)

Don’t wake me ’cause I’m dreaming (I’ve got a heart worth fighting for)

Of angels on the moon (And dreams to be believed in)

Where everyone you know never leaves too soon (And I have to keep them alive, for my sake)
You can tell me all your thoughts (If I speak, someone will listen)

About the stars that fill polluted skies (Because I’m worthy of validation)

And show me where you run to (Embrace your biggest secrets)

When no one’s left to take your side (You are your biggest ally)

But don’t tell me where the road ends (Don’t wait for all the bad things)

‘Cause I just don’t wanna know (They will come, that’s true)

No I don’t wanna know (But you’ll make it through, each time)
Don’t tell me if I’m dying (Keep looking for the sunshine)

Don’t tell me if I’m dying (Keep finding reasons to love yourself first)

 

So a big huge thank you to Thriving Ivory, because this song is seeing me through so many dark paths and helping me reestablish the love I have for myself.

angel

(Source: Google)

Hindsight

When I was in high school, there happened an event that has stuck with me ever since.

I was the field commander of the high school marching band. It was the best thing that could have happened to me, honestly. I took my job very seriously, regarding each of the band members and color guard as members of my own family, who I would defend to the death (I was very theatrical back then). Anyway, part of my duties was to ensure safe transport of persons and equipment post game. Our instruments were hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. So I would holler out “Band coming through!” And other things, like “Watch out!” And “Excuse us!”

 

(This is basically my podium/ladder-basically huge)

 The event happened one home game my first year commanding (I was commander for 2 years-the first in school history, I believe). I was VERY passionate about my job, but also very polite and I was trying to get all the band and guard members into the school without damaging anything or anyone. Carrying my “ladder” (it was a platform I conducted from which was more than twice my size and a workout all its own), I was announcing our departure when a group of our school’s football players came up from behind me and yelled “No one gives a shit about you band faggots.” And I do not think there has been a single moment in the history of who I am that I contemplated murder more seriously. I think I could have wafted my ladder at him (and yes, I know exactly who he was) and it would havebeen a blood bath. Thankfully my director saw and heard what had happened and talked me down. If I recall, I had to stay after the game because he was telling me about how some football player wasn’t worth my future. I fumed about it for days.  And when the football player came down to the band room to apologize to the director (but not the rest of us), I saw red once more. If it had been a band member, we would have been crucified! How dare he just get off with some shitty apology! Make him pay, dammit!

  

But this story doesn’t end there. Fast forward to the last day of the year 2015 (so today-6 years later), that same football player and one of his cohorts is playing Call of Duty with my husband. They know who he is, but none of them know who I am, other than his wife. So my husband (who was in the band as well) asked if they remembered that incident, as well as a couple others. And they did. I held no hopes that they might have changed, fully expecting them to make more slurs and laugh about it. My opinion was so low, even after over half a decade of separation that I expected them to be the same low-life people they had been before. And after six years of holding that grudge, I got my apology. 

  

So, there was enough time in 2015 to see to it that I learned one more lesson. I spent a good chunk of time today thinking about the implications of the entire event. How is it that I try so hard to hide the mistakes I made in high school from the me I am now, so that people judge me (and you know they will) based on the person they see before them and not the one from before-but would not extend the same courtesy to someone I barely knew? Why did I expect him and his friends to not change what-so-ever, but to have seen nothing short of a revolution in myself? What did that say about me?

And as I look at the clock, watching time pass by, I have a smile on my face. I cannot condone his actions, but my own are no different. I had originally started this post as a declaration of how we are all pressured into being unique but also conforming. And what I learned was that those are the struggles which have defined my past. I’m going into 2016 with a keen awareness that maybe I need to do more to be a kinder person, to keep less stereotypes, to open my heart to forgiveness and the pursuit of happiness. Because one of the only things that is more liberating than”I love” is “I forgive”.

  

Time may change me, but I can’t change time.

