Friday, February 06, 2009

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil

I was just watching a documentary on the IFC channel about people who committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004. One of the people who jumped, but lived, said that his thought at the time was the Bible verse, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil." I almost committed suicide myself in 2004, and that verse was what I recited to myself when I lay on the bathroom floor with a loaded .357 magnum in my hand.

I had many suicide plans and numerous attempts. One of my plans was to go to San Francisco and jump, like so many do, from the Golden Gate Bridge. What I would like people to understand about that, particularly people who have, themselves, never been suicidal, is that you can, literally, save someone's life if you intervene. People in this documentary discussed not wanting to put their friend or family member into a psychiatric hospital, not believing medications would help them, and assuming it was inevitable that the people would commit suicide, or that it was so out of the ordinary, they never could have predicted it at all. People stopped me from committing suicide. Obviously, the main person to stop you if you don't go through with it is yourself, but I almost did go through with it, and what stopped me was my friend, my family, and some policemen with guns drawn who put me in handcuffs and carted me away.

There's nothing romantic or dignified or memorable about the police carting you off to a psychiatric ward to lock you up and force you to live. But I would argue that there is also nothing very romantic or memorable or dignified about committing suicide. I would suggest that people do ask questions, that they do make phone calls, that they do alert the police, that they do have someone locked in a psych ward if that is the only way to keep the person alive. I'm not saying it is anyone else's responsibility to keep someone alive, but it is possible to assist someone who wants to die in not committing the act "successfully".

When I calmly browsed internet forums about suicide, asking for advice on fool-proof method (although in the U.S. to give such advice is technically illegal), I didn't tell the people I was communicating with that I believed I was Jesus and I was going to be hung on a cross, or that I believed I was Anne Frank or an alien or L. Ron Hubbard, or that a modern day Holocaust was occurring. I did, however, think all of these things all the time back then. When I walked, calmly, into a gun store and purchased a lethal weapon, claiming I needed it for self-protection, and when I bought safety slug bullets, so they wouldn't go through my body and kill someone else, and when I went to the shooting range to learn how to use the gun, I did not tell the people who assisted me in my preparations to end my life that I was also insane.

I did not know I was mentally ill. Most unmedicated, psychotic people do not know they are psychotic, and I was no exception. I very well could have died the night I lay in the bathroom with a Bible and a gun, after preparing gifts and checks for my family members and friends, after writing my living will and my goodbye letters, after deciding there was no choice at all but to end it now...I could have died. People assisted me in saving my life. So I believe in interference. I believe that we have a responsibility to our fellow woman and man to say, "Hey, I'm worried about you. Let me help you." I believe that it is okay to have someone's dignity taken away in order to keep that person alive so they can know what dignity really is for another day. I believe that suicide is a preventable problem.

I just wanted to say that here.

When I was suicidal, I found, easily, people online who were perfectly willing to help me plan my death. Now, if I had, say, asked them to help me plan someone else's murder, I don't think many people would defend their right to help me do that or my right to commit the murder. There is this rather troubling idea that many people have, however, that suicide is a human right. I can understand that if the person is dying of a physical illness, and they are mentally stable, and they want to end their life. However, a mentally ill person is not mentally stable, and many of us with mental illness, who will go to great lengths to plan every detail of our suicide when we are sick and not on medication, are completely glad to be alive, later, when we are on medication and our minds are working better. I don't think people should tell a young woman on the internet what kind of gun she should by to be sure she dies when she blows her head off. I don't think there is any logical explanation for someone giving out that sort of advice, particularly on the internet when they have no idea what the person they are talking to is actually dealing with.

By the time I got to the point of nearly shooting myself, I had already overdosed numerous times over many years, totaled a car by smashing it into the side of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge while trying to drive over the guardrail to kill myself, and contemplated all sorts of other methods. I had spent many hours, over many years, at the Skyway Bridge thinking of jumping. I had counted pills, researched pills, and figured out lethal dosages countless times. I had tried to suffocate myself with a plastic bag. I had tried to die.

During my most serious attempt before the gun incident, I successfully lied to the police and the emergency room doctor to prevent them from sending me to a concentration camp, which I thought was what they would do if they believed I was mentally ill. My mother, I learned years later, had pleaded with them to keep me in the hospital, over the phone, because she knew this was no accident and I was trying to kill myself. They sent me home, in a cab, alone, with donated clothes on. I laid in bed hallucinating for days or weeks after that. I don't know how long. I never saw the car I crashed - which was my mom's car, but she and my brother saw it and they both said they could not believe I had survived that crash.

Now, I'm not saying that the doctor or the policeman who sent me home are at fault for what they did, but I am saying they made a serious mistake. If I had gone on to kill myself, it would have been, obviously my own choice, but that would have been a choice made by a flagrantly psychotic brain who had no sense of reality at all. I could not make a rational decision to die or to live at that time. I needed help. I believe that most people who choose to die don't really, completely want to die when they are feeling like themselves. I believe that if we can ride out these dark moments of the soul rather than indulging in the idea that there is something romantic about jumping from a bridge, then we have the chance to live our lives and find fulfillment. I don't think the people who created the film I watched tonight were doing much to assist the people who they videotaped as the people killed themselves, rather than interfering.

I believe in interference. I believe that the valley of the shadow of death is created by neurochemicals and is a place from which one can escape.

1 comment:

  1. Because of your personal experience with suicidal feelings and actions, I would say that you qualify as an expert on it and I agree with you: suicide is preventable if people step up and intercede. But before people can intercede they must be aware of the problem, knowledgeable about the signs and actions to take. Support groups online and offline are a good place to raise awareness and foster fellowship.

    I am very glad that there were people there for you who did intercede. I am also glad that you are so forthright and articulate about your own experience. You may be helping more people than you know.



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