When I was young and it was summer, my maternal grandparents would come from Hong Kong to babysit me. It was a strange time in my life, what I consider my fetal years when I don’t remember learning anything, or having any awareness of my own consciousness.
My grandfather was a strong, intelligent, loving, gentle man, and my biggest hero. He showed me his war wounds, and taught me about states of matter. I even learned the term “civil war” from him when he used it (in English!) one time when some old black-and-white footage of Chinese battles came on the TV, but his English wasn’t great so I thought he was saying, “zero war”.
He was my favourite person in the world because he gave me the attention and stimulation I never got from my parents.
In one of those summers, I stole his cigarettes, two at a time so he wouldn’t notice, and hid them in the compartment of a red and white childrens drafting table. It was my way of getting him to stop smoking.
One time, I heard my grandparents shouting in the kitchen. They were fighting. My grandmother accused him of peeing on the toilet seat. It was the first time I heard them raise their voices at all, let alone at each other. I thought it was strange because at that age I was probably peeing all over the toilet seat, and no one ever yelled at me for it, so I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal.
My aunt and uncle were over because they wanted to spend time with them, and they came to see what the commotion was about. But they just stood there, listening, not wanting to take sides.
Eventually, my grandfather slowly bent at the knees, his entire body sagging, buried the heels of his hands in his eyes to rub out the tears, and said to my aunt and uncle with languishing pauses, “Sometimes, she makes me want to kill myself”.
And I knew he meant it.
I was too young to even be shocked, but for my grandfather to say something like that was completely out of character. He was invincible to me. I never understood it.
Eventually, he went to live with my aunt and uncle for a while. They slowly became warmer when they saw each other a few weeks later. I don’t know if they ever talked about it.
I generally don’t talk about suicide. I don’t discuss my battle with anyone, aside from close friends, because it makes most people uneasy. I never used to understand that because it didn’t scare me. Suicide is a choice — a conscious decision — and a conscious decision can’t be scary. But more recently, I found myself feeling overwhelmed, then afraid I would make a really big mistake.
That fear has kept me alive. Admittedly, I’m still trying to understand these thoughts in myself.
There have been a few high profile suicides in the news lately. When making a statement about his son’s death, Walter Koenig said “If you’re one of those people and you feel you can’t handle it anymore, you know, if you can learn anything from this, it’s that there’s people out there who really care.” Then his wife added, “All the people up here, from the police to his friends, have shown love which he didn’t realize was available to him.”
Their words show a very common fundamental misunderstanding about the reasons someone has for taking their own life.
You think love can fix us? You think it matters that you care?
The very nature of suicide is that a suicidal person doesn’t believe there’s any hope. If we felt like there was somewhere to turn, someone who could help1, that would imply there was hope. And if there was hope, they probably wouldn’t commit suicide.
We know you care, and we appreciate it when you tell us. We know how lucky we are to have the friends we do. But none of that helps. Suicide doesn’t necessarily result from a lack of external love. It can come from a lack of internal love, when we hate ourselves, or because our thoughts or problems seem too difficult to bear.
Sometimes I get advice about how to fix the issue, almost always from people who have never been suicidal. They think it’s a simple problem, and that we can just stop thinking about it and it’ll go away. Or we just need to find a hobby to distract us. Or find a passion to give us a reason to live. They don’t understand that suicidal thoughts are like a phobia — an irrational fear. You can’t easily fix irrational thoughts. They’re irrational because they don’t follow logic. Otherwise, you’d be able to cure someone’s arachnophobia simply by explaining to them, “Spiders are small and most can’t hurt you”. A person with arachnophobia knows that fact, and understands it perfectly, but put a spider next to them and they’ll be filled with uncontrollable anxiety.
Relate that back to suicidal thoughts: trying to rationalize things to a suicidal person by saying, “You have so much to live for”, is just as ineffective. Someone may have a rewarding career, a wonderful family, and good health, but none of that permeates the mind when suffering from a mental issue. The depression is irrational, and suicide isn’t the easy way out, it becomes the only way out.
From my own personal experience, the worst things you can do when handling a suicidal person are:
- worrying or getting uncomfortable — it puts pressure on us and makes us feel worse
- getting angry — it only makes us withdraw more and communicate less, and communication is one of the few outlets we have left
- telling them it would be a selfish decision — when someone is ready to kill themselves, they really don’t care and making them feel guilty is not the answer
The best things you can do for them are:
- giving them space — we need to handle things on our own terms and at our own pace, not yours, and the last thing we want is to feel like we’re inconveniencing you
- showing that you care, not just telling them — random flowers, text messages, hugs, poems (but back off if you’re told that you’re smothering)
- understanding that getting better is a long-term process, and not always permanent — we rely on your patience and understanding to get through it, and there may be regressions
- never, never, never turning down a chance to talk or hang out if they ask you — nothing makes us sink deeper in our fragile states than to feel like we aren’t important enough (we wouldn’t ask if we didn’t need to)
By no means am I suicidal right now, but yesterday I considered, and came as close to it as I’ve ever been. That was enough to scare me into the realization that I need help. Perhaps I’m fortunate enough to say that I understand how irrational these feelings are, and I know that I need to discipline, practice, effort, and systematic observation to fix myself.
