Guest speech for Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Posted: March 12, 2017 in Journal of the Jester, Uncategorized
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Hi, my names Terry, and I am suicidal.
I say this not in an effort to elicit attention or even sympathy, but simply because it should be said, aloud, and for all to hear.
My story is not new, although it is unique. Every suicidal person’s story is unique, no matter how many similarities they may share with someone else’s story. I say similarities because to me, that’s what they are. Some may say symptoms, but I’m not a doctor, and I think a part of the problem is our societal need to label everything and have it fit in neatly aligned jars of order. But we are human, there is nothing neat and orderly about us. We are raw emotion, wrapped in a skin suit. We are wild imaginations, hindered by the need to be seen as “uniquely normal”.
I’m here to give you someone to talk to about suicide. Someone you don’t have to worry about stirring up emotions with or causing them to lock themselves away by asking questions you are curious about. Or maybe you know someone who you wish you could help but you don’t know how and asking them is scary. I know it is, I’ve been on that side of the discussion many times. I’ve sat numb in a friend’s bathroom at 4am cleaning up blood while she sat with her 15-year-old daughter at the hospital after she tried to take her own life because she was afraid of how everyone was going to react to her being gay. It’s not an easy discussion, by any means, but I believe it is one we can all have.
Let’s begin by trying to figure out what “suicidal” means. Suicidal isn’t only the person who takes a jar of pills to end their life, suicidal isn’t only the kid who loads a pistol with tears running down his cheeks as he perches on the edge of his bed. Suicidal is the person who thinks the lives of others would be better off without them in it. Suicidal is the child who thinks they are useless. Suicidal is the feeling of hopelessness and the lack of options.
But we always have options, right? Of course, we do. Even we know that technically there are always options. But “technically” is about as hope-inspiring as silence in a black abyss.
The good news is suicidal doesn’t always equal suicide. So yes, there is always hope.
I am only one person, and my story should not be compared to others, nor should theirs be compared to mine. There are far too many differences and struggles for me to say that this is how a suicidal person thinks. I can only speak for myself.
I really can’t stress this enough, because I have found myself at times questioning someone else’s suicidal validity based on my own feelings and past accounts. We should never, ever, ever do this! We are all far too different inside to think that we are all the same.
For me, being suicidal is a constant. It is with me every moment of the day, during good times and bad. I’ve had moments where I am driving down the highway, singing along to a song on the radio only to snap out of my little song trance when I realize my fingers just curled around the door handle with every intention in the world of pulling it open and letting myself fall from the cab of my truck.
It scares me, more so than times when I am contemplating how to end my life because it steals my control, and that is terrifying.
Why am I scared of it if I’m suicidal? Because I don’t want to die! I don’t want my existence on this earth to be finished, but I need it. There is something deep within me that calls for it, demands it, promises to make every failure and insecurity go away if I would just get on with it.
It might be tied into the same part of me that knows that I am loved. Knows there are people who truly love and care about me, yet leaves me every night feeling more alone than I can adequately describe, no matter how many poems of hopelessness I pen as I sit at my desk, sobs sucking away every breath I try to take, tears smearing the letters before they even have a chance to dry.
Does being suicidal mean I have a plan? Sometimes yes, but not always. My current plan is to not have a plan, but I’ve done the planning out thing twice. The first time was in 2007.
I lived in Novato, CA up in the North Bay. At the time I was going to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge on September 9th. Not very original, I know, but something about the bridge just felt right to me. I learned that it would take about 4 seconds to fall 245 feet (which is the height of the deck) and I would hit the water at about 75mph. I had about a 5% chance of surviving the fall and drowning which was hopefully not going to happen, but I didn’t know for sure.
I spent two months also writing and re-writing my suicide letter. Adding people by name and saying a personal goodbye to them. Begging my mom not to blame herself, trying to lessen people’s loss by expressing repeatedly that this was something that I wanted, it shouldn’t be viewed as a tragedy or a loss of life, but of someone getting their wish fulfilled.
I would drive out to the bridge in the middle of the night. Now it is closed to pedestrian traffic at night, but no one ever stopped me. I would feed the meter in the parking area and then walk out onto the bridge, into the fog of the night. Its yellow lights aglow, the cold wet railing trembling under my hand as traffic drove by. I know the bridge looks mighty sturdy but let me tell you when you are walking on it and feeling the vibrations and movement, it’s a little freaky.
