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A Friend I Knew Once: A Story About Suicide

[This was originally posted to Tumblr, but I think it's worth sharing here, since I've found this place a very personal and intimate community to whom I think this message might have a lot of meaning as well.]

There's been a lot of talk about suicide in my feed recently, largely due to the fact that several friends of mine to whom I'm very close have suffered a personal tragedy of that sort in the recent past. I was not a part of this tragedy, I did not know the person who ended their life and I was not a part of that experience. But I have known someone who committed suicide at an earlier point in my life and I can empathize with what they're going through.


I want to tell that person's story.

I don't know if this is a good idea. But I feel like what I’m about to say is important, which is that suicide isn't anybody's fault. It's not yours, it's not the victim's, it's no one's fault. The only one - the only thing to blame rather - is perhaps how our society has chosen to treat mental illness with stigma and psychiatric counseling as a character deficit. But the victim or their friends and family? In most cases they did what they could.

When I was a kid I lived in a very small town. You may think you know what I mean when I say small but I want you to think smaller. The town I lived in (or city, technically) had a population of just 500 within its limits, although a couple more hundred lived on the outskirts. As a general rule, everybody knew everybody. Most kids went to the same school. There was just one movie theater that everyone went to and which had just a single screen. Everyone had the same doctor, everyone had the same dentist, and whenever anything dramatic happened, everyone knew about it at once.

I was born and raised in this small town until I turned 18. I have very fond memories of the place still, even though I will admit in retrospect that there were disadvantages as well as advantages to living in a place where everybody knew everybody. Addy, the subject of my story, was not born there however. Like many people I knew, he arrived in Point Arena more than a decade into his life, when his parents moved into town to set up a small business, a bakery. But like everyone who joined such a small community, Addy and his family were integrated almost immediately so that soon enough, it was like they had always been with us.


I met Addy through mutual friend: Ben, who was the son of the aforementioned doctor who everyone had, and Mapachi, who I'd known throughout most of the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. I remember that he was intelligent and passionate in nearly everything he did. He was a nerd, like me, but he was one of those kind of nerds who was fairly outgoing and who treated his interests as a source of pride and even superiority at times, rather than as something to hide and love in secret. He was one of the first people I knew to play first-person shooters, which at the time (we're talking late 1990s and early 2000s here) didn't dominate the video game industry as they do now, and one of my earliest memories of him is playing GoldenEye at his house.

We were never especially close friends. As I said, he was mostly a friend of a friend, someone I saw frequently enough and who I enjoyed spending time with but neither of us invited one another to our birthday parties or went on trips together or really hung out for any particular reason except when we were with our mutual friends. But although I did not hold him particularly dear I knew plenty who did and I knew him to be a good and affectionate person, who despite his rough edges was good at heart and who would stand by his friends in their moments of trouble.


I did hold someone dear, however, who held him very dear. She was my first love, you might say; I'd had a crush on one of my earliest childhood friends at an earlier point, but it was she who first so completely entranced my will and made me feel a strong and uncompromising compassion that occupied me night and day. It never worked out between us, though she knew for many years how I felt; I was a good friend, a very dear friend even, but that was all and though it pained me at times that my feelings were not reciprocated I allowed myself to be what she needed and not what I desired. We eventually drifted apart, not because of anything that came between us but simply because her parents chose to send her out of town for her education, while mine sent me to the local high school. But I never stopped thinking well of her and whenever we met thereafter, it was always a friendly, if somewhat awkward encounter.

While I was a good and dear friend to this girl, Addy was much more. He was not her first love, but I believe he was one of her deepest and most sincere. Whereas her previous boyfriends (including one of the other friends I mentioned earlier) had been short-lasting and somewhat ephemeral, her romance with Addy was long and intimate, lasting throughout his entire high school career. Because I did not go to school with either of them (as I mentioned, they both went out of town for school), I knew of their deep love through those who remained close to both of them and through the way that my former love spoke of him when I did meet her and speak with her. It was one of the deepest and most touching relationships I've ever seen.


But it was also dysfunctional. It wasn't perfect. Addy, unbeknownst to me, suffered from depression and had self-esteem issues he kept hidden from all but those closest to him. And although he and the girl I speak of loved each other very much and truly had one another's best interests at heart, he had become dependent on her and when she chose to break up with him - largely because she felt her love was destroying him and that he needed to live his own life, to go on to college rather than waiting for her to graduate - it must have hurt him far more than any of us ever realized.

Again, I want to empathize how deeply I believe that what followed was not anybody's fault. The girl I had loved did not break up with Addy because she hated him or because she wanted to hurt him. Nor was she being negligent to his needs; she was trying actively to help him, even when it hurt her. I first heard of the break-up at a poetry slam, the first I ever actually attended, where she let her feeling spill forth, opening her heart up in poetry to an entire audience, speaking to what their relationship had meant to her and why she had ended it, why she'd felt she had to end it. And this was all before what happened.


It was 2006. I was 17 and a junior in high school. And suddenly I'd lost a friend.