- Which is very different from someone who wants to help. [↩]
I have to write this so I can admit it to myself.
I have to write this because I can’t think of anything else nowadays, except for how hard it is to get out of bed in the morning.
I’ve been reading a book my therapist recommended to me a long time ago, the one that deals with lifetraps. In one of the first chapters, it goes through each lifetrap by first explaining a “core need”, which is something a child should have in order to thrive. It goes through examples on how we should have been raised, and how a healthy mind will grow from that. Then it explains how the lifetrap may develop if that core need isn’t met, by giving examples of destructive childhood environments.
And for almost every lifetrap in the book, I saw my own childhood in those examples of destructive environments, such as the one about “Self-esteem”:
Self-esteem is the feeling that we are worthwhile in our personal, social, and work lives. It comes from feeling loved and respected as a child in our family, by friends, and at school.
Ideally we would all have had childhoods that support our self-esteem. We would have felt loved and appreciated by our family, accepted by peers, and successful at school. We would have received praise and encouragement without excessive criticism or rejection.
But this may not have happened to you. Perhaps you had a parent or sibling who constantly criticized you, so that nothing you did was acceptable. You felt unlovable.
As an adult, you may feel insecure about certain aspects of your life.
When I was reading that, all I could think of was one specific incident from my childhood. I was young enough that my mom would bathe me, and she would do it in the en suite bathroom of the master bedroom. One day, she came to dry me off with a towel, and both the bathroom door and the bedroom curtains were open. I told her to close the door, because I was self-conscious about being seen naked by the neighbours across the street. I was really upset about it, and instead of walking two feet to close the door, she laughed and said, “You’re no Tom Cruise”, and left it open. From that point, I’ve had this irrepressible feeling that I’m never attractive enough for someone to even be interested in seeing me naked.
And that was just one example. My childhood was filled with so many such memories, each one branching into other lifetraps.
I’ve never wondered why I have self-esteem issues. I fucking hate how self-conscious I am, because I know the extent of that self-consciousness isn’t normal. I’ve struggled with issues like that my entire life, and I can trace everything back to my parents. It fills me with rage to know that they damaged me to the point where I feel so overwhelmed by my flaws that sometimes I’d rather be dead.
If I were ever to commit suicide — and at this point I feel like I can’t rule out the possibility of this anymore — I’d say that my parents would be 55% responsible1, with my mom sharing more of that blame than my dad.
I hope she reads this one day. I hope my entire family reads this. I hope all my cousin’s moms read this, because they usually try to defend her. I want everyone to know that if I die by my own hand one day, I blame my mom more than anything else in the world. I want parents to know that they have a responsibility to their kids because they’re people too, that they have to treat them properly, and that I was an example of what happens when you don’t.
This is starting to sound like a suicide note, and it’s scaring me. Good thing I’ve always been a rational person, and I still recognize that suicide is an irrational decision for me at this moment. Sometimes, I watch suicide videos just to shock myself into realizing how final, irreversible, and horrible that decision is.
I’m at a lot better than where I was two years ago, before I went to therapy, but I’m still far from being fixed. I can admit that to myself now.
- The other 45% being my own inability to deal with these things, but I attribute that to temperament, which is inborn and hence not their fault. [↩]
Bronwen and I agreed to a marriage pact, where we would marry each other if we weren’t in a relationship by a certain age. The thing is, she’s six years younger than me, so we decided that her expiration date is 35, and mine 41, because it’s easier for men to date/marry than women, at an older age.
Note how I didn’t say “easy”. Heaven knows I had a hard enough time with dating in my teens. And twenties. And probably 30s.
According to her, we also have a suicide pact, even though I have no recollection of this. The only reason I can think of agreeing to that is if large parts of the world were destroyed by meteors, leading to the collapse of the economic system, creating anarchy, and reducing everyone to hunter-gatherers.
Bronwen and I are most certainly not hunter-gatherers, and we’d probably suffer unbearably just trying to survive, or be killed soon after because we’re too naive or compassionate for a dog-eat-dog world. The thing is, if that happened I’d try to join forces with Pat and Jen, because they always have everything together1. So maybe if they were also killed by this cosmic hailstorm, then it would still be an option.
- Pat’s the one who believes that at least one person should be in control in every group at all times, and that he is this person. The only time he was ever inebriated was for his bachelor party. [↩]