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Suicide discourse plagued by myths, judgment

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

TRIGGER WARNING: This feature contains sensitive information on suicide, suiciding and death by suicide

Before I saw the Facebook tag from author Joanne Haynes, I had already jumped on the ideas in her post as I was occupied with responding to the issue of death by suicide and looking at every fresh and refreshing comment from deliberate thinking.

Haynes asked, “What if persons who commit (sic) suicide see suicide as self preservation? We label everything we don’t understand and think because we label it we understand it. So many great mystics cut themselves off from the world, yet the person who chooses to (do) it by taking their own life is labelled depressed simply because we refuse to acknowledge that every person is an individual and does not March to the beat of societal norms and values?”

It remains one of the most thought-provoking comments. More so, it echoes some of the other ideas I have been entertaining especially since suicide remains largely an issue of more questions than answers.

Amidst the cacophony of opinions, expertise — real and imaginary, expressions, condemnation and judgment, there was one common thread that, to my mind was the loudest take-away message. That had to do with the fact that we, none of us really do know the answer to the “why” of suicide.

The other disturbing idea was the one which condemned people as selfish, as not considering the pain of others they left behind. And to that I say that stigma and miseducation have enveloped our thoughts to a point of numbness to the emptiness of such a suggestion. We have accepted that reasoning of “selfishness” over time to become people who sound devoid of good sense.

I ask, when else are people bashed for dying? Is death from a chronic ailment or by accident any less painful for “those left behind?” Please do not rush to answer. Think. Then think some more.

At St Joseph’s Convent last May, during the question and answer period after a mental wellbeing talk to Form Four students focused on stress, a parent asked me to share with the students whether I had ever contemplated suicide.

The simple truth was that I had.

It was also the first time I had been asked this and the first time I shared in public. As a matter of fact, beyond my two friends who did everything to protect me and keep the matter quiet that day, I’m uncertain whether anyone else knew. I was a teacher at a Tech-Voc school. This happened during a free period.

I recounted that just past my 18th birthday, having already had two major nervous breakdowns, one day I decided to swallow all my Valium. It was a handful of 10 milligrammes. I usually would take them at night with all other manner of drugs and would awake with that lost, subdued feeling that made me hate moving around. Everything moved slower and that haziness was compounding the depressed state in which I had been living since 15.

I clearly remember when the deep effects of the ingested drug began to take a hold of me, I knew then that I did not want to die. That was my afterthought.

But in the moment of opening my mouth and raising my hand full of pills, all I knew was the pain I had been experiencing. I was reeling from the stigma of being a teen in secondary school who “ went mad.” I lived in Moruga. You cannot imagine the stories of “people doing me bad,” the bush baths, spiritualist and cocoyea broom therapy I had already received.

And the disappointment of feeling my life was railroaded and could amount to nothing.

I loved my mother. She was the undying support. She is my forever love. In the moment of feeling like my pain was too much it did not matter to me that she may be hurt beyond repair. All I knew was my pain, my sadness, my depression, my disappointment.

I’m guessing that is one of the reason people think suicide is selfish. But for me, in the moment, I just felt it was the best way to preserve myself. I could not consider the feeling of others in an impaired state of mind —that did not make me selfish, it confirmed I was troubled beyond a reasonable thought.

It says to me that my pain was a blinding heat that I wanted to escape. And while I cannot speak for anyone else who has suicided or has attempted suicide as an escape from pain, and frankly neither can you, I offer you today my emotions at the time of drinking the water to wash down my medication that was meant to bring me relief, which I was then using as a permanent solution to my pain.

When people attempt to die by suiciding and they actually die not even a suicide note could really explain all that that person experienced between the decision to suicide and death.

But nothing I say here would ever stop the guessing, condemning, prejudice and bigotry because we are a society that does not understand the virtue of suspending judgment on others. We have mostly lost our way in the area of compassion and tolerance in a dog-eat-dog kind of behaviour in all we do.

In T&T, everyone is an expert on everything even if they have not taken ten minutes out of their life to give consideration to critical thinking or even reading an Internet article on the subject matter. Free data and wide Internet access compounds the miseducated campaigns to a startling limit. Take a breath people.

Cheers to life!

Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (UWI). Write to:

[email protected]


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