Text Copyright: Steve Taylor, 2016
Publisher: Relationship Matters Ltd
Cover Design: O.J. Design
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This book chapter is Copyright.
Apart from any fair dealings for the purposes of private study, research, critique, or review, as permitted under the International Copyright Law, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form without prior consent from the author.
The following chapter content does not represent any particular person or any specific case history.
The chapter represents global composites from both the authors own extensive clinical experience and the author’s industry research of public domain global case studies relevant to the subject matter of suicidal ideation.
Any resemblance to any actual specific person is therefore coincidental.
In being approached to compose a foreword for “Reasons to Live: Antidoting Suicidal Ideation” it is upon me to describe my own perspective as someone who, some years ago, on multiple occasions, very nearly chose not to live.
I have reflected back on this experience, and on the author’s role in assisting me to navigate my life path away from the oceans (then) sensuous call.
Our helpers in our times of crisis need to be aware that they cannot breathe for anyone else.
Our helpers are the last island we see, like the islands that may be viewed from the shore before the ocean, before the dangerous undertow.
Our helpers cannot compete with the invitation of beauty to not breathe or bear the thought of life, without our consent.
So, we need to grow up to find reasons for living.
Unfortunately, to my surprise, and that of others, we are at times what we never imagined, too exhausted to go back, to old things.
Our helpers are therefore the sentinel, the last person we leave, and the first person to hear.
It’s not our relatives or friends who may have any idea of the beauty of the sea, or the invitation, or us, it’s our helpers we choose who knew, and who knows why that is…How do they know that?
Perhaps they knew, because once, they may have been where we were, or are.
I didn’t enter the sea, but if I had done so, there was never anything a helper could have changed to prevent my decision.
When in crisis it can feel as if in the end, there are not enough reasons, not even one, to fight the beauty that invites, when one is so vulnerable to the point of considering non-existence.
For survivors of suicidal ideation such as us, it’s not the amount of times we say no to suicide that is the danger.
It is the one time when we say yes that is the most dangerous to us, that time in which we are exhausted by saying no to death, and finding reasons not to die.
In the end, our decisions can be influenced, but not determined by our helpers-they are often simply the last human connection that we choose to make.
In the author of this book, I chose wisely, and I am thankful for that.
Everyone has a personal story of difficult circumstances.
For some, these stories, difficult as they may be, can include love, support, joy, and victory. For others, their story is one of heartbreak, loneliness, sadness, and failure, in similarly difficult circumstances.
Now imagine if the members of these two distinct groups could share information with each other.
What might unfold in such an experience that could be helpful to someone in personal pain, from people who has previously walked in their footsteps, and who then emerged victorious from within their most challenging situations?
Reasons to Live: Antidoting Suicidal Ideation attempts to achieve this goal.
The text shares the globally composite experiences and feedback of the heartbroken, the lonely, the depressed, and those who failed, and who chose life over death.
Regardless of the difficult circumstances they found themselves in, these people chose to reach out, seek support, and engage with people who had walked their path before them, people who themselves fell, and who then got back up.
Compiled by Steve Taylor, a New Zealand-based Family & Relationship Therapist, Reasons to Live: Antidoting Suicidal Ideation is designed to meet a person in their pain, at whatever level, and to give them a real-life experience “virtual group” to journey with, towards an embedded ultimate hope in life.
It is hoped that this text will encourage the reader to both link with the real-life people in the text, and with at least one other person in their own lives, who can help them in their journey towards choosing victory, as opposed to defeat in their life circumstances.
As the title suggests, Reasons to Live: Antidoting Suicidal Ideation offers first-person antidotes (themselves anchored in real-life experience) against potentially destructive forward thinking or action, which may be recognised most commonly as suicidal Ideation.
The text could be most useful to individuals struggling to make sense of their current life circumstances, and to families and friends who wish to offer a supportive and encouraging “hope resource” to a loved one whose personal and private circumstances are at risk of overwhelming them, to the point of them losing hope in the future altogether.
Readers in need of assistance are encouraged to immediately seek out and make contact with a trusted person, and to make contact local suicide prevention agency, helpline, or service for assistance.
I am a double-degree qualified New Zealand-based Counsellor in private practice who has logged over 15,000 hours of direct client collaboration and engagement.
For fourteen years, I have stared into the face of pain carried by those who have in some way become overwhelmed with life.
In New Zealand, it is estimated in a 2016 report by the Office of the Auditor General that 1 person every 17 hours loses their life to suicide.
Recent New Zealand Ministry of Health data (2015) records that over 3000 people in 2012 were treated in hospital after a suicide attempt, having seriously harmed themselves.
Men, particularly young indigenous men, are most at risk of suicide, and men overall accounted for 3 out of every 4 completed suicides in 2012.
