Our Compassion CAN Make the Difference

Guest Column | April 2018

By Buddy Early, April 2018 Issue.

An optimistic person—someone I am trying to be—approaches each spring with a mindset of rebirth and/or renewal, or perhaps as a time to wash away the stains of the past. Those are definitely things I try to think about this time of year. You see, this spring will mark the five-year anniversary of the night I decided I was going to kill myself.

Often when we hear someone has attempted suicide—or worse, was successful—we are unable to understand what was so bad for that person that ending it all seemed like the best option. Certainly, looking back five years later, I realize my problems were not insurmountable and the decision at which I had arrived that day was not a rational one. But there was no telling me that back then; as far as I was concerned it was the best and only solution to all my problems.

Like every other day for months prior I went to work at my job as a legal proofreader. We had been in “peak season” for three months already and the mandatory overtime regularly put me there until after midnight. I thought I deserved to be in a job I enjoyed, at a company I loved. But I wasn’t and I didn’t. So that sucked. I viewed my health and appearance as being at an all-time low; I was in debt up to my eyeballs; I had let personal relationships wither and was into my second decade as a single, aging gay man; and my car had died a few weeks earlier, ultimately deemed unrepairable. And that’s the thing made everything seem totally hopeless—my stupid f*cking car.

You have to understand, my brain was functioning fine that spring day. My job was difficult at times, requiring incredible attention to detail, clever problem-solving and dealing with pressures of multiple deadlines. But I dealt with the routine just fine. In fact, it was some time during that Thursday evening (while doing my absolute best to produce quality work lest I disappoint some incredibly smart coworkers) that I matter-of-factly decided “When I get home tonight I’m going to kill myself.”

It made perfect sense to me. It wasn’t even a fleeting thought. I watched the clock go past nine. Then 10, and 11. I left the building after 2 a.m., probably nodding or grunting goodbye to a few people, as I am wont to do. I began my walk home in the dark of night, my heart starting to beat much faster. A man approaching from the other direction stopped two feet in front of me, reached out his arms and said, “I can’t go on anymore!” I made a snarky comment about how he was preaching to the choir and I brushed past him. As I got closer to home my eyes filled up with tears. At one point I stopped to grab on to a lamppost, feeling nauseous. But none of these things, none of these feelings, convinced me that I was thinking irrationally.

Suffice it to say I had enough behind-the-counter medications to mix a potent cocktail that would put me to sleep and stop my heart, hopefully in that order. My means were laid out in front of me, and what was probably two or three minutes of me staring at them seemed like an eternity. And then a cold wave came over me. Although I had just spent hours confident my decision was the right one, I snapped out of it in a matter of seconds. Instead of killing myself, I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning, I was dumbfounded that I even allowed myself to think the way I did. How does anyone allow themselves to think that way? Except I didn’t allow myself to do anything. I was not in control of my thoughts—I was as certain of that then as I am five years later.

In those years since I’ve had numerous conversations with people, in person and online, about how someone can think suicide is their only viable option. Careful not to out myself, I’ve tried convincing skeptics that someone can get to a state where they are not in control of their own thoughts. If you haven’t gone through it then you probably can’t imagine it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be compassionate.

I wish everyone could find the compassion for people who’ve attempted or succeeded at committing suicide. But it pains me even more when members of the LGBTQ community express such uncaring views as:

“That’s a cowardly way out.”

“How could he be so selfish?”

“They deserve what they get.”

I had always believed (and still do believe) that our community is more in tune with things like depression and despair. The challenges we’ve faced as “other” throughout our lives should mean we don’t judge what another person is going through and instead offer compassion. I believe we may have insight into how and why a person might make the destructive choices they do.  I believe we can make a difference in each other’s lives because of the commonalities we share.

Tell me why I am wrong.

I learned two things after that night five years ago. First, thanks to the epiphany I experienced I am still here—still here to say I understand how someone’s mind can betray them in this terrible way. But I don’t know what it’s like to pull the trigger or, in my case, swallow a bottle of pills. I can only tell myself that those individuals didn’t get those extra few seconds, the ones I got that pulled me out of my despair. I don’t have to know what it’s like to follow through in order to be compassionate. None of us need to know or understand.

The other thing I learned is that there is always someone to turn to if you’re struggling. If the person you turn to isn’t responsive, turn elsewhere. But don’t give up. If you feel like you have no one, reach out to a phone counselor or chat line. Here are a few resources:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK)
  • I’m Alive (800-SUICIDE)
  • The Trevor Project (866-488-7386)
  • Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860)

They’re here for you. Family and friends, they’re here for you. People you might not immediately think of are here for you. I’m here for you.