I am a Suicide Attempt Survivor by Karen Leslie Hernandez


karen hernandezIn the past year, I have several friends that have lost loved ones to suicide. The statistics are real, raw and all too sobering. In the United States, an average of 117 people choose to end their lives every day. Almost all of us know someone who has lost someone to suicide, or, personally know someone who has taken their own life.

Suicide is a choice for many reasons, not just from mental health issues. 42,773 souls end their lives every year. That is the population of a small city in America.

I rarely talk of my attempted suicide and most people are shocked when they find out about it. My sunny disposition, along with a well adjusted approach to all that is, can be construed as me having an extra whip-cream, cherry topped, Hot Fudge Sundae, life. There’s a lesson in that. I was 19, had grown up in an abusive home, had a mother who left when I was 13 years old so she could survive, and I had recently dropped out of high school. My life seemed stagnant, and worse, morbid. The statistics were mounting against me as a woman, a person of color, no parental guidance, and, I was a serious rebel. I think one of the things I had going for me was friends that cared, and the fact that I didn’t drink or do drugs.

I look back on that moment 30 years ago and often think… What if I would have succeeded? What wouldn’t I have? So much. I wouldn’t have so much.

There’s  a lot of misunderstanding around suicide. After someone has ended their life, I’ve heard such things uttered as, “How could he?” “How selfish.” “What was she thinking?” “Do they know the irreparable damage they’ve caused?” “Taking your own life is just unforgivable.”

Everyone has different thoughts and circumstances as to why they come to that point and the ultimate trigger, but, from other suicide attempt survivors that I have spoken with, we all have several things in common.

It’s the darkest place you will never be able to imagine. It is hopeless. It is dire. It is absolute despair. There is no light. No love. You can’t feel anyone’s love, because you are so wrought with pain and helplessness. Unfortunately, you don’t think too much about what and who you’re leaving behind, because there’s a disconnect. You’re not connected at that moment to anything, or to anyone – it is utterly hopeless. Alone. More, you can’t see out of the hopelessness. You can’t see a future. You are stuck. It is thoughtless. Confusing. Quiet. Silent. Muted. Dead.

That is the best I can articulate it, but, what people need to understand is that it cannot be wholly articulated. By those that try, and by those who are left behind.

However, what should be articulated, thought about, and talked about is suicide before it happens.

I find it is such a taboo subject. We don’t want to talk about it because it may put the idea in someone’s mind. Suicide can be a contagion, yes, but, only in extreme cases. 117. I highly doubt that statistic would be so high if we allowed ourselves to speak freely and holistically about suicide. The reality is, people choose to kill themselves, and have done so since the beginning of the human race. However, now that we are more aware of mental health, we should be able to discuss suicide without judgment and fear.

Personally, I think the silence around suicide exists for many reasons.

Life is a gift. Life, especially to those who adhere to a faith tradition, find that taking a life is taking the gift God gave us. This theological stance is a slippery slope.

When my daughter was in high school she lost a very good friend, who was a member of our church, to suicide. As active members of the church youth group, one of the first questions that came up among this group of friends was if Lily was going to “hell” for taking her own life.

The Holy Bible, both Hebrew and the New Testament, do not condemn suicide. Suicide is mentioned in the Bible in six accounts that I can find. King Saul in 1 Samuel 31:2-5; Judas in Matthew 27:3-5; Abimelech in Judges 9:50-54; Samson in Judges 16:23-31; Ahithophel in 2 Samuel 17:23; and Zimri in 1 Kings 16:15-20. None of these accounts condemn the suicides.

In other holy texts – the Torah does not condemn suicide, but, the Qur’an does. Most of what is considered to be doctrine around suicide stems from exegetical work and assumptions that God, Y—-h, Allah – wouldn’t want Her Creation to end their own lives.

I am sure God must weep whenever a person takes their own life. But, not because God rejects that person, or condemns that person. I believe God weeps because that person was so lost and hurting, they couldn’t see God in their lives. They couldn’t feel God’s love, God’s grace, or God’s presence.

This is something we should all weep over.

In all the theological debate around suicide, I can ask one thing – Why, in all that is Holy, would God reject someone who is in so much pain at the time of their death? I believe God has much more grace than humans ever will.