What an Effing Nightmare

I’m fat is the stupidest sentence on the whole damn planet. I am not a blob of blubber, just as I am not strep throat or bipolar. I have those things (except for strep-I have had but do not currently). Anywho, I have spent over a decade telling myself this stupid sentence. If you notice, I have no pictures of myself on this blog, I have maybe 3 selfies on Instagram and overall, I really don’t do photographs. But why? Because I’m still trying to figure out how to define myself according to rules which are not that sentence.

  (This picture drives me crazy. At least we’re active, dammit.)

 I have fat. Mostly a lot of it. It’s kind of a big deal. And I hate it. I’ve been weaning myself off of soda (Dr. Pepper is my weakness), and I added a small but intense workout to my daily routine. It’s planks, wall sits and low cardio. And I have chosen to be open and honest about it. Not because I want you all to laugh at me, but because I have a message that others need to hear.

  (These aren’t me, but I think they’re a pretty solid representation of the parts that I keep hidden.)

 I decided I’d had enough of being fluffy. I want to look healthy, not like I do now. I feel embarrassed, and it’s a great source of sadness. I made myself this way, but I also didn’t. I was put on the birth control that allows for 3 periods a year because mine were really painful. And while I was on that birth control, I gained 80 pounds. That’s 4 times more than I gained from mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. I stress ate and that didn’t help at all. But after that, I continued to be large and in charge. Only I wasn’t in charge. I was out of control.

  But what is it that I ate? Salads mostly. And coffee, soda, pizza, spaghetti. My calorie intake was between 1300 and 1600 per day, over half of that was drinks. I ordered low fat coffee from Starbucks if I chose to get anything other than tea. Even now, I eat maybe twice a day, I drink coffee like it’s going out of stock and I drink water, between 2 and 3 bottles a day (unless it’s a hard day and then only 1-which is bad, I know). My calorie intake recently has been between 1400 and 1650, with most of it being creamer and dinner. My breakfast is usually peanut butter toast. Is it super healthy? No. But I should not be obese.

Did that word startle you? It did me too. But it isn’t a death sentence unless you make it so. Which is where we find me this past week. I decided I was far too stressed and I was going to try to get into a regular workout routine. And so far, I’m doing great. But it’s because I know the shitty parts have to end sometime.

  (This is a plank. It’s also called pain.)

 It started out just feeling tired. I felt like my body was at the point of sheer exhaustion. Then came the nausea, the light headedness and the muscle pain. The latter I had expected but the first two I hadn’t. This came on slow and then got worse the more days that passed. Fast forward to today (Okay fine. Today is day 3, but I’m trying darn it!) and I feel like I can only keep water down. Food turns my stomach, I feel really icky on the inside and my muscles are aware that I mean business. And it was in that line of thought that I recalled watching several seasons of The Biggest Loser a few years back. A lot of the people were really sick while they were beginning their workout routines. I remember watching an episode where the woman had to keep stopping to puke because her body was detoxing.

  I brought this up to my husband and he reminded me that I hate eating fast food and that I always get salads and I should be fine. But the thoughts persisted. He asked if I wanted him to work out with me and I said:

No. It’s embarrassing.

He then asked why it was embarrassing that I was making myself into a better me. I shook my head and got down to business. 

  But really. Why is it that I felt like it was embarrassing that I struggle? I’m doing something. I’m trying, which is more than I can say for the old me. It’s really hard. I feel sick, my tummy hurts (because I’ve been doing abs) and I feel all around like a big ball of crap. But I’m already more dedicated than I was in the past, because I’m pushing through the pain and working out anyway. And yes, I still feel a little embarrassed that I can only hold a wall sit for a minute and a half before it feels like someone is sawing off my thighs or that I can only hold a plank for 30 seconds before my flabby arms buckle from stress. But you know what? I’m doing something about it. And maybe today I will go for 2 minutes straight, or learn how to use an elliptical. And the fact that I’m still trying is worth more than the pain.

