So, we begin.
There’s a lot of talk about suicide in the blogosphere lately. I have no idea who Mr. Warren is, whose son died. I’m sure he’s famous, and I’m sure I’m ignorant for not knowing who he is. Perhaps I’m being lazy for not bothering to look him up. Ok, maybe I’m a little creeped out. It just seems ghoulish. It’s not worth it to feel smart at the expense of a sense of decency.
Decency, you say? What do I mean by that? Isn’t it how we got here in the first place? By decently minding our own business? Actually, no. But that’s another show.
It feels indecent because I don’t think he wants to be famous for having a son that died. It shouldn’t really matter who he is, in a sense. Why do I need to know his every personal trait? He needs prayer, and that’s all I need to know. The media and random strangers should stand back and let him heal. His friends should be there for him in the best way they can– in other words, they should be friends in the truest sense. It’s pretty pointless for me to say what he needs in a positive sense, because I don’t know the guy. If he needs more stress to cope with what’s going on– let him find it. It does not need to come to him.
Yes, I’ve lost close friends to suicide before, but it’s still not the same as losing a child. I may have lost a child, but I never even knew her– not to see her face. She is as abstract to me as an angel. Angels are still powerful, and each is still a person– even if you can’t see them.So, what do I have to say about this grim topic that could make any difference? I hope to give a little perspective on the whole thing, based on varied and long experience. I really want to remove the mystique of suicide– which attaches itself to artistic temperament. I posted this little piece by Rossetti in case you didn’t believe me. His beloved “little” red-headed-girl spurned him until she killed herself with the fruit of the poppy. He spent a good deal of his career eulogizing her. She was a transcendent, godlike figure to him. Gee, thanks, Gabe.
I guess you could say it was trendy at my high school. Even the son of a local prominent man died during my tenure in HS. His little sister, who was in my grade, gained a certain notoriety from it for no apparent reason. (I was generally out of the loop for various malicious gossip– unless it was supposed to be a real secret. Go figure.) It didn’t just go away after High School.
This dark shadow followed me long afterwards and prowled among those I counted as friends. True, my issues had resolved themselves for the better, but this was not as true for others. Is it just me, or does it seem more prevalent in various geek and nerd cultures? Even people well established as central figures in the social nexus were occasionally ending their lives in the groups in which I was a circulating member.I’ve lost track how many talks I had with suicidal people in my teens and twenties. I have even been on the other side of that talk– more than once. (Thank God those days are long gone.) It seems that the social circles I frequented had more than average.
So, let’s talk about Teen suicide. That one is actually easier for me to wrap my brain around. After all, that was my bailiwick. I had my best friend in middle school commit suicide after she and I had a fight. Even her neighbor (who was her best friend) blamed me for her death. So did a few teachers, I think. I couldn’t even grieve for her without becoming an object of ridicule. But I was determined not to follow suit– at that time, at least.
I still had a purpose, even if life sucked, that purpose was worth it. Besides, there might be people out there who weren’t quite so quick to ‘leave town’, to struggle together until we reached the promised land of adulthood. In the end I was angry at her for being dead. Another friend of mine said she wanted to resurrect a beloved fan who had done the deed so she could kill him again for hurting her so much. These are not uncommon thoughts, in case you were wondering.
It is all the more painful because often the suicides have loving families and friends who are blindsided by the whole event. We see them come from tight-knit homes without want. Sometimes it’s the depression talking. Sometimes, it’s the desperation of that internal need. Sometimes, it’s the anger. Sometimes, you just want to do something that matters. So why teens in particular?I shudder to think what will happen when it becomes trendy, or seen as brave, or some other nonsense. For all I know of modern teen culture, maybe it already is. Who knows– it had some kind of goth mystique when I was in high school. Though sometimes this was promulgated by the actual goths who’d actually lost friends that way. In a way it becomes a kind of forbidden fruit, if you are prone to depression. And let’s face it. These days, most people are.
As far as I know, suicide has three possible root causes– 1. no purpose–so why bother living? 2. make it stop and 3. revenge. I think the overwhelming reason for teen suicide is #1. Frankly, I think that #3 is a pretty rare primary cause, and is usually a secondary cause. Though my personal experience was mostly #2. Mine was an odd case, since I was the poster child for why Prozac is NOT a wonder-drug.
The rare cases I can think of are lovers spats (divorce, too) and deep parental hatred. They may act like they hate you, but it is still pretty rare. The last probably contains the most people who threaten to do so but ultimately don’t. But don’t take my word for it. There’s no way to tell from the outside who will and who won’t. I’m talking a rough informal statistic based on personal experience.
Looking carefully at these causes, I have to say they all kind of melt together. It is difficult to hold the line in difficult situation if you have no purpose. So even if you are screaming “make it stop” over and over again, chances are, there’s a different lack there that makes the things around you unbearable.
