RUOK?

I have been thinking about suicide.  

I mean in general, not specifically something I would want to do.

I have lost too many people in my life to this.  Sometimes I think I might be above average, the fact that so many of my family and friends are engaging in this activity.  Unfortunately, it terrifies me that I may not be above average as I think.

I often think about suicide, mainly because I am one of the lucky ones that escaped from it!  Twenty-five years ago, I felt the need to end my own life. From people I have talked to, attempted suicide tends to be treated as a seperate thing, as if those who attempt ending their lives are somehow lesser than the ones who succeeded.  I have heard some tell me that I wasn’t really suicidal since I didn’t go through with it. 

Over the years I have lost too many family and friends to suicide.

Committing suicide is not just the final act of killing yourself anymore than running a race is crossing the finish line.  No one would ever tell a runner they didn’t race because they didn’t finish. No, the runner is classified as such due to the fact that they STARTED the race.  Regardless of the outcome, they are still RUNNERS.

Suicide is the same way, I believe.  It is a series of steps that unfold in much the same way for all participants.  Suicide is a path, not an outcome.

Rush The Pass

There are five very unhelpful conversations you can do (but really should not do) when you encounter someone on the path.

“You shouldn’t feel that way!”

The starting line is a trauma that occurs to the person.  This can be physical or mental. Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.  This makes it hard for others to relate, because one person’s trauma is another’s daily life! We cannot question the amount of pain an event causes to someone else because we can never be them!  We sometimes assume other people are somehow “faking” when they are distraught because that same situation would only have a minimal effect on us. I once had a student erupt and tear apart my room when I kept him after class for five minutes.  I thought it was no big deal since I stayed after countless times in my educational process. I discovered that this was a first for this student and sent him into a tailspin!

When in the hospital, the staff repeatedly asks you to “rate” your pain.  They don’t ask you what happened and then tell you what pain level you “should” be at!

“Let it go, get over it”

Others try to acknowledge your pain and will sympathize with you over what you are going through, but only on their timetable.  These people believe that enough is enough and after a certain amount of time has passed, problems should simply cease to be. The cliche about “Time heals ALL wounds” is very unhelpful when talking to someone standing in the path of suicide.  Trust me, we want to be over it too! The issues I was dealing with when I wanted to end my life are the SAME ones I deal with today! It’s been twenty-five years, but the raw emotions of that day still rage in me. I know that these thoughts, even as I have made peace with them, will rattle around in my head eternally.  Thoughts are very hard to erase and feelings are more difficult. My pain will always be a part of me. It compels my actions and my inactivity. The idea is not to get rid of them, but somehow negate them so they can no longer do you damage.

Think of memories as a leftover sandwich in the back of the refrigerator.  The sandwich has been in there for a long time, so it is now very spoiled and toxic! Now, for some reason, we want to take a bite and relive that memory.  The memory/sandwich makes us very sick and affects me in so many negative ways. We want to throw it away, but it’s a very important part of who we are, so we put it back in the fridge, trying desperately to bury it deep in the back!  Later, we find it and remember (falsely) how good it tasted, so we take a bite and repeat the whole cycle again.

I explained this sandwich analogy to a friend many years ago, trying to explain why I can’t just “forget” and get over it.  He suggested that I put the sandwich in the freezer! This way I still have it, but it can’t do me any harm! By freezer, he meant to take the emotion out of the event and just concentrate on the facts of the event itself.  By doing this, I acknowledge the event but distance myself from repeating the effects of the trauma!


“Don’t talk about Suicide because we don’t want to give anyone ideas”

This is not helpful simply because it’s arrogant!  You are assuming that you have enough power to make someone harm themselves against their will?  Many people in the grips of suicide are there because of one reason: Isolation. People in this state are convinced that they are the ONLY people in the entire world going through whatever and no one could possibly begin to understand the pain they are in.  At my lowest point, I was convinced that everyone else was living their best lives and no one would miss me in the slightest. If someone struck up a conversation about pain, suicide, trauma, etc., I would have jumped at the chance to join in and share what I was going through, because it would be enough knowing that I wasn’t thinking this way all by myself.  Experts say that many people have fleeting thoughts such as “I wish I was dead” or “Why am I still here?” We need to acknowledge that these random thoughts are not uncommon, but what is uncommon is the urge to act on them. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, we are urged to “Take every thought captive to obey Christ”. This means we hold up these unhealthy thoughts up to God’s word!  God is the ultimate authority and his word supersedes ours in every way.

People on the Path just need good advice

Many who find themselves on a suicidal path are not open to advice, lectures or any kind of Input of what they have to live for.  Again, there was a point in my life when I could no longer take in any information. I couldn’t tolerate anymore “actions” or even things to consider.  What I needed was more output! I just wanted someone to listen! Unfortunately, in order to get someone to listen to you, you have to get their attention first.  When one is on the path, you work very hard at not drawing attention to yourself. Looking back, I took a back seat to my life, following those steps in my day that were just barely enough to get by.  Conversations, even interactions were never initiated and performed as quickly as possible but well enough to avoid suspicion of a problem.  

