Emerging Into Light: Why Conversation Matters

Today we’re sharing a personal story from the friend of the foundation. This is a personal narrative about losing a friend and contains descriptions and information about suicide which may be triggering to survivors or to the family and/or friends of victims. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day for assistance.  

When I think about suicide, my thoughts – perhaps selfishly – are flooded with the feelings those of us left behind experience: incredulity, devastation, overwhelming sorrow and a lack of understanding. “How could this happen?” “Why did this happen?”

These are two questions I found myself asking over and over again last Tuesday when one of my oldest and best friends took her own life. Despite my work in the mental health space, I was utterly unprepared, and – as we moved closer to suicide prevention week – the timing was hatefully ironic.

I shook. I sobbed. I became physically ill – I was so distraught that I ran my body into the ground all while posing these questions to everyone who had experienced this loss with me. But then I realized that the ‘how’ and ‘why’ I had been demanding were rhetorical – I didn’t expect a single person to actually provide me with an answer. I had already chalked it up to a “senseless act” that nobody could possibly make any sense of.

And here is where we as a society need to get out of our own way.

The reality is suicide is not about death – it’s not about someone wanting to end their life. Suicide is about someone wanting to end their pain, or penacide: “the killing of pain.” I had been thinking that I would never be able to make sense of her death, but when that phrase filled my inbox…

I. Got. It.

I might not have been able to make heads or tails of someone wanting to end their life, but end one’s pain? That’s perhaps one of the most human actions any of us pursue.

So why does wanting to put an end to suffering so frequently manifest itself in suicide? For me, the answer came down to one very clear point: conversation.

I feel like people who are suffering view suicide as the finish line to an exhausting race…a race that they feel has beaten them. The burden to change this tragedy is NOT on the shoulders of those in pain, but on their friends, neighbors, and their communities – on you and me. We need to promote the idea that ending pain doesn’t need to be a literal “finish” or death, but rather a process of working through the dark moments in our lives until we emerge in the light. We facilitate that work by talking about the things that plague us, and even more importantly we must hold ourselves responsible to be available for those conversations and allow them to take place without judgment.

I feel guilty sometimes about voicing my physical limitations and pains – my determination to carry oversized grocery hauls in one trip is legendary. But when we’re a community of individuals who don’t open up about the invisible wounds that can’t be mended with a band-aid, we set ourselves up for failure and heartbreak.

Pain is a given. It finds its way into each of our lives, an unwelcome visitor making itself present in physical twinges and internal, soulful aches. But by-and-large taking ownership of mental health – being open and vulnerable in expressing how and why you’re hurting – is not normalized. If we can change that, alter the status quo so that talking about struggles with mental health were as familiar as the phrase “I think I need an advil,” the benefit would be astronomical. We might not be able to obstruct suicidal thoughts or bouts of depression, but we could provide an outlet for help – an alternative rather than an ending.

So engage with your community – for your sake and theirs. Make eye contact as you walk down the street. Ask “how are you?” and mean it. Push through discomfort and allow yourself to have an honest conversation, because someone may need it. And as a person who is going through an incredibly gripping and difficult loss right now, I can tell you that I would welcome having a thousand uncomfortable conversations with my friend, because they would have been so much easier than never being able to talk to her again.