The Silent Shame of Suicide

Shame is a terrible thing. When you feel too ashamed to share how you are really feeling with anyone, it is a terrible dilemma to be in. Some of this shame I know too well myself from having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since a physical assault in 2012 and being too ashamed since then to say so as if I had created the condition myself. People shame us with their love of all things sunny and funny as if being “real” and “depressed” or otherwise hurting is a sin. It is not.

Just today in the bank I was so proud of myself for speaking out. The line was 40 deep and I began to overwhelm and panic, started visibly shaking which prompted a staffer to come out from her desk and ask me if I was alright. No, I told her, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and all these people are panicking me. She took me into her office, helped me reset my forgotten password so I could use the bank machine. Only when I was at the bank machine did I realize the money will be dispensed in twenties and I did not want my rent all in twenties. Back in the now much shorter line I went to be served in a little under 15 minutes.

Just a few years ago I was afraid to say I have PTSD lest I be blamed, shamed or otherwise abused for having something I did not want or ask for. I suspect my mother, always known for being such a strong woman, felt shame when she thought of committing suicide and this shame prevented her from sharing her thoughts with the very people who could have supported her through that very dark period of her life. My hunch is she did tell one or two church going friends who likely shamed her further because according to some faiths “suicide is a sin, a coward’s choice.” Talk about silencing the suicidal. It is not a sin.

Those are very faulty religions if you ask me. We are only human. We are allowed to have faults. If we had no faults we wouldn’t be human. I cannot know what my mother was thinking but as a grown woman who often reflected on finding her when she attempted suicide, I can guess what she was going through.

Our dad was a good looking musician in his leisure time and a hard working machinist who won some awards for his music. The inevitable groupie followers developed and some of those led to liaisons that were poisoning my parent’s marriage. Our family left Ontario when I was 11, we five of my parent’s children packed into the back seat of an old boat of a car that had seen better days but carried us to the west coast of Canada.

There, I am sure, my mother’s plan was to start a new life free of the women who still found out our west coast address and wrote my father love letters as well as hate mail to my mother. Sadly, dad could not find work on the island we resided on so he left home to find work on the mainland. We only saw him weekends after that and sometimes not even then. This led to the inevitable end of my parent’s marriage when my father met and fell in love with another woman.

Some time after this I overheard him, emotionally, telling my mother he still loved her, too, that he loved them both. Still, he ended their marriage to remarry and left us alone, broke and with a mother in such pain she could not see a future past it. I suspect we had come as far west as possible and the only other option was to return to Ontario where we had left so much family behind to arrive out west where we had none. Or jump in the ocean.

For me, I will always think of my mother’s suicide attempt as jumping in the ocean. Going back was too painful, too shameful, I believe, and facing a future with no job, five children staring at her for sustenance and guidance, and the love she made the move for now gone from her life. In those times there weren’t a lot of options for women. Many simply sought out a new man. Our mother told us she would never love anyone as much as she loved our father so this wasn’t a viable option for her.

On the night she attempted to take her own life with drugs a psychiatrist had prescribed to help her cope and sleep, she sent each of us five kids to stay overnight at our friend’s homes. I was playing board games and talking with the friend I chose to sleep over with and suddenly it struck me: Mom is home alone. Nobody is with Mom, she is all alone. Something compelled me to act on that thought and run all the way home where I found her totally out of it in her bed. She had been vomiting and some of the tiny pink pills were still whole in her vomit. We had no telephone so I ran to the neighbor to ask her to call an ambulance. She did.

Mom survived. How she survived I do not know. What support she had to get through that dark period in her life is beyond me. We needed her, that was all I knew at thirteen. Somehow Mom put her life back together. She found odd jobs until landing a government job as a Matron (as they were then called) in a youth detention home. This was one of her greatest points of pride in her work career, to have such a great position that paid well, had benefits and made life easier in so many ways. The institution eventually closed and Mom opened a daycare center in her own home which she worked at for approximately twenty five years.

During this time she remarried, too, but you could see she never truly loved our stepfather. It would be what many call “an arrangement” but that came to an end when she could no longer tolerate not having the love she truly wanted. Our father died just a few years after leaving us and shortly thereafter, Mom packed up the house, took what kids were left at home and moved back to Ontario with the stepfather she would eventually part ways with.

