A Conversation on Suicide and the Left Behind: Twitterscript of Jennifer Michael Hecht

Friday, March 14, 2014 - 3:16pm
A Conversation on Suicide and the Left Behind: Twitterscript of Jennifer Michael Hecht

Author and poet Jennifer Michael Hecht on suicide, resilience, and community. She says, "We have secret web-like connections to each other. Sometimes when you can't see what's important about you other people can." Join the conversation here.

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Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Executive Editor / Chief Content Officer for On Being
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Credit: Spencer Platt License: Getty Images.
“None of us can truly know what we mean to other people and none of us can now what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings — the endless possibilities that living offers — and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles. Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay.

Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. The first step is to consider the arguments and evidence and choose to stay. After that, anything may happen. First, choose to stay.”

~Jennifer Michael Hecht, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It

We are receiving an outpouring of stories from people sharing their stories of grief and resilience. We're hoping this Twitterscript of Krista's conversation with Ms. Hecht prompts you to join our ongoing conversation about suicide. Share your experiences here and let's build a better dialogue about this issue in our society.

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Trent Gilliss is the driving editorial and creative force behind On Being. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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I know what it is like to feel total emptiness. To reach the point and to attempt suicide and survive. Having lived through that experience and being on the other side of it for seven years now, l still have my struggles but cope much better. I attribute this to therapy, meditation, writing, art and prayer. I live alone. Aloneness and loneliness are two different entities. Being alone is manageable. Loneliness settles into your soul, causing pain and inner conflict. Thus leading to an increase in depression and anxiety, that has been my experience anyway.

Wow! A week ago today, one of my best friends shot himself. I was sitting here this morning, trying to come to terms with the world without him in it....... Then I heard this about this conversation on the radio.

I'm not sure I have much to say, outright. I know this landscape well. He's not the first friend I've lost to suicide. And, I'd played on the edge of that cliff myself. AND, this friend and I had discussed suicide, and what comes after, often and fearlessly in depth. He didn't believe in suicide. He thought you went to hell if you committed suicide. About my other friend, he said, in his wonderfully blunt, direct way, "I'm sorry, but I won't lie to you. Your friend is in hell. You need to worry about your own self." He meant every word of that, at the time. He WAS sorry. Truly sorry. For my grief and my loss and my friend. But he would NOT lie to me. I'm confident that he never did, because that's the way he was. And, what he said was what he deeply and truly believed. I told him, "If that's the nature of your God, I want NO PART of him!" And, I meant that. Now, I call myself a Christian and that is because of the testimony of this particular friend, although he'd argue the point.

I know he was in a very dark place, when he pulled that trigger. I know that the view from the edge of that cliff is a very narrow one and there are many things you can't see and don't think of. I BELIEVE that now he knows I was right, back then, about the nature of God. That God IS Love and God knows our hearts and our pain and a God like that could hardly reject us because of a momentary choice.

I hope you get a good conversation going here!

Two girls in my daughter's 7th grade class attempted suicide in the past 4 weeks. I see a small grieving class of 13 yr old's trying to make sense of their microcosim called middle school. They are forever changed. The school sent out a note to parents saying the girls have trouble dealing with conflict. Administrators and teachers are afraid to talk about what exclusion does to a person's spirit, how we all need just one friend and and what being a member of a school community really means. I wish we could develop program's for middle schoolers where they are mentored by high school students telling them they will survive middle school-that all the dynamics change. I wish there were a series of videos like the one's Dan Savage made about being gay, but with people talking about surviving bullying, exclusion and feeling alone. We need the world to stop saying, "well it's just middle school or high school" and instead find way to identify kids who seem isolated and help them develop friendships, social groups and a sense of belonging. I think this would also end much of the school violence we see. We have too many kids hurting deeply in isolation and not finding a place in their school community.

Things change but some things never go away. There are lonely in high school and in college. There are lonely adults. Sometimes things get worse.

My brother shot himself in the head with a sawed off shotgun at the age of 19 in 1980. Many think it was a split second decision but I wonder if he had considered it as an option during our tumultuous childhood. After all of these years I find myself feeling grief and guilt at not having shared with him how important he was.
We are all interconnected and our actions touch all we have touched.

Bipolar disorder runs in my family. My older brother shot himself at 21 and I saw the bottomless grief and agony it left my parents in. I have known from then that I would never go there. But two more of my siblings have the mental illness and I have received several calls over the years as they made attempts too. I can't know the horrors they must live with to be so hopeless after what we saw. Even when I lost a baby and when my healthy sister had cancer we did not succumb. So the depth of hopelessness must come from within in a way most of us will never understand. But I cannot condemn them for seeing the unthinkable as an option. I just try to hold onto them with love even when they fight and wait and pray for their storms to pass again.