They found his body on the beach, laid out in a mandala he'd drawn around himself in a private ritual. There was a gun in his hand, empty, the single bullet that killed him jammed through his skull. He'd left a note for his family, expressing his sorrow and desire to die and his apologies for failing them. He was 19.


I wish I could say that I was heartbroken to learn of his death. I wasn't. As I said, we were never especially close. We knew each other, liked each other well enough, but were never dear to one another. The most I felt at the initial of his passing was shock, a dull surprise at what had happened. It was hard to believe that he was dead, that someone so young, someone that I'd grown up with, was now gone from the world. But it wasn't heartbreak, it wasn't an immediate cascade of emotion.

Maybe it was because I was still recovering from the death of another person known to me. Earlier that year, my science teacher Marc Lappe, also a personal mentor and the father and stepfather of two very close friends, had passed after struggling with brain cancer for a year. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn't actually seen Addy in years. I don't know. But I felt terrible - ironically enough - that I didn't feel as terrible as I felt that I should.


This isn't about me though. This is about Addy and those dear to him, those to whom his passing was a deep blow that continued to hurt for weeks, months, and maybe even years after. There were his parents obviously, recently divorced for unrelated reasons. I remember still how deeply hurt they were at his funeral, though they managed to keep their composure, and how his death in a strange way brought them back together (not as lovers, but as grieving parents). I also remember his sister, who'd just reopened her parents' bakery as her own on the day that Addy killed himself in what amounted to a deep and cruel irony. And I also remember the girl I'd loved and how, out of all the people at the funeral, it seemed that she was suffering the most.

At that point in time, I no longer loved her as I had. I still cared for her obviously, but my heart had moved on and it had actually been a long time since I'd talked to her directly. But when I saw her, struggling to hold back tears and failing when she spoke at his eulogy, the feelings of loss and heartache that she felt reflected back on to me and through her I felt, for the first time really, the pain of losing someone you loved.


No one wanted Addy to die. I am absolutely certain of that. Certainly not her. Certainly not his family. Certainly not me or anyone that I knew. Nor did anyone wish him ill. He was a good person, imperfect as we all are, but fundamentally good and decent, intelligent and quick-witted, passionate and full of love. And yet, he'd come to believe that his life was worthless, that those he loved would be better off without him.

It's not that no one showed him love. They did. But what a lot of people don't understand, I think, is that for someone in the midst of depression, who has recurring thoughts of suicide, it's hard to recognize the way that others feel about you. You're blind to it, because, fundamentally, your brain is out of balance and you can't properly understand. what the world is trying to tell you. All you see is your worthlessness and how you hurt those around you and how they hurt you in return and how you really wish you could just end it all.


They say that love knows no rhyme or reason, that love is blind. The same is true of depression and many other mental illnesses. There may be no rational cause for your depression at all, no "real" reason that you feel as bad as you do. Everyone suffers, everyone feels pain, but when you're hit with depression that suffering expand exponentially, so that you can barely feel anything else. Those things which gave you joy cease to be joyful and you torture yourself with questions like whether or not the people you love really care for you or whether they're simply trying to make you more manageable and less irritating by feigning affection. Every success, every piece of joy is a temporary but ephemeral relief. Every failure and every moment of sadness is a soul-crushing confirmation of your worthlessness.

I know this personally because, while I don't talk about it much, I've suffered from depression as well. I've know that feeling of utter uselessness, of feeling like a burden on those you care about. It's stupid. It's utterly and completely foolish. It's selfish. And it can't be helped. It's not something you choose to feel. It's something that life, be it through tragedy, loss, failure, or simply the messed up chemistry of your brain makes you feel. And it is so utterly, desperately hard to escape.


Addy was a victim. He was not a criminal, he was not a bad guy, he was just a young man suffering from a crippling disease that our culture too often says is the diseased's own fault. He could have had a long and meaningful life. He should have. Instead, he died seven years ago on Manchester State Beach.

His family and his friends were victims too. They did not mistreat Addy. They didn't intentionally hurt him or cause him pain. They tried to help him. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough and it never is. I'm sure they blamed themselves and they may still blame themselves, but the truth is that they were no more to blame for Addy's depression and subsequent suicide than Addy was himself. They did what they could, what they knew how to do. His death wasn't their fault and yet all the same they've suffered for it.


That isn't to say that support doesn't help. It does, it's vital even. But that's something of a given, something that anyone who cares remotely is willing to offer if it's asked of them. But when dealing with crippling depression and feelings of inferiority and worthlessness, the support of those dear to you isn't enough, especially if you're ashamed from asking for their help in the first place.

There are no easy answers. Counseling is certainly a big and important step and something which I've done myself. Finding something you're passionate for and pursuing it despite your doubts is another. Medication is also important, even if the stigma surrounding it makes it unattractive.


My point is this: don't blame yourself. You did what you could. And, whether you know it or not, you probably did help. Without knowing, you probably delayed that person's death, you probably helped them cope with their pain for just a little longer. But you can't be there for everyone you care about at every moment of every hour everyday. It's not your fault. Nor is it theirs. It's brain chemistry and culture.

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