“I Could have Been A Better Friend” ~ The Mantra of Survivor Guilt

Survivor guilt; a visceral animal that silently gnaws at a survivor after a loved one has committed suicide.

After the fact, the survivor looks back and agonizes over what they could have done to help;

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Photo Credit: Sandi Yee

“I could’ve been a better friend,

I could’ve been a better sister (brother, mother, father…)

I could’ve done more to show that I cared,

I could’ve done more to help if I had known.”

As someone who has attempted suicide, who has been immersed in darkness and doom, there is really nothing that anyone can do once the decision has been made.

Suicide prevention and intervention are at best temporary measures to stall a tidal wave.  It’s a strip of bandage on a gushing wound.

There is really nothing that can be done to prevent a determined suicide short of putting the person under suicide watch.

When the Depression comes, it is all consuming.   There is no logic, no love, no light, no sense of right or wrong, and no sense of up or down, there is only abysmal pain and despair.  Nothing anyone does is going to make any difference to that mental state of mind.  All those promises and contracts made in therapy not to hurt yourself, or to call someone when you feel that you will hurt yourself, those are the farthest things from the mind in the grips of mental anguish.

My attempts to commit suicide were not successful (else I would be dead and not writing this article), not because of what someone else did to stop me or to help me.  They were feeble and ineffectual attempts because I was young and ignorant.  I didn’t know any better.  I didn’t know how to kill myself properly, and I bungled it.  How totally inadequate of me.

The next time will be the last time, because now I know what to do.  Now I am older and wiser.  I know my plan is fail-proof.  It is lethal.  I am not young nor am I ignorant anymore.  Suicide is no longer my cry for help, it is because I want to die.  My plan can be executed regardless of external intervention or prevention.  It’s just a matter of when.  My husband knows this, he knows my plan.

So when I see all the awareness on Suicide Prevention the powers that be are propagating,

I am not convinced.

I applaud the good intentions, the efforts, commitment and desire to help.

But I see reality a little differently.

Image Credit: afsp.org

Honestly, do you really think that removing potential poisons, ropes and sharp objects are going be effective in preventing anything, if the person has made their decision to commit suicide?

Delusion!

I see this as merely a coping tool for friends and family to feel less helpless, to have something they can do, anything they can do, to help.

wrist cut lines

Photo Credit: Sandi Yee

A dear friend of mine was completely ignorant that her beloved teenage daughter was hiding a razor blade in her room.

For a $1.50 at Walmart, anyone can buy a blade knife, complete with small plastic handle so no need to worry it will become too slippery to handle when drenched in blood.

This tormented teenager cut herself for months, and no one had any idea that she had been doing it.

To this day, the parents do not know.

I am the only one she trusted enough to tell.

That razor could have easily sliced through vital blood vessels if she was so inclined.  She would have had privacy to do so, because in our society, we give our teenagers the right to close their bedroom door and shut out the world.

Robin Williams hung himself, while his wife was in the house.  It takes at least 5 to 15 minutes of asphyxiation to die by hanging, unless the neck is broken immediately.  He had not been on suicide watch.  He was found dead.

The suicidal mind just wants the pain and suffering to end.  No one would know unless they had cried out for help, unless the warning signs were so obvious that they could not be ignored (for instance; stumbling out of their bedroom and announcing to a house full of family and friends that they have taken a bottle of pills; this actually happened with a family member).

Even then, everyone has their own lives to live, their own burdens to bear.  They cannot be expected to sit on suicide watch for their mentally unstable sister, daughter, friend…

My doctor told me to go to the hospital if I feel like I am going to kill myself.

I just have to shake my head at that.

I have lived with this condition long enough to know that feeling like I want to kill myself is part of my daily life.

If I am going to kill myself, I probably will.  And it’s not going to be with sharp objects, or poisonous substances, or the ghastly rope.

Would my friends and family have survivor guilt?

Probably.

Would they regret that they didn’t do more to prevent it?

Probably.

Could they have done anything to prevent it?

Probably not.

And no.  I am not going to kill myself today.

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9 thoughts on ““I Could have Been A Better Friend” ~ The Mantra of Survivor Guilt

  1. I can totally relate to this. And can honestly say that the only thing at this point stopping me is the thought that it would be my son that found me. He has enough issues without me adding to them. Either that or I just haven’t really reached my breaking point. Thank you for sharing this and I am very glad that you haven’t as of yet. Because if you had, then I wouldn’t have been able to call you my friend.

