We're nearing the end of Suicide Prevention Month in the US, our own UK Suicide Prevention Week and World Suicide Prevention Day have just been and gone, but that doesn't mean we will suddenly care less about the well-being of ourselves and others as we move into October, and, since this month has been a particularly challenging one for me, it got me thinking about the fight to survive. I'll tell you a little story; if you're sitting comfortably, then I'll begin...
My grandmother, who died in 2012, was a very "difficult" woman. This is an opinion widely held and verbalised in my family and among her old friends. My own mother was terribly afraid of her; she told me as much a few years ago in the same breath as remarking how much I was like the fierce matriarch we all called 'Nani'.
About 2 or 3 months ago, resenting this negative comparison, I asked Mum if there was any good that could be said of Nani. A list of positive character traits I recognised as my own was received in reply, with this one of particular interest:
"She was independent; she was very feisty and she fought right to the end."
She fought right to the end...
It was less than a week ago that this connection between my grandmother and me was cited once more. I was crying down the phone, inconsolable because my plan to leave London had seemingly failed (on account of the fact that, after renting out my flat and shipping out to Thailand for 4 months, I had found myself back in the Big Smoke again for work), my relationship, which I recalled as idyllic only a matter of weeks prior, was almost certainly coming to an end and I was anxious as hell about returning to full time office based employment after a 9 month sabbatical.
Extremely concerned after weeks of witnessing my indecision and anxiety, and desperately needing to get through to me, Mum asked me a question: Was there any of Nani's fight left in me, or had it all gone?
There it was; a simple choice that suddenly made everything quite plain. This was about survival. I had to do whatever I had to to survive. Giving up was not an option.
Often, everything in life seems very complicated, and anxiety can cause us to over-complicate matters in our own minds. But when it comes to the very darkest moments in our lives, it all boils down to a single choice: To keep going or not.
People that have been close to the edge, like mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin - whose global mission to 'Find Mike' (the man who talked him down from Waterloo Bridge) may be made into a Hollywood movie, it has been revealed - have talked about the simplicity of effective communication in those critical moments, about making a connection with the other person. Basic questions like 'Are you OK?', which is the basis of an Australian mental health campaign, or 'Will you come with me for a coffee?', have broken through the cloud of despair and triggered that survival instinct.
It was also this month that the tables were turned and I was reaching out to another in difficulty. Battling with addiction, their goal was simply independence, something that those of us who have enjoyed the security of regular employment and the ability to pay rent often take for granted. Prompting this person to action, I asked, didn't they want to make people proud?
This was not their survival trigger. The life they had known seemed so tempting, so much easier than this new life of NI numbers, hard grind, bank accounts, bills and tax to pay. But after asking what they thought the end result would be of returning to the life of addiction with which they were so familiar, the trigger emerged: Do you want to go to prison?
When the question is that basic, there's really only one way forward, and it's moving forward in itself. Do what you need to do to survive, or it's over. As a friend of mine put it in a Facebook post recently, "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem". Don't let your solution be permanent; what's your survival trigger?
Photo credit: 'Disappointman' via The CALMzone.
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