For the longest time, my girlfriend never could understand the psychology of someone contemplating suicide. The thing that bugged her most was, “Isn’t suicide the same as giving up?”
Despite my attempts to explain how someone who is suicidal might be thinking and feeling, she was never fully convinced. Not that she rejected the proposition that someone could be in that much emotional and psychological pain, but maybe just that she couldn’t imagine being in the shoes of such a person.
All this changed in December 2017, after the death of K-pop star Kim Jong-hyun. She had read the farewell note Jonghyun had left behind in Korean. For the first time, she acknowledged how inaccurate it is to say that someone who died by suicide gave up.
Originally in Korean, the line that struck out most to her was the one that said (loosely translated), “I am broken from inside. The depression that gnawed on me slowly has finally engulfed me entirely… the act of ending is difficult. I’ve lived until now because of that difficulty.”
To her, this sounded like a person who was at wit’s end, someone who desperately wanted to live but simply didn’t know how to go on. To her, this sounded like a person in more pain than they knew how to cope with.
While I’ve gained some ground with her, it’s sad to say that a big misconception most people have is the one she used to have.
Having listened to calls over the SOS hotline and speaking to individuals who are going through a suicide crisis, I know that labeling them as giving up is a gross misrepresentation. Let me try to put this into perspective.
Think about the last time you had a bad day. Or when your day just seemed to be a series of unfortunate events, no matter what you did or how hard you tried to make things better. Maybe it went something like this: you woke up late, missed the bus, were forced to skip lunch, got into a quarrel with someone close to you, got reprimanded for a mistake that wasn’t yours, reached home and realized your overdue bills.
We would all have had a similar ‘bad day’ experience before and when trapped in those situations, all we wish is for the day to “hurry up and end” or to “go home and sleep it off.”
Now magnify that on the scale of someone’s life. Imagine the multiple pressures of daily living come crashing down around their ears, snowballing into one giant mess of chaos and dysfunction. As much as such a scenario might seem like it’s out of a drama, believe me, these are real things that real people face. When a barrage of these occurs at the same time or in quick succession, the pain that develops can be drawn out and seemingly impossible to heal from.
The emotional pain can be so intense and overwhelming to generate a similar kind of response: “I just want it all to end” or “I wish I could sleep and never wake up.”
Suicide isn’t giving up in the same sense that you crying your eyes out after a ‘bad day’ and absolutely refusing to participate in further social or personal activity isn’t giving up.
For so many of us, those bad days leave us emotionally drained, tired to the core. Another word for tired is exhausted. And exhaust is from the latin root word exhaustus, meaning "to draw off or out, to use up completely"
Suicide isn’t giving up, it’s using up. To completely use up our emotional reserves; drawing out every possible ounce of hope and optimism. To be exhausted of all those qualities – so exhausted that the flame of life itself is compelled to diminish.
And the thing is, more than we think we know, we’re all going to scrap the bottom of our barrel at some point. We’ll be exhausted, depleted. We’ll be lost, utterly devastated maybe. I pray that when you find yourself there, reach out. Let someone know. Seek support if you need it. It’s OK to not be OK.