“I had no idea what I had done to you, although I should have known it in retrospect. So I guess now is a good time to say I am sorry, although it is about 19 years too late.”
Those words came from a dear friend of mine who went through a prolonged suicidal crisis almost 20 years ago. With her permission, I have written a couple of articles on this site about her (The Woman who Lived in a Tipi and “You Can’t Do Everything”: Limitations in Helping a Suicidal Person).
In one article, I described my impossible wish to protect her at all times from suicide. I wrote, “…I was left with this feeling of abject helplessness, this recognition that she might kill herself, and also this sudden acceptance that ultimately I could not control if she died by suicide.”
I asked her to read the article before I published it online, in case she had any problems with it. After she read it, I asked, “Did you know that I had come to that realization about you and how helpless I was? It was a very humbling experience.”
I had just read an interview with Thomas Joiner, PhD, the acclaimed psychologist who wrote the book Why People Die by Suicide. He describes the mental illnesses and suffering that lead to suicide as “forces of nature.”
“I was humbled by that force of nature,” I told my friend.
And her response to me was the apology I wrote above.
Imagine if she had been stung by a bee and had suffered an allergic reaction requiring a frantic trip to the emergency room. Now imagine that the drugs the doctors gave her were not helping, and I felt tremendously helpless to save her. Would she feel the need to apologize 19 years later for what she had “done” to me?
That is the sad, tricky thing about suicidal thoughts. They come from within you, so you may mistake them for you. They are not you. As I have written previously, suicidal thoughts and actions are a symptom that something is wrong, just like a fever or acute physical pain lets you know that you need to stop, rest, take care of yourself, figure out why and where you are hurting, seek support from others, and perhaps get professional help.
If you think of suicide, it is not because of you or your personality. Instead, it is because of something akin to a disorder of the blood or the heart. Something you did not ask for. Something you did not choose. Something you did not cause.
For that reason, when my friend apologized, I told her, “No no no – you did not do anything to me. That was why I said that about the force of nature. It did that to me. And you were its victim far, far more than I. No apologies necessary!”
And I say the same to you. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you do not deserve blame, judgment, or shame for your suicidal thoughts or actions. You have done nothing wrong. Instead, the blame belongs to “forces of nature.”
© 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com
Photo purchased from Fotolia.com.