No More Shutting Up
by Chris Hibbard
2006 – 2008
(Originally written as an Editorial for the Univ. of Lethbridge Meliorist student newspaper)
There is a shadow that lurks at the corners of our lives. It is rarely acknowledged and not often spoken about, but it affects us all deeply whether we like it or not. This shadow is suicide. It is a very broad topic and one that makes us uncomfortable, for we don’t want to think about it. But last week it struck again – close to home.
One of our fellow U of L students took his own life last Wednesday. