A Senseless Tragedy
Angie Viets, LCP, CEDS
This article has originally been published on Psychology Today
As humans, we are hardwired to make sense of things. To analyze, formulate, and reason. We’re perpetually mining for meaning—especially when there’s chaos. Unconsciously we ask ourselves, “What does it mean?” And yet, there are situations where our logical brains fail us. Suicide is the epitome of such complexity.
Despite our most valiant efforts, to resolve what may be unresolvable, we sort and sift through the remains of a life robbed by suicide. Our bodies are programmed for survival, especially in dire circumstances. It’s a seemingly impossible endeavor to comprehend a person choosing to end their life.
Many of us can identify fleeting thoughts in which we experience passive thoughts like “Wouldn’t it be nice to fall asleep and never wake up?” The intrusive thought of running your car off the side of the road flashes in your mind. We swiftly discard such notions when we are of sound mind. Able in those moments to call to mind simple reassurances, such as, “This too shall pass.” Often we’re able to conjure up past struggles, where yes, in fact, the plight passed.
But what if every way we turned we were met with the darkest, driest dirt—impenetrable despite our maneuvering? Intuitively, we know that worming our way out is where we finally find relief. With broken fingernails and dust-filled lungs, eventually, even the strongest soldier would grow weary. What if that endured for many seasons; no sign of the rain we prayed for to offer a lubricant to ease us out from dark tunnels into the light? Defeat and hopelessness would set in.
What if while we were in the cramped, suffocating space, we could make out, in audible laughter or soft whispers, the sounds of others, our beloved people (should we be so fortunate) above us? In spite of their best, most determined efforts, their passion and persistence to pry us out of the vice were unsuccessful, or only seemed to work for a short time, and then, without warning there we were again buried by the burden of our ailment. Desperate for their suggestions and solutions to work, yet also deeply resentful of how effortlessly they appear to twirl and tiptoe above. “What’s wrong with me?” we’d wonder.
Eventually, we would no longer be able to fight off the weariness and fatigue. The enormity of our guilt and our inability to simply “shake this” or “snap out of it” is added to our already failing lungs. Every possible solution—therapy, meds, meditation, more exercise, and sunlight—unsuccessful. In the stillness, we would ask ourselves, “Would they all just be better off without me?” Paralyzed by our powerlessness, our failure to thrive is cemented as we sink even further into the darkness.
When all sound is gone, our ears caked with dirt, is likely, in my mind, when the tortured truth takes flight: If going up has failed innumerable times, then perhaps, with the gravity of a despairing and desperate heart, we decide that possibly the only way out is to surrender to what’s below.
I’ve recalled my moments of deepest despair, prolonged pain, and silent suffering. In all of those trials there were—sometimes after agonizing searching—always, I repeat, always soft crevices where little by little I could inch my way back to the surface. I don’t believe it’s because I “tried harder,” or “wanted it more” that I was “successful,” any more than one who battles cancer is blessed to be in remission, while the friend she made while receiving all of those IV infusions learns the cancer has metastasized and no viable treatment option remains. Would we view that person as weak, failing in some way, or cowardly? Or would we find ways to accept the unacceptable and love him so hard it hurt until he took his last breath? We want so much for there to be another way. Trial drugs, a healer from a foreign land, something, anything. The hardest truth is hearing, “We’ve tried everything, we’re out of options.”
I will forever remember, as the kids swam in the pool, splashing and laughing, the sons, daughters, and husband of my beloved mother-in-law sat at the nearby table on the deck. The same deck where glasses of wine and stories were shared for years as the aroma of tender meat was seasoned on the grill. We listened, with tears streaming down our faces, as she told us she and my father-in-law had decided to discontinue the treatment for the tumor that invaded her brain only months before.
My brain fought against this decision. “Surely there’s another way. Another specialist. Something, please God, something else we could try.” It was an agonizing process to surrender to her choice. I accepted this was her decision to make and my job, my one critical job, was to love her as much as I could, for as long I could. Over the course of those painful remaining months, as I curled up with her in her bed, she told me she was completely at peace with her decision, although unbearably sad about all that she would miss out on with her children and rapidly growing number of grandchildren.
The stark contrast of my mother, a junior in high school at the time, who, as she turned into her cul-de-sac, sweetly known as “Candy Cane Lane,” after an evening shift at her part-time job was blinded by sirens flashing in front of her childhood home. Her adored father, the one she and her sisters lovingly refer to as “Daddy” and “Buzz” had—despite many years battling severe, intractable depression—ended his life mere days before Thanksgiving. There was no long goodbye. Perhaps he made his decision in an instant, or over the course of a year.
They too wrestled with unanswered questions while cloaked in grief, “Surely there was another way. Something else we could have tried. Dear God, what did we miss?” And yet, as years passed, the acceptance of the unacceptable settles in.
As a therapist, I offer my clients antidotes to ease the isolation, a soft space to land their weary souls, and the willingness to hold hope for them when they’ve lost all hope. Maybe, if there’s enough of us helping to scoop away the dirt carefully, perhaps some sunlight and fresh air will greet those trapped below.
I know for sure, as I stand up here, desperate to make sense of the senselessness of suicide that we long to ease your suffering—to break the spell and bring you home. My belief and my experience are grounded in the knowledge that to suffer alone is not what was intended for us. We need to lean hard and deep into each other. To offer meals to the depressed the same way we would bring casseroles to the sick. The willingness to get close to the sufferer and say, “You are not alone in this, my dear. Whatever it takes, I’m here for you. For however long you need me.” We must call in the troops if there’s any hope of freedom from such despair.
It alarms me when people negatively describe those who express suicidal thoughts as “attention seeking.” Yes, if someone tells you they’re suicidal, they are in fact seeking your attention. It’s a cry for help and requires a call to action. It likely took tremendous courage to say out loud what has haunted them inside for some time. Believe them the first time. During quiet evening porch swing talks, my mom has shared with me regret from all of those years ago, even though she was merely a teenager at the time, “We should have listened to him. Believed him when he said he no longer wanted to live in such pain. Instead, we tried to block it out and hoped it would pass.”
With September being National Suicide Prevention Awareness month, I’m extending my heartfelt and sincere condolences to those who’ve lost someone they love to suicide. For those suffering with thoughts of suicide, please consider the following resources:
- Know the Warning Signs and Risk of Suicide
- Preventing Suicide as a Family Member or Caregiver
- Being Prepared for a Crisis
- Need more information, referrals or support? Contact the NAMI HelpLine.
- If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
- If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
- If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.
Visit NAMI's website for more resources and to get involved.
Angie Viets, LCP, CEDS is a clinical psychotherapist and certified eating disorders specialist in private practice. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, and overeating. Angie is dedicated to empowering others to nurture their body, mend their relationship with food, and to embody their most authentic self. Her passion for the field was born out of her own hard-won battle with an eating disorder. She believes that full recovery is possible!
Angie has a thriving website that offers resources for people in recovery and was voted #1 on Healthline's list of the Best Eating Disorders Blogs of 2017. She is currently in the process of writing her first book, where she will demystify eating disorder recovery and offer inspiration and guidance to those suffering in silence. Her writing is featured in Huffington Post and recognized eating disorder treatment centers throughout the country.