Buddy check time.
We’ve had two youth suicides in one week here in Central Oregon.
When the mind is sinking into a story of its own demise, it’s a long long way to the bottom. By that I mean it takes a very long time to hit solid ground, where things are still dark and murky, yet somehow much more clear.
That feeling, of landing on the bottom, starts a chain reaction of something that ends up looking like acceptance. The human mind has got to consciously grasp something, in order to begin to understand it. And we have to understand something before we can find words to ask for help with it.
It’s also true that we need help way before we ever hit that solid bottom.
In fact, we’re designed against success here. Human nature is to adapt; to overcome. We float when we can, doing our best. We reconfigure to each new reality that seeps into our consciousness, and we keep moving forward with our plans, even if we’re actually sinking.
Worse, some people are most vulnerable from within their strength, repeatedly solidifying stories that come from inside the mind. Too often, we misread what was only ever intended to be a distress signal.
When you’re sinking, it’s hard to breathe. It’s heavy and exhausting work to stay afloat. It’s unclear, and yet those suicidal impulses are decisive.
And the whole way, we’re certain we’re just fine, that we’ve got this, and it’ll pass. Every story is different, but that good-natured smile we will miss so much, is the same.
After a suicide, we grasp for stories and meaning. We want it to make sense, but mostly we want the person back. It’s confusing and it’s impossible to understand. It will never make sense that somehow, in that moment of impulse and certainty that leads to suicide, it’s the only thing that made sense to that person.
Suicide, and especially youth suicide, shakes us to our very core. It breaks us. And there are social stories and tapes we make when we don’t know what to say. You know these tapes. Maybe you’ve spoken one aloud; before the bitter aftertaste of the words hit you.
And some people say nothing, silently grappling with the meaning of the vast empty space that used to hold a child or friend’s seemingly easy nature. We honor the person’s life, come together as a community, and we wrap around our families. And silence is healing, but so is working toward deeper understanding of the underpinnings of suicide.
The only thing that matters after a suicide, is that we take decisive, collective steps toward acknowledging that suicidal ideation is real. It’s something many people experience, though not everyone. It’s sneaky and it breaks all the rules.
And yet we have a chance. A good, healthy fighting chance, though we won’t always win.
Each community who’s lost someone to suicide is uniquely poised to unite a little bit more. After the shock waves ripple us into greater solidarity, there is more love.
Organizations like the US military, all branches, know the importance of Buddy Checks. Scuba divers, rock climbers, equestrians, and all manner of adventurers have check, double check, and buddy check systems to protect against the loss of life. If you’re not doing them around mental illness, start today.
Each of us can make Buddy Check a routine part of everyday life…of honoring lives, including those of the ones we’ve lost. Check in. Raise the social tapes that matter right to the top of the list, again and again, until they are the only ones about suicide that feel comfortable coming out of our mouths.
Ask about suicide. Ask about depression. Let those who’ve left be our teachers.
Sometimes the clinical terms won’t resonate. Ask about it using those specific words and using other words too. Here are some ideas:
How tired are you? Of life, of the grind, of the mess of it all?
Have you been wondering, What’s the point?
I’m feeling compelled to ask you friend, are you or have you ever had thoughts of suicide?
Have you ever thought it would be better for others if you weren’t here?
Are you dealing with anything that makes you think you’d be better off dead?
Be direct. Be brave and dauntless in asking the questions, however they leave your mouth. Suicide is real. Asking the question doesn’t cause suicide, but it may lift some degree of ambiguous darkness for a friend or neighbor. Asking may help someone understand it’s normal and there is something we can do when we’ve had thoughts of suicide.
Then bring it into the light. Immediately bring it into the open. If you are young, go to your parent or another parent, an adult at school, a counselor. Anyone. And keep going until you find the person who knows what to do. If you’re an adult, start calling people. Circle the wagons. Don’t wait.
This writing is offered in honor and memoriam to those we’ve lost. Thank you for the gifts you gave in your short time here. It’s also written in homage and love to those who’ve lost. We don’t cause suicide, we can only hope to interrupt it. The rest of us are holding your hearts as you go through this hell.