I’m often worried about other people being in pain I’m not seeing, not helping with.
I know that when I’m truly in crisis I’m disengaged. My behaviour is erratic, I’m quiet sometimes but not hostilely so, loud fun and social at other times. People see the highs and never the lows when I’m upset. Which is why no one’s tried to help me when I’ve actually needed it.
So when I’m at baseline and my worries don’t have real situations to focus on I worry that someone else, someone chosen at near-random by my subconscious, is doing that same thing and I’m the one guilty of not seeing it.
It would make me a hypocrite for all those times smirking when I’m suicidal that everyone’s going to be so shocked when I’m being so obvious laying out clues, little emotional time bombs they’re not seeing. People express concern about my very normal topics of conversation like funerals and death which feels controlling to me but every lauds my dark sense of humour without picking up that it’s how I express real anguish.
There could be someone in my life struggling in private while maintaining a facade or even seeming more lively than normal. When people look for signs someone is in crisis they tend to just police language. They look for ‘negative’ words and tell them not to talk like that. Overtly by literally saying don’t talk like that but also subvertly by telling them to be positive, look on the bright side, not to think like that.
If I were able to meet myself while I’m suicidal the helpful open-ended statements I’d start with would be things like “Normally you’d have left a long time ago” or “You don’t usual go to someone’s house after the bar”
It’s easy to think that wanting to be alone is a sign of something bad but in reality 9 times out of ten I’d wager it’s a sign of something much worse and insidious when someone doesn’t want to be alone, seems scared to be alone.
Looking for things to worry about is about being a bit of a detective. I’ll acknowledge that some people as a response to being upset will broadcast on social media in expectation of reassurance. Those people are called teenagers.
And teenagers can be pushed to some drastic actions if they don’t get the desired results from talking about drastic actions. I don’t mean that in a manipulative way to be clear. If someone is trying to suss out if anyone cares and it seems like no one does that feels fucking awful. Something that pushes adults closer to the edge though is feeling like a burden and to be a burden you have to be fully aware that people care about you, other people’s love can be painful when you’re really spiraling.
My worry that other people are going through what I’ve gone through isn’t a generous instinct, I don’t want to save anyone and I don’t want anyone to think of me as a savior, I don’t even want people to think of me as nice. I primarily want to do what’s ethical. If my experience and insight make me better equipped to help, and to talk to others about helping, then it’s unethical not to. Especially since I’m so judgemental of the failed timing and attempts people have gone through to help me.
The limit of that obligation is the difference between trying to help someone and trying to fix someone.
When I was last suicidal I had two conversations with a friend, a few weeks apart. They were polar opposites in stance and tone for both of us each time. In the first conversation, what I’ll call the typical crisis interaction, I was blatantly saying I was planning to die soon and at first my friend was dancing around the topic awkwardly. Worse when we settled into the heart of the conversation later they took a typical stance that I’ve heard a lot, that I should do what they do and I’d be as happy as them. The unconscious subtext I can articulate now is that I should give up my identity. There’s a nihilism in the idea that behaviour can be arbitrarily changed. It’s a half measure to say who you are doesn’t matter so you can just change it – why not go the whole way and stop existing all together then?
I came away from the conversation brow beaten. The topic became a something like a debate where I was being pushed to justify wanting to die. And as you should know from politics, pushing someone to defend an idea makes them believe it deeper.
We had drinks and the mood lightened even though nothing got resolved. Which bothered me a lot later because I knew he felt better, he felt he had helped, maybe even felt on some level that he had rescued me, fixed me. That was certainly the resentful voice in my head.
Something of that conversation did become important though. I talked about how I suspect some people think summer is the normal state of the year and winter is just to be tolerated and waited through and share complaints about until summer came back. And that for me winter is the norm. It’s almost always winter and even in the blips of summer I get I know winter is on the horizon at all times, waiting.
It was the start of the second conversation, the unexpectedly, undeliberately helpful conversation, that my friend mentioned how that comment had got to him. And he said “I thought I’d been depressed, I haven’t been depressed.” And that was essentially all we said about the previous conversation, we both knew the situation and moved on, no need to badger about it. What that quote about depression meant to me though was that he understood he didn’t understand and it made me feel more understood.
When someone says life is so awful I want to die the tendency is to respond I understand. But life’s not that bad though, life is actually wonderful. Which means you don’t understand that person at all, you just think that person misunderstands life. All of this proves and deepens the divide between us.
In the conversation though we breezed past it though, I didn’t register how and why it made me feel better yet. We talked about a bunch of other stuff but what stuck with me and also made me feel better was talk about a trip to Cuba. He said he wanted me to come because I wouldn’t want to do touristy shit. That if I came along we could see old Havana and doing interesting stuff. I talked about Hemingway and Gitmo, I had a vision of my in black punk shorts covered in buckles and straps and wearing my boots (the only shorts and footwear I owned that year) sitting on the beach and we chuckled.
On the train ride home I felt good and especially because I was writing my sobriety blog at the time I was very attuned to dissecting my feelings. I realized it was because the talk about Cuba reinforced my identity, my value. I felt loved for my entire self, not just to I’m loved in spite what is such a huge part of who I am. I could think in terms of not being broken or wrong, just one type of friend in a spectrum. It reminded me of my sense of belonging.
So if someone seems to be erratic and I’m worried or even just down and in need of cheering up that’s what I aim to do, to have a normal conversation rather than an insistent talk, that reminds them of what they’re good at, why they’re special, of their sense of purpose and belonging. And I leave the fact that I care about them out of it, that speaks to my identity not theirs.