A personal message to anyone contemplating suicide from the founder of Music Care Inc, Bill Protzmann
A shorter version of this article was published in July 2016 at Bill’s exprt blog on YourTango
If You Are Thinking About Suicide, Please Don’t Go Alone
You despair all the meaning that has gone out of your life.
You don’t want a terminal illness to strip the dignity from your death.
If you are thinking seriously about suicide, please know that everything you’ve been told about why suicide is so morally wrong is a lie – a lie that can’t change the place you’re in right now. Excuses can’t change your life nor will they prevent your death.
If you are committed to ending your life, even though we have never met, trust me that this isn’t about changing your mind. I honor you and your choice.
Just please don’t choose to go alone. I was in your shoes once, and if it makes things easier for you now, know that, right now, I hold you – without judgment – in the highest regard. If you will, accept my blessing and understanding and, as you leave this world behind, keep these words close – a token from a brother who wishes you only peace.
The first time I faced suicide and chose to keep breathing no one was there for me – neither “for” nor “against.” No human being ought to feel that alone. I simply can’t let that happen for you, even if we never meet.
My Pledge to You
Since I’ve started talking and writing about suicide, people around me have gotten concerned. I want folks to understand that I’ve been choosing life since the first weekend of September 2007. Some days that’s easier than others, but I’m still here, and I intend to continue to be.
Because as long as I’m breathing, you are not alone. You’ve probably heard people tell you you’re not alone, too. I get it: that’s what we are supposed to say when someone talks about suicide. But this is about YOU. My pledge to keep breathing also means – to me – that YOU won’t die alone, either now or later.
Because we’re connected now, you and me. I accept your choice without judgment and wish you peace. Whether or not I know you, whether or not we ever shake hands, whether you speak my language or read this in translation, I understand. I know our connection may always be a one-way street. That doesn’t matter to me.
What matters is that you don’t die alone. That you know someone out there faced that choice and honors whatever choice YOU make now. That you took the time to read this is enough. Thank you.
Why Write This At All?
The fact is, we aren’t as alone any more. Between 2003, when my best friend killed himself, and 2007, when I was thinking carefully about suicide, people began to notice folks like you and me. In 2015, it got the attention of a Nobel Prize-winning economist, who took an interest in part due to all the politicians and non-profits “creating awareness” for suicide. That doesn’t really change anything, but it was enough to make me remember…again….
I was almost a statistic on that September weekend in 2007. Empty-nester (for the first time); doing well in business; a few months from my second divorce and bankruptcy. There’s a history of suicide in part of my family, and, while some things were good, some things were not. I was afraid of suicide…and in despair. It took going through the “heart of darkness” for me to find a reason to stay alive, and I choose life daily, now, because of the meaning that found me when things were darkest.
Nine years further on; now there’s research about folks like me and, I’m guessing, you. Here’s what I learned – and if this part doesn’t interest you, skip down to the heading “A Final Word…For You.”
Death Rates for Middle-Aged White American Males
According to an article from the New York Times, death rates for middle-aged white American males are on the rise. This finding is from a study by two Princeton economists, Dr Anne Case and her Nobel Prize-winning husband Dr Angus Deaton. The suicidal “deaths of despair” they describe are also related to alcohol and drug abuse, particularly overuse of heroin and prescription opioids, among midlife white American males.
“Seldom have I felt as affected by a paper,” says University of California Berkeley professor of economics and demography Ronald D Lee, and that’s understandable.
Guys like me – maybe like you – are the ones in the study demographic; I’ve experienced the unyielding despair and hopelessness the study describes. “This is a vivid indication that something is awry in these American households,” says University of Pennsylvania professor of sociology Samuel Preston.
…if you look closely at my household I doubt you’d see anything “awry.” I have run a successful small business for almost 30 years; my wife’s career as an artist is taking off. Our kids are all doing what 21st-Century kids do. But under the surface – the place you and I don’t share with scientists or survey authors – there’s enough going on to be concerned.
