Do you know what it feels like when you don’t like someone, and everyone around you keeps talking about that person, saying nice things about them? Have you ever thought that maybe it’s a real sign that you should make up with that person, to put the drama between the two of you aside?
That’s the sort of thing that’s been happening to me lately. But with me, it’s not about a person. It’s about suicide. Suicide and the people who tried to commit it were like enemies of mine. Things were that way for a long time. Until now, at least. Lately, everyone around me seems to be talking about suicide a lot, fascinated by it, or maybe even scared. I don’t know.
All I know is that suicide used to scare and anger me a little bit. It scared and angered me that a person can feel so broken that they take their own life, or try to. And what was even scarier was that it could affect anyone of us. It can find its way into our tight circles of friendship, our neighbourhoods and schools or, worse, our families.
So, what are some of the people around me saying about suicide?
It started with a conversation I had with my Uber driver, S’vuyile, about two months ago. We were driving through the dead of night, cutting across streetlight-flooded roads from Westlake, where I work, to Philippi, where I live. This guy kept hammering away at this one point: Why the hell do some people kill themselves just because some guys or girls don’t want them anymore?
He told me the story of this 16-year-old kid named Abongile that S’vuyile grew up around. Abongile tried to kill himself after finding out the girl he loved was cheating on him with S’vuyile’s older brother. One afternoon, Abongile’s family found him hanging from the ceiling, luckily still alive, and they managed to save him. But he was never the same again. For around a month after the incident, he looked more depressed than he’d ever looked before. And he didn’t last very long after that. He killed himself a month or two later.
The way S’vuyile told me this story bothered me. Did he somehow think he was better, stronger or even smarter than Abongile since he didn’t commit suicide when girls cheated on him or broke up with him? Did he not understand that Abongile must’ve been going through severe physical and emotional pain in those last few months of his life? I may have been wrong about what S’vuyile was thinking, but that’s the sense that I got listening to him.
About a week after speaking to S’vuyile, I found out that Thando, a guy I’d mentored, had just tried committing suicide. He’d been studying law at UCT, found out he was going to fail because he didn’t qualify to write his exams, and got extremely depressed. Adding to that depression, he’d come out as gay earlier on this year, and his family didn’t take that bit of news well at all. They made him feel like he was a disappointment to the family, like he was sick in a way.
I remember him saying his aunt even wanted to take him to a sangoma and then to initiation school in order get him to “change his mind” about being gay. Being treated like this really broke the guy. Suddenly, his family were no longer proud of the fact that he was the first one in the family to pass matric and study at university.
Even though I can’t know exactly what was going on in his head, I think the pain of being rejected by his family, and the worry that he might disappoint them even more by failing his studies, overwhelmed him. Whenever I think about what he went through, I can’t help but picture those moments when he was preparing himself for death, lying in his room, ready to take all those pills.
Thando’s suicide attempt really struck a chord with me. It made me think about what everyone else out there goes through, the people who attempt suicide, and the friends and family that surround them. I’ve spent most of my life trying to be a person who connects with other people and understanding their struggles, so thinking about his pain really made me question all the judgment I’d had. What are the people who attempt suicide feeling in those moments leading up to it? How much pain are they in? Is anyone trying to help them? What do their friends, family members, neighbours, and maybe even classmates feel? How does finding out about the suicide attempts of their loved-ones make them reflect on their own lives?
Two days after I heard about Thando’s suicide attempt, there was a show on SABC 2 talking about suicide that answered some of my questions. In explaining what gets someone to the point where suicide feels like the only option, one of the experts speaking during the show said people don’t commit suicide because they’re cowards or bewitched. They commit suicide when the part of their brain that is supposed to keep them happy and positive about life shuts down.
The guy said we should watch out for suicide, because it can show up anywhere, at home, at school, at university and even in our neighbourhoods. He said we should always try and remind ourselves and the people in our lives that there’s hope no matter how hopeless things seem. He said we shouldn’t do things like mock and judge people, making them feel worse than they might already be feeling about their lives. Also, he said it’s okay to ask for help from friends, family members, neighbours or teachers when we feel like life is being tough on us. Asking for help doesn’t make us weak.
Watching the show really opened my eyes even more than Thando’s suicide attempt did. My girlfriend and I were watching the show together and I immediately told her that I’m going to share this story with people. I told her that I used to think people who tried to commit suicide were cowards and that they were looking for an easy way out. I remember the look on her face when I told her that – she was surprised, maybe even disappointed. She knows me as a pretty understanding guy, someone who thinks about how things affect others, so it made sense that she was surprised. I sat with her and I promised that I wouldn’t get so judgmental ever again.
My ultimate wish is that I get to someone before they commit suicide or even start to think about it… I wish I can say or do something that can empower them, give them strength to carry on, to come out of their depression, to fight their anxieties.
Life can be so messy sometimes, I know. But it can also just be so fucking awesome! And those are the moments I live for. Those are the moments worth fighting for…
Tell us: Do you think suicide is an issue that should be discussed more?