Sometimes when people die you think to yourself if it is in bad taste to write about them. I haven’t even felt fully comfortable talking about it with my friends. But given the title and ethos of this article, I will.
A childhood friend of mine passed away several days ago. It was self-inflicted.
Some people were shocked by the news but there was an unspoken understanding we had. I suppose it is why we got along, despite the fact that we didn’t maintain the bond.
I don’t think he was satisfied with himself or with his life. I totally understood this because I too had this issue. I wasn’t too surprised when he and I both showed up for psychology undergrad courses. We knew we needed answers.
Around the second year of undergrad I started to have suicidal ideation because I bought into the thought that I would never accomplish what I wanted in life. I believed that who I was would never be enough to achieve my goals.
Because that thought had some truth to it, I started to self-isolate. I skipped classes. I was living in fear but no one seemed to sense it. But it was a half-truth. I didn’t have the skills to succeed… yet. With experience came growth and the skillset for life (which is ever-expanding).
For my friend, I still have no clue what was going on in his life or in his head before he died. I just remember him being bullied throughout high school, seeing the foreign thoughts lodge themselves into his mind and the emotional stings getting sucked into his skin.
I remember the seemingly irreconcilable differences in his family. He never spoke about it much to me but I too had this problem. To be fair, a lot of teenagers do. It may be normal but that doesn’t make it healthy.
I remember how he lashed out at other kids who were being bullied too. It was as if he saw himself and was terrified that he was like them. This was actually one of the first instances where I fancied myself a psychologist for spotting something like that.
The difference between those guys and him was that they leaned into who they were. They took it on the chin and let themselves feel the pain of condemnation. They didn’t run away from it. They were a lot tougher than anyone else at school because most people would’ve crumbled.
I didn’t learn that lesson until some years later. Sometimes I forget. I will hear the voice of some classmate who was probably having a bad day and took their frustration out on me. It’ll get to me. Or perhaps they were trying to score some cool points and took a swipe at my ego. It’ll derail something I’m doing at the moment.
Kids really don’t know the weight of their actions, but they had to learn it from somewhere, right? Adults really aren’t any better, even if they’re supposed to know better.
What this all boils down to are the thoughts that who you are right now is not enough and where you are in life isn’t good enough. When that echoes in your mind long enough it’ll drive anyone into the grave.
I said earlier that I’ve had some trepidation in talking about this even with my friends. But they’ve admitted to having suicidal ideation too. They couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel either. They couldn’t bear the pain anymore. They saw a future for themselves and believed that death was a better option.
Why didn’t they leave? It wasn’t just because they thought about how others would be impacted by their death. It wasn’t just the fear of possibly going to hell.
It was because when you let yourself feel the pain instead of trying to escape it, some kind of alchemical process takes place where the pain is transmuted into peace. It’s acceptance but not apathy.
I didn’t learn that what you resist persists until after I graduated university. But it explained suffering perfectly.
The natural reaction to something you don’t like is to resist and resent it. However, it’ll kill you because it won’t ever stop until you decide to stop hating it.
This understanding has saved me a couple of times in thirty-one years of life. I apply it to my past traumas. I feel lighter.
Overtime I began to see that anytime I judge myself harshly, it was because it was the voice of someone else. There have been several times a judgmental thought has come up since I started to write this.
Disrespecting the dead, being pretentious and overall backlash has popped into my mind. But I understand that I am the one observing these thoughts. If I really were these thoughts I wouldn’t be writing this at all.
This is catharsis for me and I hope that it doubles as help for others. Emotional and mental stuff isn’t easy and this year has been hell for so many of us.
Just remember: stop running from the pain because that’ll only exacerbate it; you’re okay as you are but if you believe that you’re not, you are abusing yourself just like a bully would and you may start to believe it.
Also, get the help that you need. If you feel embarrassed about asking for help, that’s okay. Lean into that feeling too. It may mean going to a therapist or just talking with a friend.
I really mean it. Please talk to someone. And if you’re a man, I really mean it.