Whenever there is a high profile, celebrity suicide in the news, the social media reactions are fairly predictable. Shock. Disbelief. Thoughts and prayers to the family. Wondering how someone who outwardly “had everything” could be depressed. Statements of how selfish the person was (especially if children are left behind).
It irritates me when people parse a public tragedy like Kate Spade or any suicide as “selfish” but I also get that it is a way people deal with the unfathomable by placing blame. It’s coping. I don’t like it. I wish people would not do it, especially publicly, because it stigmatizes mental health awareness.
Posting the Suicide Hotline is great as a way of coping. It’s important. It’s awareness. When we feel helpless and hopeless, it’s a way of doing something to raise awareness. Maybe someone will use it. Maybe a life will be saved.
I’d like to offer one more thing on the ground level that everyone reading this can do. You don’t need a counseling degree. You don’t need any knowledge of how depression and suicidal thoughts work. We all have the ability to do it.
It is this:
Do not mind your own business. Even when “butting in” is uncomfortable. The only reason I am here today writing this is because three people did not mind their own business in the summer of 2005.
During that summer, after years of struggling with depression, addiction, eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder, I lost all hope that I would ever look in the mirror and see someone that I loved. Someone would ever be loved by anyone else.
In those dark moments, it made perfect sense to me. I would be doing my family a favor to rid them of the burden I had placed on them. I did not see a selfish act. I had no concept of “selfish”. In my mind, it was an act of love. It would be a relief for them to be rid of me.
As the darkness grew deeper and more hopeless during that week, a switch flipped. Maybe I was unconsciously reaching out for help. I began emailing with a friend of mine who noticed that my emails had a suicidal tone and also knew that I had a weapon that he actually had given me as a birthday present years before. He was an avid vintage gun collector.
During that week, I was drinking heavily, snorting cocaine and taking black market Xanax like candy to sleep away each day without facing my pain. In waking moments, I began practicing the act with the weapon unloaded.
My friend called me. I didn’t answer the phone. He then emailed my two brothers Mark and Jeff. Jeff came to the house first. The weapon was on my nightstand. The room was littered with drugs and alcohol bottles. He took the weapon. Mark showed up next. They cleaned up the room and took me in Mark’s car to Green Oaks Hospital in Dallas, kicking and screaming. They were trying to save me life and I just wanted to be left alone to die. I remember walking out of the house and my brother Jeff saying that I had a drug and alcohol problem and Mark saying that it was depression. They were, of course, both right.
I would not find drug and alcohol recovery for almost another two years but there is no doubt in my mind that I am only here to today because three people did not mind their own business. My friend could have taken the comfortable route and avoided an unpleasant conversation with my brothers or worry that he was butting in to my business.
Instead, he started a chain that saved my life. Would I have used the weapon in those moments if he had not? I know that I fully intended to but of course, the fog of the suicidal mind versus a cry for help is often difficult to determine in the moment. If he had decided it was just “drama” that may have only been clear in the aftermath of a tragedy. There is no going back from such a thing.
I am glad my friend Angelo and my brothers did not mind their own business. I am glad to be alive.
Not minding your own business will not save everyone. As long as there is human suffering, there will be this type of tragedy. We cannot be there every moment of the day when someone is struggling and I know from experience that the thoughts and desire to act can come on very fast without warning to anyone else. Not minding your own business however, may be the one moment that you need to save just one person by interrupting a terrible, dark process. Take that chance. Be uncomfortable. Reach out. Interrupt.
Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.