This is my story – only because I don’t know yours. Maybe you can relate? Let’s break it down. Here are the risk factors.
Check. Within the next year, my legacy business will be shutting down. This is good because my focus can shift, full time, to teaching people skills to offer one another authentic human connection. This is also slightly bad because the potential for personal future economic hardship is real. I don’t intend to fail, but it’s a possibility I’d be stupid to ignore.
I’m not alone; the “despair deaths” study found white American males like me have a more pessimistic outlook about our financial futures than other groups.
Increased Alcohol Use
Check this, too. With all the delicious microbrew available, who wouldn’t? I’ve also become a big fan of expensive aromatic gin. I’m not abusing, but I’m consuming more than I did twenty years ago, when pinot noir got popular in the movie Sideways: “I am NOT drinking any f***ing merlot!”
Increased Drug Use
The study authors found a correlation between increased use of prescription opioids and/or heroin and increased risk of mortality. Ya think? Commentary on the study suggests that “there is a pronounced racial difference in the prescription of opioid drugs and their misuse.” Translation: middle-aged white guys who get drugs legally from their doctors are at a higher risk of death than men in other races. Why? Because a lot of us are in a lot of physical pain…and the risk is acceptable.
I don’t use pain or psych meds, so I guess I’m a somewhat lower risk, but the study doesn’t mention medical – or recreational – marijuana use. Maybe a follow-up study will. Either way, pot helps with “suicidal ideation;” politicians and do-gooders don’t. That is all.
High School Education
The study found a direct relationship between the highest level of education completed and highest risk of death. To put a positive spin on it, the more education (high school or beyond), the better the chance of survival of the mid-life white American male. My two Bachelors’ degrees are in writing and music and neither has dollar signs written all over it. Check.
I’ve got to include this just because spirituality is important to me. The study didn’t mention whether or not church attendance was a factor, and by the way, I don’t: didn’t really help me back then; doesn’t really help now. Church attendance is a strong predictor of success in some cases, such as military service members transitioning to civilian life. I’m one of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, you copy?
So What’s a Midlife-Crisised Guy to Do?
As you can see, they’re on to us. PhD economists have our middle-aged asses in their sights. The politicians, good-doers and religious zealots are standing by to pile on. None of this makes me any more hopeful that we’ll find the “best possible outcome,” the way finding a cure for AIDS or cancer would.
The result of all this study will probably be translated into a government policy where Adult Protective Services shows up on the doorstep of anyone who murmurs the word “suicide.” As if you and I are somehow a danger to others or to ourselves! Well, who wants that?
Some cultures consider suicide honorable! Organizations such as Compassionate & Choices offer honorable options and work in the political system to change laws for the benefit of terminally ill people.
There’s nothing truly illegal about suicide – the ultimate “victimless crime” – provided you don’t take someone else’s life with along with yours, so what’s the big idea? Leave us alone already! Life’s tough enough without some government nanny trying to “do the right thing” just because the research says so!
A Final Word…for You
Enough of this! It’s time for action. For me, well, I’ve done my part: you won’t leave our world without my genuine, compassionate goodbye. On my honor.
There aren’t any prayers for those of us who think about suicide – only for those who stop breathing, or try and fail, or the survivors left behind – so I offer one here for you, my Friend whom I may never meet. I wish I could have said these words to my best friend before he self-immolated; they belong to you now.
When no one honors your choice, I do –
What no one else can sees behind your eyes, I can –
When your mouth is full of rust and blood, and smoke chokes you,
drink this sweet water –
When the fire in your ears burns terror in your heart, here is music –
As you stand on the brink, here is my hand –
You earned this moment, the final one before peace takes you.
You will be missed
You are blessed
You are safe
And right at this moment
You…me…we…are not alone.
Go well, my friend,
I’ve given you my word: you are not alone.
If you want to take this pledge, please leave me your name (below) to let me know you’ve done so.