Tomorrow will mark the first anniversary of my daughter's grandmother, Bethany, ending her own life. Bethany wasn't my mother-in-law anymore, but we had a close relationship and I loved her. It was a devestating loss for our family. Looking at the twitterscript I saw a question about handling anger in the aftermath of suicide, but I never felt any anger at Bethany. I lost a dear friend to cancer a couple of years ago, even though her body was cancer-free when she died. She was so weakened from fighting that an infection overtook her. It was the same with Bethany. After decades of fighting her bipolar disorder, the suicide overtook her. I feel a deep, cavernous, wrenching sadness over her absence, but no anger. Also, I don't think philosophy could have saved her. She had a PhD in psychology and in addition to being highly educated was deeply spiritual and I don't think she "believed" in suicide. Intellectually she knew she was loved and wanted, but there are many diseases which can circumvent intellect and bipolar is certainly one of them.

it has been 27 years yesterday, the 'ides of march' that my brother commited suicide. He was a Vietnam vet and was a casuality of that war. I saw him suffer for years, with old friends not wanting to be friends any more, and what he saw as false pretense in our society. What I mean by that is, we live in VT and have little communities with white picket fences, and when he returned from war that all seemed fake to him. He returned home to people who didn't care about his battles in war. My bother and I had several discussions together where he shared some of his horror stories of war, and what our goverment put him through. Although I don't think he had any regretts, he was a warrior who went to war at age 18, trained to do his job. What he could never get over was the lack of respect for what he did. The loss of his old friends.
Today I see his old friends the draft resisters who have made well for themselves, and family. Many of them have plenty of money.... the riches that my brother felt were unavailable to a returning veteran. He suffered for many years after getting home and his choice of suicide broke our framily hearts. I honestly don't think his friends felt that way... instead they felt he was 'crazy'. For me this has left me with a lot anger that I have had to deal with from the day he died. I look at our society and see greed with making money and having power with that money. I see his friends never giving back to society, just keeping all their wealth in their familys. This was the peace/love generation???? too bad so many never learned the meaning of compassion.

It makes sense when you or anyone else says or writes it now - "Stay. You are loved. You are important. Think of your children. Think of the future". But, when you are in that dark place, none of it matters. It is so difficult to understand if you have not been there. Before experiencing "Hell" myself, having experience with others who were depressed, I also thought it was just a matter of "choice" and will power. It is not. No one would choose this. Even now, after escaping, I look back on it and can not comprehend it. I remember it but can not fully grasp where I was. It is unfathomable the amount PHYSICAL pain that can exist in your head. More than childbirth, more than any pain I have ever experienced. After days and days leading to months, you can not take it any longer, you will give up anything to escape it. Whatever rational arguements or reasons others try to give you, it does not matter. They are approaching you from a "normal", healthy mind set and thinking. You are not there! As I said, I can not even comprehend it now. Trying to give logical and rational reasons for living to someone who is suicidal is like trying to explain quantum physics to someone who is mentally challanged. It makes sense to you, you understand it, but they are just INCAPABLE of understanding. That being said, it still is important for others to say these things. Somewhere, inside, even though your brain may be rejecting it, you are feeling it -but it must be combined with treatment. I am not a proponent of medication (did not take even a pain killer for 20 years), but when you are here, you first need to get your mind back to a "normal" place. On the journey back to wellness, having the support and caring of friends, family, and community is vital. Seven years later, friends tell me that they thought I would never be the same again. I tell them that if they had not been there, I would not be here now. The ironic thing is how it ended up changing me for the better. I would never choose to go back and do it over again but I do know that it has forever changed my perspective on life, relationships, and my role in it all.

Thank you for sharing this - it is impossible for many to understand that the world and view of a suicide contemplator is another territory altogether, like a moonscape with little gravity and large pits one can get lost in and the optimism might as well be the orb of earth in the distance, for others and too far for you.
I believe that there is no one answer to why and what one feels before attempting (those that succeed and those that don't) but that most feel both it is more about getting out of the darkness that is their life than getting out of a darkness that is life. However, I am so glad that for you, at least, and I believe it could be for others if help is there in time, this darkness is but part of the journey of their life that leads them ahead for isn't the darkness a sign something needs to change not that something needs to die?


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