“Please stop telling her that he is going to commit suicide,” the message said.
There was no introduction, no query about context. Just that. An out of nowhere demand to “stop telling her,” as though our conversation–one the message sender hadn’t been included in–was a continuous dialogue instead of an element to a broader discussion. As though I was the one who always brought it up, as though that mattered, and even if it did, how could I possibly know such a thing for sure?
“Because,” it continued, “I hear him talking and he’s happy. He is fine.”
Apparently, she got a better grade in “Omniscience 101” than I did.
How often does suicide catch us unaware? How often does a Left-Behind face devastating guilt because she missed visible signs, or becomes incapacitated while desperately searching for invisible ones? How often have we heard it said, “But I just laughed with him! I had no idea he was hurting so much.”
As a Left-Behind, I know this: our guts get yanked from our souls, the evisceration complete because there is no way to prepare for such catastrophic rawness. We blame ourselves before we blame them. Surely there must have been…something. We should have known. Shouldn’t we?
Even so, well, we wouldn’t want anyone to talk about it, would we? If we did, that would mean we might have known, and if something did happen, then maybe we should have done something different.
That’s a lot of maybes, should haves, and might haves.
The decisions others make belong to them. They aren’t our fault–but we can’t use that as an excuse to wish issues and responsibility away, either.
In some ways, it’s getting easier for people to discuss mental health issues the same way we mention physical health issues. This seems especially true with teenagers, less so with their parents and grandparents. The person who sent that message would have no issue discussing in detail “his” physical condition but to even approach an emotional issue continues to border on taboo.
It’s too bad the person hadn’t been more interested in the context of the entire conversation. We were discussing how people rush to judgement about things that frighten them the most, and how incredibly difficult it is to separate actions from reactions, sometimes. We talked about how hard it is to know what’s going on in someone else’s head. We had discussed how certain medications can play with emotional stability, how it had happened to me, how it could happen to anyone, even to him. Even to her. We’d even talked about how external circumstances can tip the balance on internal circumstances, but that doesn’t mean there’s someone to blame. It just means we have a responsibility to look beyond ourselves, to consider that our actions may affect other people in ways we don’t realize, in ways that aren’t always good.
Mental health is seldom so black and white. It’s not about laying fault. It’s not about making excuses, either. And it certainly isn’t about burying things and hoping they will go away.
It’s about there being fewer successful suicides, and fewer people joining the Left-Behind ranks.
The ostrich approach doesn’t work.