I even picked my spot out. Between light posts 109 and 111 on the East side of the bridge. I would stand out there for hours, long enough to learn that the lights wink out just before 6am and plunge the bridge into an eerie darkness as the sun fights through the fog. Once the bicyclists started whizzing past, heads always down, I would start to make my way back to the parking area. It didn’t occur to me until later that maybe the reason they didn’t look up or say hello as they rode by was because they knew what I was doing out there alone. Maybe they didn’t want to see me. To remember that they said hello to that guy that morning in case they came across a picture later on. I don’t know.
If you asked me to tell you one of the happiest days of my life, I would tell you it was September 8th, the day before I planned to jump. I woke up that morning feeling lighter, freer, even happier! A great weight had been lifted. I was gonna go to the movies and see a movie I had been waiting to see, then just enjoy the rest of the day. Even the street lights seemed to have a hazy glow about them. Everything moved in a surreal time-lapse. When I got out of the movie, I drove to a pond near where I lived in Hamilton Field. Watched some birds splash around and then got a call from a friend who was an ex-coworker. I felt comfortable enough to tell her my plan. She wasn’t happy about it, I sat numbly trying to explain that this was gonna be ok, that it wasn’t a bad thing. Why couldn’t she grasp this? To me, it was like someone freaking out because I said I was gonna get a chicken sandwich at McDonalds instead of a Big Mac. Then I started to realize that she really did care and I wasn’t going to be able to make her understand.
I went home. The cops showed up a short time later. An officer asked me if I would be willing to talk to someone and I said, “Yes absolutely! I would love to fix myself!” I meant it too. This was actually good news. Finally, I would get therapy or something and I would be better.
So he handcuffed me and sat me in the back of his car while they talked with my roommate, then drove me to Marin County Psych Ward for a suicide hold.
I learned very quickly that I was not going to get any help there. I sat on a bench outside in cuffs until they were ready to process me. Then they take you in, they ask you a brief history and ask you if you are suicidal. You answer truthfully and they tell you to go sit on the couch.
Imagine a large room, part of it has desks all shoved together and people working, but you aren’t supposed to talk to them. There are a couple couches in the middle, a bench along the back wall. A makeshift half kitchen area with a fridge that you are told you can use. There are hot pockets and pot pies and such in the freezer. The people around you are a mix of completely crazy and people like you. Or I guess if you are crazy then there is a mix of boringly sad people and then people like you. Take your pick.
No one talks to you. You sit for 4 hours and then they assign rooms and pass out sleeping pills. You get up around midnight cause you can’t sleep and make your way out to the fridge only to have someone tell you that, “You can’t be out here until 6am.” and to go back to your bed. They offer more sleeping pills but you turn them down.
The next day you sit on the couch for hours on end until someone calls your name, asks if you are suicidal and if you say yes they send you back to the couch. Rinse and repeat.
The third day you decide to lie, they ask if you are suicidal, you cheerfully chirp, “Not a bit”. And they hand you a taxi voucher and buzz you out.
No help ever offered, no direction pointed at for where to find help except a business card that asks for insurance info the moment they answer and hangs up when you tell them you don’t have any.
I hear similar stories from people who have been to Mary K. Shell and that breaks my heart. People have asked me if I ever called a suicide hotline and the answer is no. I know that they aren’t truly anonymous and are required to report you to authorities. If anything, the 2007 plan taught me one thing. How to hide it all away.
In 2012 I quit my job and made plans again. This time I would do it a little more secretly. I made goodbye videos and uploaded them to YouTube but made them private. My idea was to sell everything I owned, guns included, and man I love guns! I did though. I sold all but one pistol and anything else I had of value. The plan was to coast on the money until I couldn’t pay rent or bills anymore and had $100 left. Then head to the beach, spend the day there, and take my own life after changing the video from private to public. I even looked up coverage area maps online to make sure I would be able to. I would let someone else find the goodbye video, or possibly post it on Facebook last minute before turning off my phone. My 4 Runner was packed. I had an ice chest ready, some blankets, I even had a beach umbrella because you know, I didn’t want to sunburn before I killed myself. Ha. Yea, I don’t get it either now but at the time I made a special trip to two different Rite Aids looking for one.
