Wearing masks or I lied my face off
Anyone who is suicidally depressed is a habitual liar. If you have a friend that is suicidally depressed he or she lies to friends, colleagues, family, acquaintances, teachers, students, whomever – multiple times a day. And it adds to their depression. And unless you ask, and ASK THE RIGHT WAY, you will never know.
This will probably come off as offensive to those who are not nor have ever been suicidal. If you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about. Everytime someone asks you “Are you OK?” you will lie to then and say “Yes.” I’ve lied to teachers about having a cold when I spent most of the day in bed. I’ve lied to students about when I’d get their papers graded, saying that they were late because I was on a trip. In reality, the anxiety caused by the thought of grading over 100 papers made it too hard to even start, not because I couldn’t but because I knew how mentally and emotionally taxing it would be. Everyone who’s faced severe depression has lied like this almost daily, and felt guilty and ashamed for it. It is merely one more thing for you to feel disgusted with yourself for doing. The rock is the shame you get from lying, and the hard place is actually telling someone, and risking the respect and camaradie of someone who is important to you because they don’t get it, because they will think you’re selfish. If you’re friends with someone you think is suicidal, YOU are probably the one that needs to bring it up. Your friend might do so in “jest,” or in a roundabout way.
“Ugh, sometimes I just want to die”
“Do you mean that?”
“..no, of course not.” *the person then manages a genuine smile, not because they are necessarily happy but because of the absurdity of the situation*
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU TALK TO A SUICIDAL PERSON!
How do I talk to a suicidal person, or someone I suspect is suicidal?
First, know that you’re probably going to have to use the S-word. It’s surprising how many people who are genuinely concerned about their friends, who really think that their friend may try to kill themselves, won’t take the plunge and just ASK.
It’s common to say “Are you OK?” or even worse, “How are you?” The latter is worse than the former, but both are invitations for me to lie my face off. People who have been suicidal for a bit have lied and said “OK”, “fine,” or even faked a “great” to “How are you!” more times than they can remember. Putting that mask on gets so easy that we do not even think about it (btw I’m not suicidal anymore and I plan on it staying that way*, so don’t misinterpret “we”). If you ask me how my day was/is I will lie to you, and you will believe it. When I walk in the door to work, to school, to your party, to the coffee shop, I put on the mask without even thinking. It’s amazing how sometimes my mood would even change for the better, often dropping as soon as I walked out the door. Wearing the mask can sometimes genuinely make one happy (so don’t think that hanging out with friends doesn’t help!), but taking it off can quickly lead right back to emotional exhaustion. But I digress…
So how do you give someone the strength to tear off this mask? You have to let them know that you can see it, or that you expect it’s there. It’s as easy as this…
“I’m worried that you are depressed. You haven’t seemed well lately.”
That’s a good start. We are not used to lying about that, and it’s more direct so it’s harder to lie about.
“Do you want to kill yourself?”
“Are you going to kill yourself?”
AT LEAST go for “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
It’s hard to ask, but it’s harder to be a suicide survivor. I have been asked this once in person, by a psychologist. That I can recall anyway. I have never had a friend ask me, though I’ve had a friend’s parent ask me “Are you doing OK?” and a friend ask me the same. Both times, I kept the mask up or at least hid the fact that I was suicidal. I was honest with the psychologist because he broached the subject. The fact that he suspected was enough.
Keep a level tone, a concerned tone is good. Freaking out is not good, because I do not want to be a burden to you so I’ll lie. Anger is not good, because I do not want you to dislike me so I will lie. If you get a hesitant “No” then PUSH. Give evidence – “I noticed you haven’t been going out much anymore.” ” I noticed you’re drinking more and it doesn’t seem like you enjoy it.” ” I see you staring off into space a lot.” Reassure me that you are not judging me, that I am important to you and that I am worth saving. LIE TO ME and tell me that you are free that day to drive me to the student center, or to help me look for a therapist. LIE TO ME and tell me you’re free that night to hang out. LIE TO ME and tell me that your meeting got cancelled, that your girlfriend is staying in, that your thesis can wait. Lie your face off. I won’t blame you.
*In the time since I wrote this on the old LF, I did have a couple episodes of ideation. By now, I’ve gotten better at handling them. It’s been about half a year since the last one, and it was fleeting. This is because I have allies! Seek allies, be an ally.
(yeah boobs, problematic, can’t find a better version)