“He hanged himself, babe,” texted our mutual friend.
“You mean accidentally overdosed, right?” I fired back.
I’m confused – this shouldn’t happen in my line of work. Not the suicide crisis counselor who has helped people on the crisis line for three years.
Suicide is a complicated matter – an epidemic that has turned for the worst this past year. Since 2010, the rates of suicide per year have steadily risen every year. According to Americas Health Rankings, males 65 and older have the highest rate of suicide, followed by men 45- 54 years of age. In addition, LGBTQ adults and youth rank higher than those who are not a part of the community.
I know all the signs. I know what to say. This happens to anyone, but me. My mind raced down a rabbit hole.
Not the guy who was my roommate four months ago, whom I kicked out of my apartment because he crossed my boundaries.
Not the guy who was the only one excited about my dark comedy suicide TV pilot I wrote and desperately wanted to help get it made.
Not the guy whose last words to me were, “I messed up and I hope one day you can forgive me.”
You know those days – those days when you get news that rattles through every cell of your being and without skipping a beat. You remember exactly where you were, what you were wearing, and who was in your presence. Rapidly, I moved into an out-of-body experience where my senses became so heightened to everything. I didn’t know whether to cry or go into counselor mode. I’ve never lost anyone I knew intimately to suicide.
I was walking down Rue Saint Dominique in the 7th Arrondissement in Paris. My bra was soaked from the sweat my body produced from the humidity. If I could have been wearing just a bikini, I would have. Wait, this is France, of course – the culture would have celebrated me wearing the least amount of clothes possible, which I have found rather refreshing. I was uncomfortably hot, but I had inner peace.
Four months earlier, I was living in Los Angeles and I was suffocating. Suffocating from the dense energy that was seeping through the apartment where I lived and the shallow feeling that Los Angeles can often exude. I was stagnant and no longer able to get out of my own way. My soul felt like it was dying and I knew if I did not leave immediately I would decline fast. Metaphorically speaking, it felt like a life or death decision.
My phone rang. “Hey Girl! I’m going to be in LA next week. Let’s shoot a Car Therapy video. I have a lot to say on the LGBTQ topic,” Joda’s overly-chipper voice said. Now to be clear – I’m not a therapist, but I like to play one in Car Therapy – a satirical approach to therapy, in order to help those with mental struggles in life.
He arrived in his normal attire. Neon fluorescent sweatsuit, sequenced hat, and a grin larger than life. He offered me $1,111.11 to rent the room. He was very spiritual and the number 111 was his number. Logical in his decisions, not so much, but that’s why so many people loved him. He lived in a different dimension that he knew only love existed and was determined to help everyone realize it. This sounded like the perfect roommate. A gay, self-aware, loving man. Doesn’t get better than that.
“Suicide crisis line, this is Ashley. Are you calling today because you want to kill yourself?” I say this to every call I answer at the crisis line. Direct and to the point was something I wasn’t used to. In America, we try to say everything except what we are actually thinking for fear of disapproval. The phone never stops ringing. I remember when I started the crisis line how scared I was. What if I can’t save them and they take their life because I didn’t say the right thing? This thought ran through my mind over and over again. “I’m not capable, I have social anxiety, they’ll realize I’m a fraud…” The list went on in my mind. The first two months were fueled by insecurity and anxiety. I couldn’t even deal with my emotions and process them, so how was I going to deal with others’ emotions?
The suicide crisis line is nothing short of intense. People often ask, “Why? Why do you do this? Were you suicidal at one point?”
“No. My dogs died and the loss hit me so hard I couldn’t get out of my own sadness and depression,” I simply put it.
A therapist once told me that the fastest way to get out of suffering is to be of service to others. So I chose something that rattled me to my core to see what I was made of and to see if this ideology was actually true. Can you heal by helping others? I now say with unwavering conviction, it is.
By the time Joda arrived at my apartment to stay, I had inconvenient scheduling that forced me out of town. He assured me I had nothing to worry about. Three days into my trip, I received numerous complaints from my neighborhood about Joda. Random screaming at the community pool during the day, “inappropriate” attire, and strange conversations with neighbors – the complaints continued as I grew frustrated at my friend. I finally asked Joda to leave. Hours later, Joda was admitted to the hospital from an overdose in my apartment.
