Wednesday, 23 August 2017

She Is So Not OK: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal

Excerpt from chapter 7, “The ‘S’ Word: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. The chapter deals with how we manage our relationship and keep Fran safe when she is in the grip of suicidal thinking. This passage describes how Fran and I originally met online, and my first direct exposure to suicidality.


She Is So Not OK

Suicidal thinking has been part of our friendship since we met. Indeed, it is how we met. One evening in May 2011, I found myself on the social media page of someone who was clearly going through a rough time. She didn’t seem to be online, but in the previous hour she had publically shared suicidal thoughts and feelings. There were hundreds of well-meaning comments. People were offering concern and advice, posting with increasing urgency as time passed and she did not respond. I could have clicked away to another page and put her out of my mind, but I chose to stay. We were not friends, but I knew something of her situation. I felt involved, but what could I possibly contribute that would be meaningful to her, if indeed she was there to read it?

Finally I posted something: “Flooding light and love into your world.”

The words sounded trite and inadequate, but they were the best I could manage. Someone by the name of Fran Houston responded almost immediately: “Sometimes even too much love can be overwhelming.” The comment intrigued and unsettled me. I thanked her for her reply. I think we exchanged a few more lines. Shortly afterwards, Fran sent me an online friendship invitation which I accepted without hesitation. We continued our conversation the next day.

Martin: Thanks for posting what you did last night. It brought me up sharp. I am sure you are right.

Fran: i have so been there.. and people mean well.. and it is such bullshit.. someone told her to go down the street to the health food store and get vitamins.. wtf.. she’ll be fine.. the bottom line is.. she has to save herself..

Martin: There was a lot of concern being shown, but what I sensed most was fear. I know there was fear in what I was feeling. Fear of being involved in what this woman was going through. Fear of facing someone else’s need. There was a panicky selfish worrying, too, in how people continued posting after she had clearly gone offline. The calls for her to come back and reassure them she was OK, that she was still alive. I am happy to see today that she is.

Fran: yeah.. it ends up being a lot of blah blah blah.. nothing about her and what she needs.. all about what others want to give her.. i believe in her.. i do not worry.. that is a negative energy.. it hurts people.. i know i sound harsh.. everyone so wanted to hear that she is ok.. for themselves.. to make them feel ok.. she is so not ok.. i know.. she has a long way to go..

The woman had given Fran her phone number and they were in touch over the following days. Our exchange taught me two things: there is no need to fear talking about suicide and suicidal thinking, and worrying is unhelpful. This is a powerful lesson because we all have the capacity to be supportive—or not. Fran distinguishes suicide interrupters, “those who are able to defuse the suicide bomb,” and suicide aggravators. The latter are people who, consciously or unconsciously, impact her so adversely that suicide seems a viable choice.

 


High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available at: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.jp | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.es | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Barnes & Noble

 

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