Add to this figure the pressures of unemployment at both younger and later ages, and the spike in the number of retired men committing suicide, then one cannot help wondering about the role of work as purpose within the male psyche.
Astonishingly, it now turns out that in New Zealand at least, even formally statutory recorded data on completed suicides can’t be trusted, owing to “open verdict” and vague categorisation definitions that exclude suicide as a cause of death.
This means that the total suicide tally could be three times higher than the officially recorded figure of 564 deaths per annum, for a national population of just over 4.5 million citizens.
The same 2016 New Zealand Auditor General report from which the above figures are taken also reveals two other disturbing issues.
The first issue is the almost Orwellian sanctioning of media to report on suicides.
The second issue is the embarrassing confirmation that none of the suicide intervention programmes imposed upon the New Zealand population to date have ever been formally measured for effectiveness.
In other words, suicide reporting, intervention, and effectiveness recording, both in New Zealand and globally, appears to be piecemeal, not measured for effectiveness, and of little apparent assistance to those most in need of it – that is, despite the current intervention scope, suicide completion figures remain consistently high.
As a therapist, my practice experience has taught me is that I can meet face to face with one person at a time, and hopefully help them.
As a writer, through the pages of this serialised chapter book, I may potentially be able to “meet” with hundreds, possibly thousands of people at a time, and hopefully contribute in some way towards helping them as well.
Reasons to Live: Antidoting Suicidal Ideation is a tool designed to speak directly to a person in pain, and to their need for help.
It is a resource that will hopefully assist people come through and out of their pain, especially when the pain becomes so intense and the outlook hopeless, that leaving the planet becomes preferable to staying upon it.
I would like to thank my practice clients who over the years have encouraged me at various times to compose a resource that they believe could help other people, in the way my clients report that they have been helped by me.
Some definitions to help get us started are in order.
Suicidal ideation is the process of thinking about, considering, or planning suicide.
Antidote (Gk: Antidotos):
An antidote is something that counteracts an unpleasant feeling or situation.
Possible signs of suicidal ideation may include (but are not limited to):
• Talking about wishing to die.
• Looking for methods of self-harm.
• Talking about feeling hopeless or of having no purpose.
• Talking about feeling trapped.
• Talking about being in unbearable pain.
• Talking about “being a burden” to others.
• Increasing use of alcohol and drugs.
• A sudden and unexpected bright lift in mood after a low mood period.
• Ongoing anxiety, agitation, and reckless behaviour.
• Sleeping too little, or too much.
• Withdrawing and isolating one-self from others.
• Bouts of rage and revenge thinking / speaking.
If you are ever wondering about whether someone you care about is considering suicide, the most helpful intervention in the first instance can be to ask them if they are considering suicide.
If the person says yes, then you can stay with them, and then aid in navigating them towards (hopefully) proper help.
No-one to my knowledge has ever died of asking or responding to an awkward question, you could save a life doing so, and you don’t have to be an expert to do it.
“I’m tired of being a burden, and I’m tired of feeling like a loser. I’m tired of suffering, and I’m tired of being scared” (Mike, 41*)
*Not his real name
Mike had most often experienced a life as a “loner”.
Frustrated in his current job, lonely in his marriage, detached from his two teenage children, and with an abiding self-loathing about his physical state, Mike had begun to conclude that he was becoming a burden to those around him.
Regular outbursts of anger, increased feeling of hopelessness, and an abiding frustration with the demands of working long hours to earn a sufficient income for his family were all contributing to this state of mind.
Early in his life, Mike had determined that the “big people” in his life, including his parents, had other interests and priorities that did not include him.
Mike’s father had been a successful businessman, and his mother a passively resentful stay-at-home Mum, who seemed to wreck every friendship she had ever had, most often through impossible-to-meet expectations of others.
Mike had an older brother who excelled at school, at sport, and at life.
Mike hated his older brother because of this success and often made his feelings clear to the family on this issue.
Seen as a jealous younger sibling, Mike was encouraged by his father to “try harder”, to “be better” and to “be more like your older brother”.
The trouble was that Mike had hated school, hated sports, and had ended up hating life, so there was absolutely no incentive to respond to such encouragement (especially from his Dad).
Quietly spoken, and with a latent sharp intellect that almost no-one was aware of, Mike had often tried to communicate how he was feeling about the issues of life with his parents.
In these situations, Mike’s father, who could reasonably be described as an “angry” person, would become quickly irritated and dismissive of his son, reminding Mike how busy he was running a business and providing for the family.
Mike’s mother would be physically present in such conversations, but constantly distracted by other events or interruptions that seemed more worthy of her attention.
Mike would often find himself having to repeat himself at these times and after a while, he became wearier, less engaged with the family unit over time, and eventually came to believe that he was just being a constant inconvenience to his family.
