Suicide: When Reaching Out Isn’t Enough

August 12, 2014 | 55 Comments

close up of shannon's face with a dog's paw on her mouth

Potential triggers with talk of depression and suicide.

My friend Shauna took her own life this week. Another friend, Stacey, texted me from the funeral with this plea: “Please make me a promise if life gets hard or you need to talk, you always call. We can’t go through this again.”

And then came the news of Robin Williams.

My Facebook feed is full of friends posting suicide hotline numbers and urgent reminders to reach out and get help. Because, if Shauna and Robin Williams chose death, maybe they skipped that reaching-out-getting-help part?

I’ve been in therapy since I was a teenager. I’m on antidepressants and anxiety meds. I talk through my demons in trusted spaces (aka: the Internet). I cuddle my dogs and my kid and my mate. I’ve been on two self-help retreats. In June I used the suicide hotline for the first time.

I read books on depression, happiness, the myth of happiness, mindfulness, reducing depression with mindfulness, affirmations, the danger of affirmations, and anything else that might hold the goddamn secret key to unlock this dark hole of a room I’m sad, embarrassed, and angry to find myself in.

Please don’t assume suicidal people aren’t getting help. We are getting all the help. We have years and years of getting all the kinds of all the help.

Go ahead and post that suicide hotline number. I’ve used it and I’ll continue to use it. But even better, recognize that this darkness is a monster that — even with all the help and resources and puppy cuddles — is lonely and demoralizing and confusing and exhausting to fight. And please recognize all of the work we do to stay alive.

Because, sometimes, it’s so much work to stay alive, you guys.

I’m here despite some unspeakably strong urges to not be. I’m here. I’ll keep reaching out to ask for what I need and I’ll keep doing the work, I promise. But know that a life that ends in suicide isn’t evidence that the reaching-out-getting-help step was stopped or skipped. It’s evidence of the terrible truth that sometimes, none of it is enough.

I have no plans to die. I have a vibrating desire that lives and presses at the base of my neck, but no plans. If I ever do hatch a plan, I promise, promise, promise to tell someone. But please know that help doesn’t mean a person can’t or won’t see a plan through. The talking about it, the sleeping on it, the cuddles — they won’t always stop the looping lies that death is a person’s best option. A gift to yourself and those you love.

Because when you’re that deep-down dark, death takes the shape of a gift.

I don’t have a pretty way to wrap this up. I guess I wrote this hoping to tell you two things. Thing one is that suicide isn’t a product of not trying. Thing two is that sometimes all the right things won’t be enough. Depression is a disease and, like other diseases, it will sometimes have its own way regardless of what we throw at it.

Shauna did all the reaching-out-getting-help bits. I was witness to her hard work full of courage and sweat. But for her and for Robin Williams, it wasn’t enough.

If you’re feeling depressed or suicidal, I’m sorry and send love and compassion. I see you and I see the hard work you’re doing to stay alive and I’m thankful. I’m thankful for your life and thankful you’ve stayed with us. I know — I really, really know — how dark it gets. I’m here. We’re here.

You’re not weak or cowardly. You were dealt a shitty, shitty hand.

Years ago a friend had me program the suicide hotline number into my phone. It may have saved my life. Maybe it will save yours, too. It’s worth adding to our bag of survival tricks, right?

Go ahead and look up your local number. If you’re in the Vancouver area use (604) 872-3311 or 1-866-661-3311. If you’re wondering how weird it is to call — it’s weird. But it left me with some funny stories to tell and bought me time while the urgency drained.

Stay with us. Please, stay with us.

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Join the conversation

  • A. Mary Murphy

    This is the most boldly honest and useful thing I’ve ever seen on the subject. It’s true. Thank you, Shannon. Rather proud of you at the minute.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Mary, you know how much this means. From your heart to mine. Thanks, friend.

