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Friday, August 15, 2014

Suicide Post-SHTF

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
The recent suicide of Robin Williams has struck a collective nerve of society and now it seems everyone is talking about depression and suicide, so let's talk about suicide in the wake of a SHTF event.

Because of the sensitive and complex nature of this topic, I have called in two other BCP authors with their own perspectives: Chaplain Tim and Evelyn Hively. Tim's additions are in blue, while Evie's remarks are at the end of this post.

As I see it, there are two main reasons why someone would kill themselves: they either give in to despair, or they think that death is preferable to whatever pain will come in the future.

Despair

In most cases, despair is a natural reaction to terrible things. Tragedy is supposed to make you feel bad; having empathy for others is a sign that you're still human. However, it is important that these feelings not be allowed to prevent you from taking action: if you are surviving by yourself, paralysis is a death sentence. If you're part of a group or community, an extended bout of depression will result in others having to do your tasks for you, which typically creates feelings of resentment -- and friction between members of a tribe post-SHTF is something that should be minimized whenever possible.

So how does one keep from succumbing to despair in the wake of a terrible disaster? I'm far from being an expert (if I were, I would be a wealthy psychologist), but here are my suggestions:
  1. Realize that everyone has value, even the depressed and unskilled. Unless you are completely nonfunctional in a "can't even get out of bed" manner, you can still do useful tasks like keeping the fire burning.  Chaplain Tim wrote an excellent article on this very subject and I encourage you all to read it. 
  2. Stay busy. If you sit around doing nothing, you'll have time to obsess on how bad things are. Everyone who has served in the military knows that if you keep the troops busy, they have less time to complain and worry.
  3. It's important to keep morale up. Even when times are difficult, there are nuggets of pleasure and joy to be found.  Concentrate on those and savor them, for they will lift your spirits and carry you through the rough times ahead.  Evelyn writes extensively on this subject in her regular articles.
  4. Don't concentrate on the huge expanse of the whole future. Instead, concentrate only on what is important and attainable today.  From an article on Cracked, of all places, comes this gem of an example:
You go to the doctor and he tells you that you have a bacterial infection that will never, ever go away. It will literally eat away a crucial part of your digestive system unless you do a chemical treatment twice a day, every day, and do painful semiannual follow-up treatments with your doctor ... for the rest of your fucking life. Sure, it's not a death sentence, but the sheer weight of it kind of makes you want to give up -- you can just see this burden stretching out in front of you, forever.
But, of course, I've just described brushing your teeth.
You don't regard dental care as a crushing burden, because you don't sit around every day contemplating the unfathomable mountain of teeth-brushing you must scale before you die. You only think of it as that thing you do in the morning because you have to, because you don't want your teeth to fall out. You manage the long-term goal (having teeth) by thinking only of the very manageable daily goal.
[...]
Any great long-term project that seems impossible to most people -- from building a house to writing a book to becoming an actual ninja -- is possible to the people who do them only because they don't just focus on the end goal. There's only what they have to do today. Don't misunderstand me -- it's not that they ignore the goal, it's that they don't regard what they do today and what they want to have 10 years from now as separate things. The future isn't a fanciful wish, it's just the logical end of a long chain of todays. What they do today and what they want to be long-term are the same thing.

However, there are some people who have legitimate medical problems regarding depression for whom this advice is about as helpful as saying "You broke your leg? Cheer up and get over it!"

Unfortunately for them, I'm going to have to be blunt:  if you have a chemical imbalance or neurological disorder that requires you to take medication, in a long-term SHTF scenario those are going to run out. You likely have enough to last you a month, perhaps even three months, but in a grand guignol-style collapse of all order and loss of infrastructure, those medications aren't going to be refilled. Use the time you have now to research alternatives to your prescription medications. Herbs and roots may not be able to take care of all of your symptoms, but they may be enough to allow you to function. Learn what you may need and how to find it. It might take a while, but eventually you may decide that death is preferable to misery... which brings us to our next topic.


Avoiding Pain

Allow me to phrase this very carefully and very specifically:
  1. I believe that everyone has the right to decide when they check out of life, and that right is as inalienable as the right to free speech and to worship as one pleases. 
  2. HOWEVER, that doesn't mean I endorse or agree with suicide as a solution. I don't support neo-nazis, either, but I believe they have the inalienable right to their beliefs. 
    1. Personally, I think you should fight with every fiber of your being to stay alive, but that's just my opinion, but if you do decide to commit suicide -- be it because of overwhelming depression, or an illness that's only going to get worse, or because of an impending Fate Worse Than Death -- it is your responsibility to do it in a manner that doesn't screw over the rest of your tribemates. 
    Example:  Let's take the most topically-relevant subject and say that you are an older person (in your 60s) with severe depression and a degenerative neurological disease like Parkinson's, and that you decide that you wish to kill yourself. 