“I don’t feel like my family understands me. If I don’t follow who they believe I should be, then I won’t be accepted and loved. I’m a burden and I would be doing everyone a favor if I wasn’t around,” muttered a 32-year-old caller through her tears.
“I…I… I only have three more weeks to hold on. It’s too hard to be here. My stepdad is mean and yells at me a lot. I don’t want to tell my mom because she loves him and I don’t want her to be sad. Also, the kids at school bully me and I think it would be best if I’m no longer here,” cried an 11-year-old boy.
“Be a doctor, follow this religion, and make sure your sexuality is acceptable to us and especially approved by others. It’s so important to my family how others perceive me that I can’t be myself. I’m not free to express my true being,” The caller continues, hyperventilating through his tears. “I’m standing in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard in hopes that a car hits me to take me out of my misery.” My heart sank.
Once we hang up the phone, we never know what will happen to that person. They teach us early on in training that you can give someone a life vest, but you can’t make them put it on. I now live by that philosophy in all areas of my life, though it’s not always easy.
Over one million people take their lives by suicide a year, and that’s pre-covid. Forbes states that Japan has had more women commit suicide in 2020 than die by covid. It’s not declining, but increasing worldwide, rapidly.
Why is this not being spoken about more openly?
Here’s what I’ve learned…
Why is it that someone can call the crisis line hysterically crying and be at the precipice of life or death, but after 30 minutes of talking, decide to stay safe? What is it that occurs to make such a drastic life-or-death decision? In my opinion, it’s simple. They felt heard.
“I’ve never shared this with anyone before,” most callers exclaim.
“What made you change your mind?” I inquire at the end of the call.
“I feel safe. I was able to express my thoughts and feelings to someone I feel understands me and is not judging me.”
Out of the hundreds of people I have spoken to on the crisis line who have reached the point of suicide is an option, here is collectively what I hear is their WHY:
- Projections of who they are expected to be by family/culture/religion/society
- Feeling like a burden
- No one they feel safe to talk to about their real feelings
- No purpose/mission in life
After a deep inquiry into these reasons, here are some solutions for those who may be struggling with suicidal ideation and for the loved ones who know someone who is:
- It is important – more so imperative – to create a supportive atmosphere and community where every individual can feel safe to have their true feelings
- Being direct. We live in a culture where being validated and accepted by others has become more important than us speaking our raw, unfiltered truth.
- If you are that person who needs your loved one to change so you can feel good, ask yourself why. Why can’t I let this person be who they are in this moment and give them the space to express it?
- If you’re the one struggling with suicidal ideation, it’s imperative to speak it verbally with people you trust. This helps lessen the pull it has in your body.
- Learning to deeply love ourselves and meet ourselves in our current state without judgment is important for all of us, suicidal or not.
- Never underestimate the power of professional help, whether it may be a licensed therapist,psychiatrist, or group therapy.
Joda understood my core and I understood his. As much as he expressed that he was free from the world’s opinions, I don’t think he ended up being free from his opinions about himself. He was in inner pain. Did I know? Yes and no. Yes, because his substance abuse was higher than normal, but based on my training in suicide, I overlooked the common signs. Those signs include but are not limited to: isolation, speaking of being trapped, drug use, grappling with depression and anxiety, sleeping too much or too little, and expressing no purpose in life. Joda had a strong purpose to raise the consciousness of humanity and to teach people that we are not trapped by this human form.
As I am writing this article, I received an email from Joda’s mother. She shared that she read in Joda’s journal left behind, he wrote to God asking him to forgive him for how he betrayed my trust. Reading this brought me to tears and heartache, making this article much harder to write. Let me be clear – I know Joda did not take his life based on what happened between us. He had years of pain. What I do know is he asked for me to forgive him and I never responded. Our last conversation was not loving on my part. I felt entitled to my anger and a deep sense of violation. I knew one day I would forgive him and we would laugh at what happened, but I didn’t let him know that. Now that day will never happen. It will take some time on my part to understand Ashley as the suicide crisis counselor and Ashley the one who has now lost someone to suicide.