Many of her friends and relations had already retired but she worked on, caring for children in Ontario and becoming a source of advice and support for their often young parents. She affected so many lives in such positive ways that many took to calling her “Mom” themselves and still tell us kids what a great influence she was on them and their children.

Many criticize me for talking about my mother’s attempted suicide as if she or I should be ashamed of it. We absolutely should NOT be ashamed of this. Besides, I was only thirteen years old. Think about that for a moment. Compassion should be the answer and nothing else. Years later after her attempt on her life my mother said she didn’t really want to die, she just thought we would be better off without her because she couldn’t see a way out of her dilemma at the time. She said she was just going out of her mind and didn’t know what else to do to stop from hurting.

I understand this. My life has not been a road of roses and I really get how when we are so far down, we forget to look up or we just don’t have the strength to look up. We overwhelm, panic and dig ourselves deeper instead of reaching out, calling out to a safe person to help us through the challenging chapters of our lives.

If anything, in light of all the recent high profile suicides in the world, we should learn something from this. We should learn that not talking is a silent killer.

We should learn that being a safe place to talk, a non-judgmental source of support is critical. If people feel safe enough to share how they are really feeling maybe we can save some lives that otherwise might end too soon.

We can talk about suicide all we want and raise awareness all we want but, if people are feeling so alone and isolated or shamed or blamed in any way for feeling they have no other option, they are not likely to reach out at all.

Make your ears a safe place for anyone to talk about how they feel. I had a friend when I was in emotional trouble after the physical assault in 2012 who said, “Call me anytime. I don’t care if it’s 2 in the morning, you call me anytime you need to. It would be my honor to be there for you and help you through this.” I never needed to call her at 2 in the morning but call her I did. A retired hospital manager, she was a key person in my healing process and we remain close, mutually supportive friends to this day.

One safe set of ears is all it takes to make a difference. If you can’t be a safe set of ears for a person, at least don’t judge them and please be kind.

Having the resources of suicide line numbers and agencies that can help is also a good idea for those who can be a safe set of ears. I don’t believe anyone really wants to die, they just want the inner turmoil and pain to stop.

All I can say in closing is that I was so glad I found my mother in time. Later when life had leveled out for her, she told me herself, “I’m glad you found me in time, too.”

© Janni Styles

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22 thoughts on “The Silent Shame of Suicide

  1. I’m so inspired by your story, Janni, in the sense that it actually reflects what I’ve been going through in the past eleven years. All the times when we’ve been close mouthed we rarely got help. These past two years, it’s been a word of “tell it out”. Who wants to remain in the pain? It’s a steady killer in itself. However, it’s one thing to talk to others and it’s another thing to get either a compassionate or judgmental response. In the past years, I’ve got both, and trust me, I run from those who judge me because I know it can destroy so many things.

    Now, things are crashing in on me, your story came by, so inspiring.

    Thank you.

    Sam.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I so appreciate your honesty and sharing. I am so sorry for what you have been going through.

      I love your phrase “tell it out.” You have inspired me to continue “telling it out” for all who may need to hear and I hope you will continue to “tell it out” yourself.

      Running from those who judge us is absolutely the right thing to do. Judgers are not healthy thinkers or they would not judge. There but for the grace of God go they is what I always think and what will they do when their turn to deal with strife comes… sigh. Some never get it and never will, I fear.

      So thankful you are still here and still talking. Please talk anytime you want, I may not always answer promptly but I do answer everyone as soon as I possibly can.

      Thank you for sharing your light with me. I looked at your pages and enjoyed what little I managed to read so far, will be back soon. I appreciate you!

      Janni

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A very honest piece. I hope this helps others, Janni.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Robynne Black

    Thanks for writing that Janni. You’ve been through a lot. Yes, I spent almost a lifetime hiding worry and anxiety, thinking mothers had to be strong, but when I had panic attacks sometimes I wasn’t able to make a quick exit. They are embarrassing, but you also can find out how kind people can be as well. Still makes me uncomfortable though too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mothers are people too, never feel bad for simply being human. So sorry you have had so much angst to cope with. Like so many invisible illnesses many cannot see anxiety which makes it all the more difficult to cope with. Not to mention those who shame blame by saying “you look fine” or “you just need to buck up” etc Hope things are easier for you now, Robynne.

