What We Need to Understand About Suicide

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This article was first published in Elephant Journal.

“I have really bad news.”

I’ll never forget the words that still haunt me. My response was something like you’ve seen in movies: my head rolled back in shock and despair as I collapsed onto my bed, crying uncontrollably. I felt complete hopelessness, perhaps not unlike the way my brother felt just moments earlier when he willingly stepped in front of a train, having come to the conclusion that the pain of impact was nothing compared to the pain of living.

My brother was the charismatic silly guy who made everyone around him happy. The problem was, he did that at the cost of his own happiness. He didn’t know how to be happy because he measured his entire sense of self on the way he made others feel, and because he was such a master at making others feel good, he wouldn’t dare burden us with his own struggle. After years of this, he fell further and further away from who he was, utterly consumed by who he thought “should” be. Eventually, he was completely lost in his thoughts, devoured by his mind, gone.

With the recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, it seems that there’s a sense of sorrow and dissolution in our culture around the concept of suicide. It’s so prevalent and yet, so dangerously misunderstood.

The problem is that we’re too smart for our own good. We can figure out everything, but we don’t know who we are. We value the way we appear to others more than the way we appear to ourselves. We’re driven by external factors like fame, accomplishment, and Instagram followers. We’ve forgotten the value of nature, connection, and love. We’re afraid to look at ourselves honestly, afraid that deep down there’s something terribly wrong with us, but we’ll never see the falseness of that assumption if we don’t have the courage to question it head on by looking inside.

Looking inside requires that we feel our emotions, even the ones that are socially unacceptable. Once we do, an incredible surge of forgiveness, understanding, and unconditional love emerges from within us. When we allow ourselves to be who we are — to face the shame, the idea that maybe we’re not okay — we find that our greatest strength is that very fear and the beautiful vulnerability in it that connects us all together.

What my brother Danny needed was not to be “fixed” because he wasn’t broken. It was quite the opposite. What he needed was the courage to look at himself honestly, the courage to see just how wonderful he already was.

Unfortunately, courage isn’t always accessible. Sometimes we need to lean on others. If you’re struggling now, follow these steps:

1. Ask for help. Find a trusted loved one, a therapist, or a caring voice on the other end of a hotline.
2. Spend time in nature. Get out of society if you can. Nature never judges. It reminds us that we’re apart of a greater whole.
3. Do something physical. Take a yoga class, get a massage, or watch your breath move in and out of your abdomen. Peace arises when we bring awareness into the body. Although our minds may wander, our bodies are always in the present moment.

Above all, please remember there is nothing wrong with you. Deep down, we all share the same fear that we’re inadequate. It runs through our nervous systems and connects each and every one of us. When we talk about it, it loses its power. Let’s keep talking.

Need support? Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1–800–273–8255.