Suicide. That’s the word that if people talk about it at all, they will usually use. “Took their own life” might come up. “Killed themselves” is farther down the list.
Have you ever heard someone say, “That kid murdered himself” or “That kid committed murder when she killed herself”?
I hope no one ever murders you. Not even you. But if you are reading this right now, you might be considering murdering yourself.
What do you call it to yourself?
In the Dr. Seuss animated feature, “Halloween is Grinch Night” the Whos down in Whoville call the outhouse (or bathroom), the euphemism. Euphemism is one of those words they expect you to learn for the SAT. It means “a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.” Outhouse and bathroom are euphemisms. While there may be a bath in the room you use at home, the ones in school definitely have no bath.
Dr. Seuss was a clever guy. He realized that every word commonly used around the activities involved in urinating and defecating are euphemisms, so he skipped them all, and just called that room “The Euphemism.”
Death is kind of like that. Most people flinch, just a little, when they read the words “urinate” and “defecate” if they know what they mean. Pee, piss, poop, shit, and a host of other words, are more common, but still likely to be words people avoid when talking to the President, if you know what I mean. Saying someone died or is dead is hard. Many people flinch at hearing those words.
Still, lots of people have heard themselves say “I wish I were dead” or “Oh, I just want to kill myself” as if this was not a big deal at all. People forget that dead means dead and kill means kill as if they were their own euphemisms. “I could just kill my boss, there’s no way to get this project done by Friday!”
Right now, however, you are reading this blog, and in this blog, killing yourself, murdering yourself, is taken very seriously.
When some crazy, terrible person kills someone else’s pet, that beloved pet is gone for ever. No one gets confused about that. Still, some people feel like they are using a euphemism when their mind tells themself they’d be better off dead, as if this was a temporary condition.
Death is permanent.
Most people are not mentally ill. But 90% of people who decide to commit suicide, are mentally ill at the time that they commit that act of self-murder. Their minds told them it was the absolute only and best way to escape.
Minds are sensitive. To be able to look at a bunch of squiggles placed in line after line, with a few dots and dashes, and recognize it as reading, and finding meaning from words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books, is truly amazing.
What if you looked at writing, and it looked like this:
Our minds process what is outside of us, what is happening to us, and what is inside of us, all the time. We read a book, and our mind translates squiggles on the page into words that have meaning, then takes that meaning and compares it to what we already know, and comes up with new ideas that until that moment, were neither on the page or in our brain. An entirely new thought is created.
And this happens while keeping your heart pumping, your lungs breathing, your muscles holding the book, your eyelids open…you get the point. Inside your body and brain, all the systems that make up you are working hard and in such intense ways, at such a level of detail, that if we had to think about it all, we might literally go insane.
Luckily, our mind filters out the stuff it can do on its own, and only lets you be aware of what you need to be aware of.
Sometimes, something happens that overloads the mind. And the mind doesn’t function properly. This happens to everyone, sometimes. When you feel sad about a story that is complete fiction, your mind is reacting to it as if it were real. When you were little, you may have been afraid of the dark, or of a loud storm, or of being alone, even though you were safe. Because your mind told you that the situation was dangerous, and you had no way to believe that your mind might tell you something that was not actually true.
When a person’s mind tells them that the only way to fix a problem, is to kill themselves, the mind is on overload, and the mind has made a mistake.
But that mind is tremendously convincing!
It might tell you things like:
If I kill myself, I will stop feeling so bad.
If I kill myself, they will finally understand how badly they are treating me.
If I commit suicide, I won’t have to deal with this hell.
And also things like:
No one can help me. I cannot accomplish this, and no once can help me accomplish it, and so the only thing I can do is escape, and the only way to escape is to kill myself.
I am such a loser. Everyone would be better off if they didn’t have to deal with me. The best thing I can do for all of them, is take my own life, because then they won’t have me as a burden.
I know they always say to “reach out for help” but since my problem is absolute, and no one can fix my problem, the only thing reaching out is going to accomplish, will be to make whoever I reach out to feel even more guilty, because they won’t be able to fix my problem, and I’ll still have to kill myself, so I’ll just kill myself and hide my intentions from everyone, so no one can say later, “I thought they were having problems, I should have done something.”