    First, you really owe it to everyone else to say goodbye. If you just kill yourself without giving any sort of closure, all you've managed to do is hurt everyone else around you. This is important to understand, given that many suicides are the result of thinking "They'd be better off without me." Well, they sure aren't going to be better off if your suicide traumatizes them emotionally and makes it harder for them to continue. By saying goodbye, you make things easier: people have time to adjust schedules and duty rosters for having one less person; if you bequeath your belongings to people there will be less squabbling over who gets what; and hopefully you can teach any impressionable youngsters in the tribe that this isn't the solution whenever things get bad, but rather this is your response to being very sick. 

    Second, if you still want to kill yourself, do it in a manner that doesn't screw over your tribe. Don't use valuable medicine in an overdose or shoot yourself with precious ammunition; don't drown yourself in the communal water supply; don't leave blood (and the waste that a dead body emits when the sphincters relax) to contaminate homes

    The ideal method, as far as I'm concerned, is the "I am just going outside and may be some time" approach, where you make it seem like your death is an accident. Doing this requires some finesse, however, as you do not want to deprive the group of useful gear, but if you go out "naked" it will draw some suspicion. Other options include -- and again, PLEASE NOTE: I AM NOT ENDORSING ANY OF THESE -- would be to leave camp and cut one's wrists in a place where the blood will nourish the plants, or ingesting one of the various poisonous plants that are pointed out in every field guide. 

    Finally, remember that whatever way you choose to go, someone is going to have to clean up your mess. Dead bodies are a health hazard, after all, so if you do choose to end it all, try to do it in a way that doesn't make a lot of work for your former tribe-mates. 


    I now turn this article over to Evelyn, to get her perspective.


    Oh gods... where do I start?

    I've been personally affected by suicide.  Two suicides of other people, and am a survivor of... well, I lost count how many times I've tried over the years.  Pick up your jaw darling, you don't know where the ground has been.

    It all hit when I was about 11, with the loss of my Godfather. I still have depression even now, but it's nowhere near what it used to be. November and December 2011, and January 2012, were the turning points.  During that time I came to grips with having PTSD, the reasons why I had it, and coming to grips with a lot of other stuff.  It was also in November 2011 that I learned about the second suicide.

    We'll call him J, to keep it simple.  Great guy.  We had worked together on a short film and I had kept meaning to ask other co-stars for his info because I could see a little brother in him.

    I learned of his death Thanksgiving week. He had done everything in a manner that, even if we had learned what he was doing, it would have been too late by the time anyone got to him.  I was crushed.  Despite barely knowing him, I was utterly horrified by how I had failed him.

    The other,earlier suicide was a young woman named Sarah.  Hers was an accidental death and was the more painful of the two.  She was on sleep medication (she had insomnia issues) and was at her family farm.  As near as they can tell, she had taken her normal dose and then when sleep didn't come, she took another dose, gave it time and then took another dose.  Then she went to take a walk, and they think that when the sleep meds hit.

    And I was still facing the question, how could I have failed her?

    It's called Survivor's Guilt.  This is what everyone is left with when someone commits suicide.  The questions are endless and it takes decades for them to fade, if they ever go away.

    A part of myself hates that I was so deep into a hole that I honestly thought folks would be better off without me.  I know I shouldn't, but it's there.  When the guilt hit me, it was one of the turning points in my climb out of depression and it allowed me to get to where I could start dealing with it in constructive ways.

    A part of myself also hates the people are successful in suicide.  For whatever reason I was prevented from letting go, but they got whisked away.  I'm going to be putting on my Wiccan hat for a moment, so bear with me.

    Now this is just a theory, but it seems to me that every so often the Gods/God/Jehovah/the Universe/what-have-you will call people home to the Other Side as if to say, "Okay, you've done good, but something is coming that you aren't strong enough in this lifetime to handle.  Perhaps in your next lifetime."

    I know other suicide attempt survivors, and many of them agree with me that when the attempts failed, it was as if the Universe was telling us, "No. I need you here, you have family and friends, and future folks who will desperately need you."  And we all share that same fear of what it is that the Universe seems to think we're going to be strong enough to handle.

    Now to be clear, I disapprove of suicide save under two conditions (I agree with these as well -- Erin)
    1. There is no chance of a recovery due to a medical impairment (and even then hold on as long as you can so that the people around can make peace with your passing.  It won't fully prepare them, but it'll take the edge off.)
    2. You risk dying in a really horrific way and want to die on your own terms. (Think zombie situation, with six shots into the crowd and the seventh under the jaw.  When I tell folks this, they normally freak out a lot. Can't really blame them, but this is me being honest.)
    Outside of these two situations, please keep fighting.


    Erin jumps back in to wrap up

    So you've heard from Evie what a toll it takes on the survivors of suicide -- and that's when the feces hasn't struck the oscillator. Can you imagine what kind of toll it will take on your family, friends and tribe post-SHTF if you just decide you can't take it any more and kill yourself without warning?

    How and when you die may be as important as how you live. If you believe in the afterlife, consider this: your act of suicide may doom others to death as well. Do you want that on your conscience when you go to final judgement?

    Suicide is ultimately your choice, but please, don't take others down with you. 

    The Fine Print


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