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Why suicide and the importance of a safety plan

As you may well imagine, there are as many reasons to suicide as there are stars in the sky. Some of the more major ones are unrealistic expectations, perfectionism, isolation, guilt and shame, fear of failure (and fear of success), mental and/or physical exhaustion, feeling like a burden, “sparing” family, friends, and/or treaters, unresolved depression and/or trauma and other and assorted mental disorders, unmitigated grief and loss – to name just a few.


The one common denominator that figures into all of the above reasons to kill oneself is a lack of hope. Hopelessness is the granddaddy of all reasons to suicide – in my experience, it is what people who survive suicide attempts often cite a lack of hope as their reason for giving up.


Speaking from personal experience, all I wanted when I attempted suicide was to end the pain I was in. I had absolutely zero hope that things could or would change, and I saw suicide as the only way out. I was utterly hopeless and completely convinced that I would remain that way for the rest of my natural-born life. Being completely hopeless was excruciatingly painful – it felt like I was the odd person out, that others had hope as a matter of course, and I? Well, it felt like I didn’t deserve it, and that was like someone twisting a screwdriver in my side.


One thing I often talk about regarding the suicidal mind is that suicide is anything but a choice. I liken the suicidal individual to a person standing in a piece of pie, facing into the tip of that piece. When you’re wedged in tight into that tip, you can’t turn or see right or left: you’re pretty much just plain stuck. Plus, you lose all insight when in that tip – you forget that you can move backward and become unstuck. (I’m not saying that simply backing up will solve all your problems, but it’s certainly a place to start.)


Hopelessness is not a choice. No one wakes up and says, “Well, today I am going to see how hopeless I can feel – now, won’t THAT be fun? Today, I will see just how unhappy I can be. I’ll believe that I am worthless, useless, hopeless, and a failure. I will believe that I am no good to anyone the way I am (and likely not even if I were to make some “improvements” that don’t seem possible, anyway). I will feel excruciating pain over relationships that haven’t gone as planned, raking myself over the coals, deserved or not.


I will see myself as having let everyone and anybody close to me down. I will keep telling myself that I am bad, I am unworthy, I don’t deserve the air I breathe, and that I’m a complete and utter waste of oxygen. I challenge anyone who doesn’t “understand” suicide to spend a day in my brain. While I have taught myself to turn a deaf ear to the suicidal voices that shriek in my head (at least more often than not), a “visitor” might not be so lucky.


I felt utterly hopeless on more than one law school exam. (I still remember a question on my property exam final – it went something like, “Please explain the amortization raisin in the zoning cookie,” I still remember that question, over 25 years later!) At that moment, I felt a complete and utter lack of hope that I would pass my property class. While failing a class would have been awful for me, I now realize that it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Luckily, I did just fine – and even more luckily, I survived the ordeal.


For some, however, the mere fear of failure can be enough to trigger the kind of hopelessness that causes an individual to suicide. This is an important lesson in not judging others’ hopelessness: what may be a minor trigger for you may indeed be a major trigger for someone else; it can feel very different to different people, and it is usually a temporary state.


One thing that kept me sane was making and agreeing to a safety plan. There is a school of thought that they are ineffective; to that, I have one response: they have saved my life many times. That said, I believe they are only effective when you have a relationship with someone you trust – someone who can hold your hope when you can’t. You should (must, even) trust this person with your life. So, what, exactly, is a safety plan? It is a document that is an agreement between two parties that the one struggling will not suicide. It is not generally a long, drawn-out document – its purpose is to get the suicidal person from step A to Step B – I would agree to keep myself safe (read:  alive)l until the next time I see her.  Getting to that next appointment was hard enough – weekends were excruciating. I knew she had never had a patient who suicided, so that was one major reason I kept myself alive. Use whatever means necessary to convince yourself to stay alive. If it isn’t a safety plan, be creative, and see what your reason(s) are – however seemingly unimportant – and use them to stay alive. Why suicide?

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