I read a heart-breaking post on Reddit this week about a young woman named Kelly who took her own life after a long and drawn-out battle with fibromyalgia-related chronic pain and depression.
Her partner went to speak more about Kelly’s life and struggles: “Kelly earned her Master’s degree from the University of Denver in Mental Health Counseling, but due to a number of mental health issues, exasperated by a battle with fibromyalgia, she took her own life on June 26th at the age of 28. She touched so many people with her caring personality, but was unable/unwilling to seek the help she needed to deal with this disease.”
Suicide has been in the news a lot lately with high profile celebrity tragedies like those of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. The news has left people shaking their heads in disbelief, unable to understand why people living seemingly such full lives would want to end them. The problem is that people can’t help what they can’t see, and many suffer in silence not wanting to burden those around them with their suffering.
Pain, both mental and physical, can be incredibly isolating. Many people in the fibro community talk about having to pretend to be okay just to get through day-to-day life. I’m guilty of this myself. We put on a brave face and do our best to hold it all together just to survive out in the world. We expend so much energy just getting by that when we are alone at the end of the day and are finally able to let our guard down, we often have nothing left for ourselves. Over time, this can start to slip into a downward spiral that leaves us in a desperate, vulnerable and intensely lonely place inside ourselves.
It can be difficult from that place to express yourself or even to let things in. The thoughts are an abyss, a black hole, a heavily fortified stronghold.
Expanding the Circle of Empathy
It’s in those darkest moments where even the smallest sliver of light can make all the difference. People generally consider suicide many, many times before actually going through with it because any little thing can have the potential to pull them back from the brink. The smallest things – a smile from a stranger, a text from an old friend, acknowledgment for a job well done – can make a difference in those moments and allow the person to break free from feelings of hopelessness. At least temporarily.
Often, the road to true recovery begins when we can tangibly feel we are not alone in having these thoughts. When we realize that there are others out there experiencing these same feelings. And still more who have been there in the past and who’ve managed to make it through the other side to recovery. They know how hard and how real the struggle is. And they (we) are here with outstretched hands and open arms to welcome you.
If you’ve come to a place of wellness, or even if you’re not quite there yet, remember that you can be there for a depressed or suicidal friend. You can be the glimmer of light that keeps the darkness at bay for them. You are stronger for having been through it. Reach back and grab hold of someone who is spiraling out of control and help them find peace again.
That’s why we need to do this together. By living with chronic pain, we are better equipped than most friends and family to withhold judgment and give comfort with patient understanding. Helping others is a potent drug, so don’t be surprised when you find your own mood uplifted after engaging in this! We can help make life worth living for each other. I can’t think of a more noble endeavor than that.