I’ve heard of it before, this phenomenon where the ones who survive the unthinkable wrestle with immense guilt for the very act of surviving, to a point where they find it difficult to celebrate being alive. Survivor’s guilt, they call it. It’s something I never quite understood until it happened to me; I am a suicide survivor.
Late on the evening of March 4th, or perhaps early in the morning of March 5th (there is no public death record, so the date and time are approximate), my good friend from college passed away from suicide. As someone who has come inches away, a single choice away, from making that same, permanent, life-ending decision, I quickly became well-acquainted with survivor’s guilt.
Upon hearing the news, there was shock. There were days and days of re-reading the same text over and over again wondering if it was real, if it was true. Over time this shock gradually turned to anger, frustration, grief. “IT’S NOT FAIR!” I would scream as I drove down the road, pounding my fists against the steering wheel. “IT’S NOT FAIR! HE NEVER GOT TO EXPERIENCE WHAT I HAVE… HE NEVER GOT TO EXPERIENCE WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO COME OUT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF DEPRESSION… IT’S NOT FAIR!”
I hate this. I hate that I got to find my way out of the darkness, and he didn’t. I hate that I get to live to see another beautiful sunrise, and he doesn’t. I hate that I get to earn my diploma and walk with my friends at graduation, and he doesn’t. To say “it’s not fair” is a mere understatement.
Then the thoughts come… if he couldn’t do it, what if I can’t? If he gave into suicide, what if I do? What if I can’t resist? What is the point of trying or fighting, if I’m ultimately just going to give in? I drive home from work every day with the temptation to give up growing stronger and stronger.
Amidst the turmoil of grief and shame we often lose sight of the fundamental truth that we have not only a right, but a duty, to be alive. Our thoughts would love to convince us that survivor’s guilt is some sort of currency we owe to those who have passed on. As someone who has always struggled with guilt and shame, I embraced this lie as my truth. The thing is, however, no matter how frustrated or guilty one feels for continuing to exist, it does not redeem the lives lost.
It is only through our living that their memories are kept alive. It is only through our living that we can be a voice for those fighting in silence. It is only through our living that we can share our own stories with the world, wreaking havoc on the stigma that surrounds mental illness. To choose to survive is to boldly stare our mental illness in the face and say, “You don’t own me.”
You are worthy of life, of survival, of peace. Wherever you are in your journey, whatever struggles you have faced, you are a living, breathing story. A story worth protecting, a story worth telling, and a story worth keeping alive.
Thank you for the encouragement today.
My best friend of 30 years dies of suicide on Thursday. Second try in 2 weeks. I got to talk to her “in between”, even though we live in different states, we had coffee at 9:30 every morning. We talked about it..we had a “plan” 💔
We are incredibly sorry to hear that your best friend is struggling. We hope she chooses to stay, to hold on to hope, and reach out for the support and help she needs. She can always reach out for help by calling 800-273-8255 or texting TWLOHA to 741741. And you or she can always email us at [email protected] if you are in need of encouragement, connection to help, or just a listening ear.
We are here.
Patricia L Fowler
My daughter just lost her boyfriend to suicide.Of course she is divastated,in shock and blaming herself for not seeing his pain which he hid.Please help me help her.
We are incredibly sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter’s boyfriend. We hope she and his family are able to find some healing as they grieve this loss. Please continue to remind your daughter that she is not to blame. It can be difficult to see any signs that a loved one is struggling or thinking about suicide. If you would email us at [email protected], we would be honored to offer you more information, resources for survivors of suicide, and encouragement.
My daughter attempted in March of 2019. She did it again Feb. 2020. I saw the signs, she told me. She didn’t want to die. But she didn’t know how to manage life. No doctor spoke to me about mental illness. They thought it was a bad breakup. I knew better but couldn’t stop her. She was my world. How do I forgive myself.
First, we are so sorry for your loss. We hope you are able to give yourself grace as you grieve this heartbreak. Seeing and knowing the signs that someone is struggling is not an easy task. We wish she could have found and connected to the help she deserved. Will you email us at [email protected] so we can learn more about yours and your daughter’s stories and offer you some support?
So beautiful,thank you for sharing your story,hope is defiant