NO! This must stop NOW! I can’t stand it a moment longer.
And then they kill themselves. Because their mind didn’t give them any other option, and they didn’t know there was an option. Minds want to protect the people they inhabit from all manner of pain. This is why if someone is in terrible pain, sometimes they will just pass out. Unfortunately, when the mind gets this freaked out, and all it is saying is “you must die now, waiting will only make it worse” that is a sign that your mind is not functioning right.
Minds that say “killing myself is the thing to do” are minds that are hurting so much, they have become sick. It is called mental illness for a very good reason: because it is not operating in a healthy way.
Inside of your brain there are many chemical and electrical actions and reactions going on all the time. Your brain is soft and squishy, which is why your body has encased your brain inside a hard, bone skull, and stuck a bunch of sensors on it (eyes, nose, ears, mouth) to have the most direct input available for the fastest ability to respond to threats.
It is a good system. But no system is perfect, or entirely safe from temporary damage. If you bump your leg hard, you will get a bruise. If your leg is bashed really hard, your leg bone will break. These injuries are easy to see, easy to feel, we know that we are injured, and we don’t imagine that the injury will magically stop hurting right away (though we wish it would). We know that we might need some first aid, or some medicine, a cast, or even surgery. We know that the more minor the injury, the shorter the time it will take to heal, and the more serious the injury, the longer it will take to heal. And we understand that we need to protect our bodies from extreme injuries, because it is possible that an injury can be so bad, that even after it has healed as much as possible, it will not work as well as it did before.
Our mind is the same. If someone says something really mean to you, you will feel pain. Emotional pain. Maybe intellectual pain. If the person who said the mean thing is someone you care about, it might take longer to stop feeling that pain. If it was a total stranger, the pain might go away pretty fast.
Sometimes in our lives, we are experiencing too much stress, not enough sleep, too much meanness, not enough caring, and our lives just feel impossible to sustain. It is possible for life to cause your mind to be injured.
Most of your life, you have managed to juggle all these problems, and even enjoy yourself sometimes. Most of your life, when you felt down, even depressed, you didn’t like it, and you screwed up some things, even got in trouble for it, but somehow, you lived through that.
You may have thought about killing yourself before, or just wished you were dead. And you always managed to get past that feeling.
Almost everyone has a feeling sometimes, that they wish they could disappear, or that some kind of angel would come fix all their problems. More than 50% of young people have had the thought that they wanted to die. And yet, only about 0.007% have actually killed themselves.
If that is so, why does it seem like so many have committed suicide?
Really bad luck. In 2013, there were about 64 million Americans age 10 to 24, that’s 64,000,000. And only 4,600 in the whole country who died by committing suicide.
It seems like suicide is common, or it feels that way. And if you look up the statistics, suicide is the third most likely way for young people to die. But the first way young people die takes up 48% of deaths: by accident, mostly car accidents. Can you guess the second way?
13% of the deaths of young people, are caused by homicide. Do you know anyone who has been murdered? If you do, that is uncommon. If you do know someone who was murdered, that could be part of why you are reading this. Experiencing terrible things like murder, really trips a person up. It messes with the fragile human mind. It injures the mind, as surely as being hit on the head with a bat. But the damage is not visible.
Of all the young people who died in 2013, only about 1 out of 8 of them died from killing themselves. About 11% of the deaths of young people, are from taking their own lives. .007% of people in America ages 10 to 24 die from suicide.
Why all the statistics? Because it is important for you to know that very few people kill themselves.
Some people who do kill themselves, think it is a reasonable way to escape their problems, because they know others who have done it. When you know people who have done something, it makes it seem more “reasonable.”
We’ve all heard of people who have done drugs, or gotten drunk, or been in car accidents, and did not die, so we imagine that these things aren’t very dangerous, or at least, if we do them, we won’t die from them. But most kids who do die, died in a car, or were doing drugs or alcohol, or some combination of those three.
Many people who survive these serious injuries, feel very lucky to be alive. And we hear about it. Most people who attempted suicide, and did not “succeed” also feel lucky to be alive. But they are tremendously embarrassed afterward, as are people who love them, and they often will not speak about it.
