On the Other Side of Suicide
I log onto Facebook every day. It tells me that it’s OK to talk about a bad date, to engage in family arguments for all to see, or even to display how envied one believes him/herself to be via self-portraits from a bathroom mirror.
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Let’s be honest. Social media has caused an eruption of platforms in which people across the globe feel comfortable laying it all out there. There is a certain acceptance of divulging personal information that my parents’ generation wouldn’t dare ever bring up in a private forum, much less a public one. This phenomenon raises the question: If it’s OK to talk about almost anything these days, why are important topics still being held captive in the land of anonymity?
Abortion. Incest. Rape. Bankruptcy. Depression. Mental illness.
And then there’s suicide.
So why write about it now? Because I fell into the trap of ignoring an important topic simply because it had never hit close to home. And then came the phone call.
I couldn’t have been more unprepared, and I couldn’t have been more shocked or more thankful to realize the person didn’t go through with it. My mind was numb yet full of a trillion thoughts and questions. Are you kidding me? What were you thinking? Especially, how did I miss this?
I guess that’s one of the things about a lot of suicides. You don’t see them coming. Because if you did you would stop them, right? But can you stop a suicide? I don’t have enough experience to know.
About six years ago, I made the decision to uproot my mid-twenties California life and move to the Midwest — Chicago to be exact — for graduate school. It was tough. I didn’t know anyone, and I questioned every single day whether or not I had made the right decision.
Then I pulled a card that made the game of life a bit more interesting. I moved even farther east — New York City, in fact — and I was interning at the job of my dreams.
Then reality set in. The job required long days and little sleep. In more ways than I can list, I wasn’t living a healthy lifestyle. I’ve never considered myself a religious person. Spiritual? Yes. Religious? Not so much.
But at that time, in that huge city in which I felt so lost, I found myself attending the 7:30 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral every Sunday morning, begging and pleading in prayer for guidance. I even stood on Fifth Avenue for more than seven hours one morning waiting for a glimpse of Pope Benedict during his visit to Manhattan.
Seven hours! Who does that?
The internship eventually ended. The grad school graduation came and went. I returned home and still felt a void.
And then there was the job situation. Turns out I had chosen, quite possibly, the worst time to continue my education. Surprise, new graduate! No jobs.
Then a call came from New York. They wanted me back. What I really wanted was the best of both worlds. The job and a life in California. But it wasn’t what was being offered, so off I went.
I wasn’t there a month before the prayers began to flood out of me again. I was trying to make the best of it. Then stomach pains began to set in. What I had was appendicitis. A five-day stay at Lenox Hill Hospital followed. Recovery ensued in California with my family. Then the pathology report was released with what appeared to be a carcinoid tumor on the tip of my appendix. It was taken care of, of course. But what a reality check. Nothing like the threat of cancer to put things into perspective.
I never went back to New York. At least not to live. I figured my prayers had been answered. That’s how I chose to see it. I moved on with my life. Tried to appreciate things more. Inevitably I found myself, at times, forgetting about the prayers.
You forget because bills still need to be paid. Jobs still need to be found. Jobs that have demands that are often tough to keep up with. Expectations at work and at home to meet. Relationships that still need nurturing. And there’s no time for any of it. So you get tired. Then frustrated. Maybe even a little resentful.
But what happens when it takes on a life of its own? When depression kicks in and then suicidal thoughts? It happens to those from whom you least expect. Of that I am now sure.
I never got to that point. But in trying to understand how the person in my life got to that point, I found myself afraid.
Afraid that I would never be able to convince that person of the importance of his/her role in this world. Not just in my life, but in the lives of so many others. Mostly, I was afraid that there was a chance it would still happen.
How do you treat suicide before it happens? How, as a society, can we address it?
The fact is, there was a plan in place. The time was coming close. Then from out of nowhere, an unexpected occurrence happened that threw off the plan and caused the person in my life to re-examine things.
No one is exempt from being unhappy. Even from being depressed at times. Though it may not be something I would consider, I can’t ignore — nor judge — those who feel that maybe we’d be better off without them.
The truth is, we won’t.
From the other side of suicide, I can say this: I’d rather see a bill go unpaid, a job lost, and an expectation unmet before I experience the loss of someone I care about.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
Here’s to hope in finding that strength.
Jannette Jauregui serves as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department at California Lutheran University. She is also the author of three books: Ventura County Veterans: World War II to Vietnam; Dad's Song from Heaven; and Of War and Life: A Decade of Stories.