      Like

  4. Thanks for taking the time and effort to express these thoughts and your and your mother’s story. For some it is helpful just hearing or reading that they are not the only one. I know for myself even though intellectually I can tell myself other people have problems, too, when i go down the rabbit hole all i can think is everybody have their act together, that they are as broken as i am, etc.

    And I like that you say a safe set of ears, rather than just a set of ears. Listening is an art form. It means being able to hear possibly some very unsettling things. Moreover, people who are down in that dark place are sometimes quite agitated, angry, or feeling threatened so they might get defensive or snippy. I know I can be. If someone says “I know just how you feel,” they’ll probably get some version of “Uh, no you don’t know how I feel.” And if someone offers to listen and expects me to somehow be all better in twenty minutes of have been listened to, than i probably end up in more worse place than when i started.

    As you said: “If you can’t be a safe set of ears for a person, at least don’t judge them and please be kind.” Let the person know there are crisis lines who can be a safe set of ears, acknowledging that what is going is serious, complicated, and very worthy of attention.

    Thanks again for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad if my sharing helped you even if only in some small way. You are so right about listening being an art form.

      A good friend of mine for the past couple of decades once said,”I see listening as a way of valuing others.” He is so right. Good listeners are hard to come by. Another friend once said, “We have one mouth and two ears for a reason.” Sadly, too many over use the one and never learn to effectively employ the two.

      I am so sorry for all you have been through and hope you are finding kinder ears these days. As more and more become aware, hopefully they will stop waiting to talk about themselves or their opinions and just let us gently be. With you in spirit and here for you in any way I can be. Thank you so much for openly sharing. I appreciate your hearing very much.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Clearly your mother had a difficult life and sometimes found it almost impossible to manage. Life without tenderness is miserable indeed, and she had to suffer long periods in that condition while trying to raise and support a family. Many of us exhibit a quality of unsung courage and I think she was such a person. I think you have much the same quality and bless you for it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you kindly, Peter, for your always wise and tender support. I couldn’t agree more that my mother was a walking example of unsung courage. Though she had little herself, she lent a helping hand to anyone who needed it from supporting a young woman’s arduous recovery from a near fatal car accident to providing a home for a young mom to be whose unwed pregnancy saw her shamed and shut out of her own family. Stories abound in all of us and there is so much you cannot know by merely looking. Grateful for your blessings, returning them to you tenfold.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is an amazing, heartfelt and brave post Janni. And anyone who criticized your mom needs a good slap from me. It is never the falling down in life. We all fall down. It is the getting back up that matters. it is all that matters. (And ps for those who can’t, unlike your mom, , there should be no shame.) xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol on the slap, you so remind me of my mom in that one phrase, lol, though she might have called it “a good smack” lol. So true we all fall down. And could not agree more that whether we are able to get back up or not, there should be no shame. Those who can’t get back up need our unconditional love and kindness even more. Those who get back up have been there, have the right to share their story and are most often the best at listening because they know first hand the effects of not being heard. Love and hugs to you dear Shehanne ❤️❤️❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    In my first novel in the Moksha Trilogy, my protagonist’s guru warns her that shame and guilt are the weapons of the ego – hard to understand until you delve into the nature of the ego. Read Janni Styles’ excellent post on the shame of suicide….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shame and guilt are weapons of the ego. What a revelation! They so are. Thanks so much for your kind support and for sharing this piece. Your wisdom and words are ever appreciated, Mira. I always learn something new from you about, as Jean Vanier also says, “Being Human.” So glad we connected, many blessings to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for this honest and bold piece. It needed to be said, and you said it beautifully.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, DeEtte, you are going to make me cry. So glad for your read and the feedback. It just blew out of me as is so that is quite the compliment. Thanks so much, I know you understand from all the good work you do in the world to help hearts heal. So glad we connected all those years ago. Love and hugs to you. ❤️❤️❤️

      Like

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