Posted by fxckfeelings on May 7, 2009Share This Post
Since Monday was about anxiety, it makes sense that Thursday should be about the peanut butter to anxiety’s jelly– depression! In these two cases, depression has created urgent circumstances, not just for someone in pain, but for a sympathetic bystander. And, as often happens, the negative beliefs caused by depression are much more dangerous than depression itself.
Someone I’m close to called and e-mailed me a few times last night about killing himself, and this isn’t the first-time this has happened. The last time I got him to call a hotline and get help, and he agreed to go to therapy, but for whatever reason, it didn’t take, and now we’re back to square one. I’d like to believe that this time is another false alarm—that the fact he tells me he’s going to kill himself means that he wants me to talk me out of it—but how can I ever be sure? When he called last night, he asked me if I wanted to kill myself with him, I said no, but then he hung up before I could ask him where he was. Without a location for him, I didn’t feel like I could call the police, but I did call his parents (they couldn’t reach/find him, either). I don’t know what else to do, and frankly, I’m terrified. Please help me do whatever I can to keep him alive.
It’s dangerous to try to save the life of a suicide bomber, and that’s what certain very angry suicidal people are. It’s dangerous for them as well as for you, because the fact of your caring may give them a witness, a target for their anger, and a sense of meaning to their death.
If you don’t respond to his calls, he may take perverse satisfaction in letting you know he died because you failed him. If you do respond, he may tell you that you’re the only person keeping him alive.
Along the way, he tries to talk you into joining him. Whatever. He puts a terrible responsibility on you for his tortured life, and things go downhill from there.
If it’s any comfort to you, mental health clinicians don’t have the answer; treatment runs into the same stone wall. We get a middle-of-the-night phone call, “I feel like killing myself,” and then the phone goes dead. If we can find the number and get the police to send a car, they find someone who says he’s fine now. The next day, he tells us we betrayed his trust. Therapy isn’t therapeutic.
Don’t think you can ease his pain by understanding where it came from. He’ll tell you that you’re the first person who understands. Then, when he feels horrible again, he’ll tell you that you don’t really understand or it’s not enough. So your goal isn’t to understand. It’s to stay away from this dangerous, deadly vicious circle.
As hard as it is to believe, your goal also isn’t to keep him alive, because that puts an impossible and dangerous responsibility on you. It’s to bear the sad knowledge that you can’t help him unless he can find his own reasons for changing his behavior.
Here’s a statement that reminds you and him that there is a way forward, but that it requires a different perspective. It’s a long one, but this is a tricky situation, so I hope this gives you all the ammo you need.
“You think you might be better off dead and that no one can help you. That’s a dangerous feeling because it’s untrue and could destroy you. It’s a feeling that everyone who’s been hurt, tired, and rejected has tasted a little bit of, but you experience it much more intensely than most people, for whatever reason, and it overwhelms your perspective. It forces everyone who cares about you to watch helplessly while you fall apart. If you share those feelings with your friends or helpers, they won’t be able to change them, you’ll feel more disappointed, you’ll drive them away, and reality will seem to confirm your despair.
So fuck your feelings because they’re not true. The truth is that you’ve done some good for others and that you can do meaningful things in the future and find good relationships. All those clichés are true. Tomorrow is another day. But to get there, you must bear what you’re feeling without letting them affect your beliefs or actions. If you believe that your negative feelings are the whole truth, no one can help you. If you’re willing to recall the good things in your life and impose a broader perspective on yourself, then there are many useful treatments that can help you.
Let me know if you want to go in that direction and, if you do, I can give you referrals. I warn you, talking back to your feelings will be painful in the beginning, but it will allow you to lead a meaningful life.”
‘m writing because I’ve got to do something about my pain. I want better for myself, and all the ways I’ve tried to numb what hurts me have obviously failed…my entire life, pain has caused me to mess up my life with drugs and bad relationships and ruin almost every good thing I’ve ever had. I wish I could tell you where it comes from exactly…maybe my dad, who drank, or my older brother, who beat the tar out of me…but I’ve talked about that shit with so many social workers and it never makes a difference. I really think my problem is obvious– no pain, no more mistakes. That’s my goal.
Trying to get rid of pain that won’t go away usually causes more pain, and many kinds of human pain won’t go away, including the past, chronic illness, ingrained weakness, and relationships.
Americans believe we have a right and/or obligation to refuse to accept unavoidable suffering as part of our “pursuit of human happiness,” so when pain doesn’t yield to our American passports, we’re losers somehow. Most people forget that the right to pursue is not a guarantee that happiness will be acheived.
In spite of what’s often seemed to you like a futile pursuit, you’ve made a good try to change your suffering. You have ambition, you’ve survived hard times, you’ve tried to talk things out in therapy, and the fact that you’ve made mistakes shows that you have courage to take risks.
Don’t get too frustrated then by your unhappiness and weaknesses. By trying so hard, you’ve proven they aren’t under your control. That’s sad, but there’s no point in blaming yourself for what you can’t help. You’ll make it worse.
And trying to figure out why you have these problems, after you’ve already tried and tried, will just delay facing them. As you already seem to acknowledge, you’re pretty much fucked. Now, what can you do to manage these problems if you have to live with them?
For one thing, you can learn to take them less personally: you’ve already developed ways to move ahead in spite of them. Don’t let your pain convince you that suffering is a sign of personal failure, because a world of no pain is not going to happen.
Compose a statement that protects the value of what you’ve done and are going to do. “I’ve had pain all my life and I’m pushed by bad impulses. But I’m determined to control those impulses, make better friends, and act in a way I can respect. When I do better, I don’t get rewarded by a good feeling or a pat on the back because I’m too unhappy and I haven’t yet found good friends. But it’s these obstacles that also make it amazing when I do it.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname