In the wake of Robin Williams’ tragic death, I have had to distance myself from social media. The conversations being had about suicide are overwhelming at best and infuriating at worst. There are a whole lot of people who feel qualified to talk about suicide, and yet few of them really know what it’s like to be there — much less to survive and be on the other side of an attempt.
Reminders of my mortality, of my attempt, of my struggle riddle my newsfeed — yet still, survivors remain largely invisible in this culture. We focus on prevention, we grieve those that have been lost… yet we forget those who are recovering who still walk among us. It’s as if we only exist up until the point we nearly died.
I wanted to write this letter to other survivors, first and foremost, to say this: I see you. I know you exist. I know you are there.
I know that whenever someone is lost to suicide, it can be a triggering experience. We can wonder why death was so fickle as to take some but not others — we can question why we are still here, while someone like Robin Williams didn’t make it. We start to wonder if our existence is just some accident or if maybe there is a reason we’re still around.
We can have flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, all while the internet debates if suicide is selfish or if suicide is just an immature gesture for attention — arguments that often invalidate our experiences and call our character into question.
I know that it can be difficult to be surrounded by hurtful messages and ideas that hit so close to home. And I know that often times, these messages and ideas are presented in a way that invisibilize our struggles, as if survivors are not still here and impacted by these words.
I want to tell you that your struggle is not invisible to me — that I, too, struggle with you.
I want to tell you that your struggle is important and that your recovery matters to me.
I hope that someday we can exist in a society where survivors can openly share their experiences in a safe space, so that we can reclaim the narrative of our struggles, and speak for ourselves — so that not another lie is told about those who attempt suicide, those who die from it, and those who have survived.
But until we do, I want to tell you that while misinformation abounds, you aren’t obligated to change an entire culture’s perception of suicide and mental illness. You don’t have to respond to every article, every status, every well-intentioned friend or every ill-intentioned troll. Your obligation right now is to take care of yourself, and I want you to know that I respect every effort you’ve made thus far to do so.
I hope we someday exist in a society that has abundant resources and places that survivors can go, so that they never have to question if they are the only ones.
But until we do, I hope you know that survivors are all around — and that the journey you are on is not one that you are taking alone.
Most of all, I hope you know that there is a place for you here. There is a place for everyone here, you included, no exception. No matter how you got to this point in your life, you are worthy of being here. No matter what choices you make from here on out, know that you deserve to be among the living, and that I for one am glad that you made it.
You are courageous, you are strong, simply by virtue of making the difficult choice every day to keep going (but for lots of other reasons too, I’m sure!). And I’m proud of you. I know that you’re out there, making the very best of the life you still have, in whatever big or small ways you choose to.
Know that your attempt does not define you and it does not say anything about who you are — it only speaks to the pain that you were in during that moment in your life. Your pain, past or present, is not who you are.
Keep asserting your right to be here. Keep reclaiming the stories that are told about suicide. Keep making your presence known, however you feel comfortable doing so.
Remember that your spirit is electric, and the compassion that burns deep inside you is a gift with great potential. Keep fighting for those that suicide did not manage to claim, and those that suicide did — fighting for safety nets, support groups, treatment options, and community resources that can guide survivors and contemplators alike to a healthier place.
But do this only when you feel ready, however you are able.
Together, we can defeat the myths, retell the story, and keep fighting to ensure that suicide never claims another.
Remember that you are not selfish, remember that you are not broken, and remember that you are a bright light for those who may someday be in your shoes. You are powerful.
I know that you are out there. Please know that I’m there with you.