When I was in college I quickly established myself among a group of new friends, one of those friends was this drop-dead gorgeous girl named Loraine. She had fair skin, straight, jet black shiny hair and these sultry full lips that men never failed to notice. She was the quintessential extrovert and she made sure that not noticing her was ultimately impossible. We hung out, went to bars together (the ones we knew wouldn't card us) and groups of us would occasionally go clubbing. But eventually she started to alienate herself from the rest of our social circle. She was just a little too wild and out of control. There was something about Loraine that we all sensed was unstable and perhaps a tad dangerous. And then one day Loraine just ended it. She drove off in her car with a gun and took her own life. She never told any of us what she was planning or gave us any clue that might have given us cause to be suspicious. She wrote a note but she took it in the car with her so that none of us would see it until after she had done what she meant to do. She had been in the middle of a group project and she had secretly finished her share of it early and mailed it off to her partner the afternoon before her suicide so that her partner wouldn't be in any way inconvenienced. And of course she again made sure that by mailing it the package wouldn't be received until it was too late. She had been this boisterous and uninhibited person and her death was executed in this silent and coldly organized manner. None of us had a chance to help her. She didn't want us to.
That was a long time ago and I have admittedly not thought about Loraine in years but a few weeks ago someone else from that same social circle contacted me and through emails and phone calls we've been catching up. It took us a while to bring up Loraine's name and when we did we both fell into a rather loaded silence as we tried to use the life experience we have amassed since those college days to analyze what happened in more logical and sophisticated terms. Of course there is no way to make what happened logical. Clearly Loraine's pain had exceeded her ability to cope with it. That's the beginning and end of it. Still, it's hard not to wonder if we had missed something. If there had been some kind of sign. Should we have known that her wildness would result in a suicide? But why would we have reached that conclusion? She had a quick temper but she had never hinted at self-loathing or despair. "The whole thing was so unsettling," my friend said. "You know, I've thought about suicide before, when I was a teenager. But even when I was thinking about it I knew I'd never do it." She paused again and then asked me if I believe that everyone, at some point in their life, considered suicide. "Not necessarily all that seriously," she added quickly, "but just, you know, thought about the possibility. I sometimes wonder if more of us admitted that the thought has occurred to us those who are thinking about it seriously might feel more comfortable seeking help."
I absolutely agree with that. Perhaps there's one or two percent of the population who have never thought about it in any context but I think that the other 98% of us have at one point or another at least considered what suicide would mean. It's the ultimate what-if scenario. What if I just suddenly disappeared? What would happen then? It was the whole premise of It's a Wonderful Life and countless spin-offs. And of course most of us have come to think of suicide as the "easy way out." It's why some people say that suicide is selfish because many of us realize that while it might make things easier for the self-inflicting victim it makes life infinitely harder for everyone who has ever known them.
But I'm writing this because I think it's important that we sort of 'fess up to this secret truth. That we have, at some point, thought about it even if we never intended to really do it. Because, as my friend pointed out, if we admit that it has occurred to us then those who are seriously thinking about it will be more likely to 'fess up. It's easier to open up to people if you think that the person you're opening up to has some inkling of what you're talking about. If they think that the very fact that they are even thinking about it at all makes them weak or some kind of freak they are more likely to nurse the thought privately and possibly execute the deed quietly, as Loraine did. On the flip side it's important to know that if someone is talking to you about it they are on some level asking for help. They may not need you to help keep them alive. They may already know that they can and will take care of that part on their own. But they are asking you to help them work through the pain they're in. The hard reality is that if they really wanted to kill themselves, if they had no doubt and helping them was totally out of the realm of possibility they wouldn't be talking to you at all.
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