Michael Abrahams | Suicidal thoughts: more common than you think
Two Fridays ago, while getting ready to go to work, I came across an interesting meme on Instagram. It read: “Let me tell you how real depression is: There are people alive only because their children are.” I found it interesting because I knew that some people would relate to it and thought about posting it and adding the comment that for some people, even having children is not a deterrent. However, I decided not to post it at that time and went to work.
On my way home from my practice, I received a WhatsApp message. A friend of mine simply sent me a woman’s name. I asked her if the woman was okay, and she responded by telling me to call her when it was convenient. I arrived home, and as I entered my bedroom, my wife, looking distraught, asked me if I had heard about the woman who committed suicide by driving off Flat Bridge and into the Rio Cobre River earlier that afternoon. I told her I had not heard about it and instantly began to wonder if the woman was the same person whose name had been sent to me via WhatsApp. I called my friend, and she confirmed it. And when my wife showed me photographs of the woman’s body in her car after it had been retrieved from the river, I fell apart. I knew the woman.
I had known Ava for 21 years, before she had her two sons, now aged 20 and 18 years. And I knew her well. I had not seen her recently, and I do not know what had triggered her into deciding to end her life. I found it ironic that on the morning of her death, I considered posting a comment about having children not being a deterrent for people who decide to end their lives only for Ava to take her own life a few hours later, leaving two sons behind.
ALARMED AND DISTRESSED
The next morning, I decided to post the meme on Instagram. Later that afternoon, when I visited my page, what I saw alarmed and distressed me. The sheer number of people who “liked” the meme and posted comments indicating that they related to it was a sobering reality check. I subsequently posted the meme on Twitter, my two Facebook pages, and on my WhatsApp status, and everywhere I placed it, I saw the same reactions of people, mostly women, who related to it.
Comments such as “I’m dying inside”; “I remember where I was when I gave up but wouldn’t act on it because of my kids”; “There are people only alive because suicide is a sin”; “That’s my mom”; “This is how I feel sometimes …”; “You are talking to me, every day is a struggle”; “So true I can relate”; “I am still searching for the reason to be alive”; “I’m alive because my children are, and now grandkids ... .”
I decided to reach out to one of the responders, a total stranger who follows me on Instagram, who I realised was hurting. I suggested that she see a therapist, but she had given up on them. She then sent me a screenshot of an online newspaper story about a body found in a shallow grave…which turned out to be her son.
What surprised me were the relatable comments from people I knew but had no idea were hurting. People I look after, work with, and encounter in offices and stores where I do business. People who greet me with smiles and hugs. People who send me hilarious memes and jokes on WhatsApp and post funny comments under some of my social media posts.
MASKED SADNESS AND PAIN
The truth is we do not know how much people are hurting. Ava always greeted me with a sweet smile that masked her sadness and pain. Some of us do not understand how someone can take his or her own life. Some think suicide is a selfish act committed by weak people. But that is not necessarily true. In many instances where suicide is attempted or committed, the person is in such severe intractable mental pain and anguish that the only way they see a solution is to no longer exist. After all, if they no longer exist, they will no longer feel pain. Many suicidal persons are survivors of trauma, especially in childhood, and their self-confidence and sense of self-worth have been so decimated that they have convinced themselves that the world, including their children, if they have them, would be better off without them.
If you do not understand how someone can contemplate ending their life, be grateful. It means that you have never slipped down that deep, dark, dank hole, that downward spiralling abyss of sadness and despair. Reach out to and check up on those you know or suspect are hurting if you are able to. And if you are hurting, please do not be afraid to reach out for help.
Please do not judge. Instead, be kind. Many of us are living on the edge.