When I talk to people about my suicide attempt, I make sure to not mince my words. I was in a horrible place. I made a decision that could have stopped my breath – my heart, from beating – forever. I chose to end it that day. More though, I wanted to end my life. Because I really couldn’t hurt anymore. I really couldn’t let life beat me anymore. I really needed help. To this day, I feel when I talk about it, and this, the first time to publish a piece about it, worries me. Will people think I was “crazy?” Will they treat me differently? Will they examine me in a different way? Trust me, who I am, what I was, who I’ve become? This is why, I believe, many do not seek help. When you reach that point, you’re already desperate enough. Why do we want to add to that desperation with judgment, or worse, not being heard? And even worse, medicated? Labeled? Misunderstood?

It is important to recognize that few just wake one day and think, I am going to end my life today. It happens slowly. The thought creeps in. With guilt. It is frightening. I recall thinking, All I need to do is veer the car a bit toward the wall – that should do it. It’s a process. A breaking down. A manipulation of the disgust we feel for ourselves, our thoughts, and our lives.

In closing, and something I always feel is important to stress when discussing suicide is, forgiveness. I think the idea of suicide being unforgivable stems from us not being able to forgive ourselves. On all sides. We think it. We do it. We hurt from it. We take what’s precious. We ask, What if…? We wonder if we could have stopped it. We are angry. Enraged – at ourselves and those who take their lives. In that, in all that is suicide, from the one who takes their own life, to those left behind – we need to forgive ourselves. Before anyone else, we must forgive ourselves first.

There’s no disputing that we need to talk about suicide more openly, with earnest convictions to understand and listen. We need to hear. We need to let those who are hurting, be heard. We must agree to witness and be present to those who are struggling. 117 souls a day. 117 hurting so deeply, they see no other way.

I suggest you offer a way. Offer love. Offer help. Offer hope. Offer grace. In any way you can. We can’t stop suicide all together, but we can certainly love enough to make an impact. Because God is there in those times of great despair and need. We can be too.

And to all those who are hurting today, please, love yourself. You are not alone.

 

Karen Leslie Hernandez is a Theologian and interfaith activist. With a focus in Christian-Muslim Understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism, Karen is the only theologian who is a Latina and a United Methodist, doing this type of theological work in the US. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, the Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to publish an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. She loves to teach and last year designed and taught an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. Karen currently lives in San Francisco, is consulting with the United Religions Initiative, is an Ambassador with Parliament of the World’s Religions, and she also does Domestic Violence Faith Advocacy work across the US.

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Categories: abuse, anxiety, Bible, Christianity, Church Doctrine, communication, Community, Ethics, Faith, Family, fear, Islam, Judaism, survival

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37 replies

  1. Thank you for opening this topic. I had suicidal thoughts in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, and I can testify that when I had them, the place I was in was exactly as you describe–totally alone and without any hope. Also, I would add, it was as if my mind was on a single track and I could not get off that track to see other parts of the reality of my life. For me, the thought of how my mother would feel stopped me. It was a thin thread, but it kept me alive. Blessed be.

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  2. Thank you, Karen, for saying these things outloud. You are so right that letting suicide and suicidal thoughts be something we talk about with love and support needs to happen. If the “total disconnect” you describe can be somehow tempered with even a frayed thread of connection that is loving, it can make all the difference. Thank you, again, for sharing your story.

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  3. Thank you Karen from me too. I am deeply touched at your openness about your indescribable darkness yet you have articulated it very well. I think of a close family member who is in that very dark place of extreme depression, and your words describe him well.

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  4. Suicide is an act of violence, always remember that. And it has a profound effect on other people. I once actually saw a suicide, a woman jumping from a tall building and landing dead in the street below not far from where I was walking, and I felt so bad for her. So if suicide enters my mind I remember that experience, and that’s enough already.

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  5. I have never attempted suicide, but I have known deep, dark despair many times.

    My mother Anne, after hearing of my pain, asked me never to harm myself and I agreed not to do so.

    A cousin, named for my mother, tried to kill herself six times.

    On the seventh attempt, she succeeded.

    I applaud your courage in lifting the veil on this subject.

    You have my respect for having done so.

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  6. There are, however, those who make a legitimate choice to end their lives because of a painful terminal illness.

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  7. Beautiful, powerful, compassionate post. Thank you!