  

Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

What I want people to take away from this, more than anything is that it’s hard. Change always is. And we can sit around waiting for life to correct the travesties it has enacted upon us or we can get up and kick it in the face. I really hate working out. I hate running, I hate lifting, I hate all of it. But I’m not doing all this because I really want to look at the number on the scale and smile. I am, we are so much more than a number. I want to look myself in the eyes in the mirror and be attracted to myself. I want to learn how to take myself out on dates, and have the confidence to walk into the mall and get my hair done or my nails (am I even that person?!) without feeling like everyone is staring at me because my stomach is round. I want you to take away that this sucks worse than anything I’ve ever purposefully done to myself, but I turn my music up that much louder and scream over how much it hurts. Because if I want to be around to see all my reams come true, or to survive the zombie apocalypse, I’m going to need to practice my roar.

  

(I would like to thank Google for always having the pictures I need to make my point.)

I Just Can’t Even

The thing about life is that it throws you curve balls and you think you have a handle on everything and then there’s another curve in the road and your car topples over, down a cliff and you think “Oh crap! This is it!” And then you wake up and realize it’s not it and you have to keep living each day, even if it’s hard, because you’re still alive and that’s all there is.

I have always been honest about the fact that I am opinionated. But what happens to opinionated people is that they take a stand, and occasionally because of that, they take a fall. I live in the state of Ohio, as I have all my life. And it’s like living in the middle of a political hungry, hungry hippo game, and the people are the balls. Seriously, if there isn’t one thing in the news, it’s another. For example, I go to The Ohio State University (yes, the “The” is capitalized). In this semester alone, we’ve had a bomb threat, a suicide and an accidental death, which resulted in the end of a tradition. Now, that isn’t to say that I do not feel safe, because I went to classes on the day of the bomb threat and came out just fine. However, it seriously has been the worst semester as far as bizarrely awful things. And I mean, with this being a hot spot for political rallies, our campus has been a zoo on the worst days, and little better on the best days. We’re a bunch of kids and early adults, and as developmentally immature future generations, I would like to speak up and say “What the hell?!”

I didn’t come here to complain. In fact, I’ve stayed away from my blog for the past couple days because I just wanted to be alone. I’ve been mad, sad, grumpy, selfish, whiny and a whole host of other not-so-graceful things. But when I started this blog, I said it was my outlet and while I GREATLY appreciate each of you who have followed me, I am not writing for you but rather, for me.

So here’s why I’ve been so angsty. I was writing my book for NaNoWriMo and reached 50k words (yay!). But as December 1 rolled around, I found myself unable to continue. I hadn’t hit a creative block, because I know where my story is going,but I hit a different kind of pause, one where I actually kind of hate my book. I can’t even look at it. So I thought “Hey! I’ll just start a new one!” And when I got to work, I was trying to figure out a working title so I googled my ideas and lo and behold, someone already wrote the damn thing! I was so happy to have come up with a new idea and then so furious that someone beat me to it without my knowledge. So I stopped writing, which led me to not blogging. And now I have returned, idea-less and a little wispy.

I don;t know what to do. Writing has always been “my thing”. I turned to it when I was blue, when I was happy. Words have been my walls, the things which keep me in and others out. I sound so much more elegant when I write than I do in person. And to have no motivation to even catch a line of poetry has been a new experience for me.

It’s like having an itch on your back at that spot where you physically cannot reach so you scratch around it, and it subsides, but you can still feel it. It’s like finally deciding what you want to eat, being able to taste it in your mouth but knowing you don’t have any of it. It’s like waking up mid-dream and vaguely remembering this great idea, but you’re forgetting a really important part. It’s like going into a room and forgetting why, then leaving without remembering it at all. That’s what this feeling is. And it’s so ungodly frustrating. Writing has been my sole way to escape, to create and process. I never thought I was decent at visual art, music is far too personal to be anything less than a blissful experience. Writing was the way I broke through to the inner me and expressed all the things I didn’t want others to see for the exact purpose of letting them see.

So I’ve been on a break from myself. And I want to reconnect, but maybe I just need to let go first.