Recently I have read about an awful lot of suicides among everyone from people among our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, public figures, and even young people among our local high school students.
The devastation that suicide leaves behind is tremendous. Loved ones are wracked with guilt, and wondering “Why? Why didn’t I see this coming?” In the case of someone who suicided out of anger, the emotional trauma is even worse to loved ones left behind, because the person wanted to punish them. They’re already going to wonder what they could have done, or think that the event was their fault. Reading an angry note left behind saying “This is all your fault” just makes the situation even more painful, and it’s cruel.
My great-grandfather committed suicide in 1920, I think it was. Upon doing more research, I discovered the reason. He had fallen off a windmill a year earlier. His physical pain must have been tremendous. There was no pain management in those days. He checked out because he could no longer endure the pain. He was found hanging in the barn by a grandchild. This is the problem with the aftermath of suicide. Someone has to find the the deceased. Someone has to suffer the trauma of being the first person on the scene and seeing the results of the person’s final act. Physical pain drives many people to end their lives. So does emotional pain.
When someone comes home from battle, and the war is always with them, they see their present world through the glasses of their former world, the war. They have learned behavior to cope with the danger they were formerly in. Upon hearing a loud noise, some people may dive to the floor. Others many grab for a weapon, any weapon to save themselves. However, upon returning home, the responses that may very well have saved a person’s life in war will hinder their functioning back at home. The self preserving behavior that was formerly so useful has now got to be unlearned. The problem is that by now, the behavior is second nature. It’s unconscious. When the person says “I can’t control it, it just happens, ” he or she is being honest. What few people tell them is that with a lot of work, a lot of the innate behavior can be unlearned and weeded out. It won’t happen overnight. This much I can tell you from personal experience. I have never been to war. I do have PTSD from a painful childhood ruled over by an angry authoritarian father.
It wasn’t unusual for my sister and I to be awakened at 2 in the morning because Dad had found a speck on a fork or a plate. Dad would burst through our bedroom door screaming at the top of his lungs, and the next thing we knew, my sister and I would be standing sleepily at the sink cleaning every dish and piece of silverware in the house. To this day I startle at the least bit of noise, and it wears me out when I’m in a situation where I am constantly exposed to unexpected noise. Dad is long gone, but my body is still waiting for him to come screaming through the door.
This is just one of my PTSD reactions. Let’s continue about PTSD in a military person returned from war. The person suffering will relive the horrors of the things they saw. He or she will constantly find themselves reliving events long past. The current reality fades and they are once again in a convoy, fighting for their lives, seeing, smelling and hearing death. How can you not be tormented by watching your buddy die? Or seeing dead civilians or children? Or they’ll be fine and suddenly read or hear about someone in the same exact place or situation that they were in, and the war comes back to them. Thoughts and feelings run the gamut to “It could have been me, Why wasn’t it me?” to “Why am I here when my buddy isn’t? ” The person may feel that they don’t deserve to be alive. Not many professionals know how to deal with PTSD. Few people who have not been to war understand what it’s like to still be living in a war you’re no longer fighting, except, yes, you are still fighting it. You’re fighting it in your head, and you need help getting the war out of your head and moving on.
Physical pain from illnesses or accidents, are easier to deal with than they were in 1920, but even now some people come to the point where the pain has taken over their very being and they can get no relief. Some people may look ahead to where they see that their disease is going to progress to, and not be willing to get to that point in their lives. They want to spare themselves the indignity of helplessness and unbearable pain down the line and spare their families from the stress of care taking.
Depression is an insidious disease that often leads to suicide. The feelings of emotional pain become too much to bear. The toll of day after day of being immobilized by emotional pain and bombarding one’s self with thoughts of things like : “I’ll never get better, I’m worthless, I’m stupid, I hate myself/everyone hates me” become too much in the sufferer’s opinion to bear any longer. Depression is also acerbated by a person not forgiving themselves for mistakes, major or minor and moving on. They may try therapy and not like the therapist and decide after looking for others that therapy isn’t for them. If I could say anything I would say “If you’ve found ten that haven’t worked, keep trying. There’s more than just ten people in the profession.”
The person may feel worthless or in the way, and all the evidence the person sees only backs up the person’s warped view of reality.
In my case I often think that the lives of those around me would be easier if I wasn’t here, because I often feel that all I do is take up space, cost money and distract people who do enjoy life from living their lives. I often feel like I’m in the way and that I do not belong here. I watch people around me live their lives and I feel like I’m looking through a window. I get so frustrated with myself because it seems like I am constantly failing. How hard is it to keep a house clean? It shouldn’t be that hard. Apparently for me it is. And so I let this failure help me define my self worth. I’m told that’s wrong.
I used to be horrified at the thought of suicide and felt bad for the survivors. I still feel bad for the people that are left behind and are hurting because they lost a loved one. Unfortunately,as of late I have began to understand why the person who took his or her own life did so, and I can no longer criticize them for their choice. Some times I’m almost envious. And this is what bothers me. So far what has kept me has been my fear of pain and dying and not wanting to cause my husband pain. I hope that this will continue to be the thing that holds me back. In the meantime, my prayers are with everyone who suffers from emotional pain, or mental illness of any kind.