On Suicide

I’ve already written a few blog posts around this topic (here with the most context, here, here, here, here in an interview which many have listened to, and here) but I haven’t ever taken the topic full-on and I’ve never really wanted to.

It wasn’t until late last night as I was reading the incredibly sad and tragic news of a few entrepreneurs who had committed suicide in Las Vegas and the fact that I have had some incredibly intense 1-on-1 conversations with an old friend recently who also attempted suicide that I felt compelled to share a bit more of my story.

My intention is two-fold, the first being an opportunity for myself to encounter this subject directly for the first time in a long time (this is why I write to begin with) and second to encourage others to seek the help that they need early (today?!) rather than when it is too late.

The subject of suicide is still very much taboo in much of our culture and it’s hard to determine where many people sit with the topic at large. It isn’t an easy topic to discuss but I believe it should, hopefully, become an easier one for more people. When I write about autism it is my attempt to speak publicly about these things.

Just like the topic of depression is still very much on the sidelines I believe that we all need to do a better job of talking about these things liberally. There is no shame in having issues with mental health and just as there’s no shame in breaking your leg. In both scenarios something is not “right” or “broken” that needs care, attention, and healing.

Unlike breaking ones leg, though, suicide is not as easily healed. Sometimes it’s just simply irrecoverable.

When I enrolled in college I had a romantic and incredibly naive fantasy that my previous struggles with school were going to fade away. I wasn’t the best of students and I struggled to keep up with the more scholastically-inclined.

I was to be quickly overwhelmed. The requirements were too large to overcome as I had to create, from scratch, much of the mental models (both socially and academically) that had helped me survive Middle and High School and my general disinterest in the way in which material was presented for my Computer Science major had me sunk.

I resorted to substance abuse, binging on alcohol and other narcotics. I attempted a few one-off relationships which failed miserably, some (apparently as I cannot fully recall some of these events) during the all-night benders.

And then the floor completely dropped as I failed out of the CS program. The week before I was given notice I had walked into my computer engineering course and cried so uncontrollably during an exam that my professor excused me and sent me directly to the school counselor who quickly tested me for bi-polar disorder and depression.

I had lost weight. Hair was falling out in clumps and my skin was an ashy gray. I couldn’t sleep when I was supposed to but for some reason found time to sleep in class. I was so weak that after working out one evening at the school gym I passed out on the floor in the corner for an entire night. I woke the next morning with the weights still in my hands.

Many months later as I would tell my therapist and the various medical professionals that saw me that my life during that time was just “dark.” Everything that I saw, everything that I experienced was just that: Dark.

Even if it was the most gorgeous day that God could create all I saw were the shadows on the ground. There was no passion, no zeal, no desire. Just nothing. I wanted nothing. I felt nothing.

The mental and emotional pain, though, was unbearable. I could feel it crushing my spirit and my very soul. It was so heavy that I felt it physiologically. And one evening it was so heavy I swallowed every pill that I had, took a swig of a homemade mix of Gatorade and Grey Goose, and crawled into the top of bunk of my bed and wept. Below me was my roommate, completely oblivious, playing his newly minted X-box and after hearing me whimper softly, left the room.

I was so mentally removed from what I had committed to that I was much later that I realized what I had attempted to do. Years of counseling, therapy, time off and a battery of drugs and chemistry experiments have since helped me come to terms with my suicide attempt. I am no longer ashamed nor am I afraid of speaking about it.

In addition I also got even more clarity around my own state of mental health which has helped frame my experience in a light that makes sense. I am a survivor. I was fortunate.

But I was also angry. Angry at myself and angry at every one who didn’t notice what was happening. I was angry that I didn’t speak up and that I didn’t seek help. I was angry that others who may have noticed didn’t suggest that I get help. I was angry at the people who I thought were my friends.

I was angry that my education around depression, anxiety, and suicide was so limited that I didn’t even recognize it when I was in the middle of it. And ultimately I was angry that I was angry in the first place.

And that was the problem (and the solution). More education, more resources, and more conversations much take place so that things like this won’t happen. We, as a culture and people, have to become more open to talking about mental health just as we are so easily open to chatting about each other’s news feeds.

The change needs to be global and systemic. And we all need to do our part. This blog post, for instance, is me doing my part. I know that I have a somewhat large following online and that there is a large amount of people reading this blog and following on Twitter.

To you I say this: Please, if you need help… please get it. If anything in my story resounds with you then you need to seek help, today. 

And, for everyone else, I ask that you take a moment and consider those that are in your sphere of influence. Your friends, family, and peers at work and school. Not everyone, just a few. Have you noticed anything different in their behavior? The way they talk? Is there a drop of energy, excitement, and exuberance for school, work, and life in general?

Please know that they will not give you a straight answer. For many of them they won’t even really know what it is nor be able to fully understand what’s going on. Ask questions, care for them, listen empathetically, and get some real professional advice (this blog post is not “professional” advice, by the way) to assist you in your own assessment.

And have the courage to act. I don’t know what that looks like for you but indecision isn’t an acceptable answer. You must do something.

To be honest I have considered suicide many times since my first attempt and although my mind has gone the distance with planning I have not acted on it. The circle of medical professionals around me, counseling, and medication has helped level those things out. But, the possibility never disappears.

More importantly I am now able to recognized signs and have systems in place to find the help that I need to move out of those moments into something much more healthy. This is important to remember as avoidance is not the answer but rather encountering them with help instead of going it alone.

And that has made all the difference.

[If you are having suicidal thoughts, please visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their direct # to call is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)].