I am a survivor of suicide.
No. I did not attempt suicide but I lost my best friend, Jane, to suicide.
Jane had post-natal depression. She took her life away on a Tuesday morning in 2016. I didn’t know how to respond emotionally when I received the news. I remember being quite rational and making alternative arrangement for assignment deadlines for my graduate studies. I knew the emotion would set in later on. It did but not for long. I cried to my therapist, the grief work was merely an hour of talking about it. I travelled to distract myself. I visited her family to keep a connection with her. I looked through our photos and reliving the happy times. I was occupied with a lot of things yet not so occupied. I was blank, restless and lifeless but not exactly ‘sad’ sad. I felt guilty for not feeling sad enough about losing my best friend. Occasionally I felt guilty for ‘not doing enough’. I knew it was irrational thought as my plate was full then. I knew I had done my best. Yet, I wonder if it was an excuse for ’not doing enough’ sometimes. This is worse coming from a mental health practitioner, who should ‘know-it-all’ yet didn’t manage to prevent it from happening.
I rationalised that perhaps she is in a better place now but the religious part of me informed me that she might be worse off. For someone who took her life away, her spirit will relive the act over and over and over again until she pays off the ‘debt’ of taking her life away. And then, you know that she would suffer the next life as a result of bad karma. The thought hurts. It hurts knowing that Jane did not escape from the living problem but possibly going through additional torture in the other world. But, sometimes I wonder if there is an afterlife and if there’s such thing call 'reincarnation’. I will never have an answer for that.
The delayed grief creeped in, unknowingly, a year later. It’s interesting. I wondered why I felt more emotional a year on instead of a year ago. It took me by surprise. Tears well up even before I shared my loss with people. The emotion gets intensified as I shared more. I would share when I meet the right crowd. For suicide actually needs to be spoken about and that it is really not the only way out. However, most people have the misconception that it should be kept under wraps and speaking about it would only make people want to act on it more. There is a need to increase awareness of mental wellness and on suicide. Depression isn’t something that people can just ‘get over it’ and grief needs to be properly attended to.
In a workshop by John Henden, he said: "Suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem". Indeed. I wish Jane considered the impact of her solution to significant people in her life. I never knew how lives of the survivors would change with suicide until I witnessed and experienced one. The pain that is inflicted on survivors, the number of questions the survivors have but could never be answered, the intensity of self-blame and guilt of the survivors were beyond words that could be described. The fear of forgetting the look and voice of a significant loved one and losing connection with this person forever and ever is perhaps the most tormenting. The lost opportunity to grow and journey together to old age will always remain as a regret.
My recovery journey starts with writing. I wrote and I shared with close friends on my feelings and thoughts. I realised how powerful sharing is and how it makes me feel validated and comforted knowing that there are people that you can turn to. Writing is also catharsis to the intense emotions that built up over time. It is one of the most therapeutic ways for one to get in touch with our own emotions. Our emotions inform us about what is important to us. Jane is special and dear to me that the feeling of grief is strong. It is the love that I had for Jane. The deeper the love, the greater the grief.
Slowly, I turned to books on life stories of how people overcome the demise of their loved ones. By reading the experiences of others, I gained support knowing that I am not the only one dealing with losses. Stories help me get in touch with my feelings. Allowing myself to feel and acknowledge the emotions is one of the most important components in my recovery journey. There was some anger with Jane for giving up so quickly about life. Yet, I also know it might be difficult for her to do so and she must have been in such great suffering that she decided to leave behind her loved ones. For the longest time, I didn't allow myself to be angry until I acknowledged that feeling. I finally managed to forgive her for the decision and I freed myself from the guilt.
Through it all, I learnt to embrace our relationship. I don’t really have to let go of or move on with the relationship with my friend. There is no reason to. Our connection is present in my life. I gave thanks to our friendship and appreciate how she has contributed in shaping me as a person. My definition of grief recovery is accepting that "you have left but our friendship has not ended here as a part of me is a result of a good part of you".
Besides writing, I travel too. Whenever I travel and chanced on a temple, I will stop by and pray for Jane to be relieved from the sins that she has committed. I pray for her to be blissful in her next life. Grief recovery offers an option to choose. It is a choice to believe that all the good deeds that she had done in the past can mitigate her decision to take her life away. Recovery requires personal agency to make a decision on what we choose to believe and that would help us feel better. Three years on, I am still journeying with the loss. My eyes still well up when I speak about Jane and I choose to embrace the feeling and allow myself to be vulnerable regardless of where I am.
On this World Mental Health Day, the theme is on Suicide Prevention. I wish to do my part to help people who are close to the theme in one way or another:
To those who are contemplating suicide, it is one way to resolve your problem. Talk to people, get more ideas on what other solutions that can be generated to deal with your challenges. See a doctor. Sometimes it is difficult to look out of the box when we are circling in our problems in sorrow. Medication or counselling may be helpful to feel better for more creative solutions.
To the suicide survivors, there is no timeline to manage your grief. Take as much time to deal with your losses, there is no rush. Allow yourself to experience your emotions safely. If the feelings get too difficult to deal with, it is okay to get support from people whom you can trust or seek professional help. It is okay to take a break from the sadness and giving yourself a treat. You, too, deserve to have something good for yourself.
To the people supporting suicide survivors, it is only normal to feel pain, shame or guilty when losses are experienced. When feelings of grief comes, it comes in waves. Sometimes stronger and sometimes milder. You may feel anxious about not knowing how to deal with their mixed emotions but what might be helpful is to provide a safe space for the person to be vulnerable. Do not rush the person to move on or let go. It will only make the person feel not being understood and isolate themselves even more. In the private space of grief, there is no need to be strong. Survivors might just need a hug, a pair of listening ears or some practical help when emotions get too intensified to get things done. It is always okay to be not okay. When it is not okay, the community will step in to support.
“Elkay” (Pseudonym) is a mental health practitioner and a Certified Master Solution Focused Practitioner. She is motivated by the opportunity to work with young people on managing their mental health challenges. She provides mentorship to peer support and other mental health workers on providing support for those in need. She believes that challenges are part of life and there is always a learning lesson at the end of it. When a challenge is yet to be dealt with, it means that a solution is yet to be found.