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  2. I told my husband last week that I had planned my suicide for late January 2015 I would try to hold on until then but I dont really know why I wait. If I had a fail proof method then I would go now. This latest depression has been relentless months of the light going out and the feeling of utter hopelessness are physically exhausting me. I want to be in a dark room in total silence but it’s deafening. He keeps dragging me out to the beach for dog walks and drives and I’m ‘ normal ‘ for an hour and then it comes back. Two years ago he dragged me from the bottom of a canal and I was distraught because I was so nearly free. I would like to feel guilt but I don’t, I think he fuss’s to much, he’s a nervous wreck worrying about me, he will be devastated but maybe a bit relieved? He doesn’t understand my depression says how can I be fine one minute and suicidal the next? He doesn’t understand that I am never fine! Do you carry on in the hope the depression lifts? I feel it’s just a matter of time.

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    • Oh Nikki, my heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing your poignant truth with me. As for your question of do I carry on in the hope of a reprieve from the Depression? No, I know that it will always be with me. But there are good days too. It is on those good days that I find the strength to carry on, and I gather as much as I can to tide me over til the next time. I wish I could tell you that everything will be OK, but the best I can do is to encourage you to keep going and stay strong. Depression IS treatable, we just have to find the best treatments that work for us. There is no easy answer. We are human, flaws and all, and our depressive condition is the result of the faulty neurotransmitters in our brain. I hope you are accessing all the resources available to you for support. Your husband too needs support.

      My thoughts are with you. May the light always shine for you Nikki.

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  3. It was a tough read, really tough for me anyway, but strong work. I spend much effort getting in the way of suicide attempts, and I haven’t lost anyone yet. That is, not while I was there, not while they were on my unit. On the other hand, as you clearly know better than most, there are limits to what we can do for each other, and for ourselves. We can never ensure a “happily ever after”: that’s kid’s fiction, not adult life. We can do our best, and I feel compelled to do so. I used to think I’d die by suicide, and I had the kind of effective plan medical school educatioon allows. I did it and I lived, plain lucky, however you choose to frame it. Decades later the idea that things could never get better seems plain silly, but it was a 100% certainty. Then. Perhaps things will change again for the worse: no one can see the future, and it wouldn’t be the first time for me by a long shot. I’ve learned how to rdie the dips better, make them shallower, shorter, rarer. More routine, really. I hope you find your way too to a better life. You deserve it, and I choose to believe you will have it. I’ve found that such choices matter, as silly as it sounds. Everyone with depression and/or suicidality fails to get better, for a time. Including all those people who later have more success and happiness than they could have dreamed possible. Before, in the dark times, before the sun finally came out. The only certain way to prevent such a happy outcome is not to live long enough for it to emerge. Please, don’t let that happen.

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    • Thank you Greg, for your encouragement and belief that the sun will come out. You’re right, no one can see the future, but the choice to believe in the positive can only be positive. I too have learned to ride the dips better, to manage my the moods better, and have an arsenal of tools in my self-management toolbox to do so. But even with all this knowledge and experience, there is no hiding from the beast. It is a daily back and forth between darkness and light, and every morning is new ground to win or lose.
      The work you do is inspiring, getting in the way of suicide attempts. Thank you for helping to spread light to those who need it. Cheers Greg!

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  4. This is the best article I have ever read on suicide. It is realistic and compelling. I especially like how eloquently the critique was done on all the awareness propaganda – done more for political and perhaps good intentioned reasons BUT NOT GROUNDED IN REALITY.

    Bravo to the writer, I am very impressed.

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    • Thank you for such a positive feedback James. Frankly, I was expecting lash back for being less than positive about such a positive message and cause as preventing suicide. I am nothing if not real. Cheers!

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  5. Amazing post, your right once the descion is made there us nothing to be done.

    When you are in that place, you just want the pain to stop, you may think of family and friends, but dying overrides everything.

    When I’d made the descion for myself I actually felt happy, I was doing something about it, and dying seemed the best solution.

    We’ll I didn’t and I’m here fighting everyday to keep my recovery on track, and I give thanks for that every day..

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Like

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