It’s been about a year since we lost Christine Daniels, the Los Angeles Times sportswriter who transitioned and later killed herself (read my post column on the topic at goqnotes.com/4549). After reading the LA Weekly article, I was devastated — perhaps one of hundreds who innocently subjected her to pressure for advocacy. I suspect she would not have wanted us to feel remorse, yet her death, along with the latest bullying-provoked suicides, has once again called me to re-examine the taking of one’s own life. But, there’s another reason, too.
I know what it feels like to contemplate suicide. I also know what it feels like to attempt suicide and fail. I even know what it feels like to rejoice over that failure (this is the first I’ve written about it). What I do not know and am currently learning, or not learning, is what it feels like to try to prevent another’s suicide.
I have a friend who is super intelligent, funny and completely at ease in the public’s eye. She’s been a trans activist for years. She’s lived though two horrible years, wherein she’s lost her job, her home, her dignity and her sense of being in the world. As with many of us, she’s an aging trans person, trying to make it in an economic downturn where employment can be difficult for everyone — and infinitely worse for trans individuals.
Being the super intelligent person she is, my friend has devoted much time to researching and reading about suicide. “Out of the Nightmare: Recovery from Depression and Suicidal Pain,” by David L. Conroy made an impression on her. So did Canada’s CBC broadcast of “Ideas: To Be Or Not To Be.” Just last night she mentioned the names of two other books she’d just checked out of the library. I’m hoping that her interest in investigating suicide will be a stopgap and actually help to deter her from a radical and irrevocable decision.
A theory which has found traction with her is the three-legged stool model. All three legs must be there for a suicide to be successful — that is, fatal. Two out of three criteria are insufficient and even then a “trigger” is usually instrumental after the stool has all three legs. The trigger is what suicide hotlines and professionals who deal with suicides try to keep from occurring, in addition to addressing the three main causes of suicide:
The first leg of the stool is despair. Okay, my friend is desperate, or at least has allowed herself to believe she is. The truth or fiction of this belief may lay entirely in the eye of the beholder. She’ll probably hate me for this, but it has something to do with a dogma of self-delusion. I know about this behavior because I personally rationalized my own suicide attempt with this same faulty reasoning. Many who contemplate suicide do too.
It goes something like this: “I have nothing to live for; there is no hope for me. I don’t even deserve to live. Let someone who is more deserving and who will appreciate it have my life. Yes, I hear what you say about thinking positive, but I used to be positive about life and look where it got me. So much for your theory that negativity begets negativity and positivity begets the positivity.”
And, I’m stumped because I don’t have any answer. It’s Job’s plight: Why do the good suffer? Well, life isn’t fair, but you get back what you put out. I know there’s a paradox here, but it’s true. And, you need to believe to make it work (a little thing called faith and not necessarily in a religious sense.). Sadly, I’ve failed in fostering a sense of faith with my friend, even though she accepts that none of us knows what’s around the bend.
The second leg of the stool is isolation. Everyone knows what it’s like to be all alone. It can be pretty damn scary if you’re already feeling like you have no reason to live. And, it’s easy to lose friends (she has no family) as life gets more tenuous. I’ve watched her alienate friends and I guess the subconscious rationale is that of the self-fulfilling prophecy: “See, I have nobody who really cares anyway, so it won’t make a difference either way.”
Sadly, isolation and despair become a co-dependent pair, each one feeding off the other’s negative energy until you’re literally being sucked down into a vortex of utter hopelessness. Sometimes it’s all the energy she (or you or I) can muster to even get out of bed in the morning. She has wanted me to visit (she lives 800 miles away), but it just hasn’t worked out. I know she feels I’ve abandoned her. There’s a push/pull dynamic involved here, as well, which confounds and frustrates me, but you have to work within the parameters of your own life and sometimes reaching out is difficult. Still, I feel guilty.
The third leg, as I’ve been told, is not courage but a loss of fear. As life gets more desperate, a tipping point can be approached, and then reached, where the fear of taking one’s own life is less than the fear of the unknown with no home, income or prospects.
And, then there’s the trigger. It could be the stupidest and least consequential event or thought which ignites the stool and its three legs. An irrevocable moment has been reached with no room for buyer’s remorse.
It gets better. We’ve heard this expression a lot lately but the truth is that sometimes it doesn’t. And, my friend has convinced herself that, in her case, nothing will ever improve. In fact, it will progressively become worse — is becoming worse — whereupon she lets me know that the clock is ticking and that it’s getting closer to midnight. But, it doesn’t always get worse; in fact the more you want it to get better, the greater chance it will. And, in most instances, life is its own proof that checking out early is not only tragic, but regrettable. But, we’ll never know if we don’t stick around. I’m living proof. : :
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