It started with an e-mail on a Yahoo! Groups forum I’m on. It was from the moderator who is probably the most networked person I know. The title was:
I removed the name out of respect for the person who wrote it. Needless to say, this is a person who I greatly admire, someone who has helped thousands of people, and a very, very active networker.
I thought the e-mail (suicide note) was another lesson-of-sorts. VW was always good about writing things that his Yahoo! Group community think about things… life, relationships, the bigger picture, etc. As I read through the note, however, I could see some things that were uncharacteristic.
The first yellow flag that jumped out at me was when he named names. He actually told us (a community of almost 9,000 people) the name of the guy who essentially ruined his career, back in the 80’s. This, he said, was something he never recovered from. The information he gave there was more detailed than I expected. Then he named a couple of other people who had really caused him grief. It just wasn’t VW’s nature to bring this up in this detail in a normal e-mail.
The next yellow flag was when he shared personal health issues, including the loss of most of his teeth and a numbness in one of his feet. I think of VW as a person who smiles constantly, an eternal optimist… and having lost most of his teeth just doesn’t work! And the foot thing? I would worry about my blood flow and other health problems… he was concerned that he would never be able to dance again (which was obviously something that brought him great joy).
My stomach sank, as I continued to read the suicide note. I couldn’t imagine this was really happening -it was surreal.
I’m sure many of you have had an experience like this, but this was the closest I have been to a suicide (so far).
As I was reading I tweeted this:
Immediately I got about 5 tweets that said I needed to act on it, that it wasn’t a joke, and to take it seriously. I was lonely, desperate, and feeling so helpless.
I was also concerned that I was too late. And can you believe it, I had the concern about meddling in VW’s affairs.
Regardless, I followed advice from one of my Twitter connections and called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
It didn’t help that I was on hold with them for 7 and a half minutes before I was automatically transferred to the Boys Town… for another 3 minutes. While a gazillion emotions passed through my mind, I was becoming infuriated that those services would have me sit on hold for so long. If *I* was suicidal I’m not sure how waiting on hold for 10 minutes would fare!!
It didn’t matter though, because what I should have done had already been done (by someone else). This was a learning experience for me, but thankfully another moderator had the wisdom/foresight/inspiration to call the local police department… and they were able to intervene.
VW is alive, safe, in a safe place, with loved-ones, and getting the help he needs.
But the emotions, for me and many others, are still pretty intense.
Since this post is long enough, I’ll share a few takeaway’s from what I’ve learned:
- Treat things like this seriously. The first thing to do is to find the person’s address (I found it within seconds on http://www.whitepages.com) and then call the local police department to report it. They will go do a “wellness check” to see if there really is a problem, and will intervene if they need to.
- Don’t second guess #1. I spent time going back and forth… wondering if I should get involved, wondering if it was too late, wondering if he would hate me for it, wondering wondering wondering. I even spent 10 minutes on hold waiting for the suicide experts, when I really should have called the local police department.
- Don’t think the guy who “has it all” is okay. When I communicated with, or though about, VW, I always thought he was doing just fine. He has the richest network I’ve ever seen, as he continually nurtures real relationships and helps people a ton. I always imagined him living in a nice house, with plenty of sunlight, and spending time regularly with friends. I thought he had a very healthy income, and radiated love and excitement and encouragement everywhere he went. I regularly pictured him listening to jazz and sipping some hot beverage with a smile on his face. Little did I know, he has been battling all kinds of demons, and he never let us in on it.
I’m not sure what I, or anyone else, could have done about this. But I do think about people around me (geographically or virtually). Who really is at the depths of despair? What about the people who have been commenting on my Depression Clouds Everything post… ? Depression is real, and it’s amazingly powerful (and debilitating). How can I, we, help these people?
I don’t know.
But how about this — for today, go find someone you can hug, or help, or uplift. Ask them “what can I do for you? Are you okay?” Maybe they’ll be too proud to let you in, or your relationship won’t be ready for that yet, but at least you can try.
I’m no expert in this area… I’d love to hear what you think, or what your experiences are with suicide.