Something out there wasn’t ready to let me leave yet though and kept putting things in front of me. Ultimately I ended up falling in love. I never expected that to happen. It really wasn’t fair to her though because I was still dancing with demons. We both were and ultimately it was me that gave up on us and walked away. Something I will no doubt continue to regret for some time, if not always.
I wrote a Last Days style journal which I published in my last book. Completely unedited for content and terrifying to put out there, but I wanted this. I wanted to start a non-scary conversation about suicide. I wanted people to know that they could ask me questions and I would give them answers, real answers, and not hide behind a mask anymore.
I still hide. You kind of pick up on when people are able to handle the truth, and when they are just trying to be cordial.
How have I made it to 2017? Honestly, just distractions, setting little and easily achievable goals and finding something to be passionate about.
One of the things I can offer if you are talking to someone who is suicidal is to change the subject, this includes reasons why and why not to commit suicide. Don’t ignore what they just said, but instead listen and then try to drag the conversation into something they enjoy. Don’t try to guilt them into staying, it has the opposite effect. Well, it does with me anyway. Cause the more someone tries to tell me that So-and-So will be so hurt if you do it, the more I want to scream, “What about what I want? Don’t keep me a tortured prisoner just because of your inability to deal with death!”
Ask about their hobbies and interests. Do they like to draw? Ask to see some and if they do show you, please tell them truthfully what emotions or feelings the drawing brings up inside you. Even if this is something you aren’t good at. Don’t just give them generic, “Oh that’s cool.” If you think it’s cool, tell them why. Pick a specific part. Is the hair drawn in a way that makes you feel like they are moving? Does the smile feel genuine? Look deeper at everything even though your mind is panicking and wants you to just keep talking until they calm down. Find a way to beat back that panic and reply only after truly listening.
One micro-goal that I set for myself is movies. I love movies. I love the escape, the adventure, the fantasy. I love books too, but movies have release dates and there are always movies coming out that I want to see. The last goal I set and reached was simple, “I have to wait until after I see Logan.” I made it, and it was worth it. It might seem pretty trivial, but it really does help. If I can catch a good trailer, it can hold back the dark like a torch. Sometimes that isn’t enough, though.
Sometimes I start sinking into the dark and pulling back from everyone around me I know things are not good. I know I should reach out. But I can’t. I have people asking if I am okay, and I mask up, tell them it’s all fine when I know it isn’t. I tell myself I’ll get through it alone even as I lie awake at night staring at the ceiling and thinking about places to go to do it. Should I do it in my truck? No, then my dad won’t be able to sell it. I should do it outside. Ok, so where? Oh, that’s a good place. I like that…
I fall asleep and hope tomorrow is a quieter day for the voices.
Oh yeah, the voices. They aren’t exactly how I picture “The voices” when I hear the phrase in movies. I don’t actually hear them so much as just have them in my head. Little gremlin thoughts that sneak up out of nowhere and remind me that I should kill myself. They can be ignored, but it still leaves a little shadow of doubt in the back of your head for a while. I haven’t figured out a way to stop them but I do find myself whispering obscenities at them from time to time. Hmm, maybe I should have placed myself in the “Crazy” category earlier when I was talking about the psych ward intake procedure.
A great way to break away from the dark river of suicidal thoughts is finding a passion. It can be anything that sets your blood ablaze. Politics, Civil Rights, Comic Books, Misspelled memes, whatever stands your hair up. Pick a poison and just jump in. Learn to swim as you go. Want to get people more excited about recycling? Then do it. Start a group on social media, find one, drag your family into it in a more personal way by making paper plate signs and taping them to their bedroom doors if they forget to use the recycling bin. If you live in a more conservative home and that isn’t an option, then just do some research and bring it up conversationally but let them know you are serious about it. Right, recycling might be a bad example but still. Find a passion, something you truly believe in and feel in your heart and just start researching, start learning, start trying to educate others, even if you don’t have all the answers.
The same can be said about helping someone who is suicidal. Listen to them, talk to them, even if you don’t have all the answers, because I know I sure don’t, but I am here and you can talk to me anytime. If you aren’t ready to speak out publicly then come find me, please. I will answer any question you have and try to help you find your own path, your own goals. Today does not have to be your last, and neither does tomorrow.
Thank you.

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