Monday, September 10, 2012

World Suicide Prevention Day: How To Care for Your Stiricide

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day (Suicide Awareness Day, if you're the internet), and as all my social media feeds flood with helpful-but-frustratingly-generic tips for how you can help someone who is depressed, I can't help but think: who is this actually helping? And how is this helping them?

Because the thing is, unless you're up close and personal with someone, it can be pretty hard to tell the difference between "kinda sad" and "sitting in a bathtub wondering what else you can use that razor blade for." It can be hard to know when you need to reach out - and even harder to know what form that reaching should take.

For me, if I'm functioning through my depression, no one else will notice it. Because for as much as I hurt, I don't want to be a burden on anyone else in my life.

The LAST thing I ever want when I'm at the bottom of my own personal pit, is for anyone to tell me "It'll be ok." "You're strong, you'll get through this." Or my favourite, eternally, from my mother, "Did you take your meds today?" I have been through this before. I don't need you to offer me platitudes or patronize me. I don't need suggestions based in cool rationality, or reassurances that are foreign to the point of impossible. (I live with depression. It will never be "ok." It will, sometimes, be somewhere between slightly and significantly less shitty. But it will never be "ok.")

When I'm sinking to the bottom, the last thing I want is platitudes, or unattainable hope, or obvious yet impossible advice. All I want is a single thing to momentarily distract me from the bottomless abyss that I'm still trying to find the end of. Not a life changing epiphany or a new raison d'ĂȘtre. Not a phone number to call that will require an enormous amount of emotional energy that I do not currently possess. All I want is a fucking lifeline*A tiny thing that I can momentarily glom on to - that will, with any luck, lead to another tiny thing, and then another tiny thing. (Eventually, all these very tiny things will gradually lead me out of the waters.) 

Do you want to actually help your maybe possibly too depressed to function friend? Take a deep, scary look at who your friend is and how they function on the regular. Prepare yourself for possible and likely inevitable rejection. Don't get offended when that happens. Try not to offer them help in a form that they wouldn't appreciate when they're at "normal" - they'll appreciate it even less when they're in the hole.

But if you want specifics, I'm not sure if I can give them to you. Every person is different, and everyone has their own lifelines. If that friend is me, though, here's a short list of what you can do:

Send me pictures of otters.

Ohhai there.
In fact, you should do this whether or not you think I'm in the hole. Spontaneous otters are code for "I'm thinking about you. I like you. I hope you're well."

But seriously, "Otter Day" is my public access code for "things are no good, ship has been abandoned." It is both a cue to send me a lifeline (pictures of otters are just one), as well as a heads up that things are, well, not ok. Saying "I am not ok, I need help" - literally, in those words (which seem to be the only words that people think have any validity when talking about these things) - never stops being terrifying and next to impossible. So I have code words.

Otter Day.

That's what that means.

- Invite me out to take a walk.

North Boulder Park shot by Ann Cantelow
Somewhere safe, nearby, and normal. Somewhere inside my comfort zone.
Not a hike, not to go dancing, not to have coffee. I can't handle extended human interaction, I'm ashamed to show my face in public. I can't handle a challenge. But I can put on some pants and walk around the block with someone I trust. Though the pants part may take some cajoling.

Show up, uninvited, bearing food that I will eat.

I may be able to shove a Wheat Thin in my mouth,
but I will not be able to make myself an actual meal.
When I'm in my hole, I lose my appetite. I'm too tired too cook, then I'm too sad to cook, then I'm too disappointed in myself to even try. If you haven't seen me in a few days and suspect that I may be sinking, feed me. Probably protein.

But what if you have a friend that isn't me? The only thing I can tell you is, be their friend. Don't assume that the things that work for you to get out a minor funk (or for me to get out of a major one) will necessarily work for them.

Don't treat them like they're an idiot, or like you know how to fix this better than they do. (I can't tell you how many times I've had people suggest that I exercise/take a bath/watch a fun movie/get laid. Just because something is the right answer for you doesn't make it a universal truth. Also, if it's that obvious, your depressed friend has probably already thought of it. 'Cause they're smart, right? Isn't that why you're friends?) Think about who they are, and how they are, and do what you can do to be good to them, in a way that they would appreciate.

Keep trying. Be the best lifeline you can be.

*Of course, if this is the first time, or if it just feels like the first time, they've been down this road, be supportive. Let them know that there are options for them. And help them find out what those options are. Odds are, they don't know what their health plan will cover, or who to call to find out, or even how to set up an appointment with a therapist. If depression comes with a side of anxiety and phone-phobia the way it does for me, they may not even be able to make those calls. If you want to come to the table with advice or options, makes sure you know as much as possible, and have taken as much of the legwork out of things as you can. YMMV, of course, but information and preparedness is always my favourite.


  1. Two things for you will be coming to you just as soon as they come to me. You will like these two things. These two things are not pictures of otters. But you will work past that unfortunate error because you are good enough, you're strong enough, and doggone it, people like you.

    1. Against all of my better judgement, I not only trust you, but anticipate the arrival of these items. I will likely regret this.

  2. Thank you for this, and as always for your honesty. I did not come bearing otters, but I will in the future!


  3. You're a good writer! And thank you so much for joining my give-away!

    XO, Imke