• StevenF

Behind The Mask: The Faces of Suicide

I still haven't been able to get David Archuleta off my mind since he made his recent Instagram post and I wrote an open letter to him in response to it.

He posted the following to his Instagram account yesterday:

One of the things he said that struck me was:

I'm so grateful that there are people who are so much more... compassionate to me than I am to myself.

I think compassion and grace toward oneself is one of the most necessary yet hardest things to learn and give oneself.

We live with ourselves 24/7, after all. We know intimately every perceived flaw, every perceived weakness, every negative thought that runs through our minds. And as I talked about in this post about what truth may or may not be, we too often believe the lies we tell ourselves that we take to be true.

It has taken me a long, long time to get to where I am now. Too often I thought I was a bad or terrible person. That I wasn't good enough. That God was unhappy with me. That I was too weak or selfish to be as good as I thought God expected me to be or as good as I thought I was "supposed" to be.

For years I felt like I was spinning my wheels, striving to be some perfect embodiment of who I thought I was supposed to be, and ended up feeling stressed, frustrated, depressed, and hopeless because I couldn't be.

I'm not just talking about being gay in a religion that forbade such behavior, although that certainly was a big part of it; I'm talking about this relentless need to be "perfect" when such a thing is least in this lifetime.

We are imperfect beings. We are flawed. We make mistakes. We think self-defeating thoughts. And we are doing much better and are much better souls than we give ourselves credit for.

We are these amazing, fabulous, limitless beings of light residing in these flawed, worldly flesh suits. It is the belief that our self-defeating thoughts about ourselves and the reality we perceive are true that bogs us down. When we believe the worst about ourselves, those we coexist with, and the world in which we live, that is when we get into trouble.

And of course, there is also the added challenge for some of mental illness, which is just a much a health issue as the physical ailments human beings suffer. Unfortunately, there are chemical imbalances that skew one's mental state. And sadly, those who deal with mental illness are sometimes stigmatized and too often are unable to receive cost-effective, consistent, successful treatment in this country.

Both when I read David's thoughts above and when I viewed his video, I thought, "This bright, vibrant, terrific, young man thought about killing himself." I thought about killing myself. So many out there think about killing themselves. And far too many succeed in doing so.

And why?

Well, one of the reasons is that it just feels like too much to go on. It just feels like there would be more peace if we stopped living. I think about how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves and how that treatment is too often not very good, so it's no wonder that someone might ponder choosing death over continuing to deal with, as Shakespere's Hamlet says, "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

When Hamlet asks, "For who would bear the whips and scorns of time... / When he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin?" he is basically asking, "Why would one deal with all the crap life throws at him, when he could just make it all end with the simple act of killing oneself with an unsheathed dagger?"

And for those who have struggled with suicidal thoughts, the taking of one's own life seems like a rational, reasonable thought. That's how bad the suffering, depression, and hopelessness feel.

And when one is in the thick of those thoughts, it is hard to believe that there might be other solutions.

It sounds so cliché, so empty to say things will get better. But in my case, they did, and I truly believe they can and do for others who are in a mindset of hopelessness and depression.

I know for me, too, when I was in the throes of suicidal thoughts, it was often due to feeling so alone and that there was no one who would understand what I was going through and that if I told them what I was feeling, I would be castigated, judged, or invalidated.

I've had several friends and acquaintances commit suicide. It's such a shocking experience to witness these beautiful people who had so much left to give make the choice to end their own lives, whatever their ultimate reasons. But I, too, have been in that headspace. So I don't blame, judge, or pity them; I'm just sad they aren't here anymore because they mattered. They brought value to my life and to others' lives, whether they recognized it or not. And it's a sad thought to think someone is having such a hard time in life or feel they are such a burden that the best solution for them is to choose to no longer endure that life.

I noticed another video David Archuleta posted. It's one of those ten-second challenge videos where you have ten seconds to do whatever random thing you are asked to do. When the randomizer hits "Hug someone," David, who is alone, gives a sort of sheepish grin, hugs himself, and then laughs. It's also poignant to note that at the bottom of the video it says "All by myself" with a smiling but crying emoji.

It's actually a very charming video, but I thought what an interesting metaphor that is for what he and so many others go through. Looking at the photo directly above this paragraph, I would never think, "Oh, that is definitely the face of someone who has seriously considered suicide."

Everyone in the following photo committed suicide.

People who are depressed often don't "look" depressed. I'm currently listening to Congressman Jamie Raskin's book, Unthinkable, in which he talks about his son, Tommy's suicide. Or I just read the news story about the suicide of actress Regina King's son, Ian Alexander Jr.

And while I have not suffered mental illness, I certainly know what it feels like to be "wearing a mask" all the time, pretending to be happy but feeling so much otherwise.

Another phrase David Archuleta used in in his Instagram post is

The silence and loneliness can be terrifying and maddening.

In the midst of my most difficult struggles, it felt like I was screaming a silent scream.


But no one could hear me even though I wanted so desperately for them to be able to.

One of the unintended repercussions of writing that letter is that I have had people reach out to me to let me know the letter had helped them, too. When I wrote my letter, it was simply out of a need to comfort David because he seemed to be in so much pain and anguish. I did not stop to think that my letter might be of use to anyone else, although I certainly hope it is.

The last I checked, the letter had over 1700 views, and I have had both friends and strangers remark how the letter was of use to them. One friend read it in a support group she goes to for LDS parents with gay children. A stranger who is not LDS from Oklahoma let me know that my letter was very helpful to him personally.

I hope it brings comfort and hope to others. One of the hardest challenges in life for me was when I felt I was all alone, that no one would understand me or what I was going through, and that there was no one I could turn to. All that pressure that built up inside me seemed uncontainable. I either had to let it out or let it consume me.

If you are feeling alone, depressed, unheard, or suicidal, please, PLEASE, talk to someone: a friend, a family member, a coworker, a therapist, or call 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Hotline) and if you are an LGBTQ youth in crisis, you can also call the Trevor Project Hotline at 1-866-488-7836.

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