It is hard to hold yourself together when your center is an unmet void of need. And regardless of what anyone says–inflated self esteem, avoiding bad feelings, avoiding stress, security, always having success– NONE of these things work. None of them.
A string of healthy relationships can help– but an unhealthy relationship makes
things worse. Chances are, the relationship is bad because each is demanding what the other can’t offer– because neither one of them has what is lacking.
Most often, both parties aren’t even aware that they are leaching whatever it is from that other– then blame the other when they don’t get what they need. No matter how much affection you have from another person, you need more than that.
Sex won’t do it either. All it does is satisfy a temporary want, and complicate existing feelings both positive and negative. IT doesn’t even touch that ageless gnawing dragon in the root of your soul. It’s like eating celery while starving. Half an hour later you are even hungrier than before. What is TRULY desired is the willingness to sacrifice something– comfort or treasure, for the sake of them in a consistent way. They want to matter and they don’t have the energy to give anyone else that benefit–mostly because no one will do it for them. Or perhaps they never learned how.
We have an unacknowledged under-class. Sure, some of them are running drugs in the streets, but some of them act perfectly normal, going to internment camps while mommy and daddy or other caregivers are at work. They do what they’re told, and nobody sees their pain. We call them teenagers.
They may be loud about their pain, but it is still hidden. Most people don’t even know why they are so angsty. Whatever anyone might say, their pain isn’t that society doesn’t let them have sex. Society wants them to have sex— hell, society wants them to riot in the streets, just so long as they don’t work for a living and rely on themselves. Which is why the vast majority of them with income are running drugs.
It’s the only way that they can take responsibility, to survive, especially for those without a family to help them. Sure, they could take charity, but where’s the honor in that? Teens crave honor even if they spurn it to meathead adults. This is especially true when they are otherwise forced to do valueless busy work and cultural indoctrination. By this I mean High School. This only isolates them further, not only by age, but also into meaningless classes with dictated attitudes and needs. So much for a post-label society.
Teenagers are provisioned this way because it expands the time parents get to spend with their children, and gives the government another source of power by expanding child care services and an excuse to hire more people with more influence. We also literally don’t know what to do with the extra labor. Especially in this country and age where most viable work doesn’t happen in nasty factories anymore.
Then we despise letting him grow. And this means we get underdeveloped teens who are still children, unprepared for the questions that life forces on them no matter how well ‘protected’ they are. Without values, without reason and good order, the teen is defenseless. He is consigned to remain useless, to wait until around 25 or so to be a real adult. While he can drink at 21, you aren’t really an adult until you can rent a car– because that proves you can be trusted– or can’t be, depending on who you ask.The indoctrination has been pretty successful, before you worry– the problem is, it doesn’t help them that much. It just increases their sense of the world as being a place where things should just be given to you. Working is for wusses, suckers and oppressors. Indeed, the worst cultural meme in history is that work is oppression. It’s ultimately what killed communism– and they are the ones who promulgated it. Irony, no? These beliefs are actively destructive – both spiritually, physically and functionally.
I’m not even saying that work gives you meaning. I’m saying work is an intrinsic part of vocation, and vocation gives you meaning. Being a housewife, volunteering at a homeless shelter, a father, a doctor, a monk begging in the street– these are all vocations. They give you a reason to be there. But again, it’s not the job, it’s the reason that makes a vocation. The monk prays for all of humanity, he is the servant of all. Yet he begs for his food, because we owe him for his love for all of us. The least we can do is give him some food, which is merely money to us, and survival to him.
The biggest vocation your average teen gets is working at Micky-D’s in the summer, or participating in school programs that are completely divorced from REAL LIFE. And let’s face it, those are mostly just jobs. While music and sports may relate to the real world in an off-hand way, it is still often segregated and insulated from the competition and hardship associated with those projects in the adult world. Anything you could do in high school is illegal to be paid for. Therefore it is pretty much meaningless in a materialist sense– so they need a spiritual sense even more.
But behind all that, a job is done for a reason, and it should be for more than just feeding our faces. Feeding our faces gets us comfortable, but it does not make us happy, or even get out of bed in the morning. Working to be fed gets us bad habits, rude faces and pretending to work– thus creating an atmosphere that doesn’t reward a good job but political correctness in a toxic culture. We blow of steam by writing nasty things for all to see on the internet.It is not those whose life is constantly dire who are rushing into Death’s arms. This is where the “trying to get attention” meme came from. For a person to whom suicide is an impenetrable mystery, it seems to follow that it’s an attention-getting tactic. The people who think this are only so wedded to their purpose and their reason for being that they’ve forgotten to question it. They have no concept of what it would be like without it. They are sufficiently comfortable to not understand reason #2. And they are mature enough to realize that killing oneself for revenge is ultimately pretty stupid.