Friendships and relationships had been hard to come by for Mike growing up into adulthood.
He would either trust the wrong people too quickly, or not trust the right people at all.
The first group of people would then take advantage of Mike whilst feeling entitled to do so, and the second group gave up on having a relationship with Mike, as they felt both rejected and unwelcome by him.
When people would ask Mike how he was, his current default response was “I’m fine, thanks”.
But he wasn’t fine at all.
For weeks, Mike had been having thoughts (suicidal ideation) of hurting or harming himself.
It had been a long time since Mike had experienced what he would call a “win” or an event in which he would feel like he had “caught a break” in life.
Being successful in securing a better job, or having some spare money left over from the week, or even having some time to go on a decent holiday would have been examples of a “catching a break” for Mike.
For Mike, the ever-present sameness of his existence, a sense of being stuck in limbo, and an increasing sense of personal isolation, had resulted in his playing out scenarios in his mind whereby he would be able to disappear from the planet.
Mike had come to believe that if he was gone for good, no-one would miss him – that his absence would not make any of difference to the lives of those around him.
Antidoting Mike’s “burden” suicidal ideation thinking, feelings, and beliefs:
Mike’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs had begun to draw Mike towards suicidal ideation thinking.
Such thinking, feelings, and beliefs can be both cyclical and self-referential, which means that Mike’s only reference point for the increasingly distressed state he was in was Mike himself.
As distressed state thinking, feelings, and beliefs are all unwieldy ground for sound decision making over time, Mike needed external reference points for his pain, in a similar way that a pain medication is an external reference point for a headache.
In this text, the term “antidote” is used for this external reference point.
In medicine, the right antidote, at the right time, for the right condition, can be powerfully encouraging and reassuring.
For a person whose wellbeing is assaulted on the shaky ground upon which their thinking, feelings, and beliefs are attempting to hold anchor, the right antidote can have a similarly powerful effect.
A valuable source of these antidotes, as described by people in crisis across various presenting issue populations, are those people who have had similar crisis experiences to them, and who came through these experiences in a positive way.
One useful method of primary aid, utilised around the world within various presenting issue and population contexts, is the peer-to-peer group meeting setting, where people with similar life challenges meet for the purposes of discussion, feedback, and mutual support about the issue or issues at hand.
What follows is a wide variety of first-person antidotes, anchored within a virtual global composite group setting that Mike could well find helpful for his situation.
These antidotes have been sourced from real people who have walked in Mike’s shoes, and who have positively come through the types of issues that Mike is facing.
The identity of each person in the virtual group is protected via a randomly selected first and last initial for their name.
The people who make up the global composite within the virtual group are real, represent a range of backgrounds, age groups, ethnicities, educational achievement, and population groups, and their voices are both valid, and welcome.
What these people have to say to Mike (and to the reader as well) are words that were forged in pain, difficult circumstances, adversity, and ultimately, personal victory.
They speak as if the person they are speaking to (in this case, Mike) is right there in the room sitting with them.
Perhaps most importantly of all however, is that each of the people who speak in the virtual group both experienced the pit of suicidal ideation, and then managed to climb out of the pit, and onto solid ground, by seeking the help they chose for themselves, to do so.
Antidotes to “I’m a burden” thinking, feeling, or believing, as spoken by members of the virtual group:
• “I learned from my own journey that historical experiences don’t have to define our present or future experiences, because to do so, our ability to choose must first be taken from us. Since our choices are always an option on the table, we can always make different choices about how to respond to any situation we may find ourselves in” (A.J.)
• “I found that the biggest problem I had to stare down was asking someone for help. My pride is my biggest single roadblock to taking this action. I’m glad I did reach out to someone, but I still struggle with the decision I made to do so” (K.T.)
• “I (eventually) worked out that I was not alone-I was feeling lonely, sure, but it’s a big, big difference between feeling lonely and being alone. There is someone (probably lots of someone’s) who would want to help-but they couldn’t see me at the time, so I had to throw up a distress flag, so that they could” (H.B.)
• “My Dad was an angry guy, and my Mum did a great job in being disinterested in me. Life at home sucked growing up in my family. But one day, I found myself asking how long I was going to allow my parents wrong attitudes towards me, determine my self-worth and life path. Their influence stopped that very day” (T.D.)
• “I had an overachieving sister-the girl drove me nuts with her ability to master just about anything she put her mind or hands towards. But then I realised something-my design, talents and skills, were different from my sister’s design, talents and skills. Comparing me to her was an exercise in futility and despair. What I needed to do was discover my own design, talent, and skills. Once I added my own work ethic into the mix, I was away. Now my sister is a Physical Education Coach at a High Performance Sports Institute, which she loves, and I’m a horticulturalist for the local Council which I love-and we are both happy in our differences” (S.V.)
