Tuesday, August 12, 2014

You are not alone.

RE-POST: In response to the news of Robin Williams' suicide, I am re-sharing this post from 2011 in the hopes that it will help someone. Depression can be fatal. Depression lies.

You are not alone.
I have had the incredibly unfortunate experience of assuring someone that she was stronger than she realized, only to have that person attempt suicide the following week.

I thought I was saying the right things. I really believed that she had, that we all have, inner resources we can draw upon in times of hardship. I was devastated to learn that I was wrong.

My mistake was in believing - and telling her - that she had inner resources to draw on.

It is dangerously wrong-headed thinking.

Since that wake-up call, I have thought twice about other oft-uttered assurances and admonitions:
You'll be fine.
It'll all be better in the morning.
Some day you'll look back on this, and it'll all be like a bad dream.
It could be worse.
Get over it already.
And my personal favourite:
God will never give you more than you can handle.
[Oooh, I grit my teeth when I hear or read that one!]

I think of survivors who have come through incredible inner pain:
  • Retired Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, who entered his personal nightmare via Rwanda and who said, "It's only that [that he was too drunk to complete his suicide attempts] and people checking up on me that prevented me from killing myself";
  • Kay Redfield Jamison, who has seen suicidal thinking from the inside, and has studied it as a psychologist;
  • Linda Sexton, whose mother, poet Anne Sexton, committed suicide and who inherited that legacy; or 
  • Heather Armstrong who writes the pants-pissingly funny blog Dooce and who has also shared her heartbreaking struggle with depression. (Her post, "Surrender," may be the bravest, most honest thing I've ever read.)
Not one of them survived to see dawn after their darkest nights without help from outside themselves. As I quoted in April, when I wrote about a military wife who attempted suicide,
"Suicidal thinking happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain."
The most important thing we can do is ensure that we add to those resources, not leave the person feeling like a failure because he or she feels overwhelmed.

If I were talking to that woman today, I would instead say, "You don't have to be strong. You are not alone. Let me be here for you." And I would add, though you may not, "Let God be here for you."


  1. So important. We have to be so careful of the things we say to people who are hurting. Hurting in ways most of us could never possibly fathom. In fact, we should probably just stop trying to say the "right" thing, and open our ears wider. It saddens me so much to think that there are people who feel so alone and so hopeless. I cannot imagine what that world must look like.
    It's so sad -- we need to take better care of one another in this world.

    1. You're right: we should just shut up and listen. Maybe ask what we can do to help. No judging. No problem-solving. Just listen.


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