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  8. Thank you Karen for speaking out loud on a subject many avoid. There are indeed very dark and painful places we can find ourselves in through no one’s fault. And when there, suicide seems like a reasonable solution.
    What kept me from following through was the little children of friends. I didn’t want to bring sorrow into their lives.
    I also encourage people who feel suicidal to see a doctor for a good physical exam even if you don’t reveal the extent of your distress. Sometimes the pain can be alleviated enough to be dealt with in a less permanent way.

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  9. Thank you for opening up a conversation through this post.
    I have never attempted suicide, but I have been through unimaginable dark times due to depression. I felt that disconnection – from the world, myself, and even God.
    I later realized that God was there for me the whole time. God understood my pain like nobody else could. I don’t believe that my loving God would reject anyone in that much pain.
    God bless.

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  10. Thank you so much for your comment. I do believe God is always there for us, and it is in the darkest times, that She’s right by our side.

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing your story which is incredibly inspiring and will allow others to address their depression and dark thoughts. May is Mental Health Awareness Month so you have given us all a great gift. Last August Dr. Patricia Peters Martin and I published “The Other Couch: Discovering Women’s Wisdom in Therapy” which tells the stories of 36 women we have been privileged to treat over the years. Chapter 37 tells the story of a woman who struggled with suicidal ideation since age 4. She shared her own thoughts that reflect your own, particularly the level of despair and disputing that the suicide victim is acting out of selfishness. I am so grateful you survived and blessed our world with your many talents, wisdom, spirituality and grace.

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  12. Thanks for sharing such topic Karen….from where I come from we do not own our lives…we cannot hurt ourselves….Allah greated us to built the earth for us and many generations to come….killing ourselves will deprive others from what we can do for them

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    • Thank you, Mamoun. While I understand that within Islam suicide is condemned, the fact is, people in every culture, country, of every ethnicity and from every religion end their lives. Suicide knows no boundaries.

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  13. Thank you Karen for being brave enough to share your story and ideas with everyone else. I’ve never had such thoughts before, but I’ve known a couple people who have lost their lives due to suicide. I totally agree with you that we should be able to speak freely about it because it could help people who have had these type of thoughts. All in all, this was a great, eye opening post.

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  14. It truly takes a brave being to speak up about a topic such as suicide, thank you Karen for your post. Although I myself have not had suicidal thoughts, I lost a friend to suicide and I believe it is important to express emotions about this topic, because silence does not allow anyone to cope with their feelings whether it is personal or within a social circle.

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  15. Thank you Karen for sharing your experience and thoughts about this subject. I know it can be a hard topic to talk about, but I am glad you shared your story. I personally have never had suicidal thoughts, but I have had friends who have. I hope your story will help other people who are going through the same thing you went through and that they are able to find the peace they are looking for.

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  16. Honestly it was very interesting to hear your thoughts about suicide because this subject it not really being about as it should be. Many people like to criticize people who attempted to end their life and succeed instead of say what could I’ve done to prevent this. Suicide is a very critical subject that has been ignored for way to long. I personality never experienced or even had thoughts about suicide but I did had a family who committed suicide and I stop and think to my self at time if I would of just asked this person “Are you ok” what have that made a difference. Thank you for sharing you story.

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    • Thank you, Elizabeth! I appreciate your thoughtful reply… Are you OK? Is a GREAT question and yes, could make a huge difference. Thanks again….

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  17. Thank you Karen for your sharing your story and thoughts on this topic. I know first hand that it is something extremely difficult for a person going through depression or anyone who has lost someone by taking their own life. I believe no matter where you stand on the topic, someone is hurt and is hurting. My ex fiance shared her story on her attempted suicide by overdosing on medication before I had even met her. She is still someone I deeply care about, but when she told me her story the first thought that came to my mind is if she had gone through with it, I would not have met a person who made an important impact on my life. As selfish as that may seem, I believe everyone’s life must serve a purpose. When you mentioned how religious groups tend to jump straight to, “they will go to hell,” it hurts to know that that may be one of their first conclusions. I am glad to know now, as someone who is agnostic, that most religious groups do not condemn suicide. Everyone has their stories, just as how you shared yours, and its courageous that you overcame what you did. But those who become ultimately overwhelmed, their stories are now shared through social media and websites such as this one and it spreads awareness. I do hope that as human beings, we will be able to spread more love and positivity. Stay strong everyone!

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    • Thank you, Andy! I am happy your ex fiance is alive and can speak of her experience. That is so important. Thanks again and blessings…

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