• “I came to realise that the opinions of others who were too busy to see past their own egos didn’t have to result in me being seen as an inconvenience. Not all people were going to treat me in such a way although it probably felt that way sometimes. I went off and found those people who were capable of demonstrating kindness-whoever they were, and in whatever role they held-I went and talked to those people” (W.L).
• “I find it really hard to trust people. I do want to trust people, but my radar is off sometimes. I am working on ‘going slowly’ with trust. Reliability is the big one for me-if someone proves themselves to be reliable with what they say and do then that sends a message to me that I matter to them. I only trust reliable people now” (L.B).
• “I have a wife and family. I used to say ‘I’m fine, thanks’ to them as well. They knew all was not well. I knew this because I asked them if they thought all was well with me, and they said “not at all!” I needed to sit them down and tell them what is going on for me. It turned out that they were feeling as powerless as me, and they were grateful for me breaking the emotional void deadlock” (P.S.)
• “When I would feel overwhelmed by life, I discovered that I was assuming I had to solve everything, all at once, and usually within an impossible self-imposed timeframe. My starting point for having realistic expectations of what I had time and capacity to do was tidying my office desk. Just that. Once I had that under control, I moved to something else small, and then something else small again, and so on and on it went. This process gave me an increasing sense of control and achievement, and I found that my self-confidence slowly began to re-ignite over time” (I.Z).
• “I had to be straight up with myself. I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t possibly predict the outcome of how people around me would feel if I harmed myself. Far from being an insignificant act, my demise would have reverberated for generations, and not in a good way. I wanted to leave a legacy, so I decided that when I left this planet naturally, I would leave one of permanent victory over temporary adversity, not one of permanent retreat in temporarily difficult circumstances” (A.V.)
• “I worked out that people were placing expectations upon me that didn’t really ’fit’ me, if that makes sense? I had always assumed that other people’s opinions of me were a correct assessment of who I was, but all that was happening was I pushed myself to live up to someone else’s ideal, an ideal that hadn’t even been tested against the reality of who I was, and what I was capable of in life. This meant I got exhausted a lot. As I started to get well again, the word “No” became my best friend”. H.N.
• “Somehow I came to believe that for all the issues of life, I had all the answers, and as far as the future was concerned, I could predict the outcome of every decision I had ever made, or was ever going to make. Interestingly, this theory never seemed to play out very well when I gambled. I learned that if I couldn’t even predict the outcome between black and red on a roulette wheel, I couldn’t predict my life’s outcomes either”. (J.B)
The heavy load of “burden” thinking, feelings, and beliefs most often tries to convince people that they are in some way redundant to the world, and that others would simply be better off if they were not present.
Yet, indulging such ideation clouds one’s ability to consider what they do have to contribute, and there’s always something they can all do to contribute, be it to someone, or to something, in some way.
Such thinking also robs others of the choices they are making to support others in whatever fashion they may choose – those who care don’t need the permission of those they love to choose to care for them.
There does not have to be a set rule from the outset as to what this contribution MUST be, because things in life can and do change.
Our response is to adapt without losing ourselves in the process.
All that is needed is a willingness to test the possibilities of what this contribution COULD be.
The beauty of such a process is that there’s no demand to be “right”, but just simply a willingness to be wrong, while one journeys towards finding their place (or places) in the world.
This journey isn’t meant to be embarked upon alone, because a lot of other people out there, right now, are struggling with the same goal.
It behoves us to find them, or let them find us, as we do not have to do this journey called life, all alone.
The fact is, we all matter, and we always did, and will, regardless of those who didn’t get the memo which may also include us.
Sometimes we just need to lean on others, and leaning, far from making us a burden, simply makes us vulnerable for a time which in turn, affirms our humanity, which then gives others permission to be vulnerable as well.
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For those buffeted by the dark thoughts of suicidal ideation, this book offers antidotes to such darkness, planting the seeds of hope, encouragement, and emotional resilience in the process. Compiled from the case histories of 1000's of client presentations worldwide, Reasons to Live represents the voices of those who made it through darkness into light, and speaks to those desire to do likewise. Steve Taylor, a New Zealand-based Family & Relationship Therapist and author, says that Reasons To Live is designed to privately meet a person in their pain, at whatever level, and to give them a narrative companion to journey with, towards an embedded ultimate hope in life. As the title suggests, Reasons To Live offers an antidote to potentially destructive forward thinking or action, recognised commonly as Suicidal Ideation. The serialised chapter book format and text will be most useful to individuals struggling to make sense of their current life circumstances, and to families and friends who wish to offer a supportive and encouraging resource to a loved one whose circumstances are at risk of overwhelming them. This is Chapter 1 of the "Reasons" series, and further chapters will be released over time. Subscribe to [email protected] matters.org.nz to be advised of the release of the next chapter in the "Reasons" series.