Nineteen years ago, my best friend, Alice, committed suicide. She was beautiful inside and out with a compassionate heart too large for her physical body. As one of the smartest people I knew (with a high IQ to boot), she loved to engage in passionate discussions about her favorite subject: politics. She had more energy than an army of hundreds and would cram more things into one day than most could in a week. She was lovely, generous, clumsy, sarcastic, determined, enthusiastic, and feisty.
She also had Bipolar Type 1. She tried to overcome it through self-medication, prescribed medication, counseling, and even hospitalizations. But it did not work. The treatment would last for a period of time and then lose its effectiveness. At some point, she thought she was getting better, stopped her medication, and then spiraled even further down the Bipolar hole. This hole, as she described it, kept getting bigger and bigger each time it occurred which was about every 8 weeks. She was sick of it.
But the frustration from the never-ending spiral did not end her life. Rather, it was the lies in her head that she believed which misled her thoughts. If I had said these same lies to her, she would have rebuked me, telling me I was delusional. Yet these same falsehoods she listed to as they devalued her contribution to life, stole her precious energy and time, fed her deepest fears, deceived a gifted and beautiful mind, and minimized her impact on the lives around her.
I know these 5 lies well. I have discussed them with her and countless others over the years. At times, I too have believed one or more of them.
Lie 1: She will only be briefly missed. I still mourn her death. Not in an unhealthy, “I can’t move on in my life without her” way. But in a sorrowful, “I wish my best friend was here to see this” way. As I have watched my children grow, it is not uncommon to imagine her being present. The tears flow easily now as they did then just wishing she was here. She erroneously thought she would eventually be forgotten. However, the manner of her death, suicide, does not allow those left behind to forget. It is a traumatic way to end a life, leaving a lifelong scar on family, friends, and even a professional therapist.
Lie 2: Life will be easier for others when she was gone. She was wrong. It has been nineteen years of hard, nothing about her death or the aftereffects has been easy. She inaccurately believed she was an unnecessary and inconvenient burden that others tolerated out of obligation. She was not. It was a joy to know her and even more an honor to be her friend. Sadly, her legacy is tainted by the manner of her death instead of the positive influence she left on everyone. Ironically, her absence has left a hole in the lives of many which cannot be filled by anyone else.
Lie 3: Her mistakes were too great to be forgiven. Just prior to her death, her manic behavior led her to make several impulsive, scandalous, and uncharacteristic decisions. While she had made similar errors in judgment before, she incorrectly believed these mistakes were irreversible. As a result, she thought the best way out of the drama was to end her life. She did not give anyone an opportunity to assist her in finding solutions. Rather, she made the ultimate choice. Over the years, I have learned that even the worst slip-ups can have creative resolutions. Losing a life is too great a price for any mistake.
Lie 4: Her death only hurts her. It was clear from her suicide note that she truly believed that she was only hurting herself and not others. She was so caught up in her own deception that she could not see past her own pain. Yet the pain still lives. It doesn’t ever go away. There is a hole in my heart where she actively lived that will not be healed in this lifetime. No one can replace her. She was special, unique, and I miss her dearly. Even though the years have tempered the pain and lessened the sadness, it is not difficult to conjure it again.
Lie 5: Her life would have more meaning in death than in life. This is the worst of the lies because it exalts death and demotes life. For those who don’t believe in an after-life, life is all there is. So how is there a benefit in ending it too soon before its time? For those who believe in an after-life, each life has a specific purpose and design while here. How is taking it prematurely achieving any purpose? It does not. Life can be hard, frustrating, and depressing but it can also be joyful, fun, and exciting. Death, specifically suicide, is the end of all possibility in life. It does not add meaning, it steals it away.
Suicide is not the answer. Everyone who considers or talks about it needs to get some help from a professional. Please allow Alice’s sacrifice to save another person’s life. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for assistance. The national suicide prevention lifeline is 800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.