      • A. Mary Murphy

        I sent my cousin Allison the link. She works on the hotline in Seattle. Our sweet and brilliant and beloved cousin took his life over twenty years ago. My brother attempted, we knew he was going to, and he almost succeeded. Who doesn’t it touch?

  • Deanna Witwer

    You are a brave and beautiful woman Shannon! RESPECT :) Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s inspiring and hopeful.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Thank you, Deanna. <3

  • Alexa

    Thanks for this, Shannon. It’s beautiful and honest and something that I think needs to be said.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to share a little love, Alexa. I’m thankful you’re here.

  • runningnekkid

    Love you, Shan. Stay safe. <3

    • Shannon Fisher

      Working on it, C. xo

      • runningnekkid

        I am so grateful for it. Trying is honestly all we’ve got. And it takes SO much effing work to do that!

  • JustPlainSomething

    Has anyone else had a bad suicide hotline experience? The person on the line basically waited for me to stop babbling and flatly asked if I wanted to get in touch with a doctor. Part of the reason I called was because I was looking for some kind of therapy (I had insurance, I just didn’t know where to start), but if I called another hotline again because I just needed to talk, I’m really afraid I’d get another person who would sound like I was burdening them. I’m terrified of that.

    • runningnekkid

      I have a friend who had at least two “bad” hotline experiences, so it definitely happens. Also, and I hope hope hope that this doesn’t sound creepy, but I found you on the twitters and am gonna check in with you if that’s okay. Thank you for talking about your experiences, and I am SO sorry that you’re in the struggle too.

    • Shannon Fisher

      A friend shared that she had an operator hang up on her because she was so frustrated she wasn’t “getting it.” Yikes! I’m sorry this happened to you. I think you should try again and keep trying until you get one that’s decent. And get the names of the people who are clearly not cut out for that work and report them because IT’S NOT YOU IT’S THEM. <3

  • Carrie Keylock

    So well done Shannon. We lost two different neighbours (and friends) last year, both to suicide. One was a teenage boy, and the other was a lovely, retired 70 year old man. We were shocked, saddened and had such a hard time coming to terms. It seems like everyone knows someone who is battling this, or has dealt with a tragic outcome. Just thought your perspective was so fresh and raw. Thanks for sharing.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Thanks for taking time to say so, Carrie. I’m sorry it’s touched your life, too. It is so shocking, even when you’ve thought about it and been close to it.

  • Ken Thiessen

    Thanks Shannon for your courage, brutal honesty, and vulnerability. You’re such an inspiration. My closest friend has struggled with depression all his life and you’re right, sometimes reaching out hardly seems enough and it isn’t enough. I’m glad he’s still “this side of the green.” Some days I seriously wonder if he’ll make it through the day even with reaching out!

  • RobinFarr

    This is so true and something I haven’t been able to express. I’m glad you said it.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Thanks, Robin. It’s a tricky topic to talk about. Thanks for being here.

  • Natalie the Singingfool

    Yes. This. Exactly. It is so damn hard sometimes.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Truly. <3

  • MartinNaskovski

    You’re doing everything right. I just want to add that for me, in addition to the therapy and SSRIs, surrendering to God/Jesus Christ/The Holy Ghost helped give me direction too, which pulled me out of the darkness. In retrpsoect, I now look at the depression as a sign from God to draw near Him – to confess… repent…forgive…and be grateful, on a daily basis.

  • Allen Reed

    Thanks for sharing Shannon. Lots of truth in what you’ve written.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Thanks, Allen. Neato to find you here. :)

  • JB

    A friend on facebook sent a link to this page, and what you have written.
    Just wanted to say thank you.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Thanks for taking the time.

  • Elle Walker

    I also have similar story., on meds etc etc etc, some days it’s hard to see a way through the mud in my mind but so far I have made it through those days but I feel for those that can’t and understand why, there are no winners

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  • Robbie K

    every single person on this earth needs to read your words. Thank you!

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