Snap Out Of It

September is mental health awareness and suicide prevention month.

Suicidal depression and suicide itself come with a stigma that we haven’t found a way to overcome. I don’t talk to my friends and family about my continuing struggles with depression because they wouldn’t understand. Very few people I know – including two of my spiritual leaders – know the truth about my demons. I have PTSD from the severe bullying and abuse I took as a kid and the further targeting I lived with as an adult; all I want is a sense of purpose. To be able to do something decent with my life, something that means more than just making money. There are many times when I’ve asked myself if I’m really only in public safety so I don’t feel like I’m completely worthless.

When you spend your entire youth listening to everyone around you tell you that you’re not enough, it’s impossible to believe you have any worth.

It doesn’t help when you hit adulthood and things don’t get any better. The guys who write for the Rhino Den have been writing a series of articles about suicide among veterans. Peter Nealen talked about needing a sense of purpose, and despite the fact that I’ve never deployed, I know that need. Many vets just don’t know how to live outside of the structure of the military. Some thrive on the belief that they’re doing something good, serving a higher purpose. I feel that in public safety. Many of the men and women I work with feel it as well. Four of my friends have committed suicide in the past five years. Three of them were from police and fire departments that I work closely with.

Even when not suicidal, depression is a deep, dark hole that crushes you. All you can think of is what’s going to go wrong. You don’t want to get out of bed much of the time. You don’t want to go out and do anything or see anybody; you don’t want to even attempt to be social. Sometimes you force yourself to just to know that you’re still human. People who know will tell you to “just snap out of it”, as if it’s that simple. As if you’re making a conscious choice to live in pain. For me, at least, it’s as if people are pushing and shoving me while I fight to stay on my feet, teetering on the edge of a cliff – and it sometimes gets to the point that the bottom of that cliff looks more appealing than the fight to avoid falling.

I am alive because I fear having to answer to G-d more than I fear my worthlessness. It doesn’t dull the pain in the least. There are days when all I can think of are the many moments where my social ineptitude has been painfully obvious. There are days when I’m afraid that I’ll never be given a chance to prove myself. As angry as I get at my friends who have ended their own lives, I have to say that I also understand where they were when they left so abruptly.

There are people who like to make a scene by saying that they’re suicidal. They actually enjoy the emergency response they get when they tell someone they want to die. I don’t write this to say that I am suicidal…I write it to bring attention to an issue that far too many people fear because they don’t understand it. It’s not just gay youth who are depressed and suicidal. Veterans and public safety workers are often at the highest risk for depression and suicide.

Telling someone to “get over it” or “snap out of it” is the worst thing you can say. Educate yourself. Those who need that sense of belonging, worth, and purpose are often the last ones you’d expect to find standing on the edge.

Hating Rick Warren

On Saturday, April 6, Pastor Rick Warren – famous for writing The Purpose-Driven Life and pastoring SoCal megachurch Saddleback – announced that his 27-year-old son Matthew had committed suicide. Today it was revealed that Matthew shot himself.

I don’t necessarily agree with Pastor Warren on a number of things, but I do have respect for him. He doesn’t pull a huge salary from his church. He doesn’t live an opulent lifestyle, at least not that I know of. My heart broke when I heard that his son had taken his own life after struggling with severe depression since childhood.

What has come out of some members of the gay community, however, is beyond the pale.

Twitchy and The Blaze both reported social media movements directing breathtaking hatred at Pastor Warren and his family after Matthew’s death. They suggested that Matthew was gay and killed himself because his father was a supposed hatemonger. They brought up his support for Prop 8 and literally said that Pastor Warren “hanged his own son”. They said that “with all the gay kids dead, this was a small price to pay.”

Shut up. For once in your over-privileged, self-indulgent lives, shut the hell up. I’ve lost four of my friends to suicide. As an EMT, I’ve run countless suicide calls and I always leave with the feeling that I have done absolutely nothing to help the family. It is nearly impossible for me these days to run those calls without breaking down myself. It has gotten to the point that child drownings are less difficult for me, and that’s a significant statement for me to make. I know how dark those days are after you find someone you loved in that position.

At the same time, I also know suicidal depression. My entire life, I’ve been hated and made fun of. I’ve always been the butt of someone’s joke. I believe it is only by the grace of G-d that I am a stronger person now, because I have been down that black hole where it felt as though there was no escape. Maybe G-d has used those calls to open my eyes to the reality that suicide leaves behind; if so, I am thankful for that, even though I’m not sure my presence was much help to those left to pick up the pieces. Each and every one of you aiming your vitriol at Pastor Warren, accusing him of “killing his gay son”, have directed the same vile stupidity at me at one time or another and you do not know or care how much that hurts. Who the hell are you to preach about caring for the hurting? You can’t even do it yourselves!

I am beyond appalled. I am furious. Pastor Warren is a much more gracious and forgiving soul than I am in praying for these people. I cannot understand celebrating someone’s death, not for any reason. I have never in my life felt happiness upon hearing that a human being has died, no matter how much I may have disliked them. Yet as angry as I am with the gay community right now for their intense hatred, intolerance, and hypocrisy, I still cannot wish this kind of pain upon them.

What astounds me, though, is Dan Savage. Usually the first to make an inappropriate comment or attack a conservative, when asked for his opinion he said, “My only comment is this: As a parent, my heart aches for Rick Warren and his wife. They have my sympathy.”

Thank you, Dan, for not hating Rick Warren as so many others have.

By Thine Own Hand

Friends who helped in NYC in the wake of 9/11 began wearing their shrouds today.

NYPD officer Stephanie Moses, who had literally become “the face of NYPD” after last year’s wreath-laying ceremony at Ground Zero following the death of Osama bin Laden, committed suicide in her home yesterday. The 17-year veteran of the force was 40 years old. She shared her home with her lesbian partner, Melissa McCoy, a retired NYPD detective.

While there has been some speculation about her reasons I will not post them here. Speculation is meaningless to me. Being in public safety myself, three of those I have worked with, trained with and deeply respected have committed suicide. Having seen many suicide scenes while on duty myself I often ask not to be told how they chose to leave this life; I don’t want to picture what they probably looked like. In every case I’ve heard the speculation on why they did it – financial hardship, relationship woes, things on the job just got to them. I have watched more police officers, firefighters and medics kill themselves than anyone else in any other profession I’ve been involved in.

Every single time I’ve been taken completely by surprise. All three of them had young children. Four others that I knew professionally but didn’t know personally well have also committed suicide. Every time it happens I wonder what is being done. In our world, there is never any warning – we all know what will happen if we do tell someone. There will be reports involved. People we know may end up coming to our home and seeing us in that dark place that we never want to admit we’re in. We may be required to check in to a hospital and begin taking medications that will drastically alter our lives. There’s often a deeper stigma involved where people you’ve worked with and trusted with your life suddenly keep their distance if they know. On the few occasions when one of us has sought help, it has ended up hurting more in the end.

And still those in command wonder why we don’t reach out.

I wish more than anything that it weren’t like this. My heart breaks for Officer Moses’ partner, family and fellow officers. I know that feeling all too well – how did this happen? How did things get so bad that this was the only way out for her? What could I have done?

You will never stop asking those questions. I wish I could say that you may someday have the answers you seek, but you won’t. I will pray that God gives you peace even though you never understand they whys or wherefores.

To those I know – and those I don’t – who are in public safety, I offer an admonition: please, even if you don’t reach out to another officer or firefighter, reach out to someone. Take care of yourselves. Don’t let the darkness win.

To Officer Moses…rest in peace. You will be missed.

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