Joda is now my teacher. For this moment, he’s teaching me the power of forgiveness and compassion and how you never know by extending forgiveness rather than judgment, you may save a life.
I know from my training that one should not feel guilty or that they could have done more to prevent the loved one from making the decision. It’s a natural tendency, but mental health issues can be so extreme. When someone makes the decision to end their life, oftentimes in their mind, what they’re doing is a loving act, hence it is extremely hard to wrap your head around when you’re the one dealing with the aftermath of loss. Fortunately, the police found him, and his family was spared from the visual of their loved one. Joda was finally clean and putting in the work to make changes back in his hometown, so it made it that more confusing to grasp his passing.
The most important takeaway I’ve learned from being on the suicide crisis line is in my opinion, what’s the core root of all this human suffering. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Bottom line, lack of connection to self. ‘What does that even mean?’ I often ask myself. Through years of exploration, I’ve come to realize that it’s a deep connection to your voice, your dreams, your purpose, your mission, and being at one with it. More importantly, fighting like hell to see it through.
The world is set up to be in opposition to our hearts and take us out of our natural state of being. We are infiltrated by the media, family, culture, and religion to make everything we see and do be seen as right versus wrong. Therefore, inevitably, we make ourselves wrong and the suffering begins. The noise inside our head that is challenging enough to overcome, and then to top it off, we have those around us.
I often tell people on the crisis line, “can you pull back from your mind/body and watch yourself, watch your mind like a movie on a projector, in order to give yourself some space from yourself?” Once we do that, we can dissect what’s running the show. Is it Mom, Dad, culture, society, religion, your ego, etc? Labeling our thoughts can bring some inner peace and the ability to say, “Ok, this is not really me. I don’t have to believe this.” But, the hard work comes in transforming those belief systems. Not easy. I believe you have to have an insatiable appetite to be free internally more than desiring all the outer trappings. Now I don’t know this is for sure, and I am constantly testing it out, but I can assure you from a personal standpoint… it’s the path less traveled. As you follow your heart, a peace like no other overtakes your spirit and you JUST KNOW. You know that regardless of what others think of you, you like yourself and you’re okay with where you are.
I will continue to work through my emotions until I get to inner peace, as I know Joda has. I still struggle with understanding why he didn’t feel comfortable talking about these suicidal thoughts with me. His presence fills my room in the middle of the night every so often and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me uncomfortable at times. It’s interesting to think that some souls fulfill their mission/ purpose on the other side because it’s too much to bear in this physical world. I truly believe that, and that’s how I find my peace with understanding his decision.
My hope for all those who struggle, which is everyone, is to be willing to walk away from the trappings, sit still long enough to ask, ‘who am I? Is everything in my life feeding my soul or pulling me further from that?’ Then fight like hell to follow it.
As I continue to explore Paris, research the culture, and deal with my own mind, and how I’ve been programmed, here’s what I’m pondering and invite others to as well:
- Is it more important to be right than forgiving immediately?
- What makes an individual right or wrong, and are we programmed by what our culture, family, society has taught us?
- Can living/immersing yourself in a different culture change your perception of yourself and others?
- What is truth and why do we make others wrong if their truth is different from ours?
- Can speaking our truth, while not making others wrong, free us from the energy that is self-destructing?
The wise Mister Rodgers said, “If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.”
Suicide Prevention Crisis Line- 1(800) 273- 8255
Teen Line-1 (800) 852- 8336- Crisis line for Teens
Call 211- A free resource that connects you to the resources you need for support
www.yourlifeyourvoice.org – 99 coping skills for young adults dealing with mental health challenges
For Spiritual resources in doing the work to connect to a deeper sense of self, these are some of the people, books that I recommend:
Into the Dawn- Uncovering taboos while offering solutions
Itunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, Googleplay
A Return to Love: Marianne Williamson
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Self- Michael Singer
Lisa Haisha- The Imposter Ego
Byron Katie- The Work-
Host of podcast Into The Dawn and Car Therapy, Ashley Rivard is a comedic entertainer who focuses on dark comedy and taboo topics. Ashley Rivard is also a certified suicide crisis counselor and is currently living in Paris, France.