"The tragedy of life is not found in failure but complacency. Not in you doing too much, but doing too little. Not in you living above your means, but below your capacity. It's not failure but aiming too low, that is life's greatest tragedy." –Benjamin E. Mays
It’s 9:37 p.m. on a Thursday night, and I’m sitting at my computer, hoping and praying some semblance of the coherent thoughts that have been circulating in my brain somehow translate into written form. Life is interesting, isn’t it? It is both resilient and fragile; precious, yet all-too-often taken for granted.
I received an email reminding me of our upcoming Town Hall meeting from the email address email@example.com. Earlier today — and, quite frequently, lately — I worked with guests who admitted to struggling with suicidal thoughts and impulses. I assess. We talk. We work together to demystify and normalize the experience while trying to cultivate or enhance protective factors, stirring up the embers of hope and perseverance to overcome their various trials and tribulations. Preservation of life all in a day’s work, so it seems. So much so, in fact, that the familiar rote response and — dare I say it — desensitized complacency that often envelopes those who provide first-line crisis services begins to, ever so inconspicuously, encase itself around about me like a coat of mail. It holds and protects, defending against threats to sanity and serenity — until it doesn’t.
I was at the RI International Durham site when I received a penetrating text from a best friend, “David killed himself. My David.” The world stopped. Time stopped. And the seemingly impervious coat of mail that had knit itself around about me disintegrated and melted to nothingness. David was dead. Our David. The childhood friend from elementary school, who had a passion for military aircraft and who, as an adult, served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq in the US Army as a fighter pilot. “Birds,” he called the helicopters. He was the strong one. The intelligent one. The one with the cool exterior and dry wit and inner strength. The last one of us I would have expected to die in this manner.
Yet isn’t that often the case? Common responses tend to include, “I never would have thought,” “It can’t be,” “He/she was so talented/intelligent/kind/loving/successful [insert any positive adjective here].” Perhaps adjectives just serve as socially constructed facades rather than definitive determinants of an individual’s authentic internal condition. All I know right now is, we humans are unpredictable and nuanced creatures. Life is to be treasured and protected by we who serve others, not dismissed and left unshielded. So, as a seasoned clinician at once stripped bare of pretenses and disillusionment, I seek to honor my friend David by raising this clarion call. One that, I hope, will rouse those of us who may find ourselves unknowingly shrouded in this cloak of disillusionment.
Let us commit together, anew and afresh, to promote and champion a collective response to end suicide. Let us seek together to reach down to help up those who are fallen and have come so close to crossing the point of no return. May we reach out to our families, friends, neighbors, and communities to educate and encourage those at risk to stymie the progression toward self-harm. And for those of us who are secretly struggling, let us reach up our hands toward those around us despite the ever-maddening voices of hopelessness and defeat that resound in our brains to gain the help and support that readily exists – if only we would brave and express our need.
Reach Down. Reach Out. Reach Up. #ZeroSuicide.
Susan serves as the OBOT Supervisor and a Clinician at RI International Durham’s Office-based Opioid Treatment program. She specializes in substance use and mental health treatment and has spent almost a decade working in medication-assisted treatment. She is excited to serve as the Co-Leader of RI International’s Opioid Consult Team. Susan is passionate about outreach, education, and advocacy. She is a friend to felines everywhere.