I go to a women’s gym five or six days a week, and always at 8 a.m. so that I can meet up with my buddies. We exercise our tongues as much as our bodies (more), and we call ourselves The Women’s Support Group. We share each others’ problems, offer lots of sympathies and a fair bit of gratuitous advice, and we have plenty of good laughs.
This morning, however, we had a more serious discussion.
A friend of mine who is on the faculty of Rice University was talking about one of her students, who was devastated to learn just yesterday that a childhood friend of his, only seventeen, had committed suicide. He had no details, no how or why, but he surmised that she was very nervous about her SAT exams which were looming.
We all expressed our shock and offered sympathy, and it got me thinking about the other suicides I have encountered.
The twenty-something best friend of the daughter of another friend of mine killed herself last year for no apparent reason. Then I remembered the medical doctor friend I had a few years ago who had been planning his suicide for years, and then one day he did it, while his wife was away from home. He put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Spiraling ever down, I remembered next a young friend going home to visit her mother and finding her hanging from the attic trapdoor at the top of the stairs. How would she ever delete that image from her mind?
We were all saying how difficult it was to understand the depths of a person’s despair to bring them to this violent act, particularly when they are young, and their whole life stretches in front of them. Surely they can have no idea of the violence their act inflicts on their friends and family? And it is hard to understand, and sometimes impossible to prevent this from happening because we are not in another person’s head and cannot feel what they are feeling.
This line of thought ultimately led me back to when I too attempted suicide when I was eighteen.
I was in college in England at the time, and during my first term, I was mercilessly bullied by another girl, whose name will live in my memory forever in ignominy: Margaret. I am an only child, had led a pretty protected life, was living away from home for the first time, sharing a room with five other girls (absolute bloody hell), one of whom was Margaret.
One Friday night I decided I just couldn’t cope with her cruelty any more. I went to bed early, tipped a bottle of aspirin into my hand and knocked back handfuls of them, but I guess not the whole bottle because I’m here to tell the tale. Fortunately, the result was a wonderful night’s sleep, and I woke up refreshed and more optimistic, went into the nearby town on my bicycle, and bought myself a new dress!
The darkness had passed, and on the last day of that first term, I had my sweet revenge on Margaret. That was when the worm began to turn, and I started to stick up for myself.
At this point, I was immersed in my inner journey at the gym and was not paying attention to the general conversation. That early experience led me to remember the last time the thought of suicide came into my head. I was thirty-seven, and ten years into my marriage was feeling trapped, miserable, and desperate. I went out on the balcony of the fifth-floor apartment where we were living in Washington DC and looked down at the street below.
I wondered if I would be killed if I jumped from that height, or merely maimed and perhaps paraplegic for the rest of my life. All I know is that I was very, very unhappy, felt I had made an irrevocable mistake, and I seriously considering jumping. This time too, I was saved from myself by The Voice.
The Voice has spoken to me occasionally all my life, and this time The Voice said to me,
“These thoughts are not you. You are into life, not death.”
I retreated from the edge of the balcony and from the black despair that enveloped me, resolved that I would do something more positive to help my situation. That was when I went into Jungian psychotherapy. I had an extremely demanding analyst, and the first year of therapy was hell, but it was the best thing I ever did for myself. It changed my life forever, giving me an inner freedom that I had not known in my previous thirty-seven years.
Not everyone is called to do intense inner work; it is a calling. It helped me to understand who the real me is, to free myself from others’ expectations, and to work myself out of the clutches of the Collective, which dominates everyone’s life from the cradle to the grave unless we do some inner work. It means letting go of the known, embracing the risk of the unknown, and trusting life in the process.
Suicide is the last choice we are given: we can give up and end our present pain, or we can look on it as an invitation to go through the pains of emotional growth and the eventual healing of our inner wounds.
If only the sweet young seventeen-year-old had understood that she had this choice. This is why it is important to mentor young people because desperation and helplessness are something we all go through at certain times, but when we are young, and not yet used to the hard knocks of life, dealing with seemingly insurmountable problems appears impossible.
Today it is more important than ever that we are aware of our teenagers and young adults because bullying has reached epidemic proportions and we need to be aware of their emotional states, and ready with empathy and understanding. Facebook and other online sites make bullying easy and anonymous, and lethal if you are a sensitive soul.
At this time in our history we need to be a force for good, prepared to stand by our black brothers and sisters, our Muslim brothers and sisters, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. To stand up and be counted when we see discrimination and bullying, for the forces of anger and violence, have been unleashed, and we must not stick our heads in the sand.
All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.
It’s time to protest against the direction this country is taking, but never with violence. Optimism is stronger than pessimism, light overcomes darkness, love conquers fear, and kindness breaks down barriers. Let this be our mantra for the four years that lie ahead of us.
It is up to us to become the change we want to see in this country, and by extension, the world.