What brings a person to consider killing themselves as a way to fix their problems?
Wait, you already know.
People who imagine that suicide will fix their problems, are being confused by their minds.
If your mind is telling you that killing yourself is the best option available to you, that is a form of mental illness.
WAIT! Does this mean you are mentally ill? Isn’t “mental illness” something that looks like the insane villains in the movies? Almost never.
Mental illness is just as common as physical illness. Lots of people get a cold that lasts a week, and makes their bodies feel miserable until it passes. Some people get very sick, and must get help from a doctor. Some people need to be in a hospital. It depends how sick a person is. Mental illness is the same.
Did you ever hear of someone who committed a crime, and their lawyers claimed “temporary insanity”?
OK, maybe their lawyer is just trying to get a guilty person out of trouble. But some people do actually experience temporary mental illness, and in that moment of “insanity” did something really bad. Their minds had stopped functioning properly, for a brief period of time, due to some kind of mental or emotional shock or trauma. And in that brief period, a weapon was available, and they used it.
If they used it on someone else, and killed that person, it is called homicide, by reason of temporary insanity. That means, the killer was “not in their right mind” and was not properly aware of what they were doing,or of the consequences of what they were doing.
Many people who kill themselves are under stress for one or many reasons, but at the time that they actually do the deed of committing murder on themselves, they are not in their right mind.
Their mind tells them to do this, and if you asked them earlier if they should commit suicide, even if life was terrible, they would have been able to think it through, and realize that there is more to life than right now, and some day things will be better, but by kill themselves, things will never be better later.
Some people who kill themselves can actually hear a voice from their mind, telling them to kill themselves. It might even not sound like it is coming from inside. Minds are tricky. They can throw their voices sometimes. They can sound like more than one person, telling you what to do. A voice can lie, and tell you the voice is not from your mind at all, but from some outside power.
Such voices can feel confusing. That is a hint that it isn’t real.
If you get the impression that your mind (or a voice) is telling you to kill yourself, this means that you are sick with a mental illness.
Your mind might tell you that the “reason” you should kill yourself, is because of something that absolutely cannot be fixed. Maybe your parent died, or your pet. Maybe you failed a class, or got kicked out of college. Maybe you did something illegal and are going to get in trouble, even go to jail. Maybe someone you thought loved you, left you. And your mind is right, no one can fix that for you.
But what your mind is not right about, is that death is the proper way to respond to a life that has gone wrong.
It is often true that no one can help you make the thing that happened, not happen (or make the thing that didn’t happen, happen). What you need to know, is that there are people who can help you get through this terrible time, help you stay alive while you get help for your mentally ill mind, and then, help you build a life that is worth living.
In school, on suicide hotlines, on TV, they tell people all the time, “reach out for help, tell someone how you feel, and get help.” It is great advice for those who do not have a mind that is telling them that no one can possibly help them.
Not so useful when your mind tells you that no one can help, and if you ask someone for help, all that will happen is that they will fail, and then they will feel terrible, and it will be your fault.
People who commit suicide believe their minds that they should not let anyone know how they feel. And it makes sense: IF it is true that no one can help you, why ask for help?
Except that the logic is wrong.
It may be true that no one can fix the horrible things happening in your life, but the problem with the logic, is that the things happening in your life right now, are not a good reason to kill off the rest of your life.
You probably have more than a half century left in your life. Entire countries have recovered from being hated by the whole world in less time than that.
People who don’t succeed at school, or who go to jail, or have abusive parents, move on past those things, become adults, and go on to have lives. They find love. They accomplish things.
Only living people accomplish things. Anyone can accomplish something worthwhile. A young woman was sent to prison for three years, because she did something against the law. In prison, she decided to spend her time being a person that other people could talk to. Did she love being in prison? No. But she accomplished something that the other women in prison with her believed was very important. And when she got out of prison, she still had her life, and a lot of people who care about her.
Only living people can find love. If you do not know how to find love, that is something that people can help you with. Seriously. Counselors, teachers, congregations, there are people out there who it is their job to help others learn how to get along with others, and how to love and be loved.