When on the path of suicide, the ones who are closest to you are the ones that you avoid the most.  I avoided them because I knew they would most definitely see a change in my behavior. My goal was to stay invisible, anonymous and stand offish.  I wanted human contact as much as I wanted to avoid all human contact. I wanted someone to see my pain and soothe me, telling me I wasn’t alone. But, in the same vein, I wanted to keep my problems hidden from the world!  I know it doesn’t make sense!

Using Logic

Many people have expressed to me that they do not understand suicide.  It makes no sense to them. They would never, ever think that killing themselves would be the best solution to whatever situation they would find themselves.  I guess that’s the point. Suicide is a purely emotional state that seems to be devoid of any rationale! A suicidal person will not respond to logic and reason.  Let me repeat that.

A SUICIDAL PERSON WILL NOT RESPOND TO LOGIC AND REASON!

I cringe everytime I see an attempted suicide on TV where the protaganist talks the person off the ledge by spouting grand arguments about the value of life, their worth, etc.  Though it makes for good drama, I believe this is a fallacy.  

When you are on the path, words are meaningless.  Before my attempt, people in my life spoke many words of encouragement over me but none stuck.  Why? Because those people were not me! Every act of encouragement left me numb. At best, I dismissed them because, although they were trying to help, they had no idea what I was going through.  At worst, the words they used were cliches and platitudes that angered me. I was in a tremendous amount of pain and someone quotes a “HALLMARK” card? This anger leads to avoidance and more isolation.

What should you do?

The most helpful thing that you can do for someone on the path is to simply and quietly tell them 4 letters of the alphabet.  After that, remain quiet and stay that way until you get an honest response. If someone had done this to me that night I was engulfed in the path, it would have spoke volumes to me.

What are these four powerful letters?

If you sound them out, it’s easy to hear that it is a question – Are You OKAY?  This is what, according to experts in suicide prevention, is the number one method.

This is not a “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?”  Those questions come with an automatic response of “fine” or “not much”.  We know that people who ask those questions use it more as a greeting than a legitimate query.  Our waiters ask that of us before they take our orders. Many don’t wait or want an answer but continue on with their agenda, regardless of what you say.

On the other hand, “RUOK?” requires a Yes or No answer.  It is usually asked with direct eye contact, engaging the speaker and receiver in a more honest conversation.  Now, of course the person can dodge this question as well but requiring a Yes or No answer usually opens up a more honest conversation.  Chances are that the answer to that question will elicit a more truthful response.

RUOK makes a connection that none of the other conversations can never do because it allows the person on the path to open up in they way they need.  It allows them to share whatever they need, as much as they need. It allows them the perceived safety that this conversation will not end in judgement, ridicule or rejection of what they are going through.

RUOK lets the person on the path be reminded that they are not alone or isolated and their thoughts and feelings are valid.  RUOK restores dignity by showing them their value by knowing someone else cares what is going on.

THE MOST UNHELPFUL

Suicide, like the rest of sin, is the pervision of God’s perfect world that happened the first time the devil asked “Did God really say?”  Doubts creep into our heads and attack us daily. We start to see ourselves as less. We lose sight of our place in God’s kingdom and our role as his child.  Suicide will continue to affect the lives of his children because it is an effective way for sin to seperate us from God.

The most unhelpful conversation?  Telling another human being that they or a loved one will not be with God if they kill themselves!  Many say this as a deterrent, a last resort if you will, to keep someone alive by threatening their eternity.  This is cruel and needs to stop!

Yes, suicide is a sin.  But sins are forgivable!  Jesus died for ALL our sins.  I believe that if you have been saved (In which I mean accepted Jesus as your savior), there is nothing you can do to break that!  

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Nothing!  If you have accepted Jesus, your sins are forgiven and your eternity is written in the book of life!  The only unforgivable sin is rejection of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31). I believe that can only happen in a rational mind and a person on the path is, again, not capable of rational thought.  

A person on the path of suicide does not benifit from being talked to but from being listened to.  That is why God gave us TWO ears and only ONE mouth!

Lastly, the best thing to do for someone on the path is simply let them know (or remind them) how God sees them.  They are not alone, they are not isolated. We have to ask people RUOK because we can’t see into another’s heart. But God doesn’t have to do that.  Instead of RUOK?, God proclaims that YOU ARE OKAY!

If you have never shared a post before, please consider sharing this one!  Post it, email it, read it aloud to family and friends!

Why?

As I have stated. I have lost too many family and friends who were on the path.

I don’t want to lose anymore!

2 thoughts on “RUOK?

  1. I love the way you make the unspeakable subjects able to be spoken. I hope I never forget R U O K? I know in 1988 I needed someone to ask me that. The answer was, “No, I need help.” Thanks Ken. Well written.

    Like

  2. You,really write from your heart. Very well written, and very true.

    Liked by 1 person

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