If you are used to a life of hardship, life is simply hard. But if you have had a life of relative ease with little training on how to deal with hardship– it comes out of left field and seems insurmountable. It seems hopeless. So you look to rush out of the first exit you come across. As the only First Thing worth talking about in a secular world, Death is that door.
So if things are so hard, how do we learn to value things enough to cope, even when we don’t feel like it?
I’ll be honest. I don’t know how atheists do it. They are so trusting to have such noble thoughts about all humanity. I am incapable of believing that we are perfectible, that we could redeem the universe just by being awesome. If this line of thought were true, then sacrificial love just doesn’t make sense in the real world. Except, that’s what really builds the foundations of society. You can only really learn it by example– and if you don’t have an example– life is just another bloody shark tank.Here’s the kicker. Virtue did not just mean an arbitrary list of rights and wrongs. It was a set of standards that made everything worth fighting for and worth doing. Those rules were a reflection of that moral standard, so everything made sense. You can trace them all to meaningful concepts that link to the very meaning of being human. Existence was no cloud of bubbling confusion but a mystery calling us forward to discover our place in it.
If you don’t have those values– well, they give value and direction to everything else. This means you, unless supernaturally driven, don’t have the impetus to work hard in the real world. Why? Because to do so is far more work than whatever-it-is is worth on it’s own. This is one of the reasons why so many businesses fail, and why a lot of unprepared teens give up on life.
I suspect it’s a trigger of abuse, too. For someone under pressure and has never been taught discipline, it is just too much work not to fight against lashing out. You blame the other and not yourself for your inability to cope. It’s the little twerp who’s making all the fuss, after all. But, if you follow the virtue of that little tyke’s life being worth more than the satisfaction of smacking him, why, fighting that urge is worth it. That’s the true meaning of Love, valuing the quality of his life more than your temporary happiness.
What is interesting is that discipline could be a help for Teens experiencing #2 suicide trigger, too. The hardest part is to know that what’s going on does indeed change– and that even if it’s not qualitatively better, it will almost certainly be experientially better. When things change, you will likely have more resources. You will eventually get sleep. The weekend will allow you a change of scenery. Even the smallest, seemingly least significant things can make a big difference between crisis and coping. This this kind of crisis can be best handled by digging in and refusing to give up.
Ultimately, my prozac nightmare was the non-stop feeling of being in a watershed of terror and panic. I only came out of it by realizing that it could end, and I didn’t want my last days to be trapped in this acute misery. This was very hard when everything was agonizing, painful or terrifying. I could not filter out my experiences, ignore slights or even fight off thoughts I wasn’t fond of.
It was an experience I would not want anybody to experience. I felt like I would explode if it kept going– and it never seemed to stop. I couldn’t sleep at night, either, which made everything worse. But thanks to various interventions, including my doctor finally deciding prozac was a bad idea, a talk from my uncle, and a voluntary stay at the U’s psychiatric unit, it did change, and eventually got better. Though it sounds like an anti-climax, I’m insanely grateful that through some miracle I was able to hang on.
The real trick, however, is making sure you don’t go back there. I was immeasurably helped by DBT, and the realization that even if I could not change my situation– I could change me– or at least manage myself better for long term survival. I did not need to be my own worst enemy, on top of what mud life throws at you. Being grounded in the things that make life worth living is one of the best– and to remember them when crisis is around the corner.
But you need that experience of love, to love your own existence more than you hate the bother of maintaining it. That’s what self-love really is– not preening in the mirror and feeling proud of every breath, but loving life more than a beckoning one-way door that promises peace– in pieces. Having a different reason other than the self that you hate– to continue being. As a depressive, you can devalue anything. Best to have something so big, that you can’t devalue it no matter how hard you try.God is Love. There. I said it. He sacrificed everything for us. His entire being was treated like the worst of pathetic, violent and selfish mankind. A terrible truth, but it comes back to us at our worst times. Let me show you an example very close to me.
On the eve of my husband’s conversion, he was driving to the coast to commit suicide– by driving off a bridge he knew. He was really going to do it– except he had to go to the bathroom. And there was this traffic jam. It was caused by people going to church.
So he went inside. And by some miracle, a greeter smiled at him, looked him in the eyes, and offered him welcome. He also meant it. It was the first time in almost nine months that someone spoke to him gratuitously warmly, and with conviction. He nearly lost it right there, but asked for the bathroom anyway. And the music was so pretty, he decided to stay.But he couldn’t keep his eyes off of the Sacrifice of the Mass. He realized that right there, that the Almighty and Eternal God was becoming — humble food for people. His infinite might was being sacrificed so we might not be hungry for a little while, until we start crying to Him again. All this, right here on earth.
After that, killing himself didn’t seem that important any more. After all, he had more important things to do.
I will admit, I don’t have all the answers. Sure, I sometimes talk like I do, but that’ just bravado. I have seen many things not work, and a few things that do. I decided to share both. And this one turned out for the best. And I’m proud to be married to him.