There are many ways that the way we perceive the world shapes our place in it. I used to, when I was a wee child, assume that “it” was always worse than I thought and “they” were totally out to get me. Over time I have matured and I’ve grown to a new way of seeing things. I see the world as being largely apathetic.
Just a couple days ago in one of the circles I attend, one person kept repeatedly using he/him pronouns to refer to me. When he finished sparking, the facilitator respectfully pointed out that I use she/her pronouns to which he replied, with complete and total sincerity, “Wait, what’d I say?”
This is a guy who in the past year has gone from being clueless toxic masculinity to regularly calling out other people for saying inappropriate things. He’s been very supportive of me not just as a trans person, but as a fellow human. However, because he had a moment of inattention he didn’t realize he was using the wrong pronoun. This is how I see harms caused to me on the whole.
Sure, there are malicious people out there who cause intentional harm, but they’re thankfully rare. Even the guys here who say inappropriate things to me , or proposition me for sex, or make hateful jokes to their friends about women, trans people, disabled people, and people of color, I don’t think of them as intending to hurt me personally with their words. I see them as being unaware of the hurt their actions can cause and unwilling to expend the energy required to care.
There is a book series called Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey which has a phrase which I have found most enlightening: “first, it is done to us. Then, we do it to others. Finally, we order it done.”
I see this as how lack of intention progresses. First, a person is hurt by a world that doesn’t really care about them all that much. That hurt goes unacknowledged and unhealed. Then, that wounded person causes similar hurts to someone else simply because they are so preoccupied with their own pain that they can’t see the pain of others. Finally, causing harm in this way becomes so normal for them that when they see someone else doing the same thing, say it’s okay and may even go so far as to argue for it being the way things are supposed to be and support others in doing the same.
This progression can be seen in everything from interrupting in a conversation to male pattern violence. Boys don’t start out telling their peers to go beat someone up for a perceived slight. First, they get dragged into a few fights as a kid. Then, they go looking for fights as a teen. Finally, they encourage their “friends” to go assault someone over a perceived slight or “disrespect.” In each case, the needs of the person being harmed is a complete non-factor in the decision making process of the person causing harm.
Adopting this philosophy has been one of the things that have helped me maintain my psychological balance. When I used to see things through the lens of “they’re out to get me” it would cause my thoughts to become more and more paranoid. Paranoia would then lead to me isolating myself and the loneliness of isolation would cause my thoughts to turn to despair, self harm, and suicide. When I was in that state I legitimately wanted to die but didn’t see the point because I believed god hated me and that my life was already hell and so if I did kill myself then I would just be put right back into my life but somehow worse. The main reasons I was able to get out of that mind state is because Melissa Blake, who died of breast cancer a few years back, kept me from being completely isolated and patiently gave me the motherly love which had been absent from my life.
I’ve said all that to frame where I’m coming from when I talk about my views of suicide. I’ve been there, nearly done that, and have the scars to prove it.
The biggest problem our society has is that we don’t want to talk about our shit. It’s even a stated cultural norm “when in close quarters, don’t talk about religion, politics, or family.” This is wrong. This isolates us from each other. This keeps us from leaning on each other when the hard times come. This makes it impossible for someone thinking about suicide or engaging in self harm to talk to their friends and family about it. Because there are consequences to doing so if the person they disclose to decides to call in the shrinks or the cops “for their own good.”
Nothing can make a person suicidal like being on suicide watch. People joke about something being the worst. Well, no joke, being on suicide watch in prison is the worst. Locked in a concrete box with no furniture, with only a smock to wear, nothing but a concrete floor to sleep on, florescent light overhead that is never turned off, and every half hour someone knocks on the door and tells you to move and prove you’re not bleeding or anything. In the corner there’s a hole in the floor to piss and shit in, which of course reeks to high heaven. It’s literally the worst and it is the reward for talking about having suicidal feelings.
This needs to change. For us as a culture, this needs to change. For every person that’s hurting, this needs to change. The taboo of talking about death needs to be done away with so that someone can sit down and tell anyone “I don’t feel like living anymore” and that person’s response be “I’m sorry to hear that. Do you wanna talk about it or were you just letting me know?” I believe that suicide needs to be considered a legitimate choice that a person can make after informing the people around them of their feelings. This accomplishes two things: 1) makes it safe for the person with those feelings to talk about them without fearing being locked away in the psych ward and put on suicide watch, and 2) it allows people to say “goodbye” or “see you on the other side” (depending on one’s philosophy).
And who knows, maybe having an opportunity to attend their own wake/going away party and hearing people tell them all the things that they’ll regret not saying will help the person in question to stick around for another lap or two around the sun. However, if a person is just tired and done, forcing them to stick around against their will is the absolute worst possible act that can be committed against that person.
Often, when the subject of suicide comes up, people talk about how selfish it is for the person in question to kill themselves and all the harm and suffering caused to everyone left behind. This hurts to hear. What about all the suffering that person was going through? People don’t kill themselves because life is just ducky with rainbows and unicorns. They do it because everything hurts and nothing has meaning. Waking up hurts. Eating is pointless. Getting ready for the day is a pain. Talking to people is excruciating. Getting through the day is a contest to endurance. Waiting for the next disappointment is torture. Every breath is another paper cut. Having someone say “I’m worried about you” feels like the imposition of yet another obligation. Everything hurts. The only relief comes at the end of the day with sleep. Assuming sleep is an option. It is selfish to ask someone to keep dealing with that just so that the people around them don’t have to grieve.
Most people will never understand what it feels like to be in that much emotional pain and thus cannot understand suicide. It is my hope that they never understand. It is also my hope that they can recognize that they will never understand and not over react when someone close to them is in that much pain.
The only way out is through, and not everyone makes it through. More people could make it through if they they were able to lean on the strength of the people around them who have never been there.
This is why we need to take away the stigma and make it safe for people to talk about their feelings and experiences without having to worry about being put in a cage for the crime of living their own path and honestly sharing it.