Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Through The Valley Of Dispair - Suicide

Why do people, like Robin Williams and Matthew Warren, who seemingly have everything going for them commit suicide? And journalists are not immune from this either. Ernest Hemingway committed suicide as did a young t.v. journalist, who did so live. Basically they were all mentally ill in one form or another. And mental illness is as real as a broken bone, Alzheimer’s or heart disease.

I know as I was suicidal from age 8 to 43 and still have the occasional suicidal thought.  As mentioned in a previous post I have what is now known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I had difficulty focussing, was immature, impulsive, hyper-energetic and anxious, among other things. I developed a track record of failure at school, in making friends and in coping with life.

I was constantly criticized by my parents, teachers, classmates, my church and others. I was punished a lot at school by the strap, by standing out in the hall, by writing lines and at home by being beaten with a belt, not to mention being physically and emotionally bullied. I pleaded with my mother to praise me for the one thing I did right and not the nine things I did wrong, but she never would. 

I was sent to a variety of psychologists and psychiatrists, most of whom needed professional help themselves. One of them was arrested for something two or three years after I last saw them.
I was hurting so much that by age 8 I was asking God to take my life away. It’s not that I really wanted to die, but rather I just wanted the pain to end. So how did I manage to turn things around and what can you do to help someone in a similar situation?
Fantasy was a big help initially. Later it became a crutch. In my fantasies I was successful, I was the hero, I righted the wrongs done to myself and to others and I got the girl.
I took steps to get out of myself by taking day and overnight trips and by becoming active in the community. This boosted my self confidence and helped give me a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Writing was both a help and a hindrance. It was great to be published, but frustrating as I really needed structure to succeed and freelancing doesn’t provide it.
I went from being a high school dropout to being a university graduate with an overall average of 74%, higher than anything I was ever able to accomplish in public school. However I was not able capitalize on it and soon fell into a cycle of hope and despair.
Caring for my parents, both of whom had probable Alzheimer’s helped to break the pattern as it forced me to think outside myself. An even bigger help was meeting my wife, who gave me encouragement, guidance and acceptance. She helped me to realize that just because someone is angry with me doesn’t necessarily mean they hate me, just my behavior.
Last, but not least my Christian faith has been a big help and comfort to me, although the church and most Christians have not. My faith gave me a sense of acceptance and belonging. After all if God can accept me and love me in spite of myself, then so can I.
However, none of this would have worked if I hadn’t been willing to change, albeit somewhat reluctantly at times. I have also never been one for holding grudges or seeking revenge and I usually managed to keep a sense of humor.
I still have the occasional suicidal thought, which I overcome by thinking of things I have be thankful for, like my wife and having enough to eat. I also distract myself by such things as going for a walk or reading.
While I have not sought professional help as an adult in retrospect I probably should have and kept at it until I found the right therapist. Aside from taking Ritalin as a child, I have not taken any medication due to bad reactions and as I haven’t needed it. That isn’t to say that some might find medication very useful.
I’ve learned to be patient with myself. Change takes time and effort. I reward myself occasionally for positive change. I’ve found looking at myself in a mirror and thinking or saying out loud positive messages helpful. Smiling even when I haven’t felt like it, is a surprising help.
If you suspect someone maybe suicidal ask them. If they aren’t you won’t be putting the thought into their mind and if they are you asking them just might save their life.
And by all means, if you feel you can, befriend someone who is suicidal and/or mentally ill. It could be good for both of you, but check your motives and know your limits. Do not let the sick person dominate you. Be encouraging, be patient and keep a sense of humor. And if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew don’t walk away and not take action. Try to get the person some help.
While I still struggle, I’m a happier, more relaxed and more stable person than I have ever been in my life.