Only living people can do things to try to make up for the wrongs they have done. Once you are dead, you cannot do anything good, to make up for the bad you may have done. If you are alive, but unable to do anything good right now, because you feel too terrible, that is something that someone can help you with. If you feel so mentally ill that you can’t even feed yourself, let alone do a good deed, then maybe you would benefit from spending some time in a hospital that is set up to help heal people from mental illness.
Are you angry? Is someone or something ruining your life? Don’t let them convince your mind that they are right that your life is not worth living. Talk to someone other than the person ruining your life, and tell them that you feel like your life is not worth living. Let someone else help you find what you need to get a life worth living.
If right now, you are not convinced that you have a life worth living, you may not remember a time when you did feel like life was worthwhile.
Do you remember any time that life was good? Did you ever smile before? Did anyone ever hug you? Did food ever taste good? You know that these things happened, even if right now you cannot remember them. That is a clue that your mind is playing a trick on you. Your mind is hiding the good things from you.
Remember how the mind doesn’t bother to keep you informed about everything it takes care of? Your mind is set to only inform you of what it decides you need to know. That means, when you are happy your mind doesn’t tell you much (if anything) about the things you are unhappy about. That’s why sometimes you can read a book or watch a show, and for a while completely forget about your own grief.
When your mind gets sick, and decides that death is the answer, it hides all the reasons you should live. It literally takes those memories and hides them from you.
Luckily, hiding so much information is hard, and after a while the mind isn’t able to maintain that kind of hard work. Sometimes, if you can stay with your suicidal feeling for a few hours, your mind will let something slip in, about how you know someone who will feel bad if you kill yourself. Or it might even take a couple weeks. But your mind is not perfect, and the happiness you have experienced in your life before now, is still there, and it will not stay hidden forever.
No matter how completely your mind is hiding your memories of anything good, of anyone who cares that you are alive, of any reason to stay alive to have the rest of your life to live, all that stuff is still there. Mental illness doesn’t destroy the memories, it only hides them.
Here’s the deal you can make with yourself: if I still feel like killing myself in a month, I can still do that then.
This can trick the mind into relaxing a bit. It gives you time to call a suicide hotline, or talk to someone who has told you they want you to talk to them. If your life is that terrible, and it will still be terrible in a month, you can do whatever you want during that month. Do you want to watch a show or eat a donut? Talk to someone you would never have the bravery to talk to? Ride a horse? Apply for a job? You can do any of these things, because none of it matters if it doesn’t work out, because you were going to kill yourself, and you can do that later if it all goes bad.
What is the trick?
The trick is, that most people who put off killing themselves, and start living, end up choosing to not kill themselves.
What if none of this makes sense, and you still feel like the best choice is to murder yourself?
Ask yourself these questions:
Do you know anyone?
Is it possible that someone you know might feel bad if you kill yourself?
Would you like to do something important some day?
Do you wish you felt happy?
Do you wish your life was better?
If you answered “No” to every one of those questions, get a phone, dial 911, and tell them that you are suicidal, and need someone to come to you right now. Yes, really.
If you answered anything even a little bit positive to any of those questions, then tell your mind to put off the suicide thing for now, because you have something to live for, even if that is impossible to believe.
Then call a suicide hotline instead of killing yourself. Any suicide hotline will do. But if you need one right now, and don’t know how to find one, use 1-800-273-8255 which will get you to the American National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
There are hotlines that are local, national, connected to specific groups, whatever you are looking for, it is probably out there. If you can’t find it yourself, call the National 800 number above, and tell them what kind of group you want, and they’ll help you find it.
Finally, if you have read all this, then you are my audience, dear reader. I am a writer, and without an audience, without a reader, my writing is nothing. You matter to me. Actually, you mattered to me before you even found this, that’s why I wrote it. I wish I could have read something like this, when I was young and suicidal. I believed that death would relieve me of my burdens. I didn’t understand that if my mind was telling me that, it meant there was something wrong with my mind. It took me a long time to find out that life is worthwhile, even when my mind tells me it isn’t. I have to remind myself of that sometimes. Minds are tricky things. Take care of yours, give it help when it gets confused, keep living, your life has meaning—even if you don’t know what that meaning is. Don’t worry about dying, that will take care of itself when it is time. For now, live.
Courage–You can do this.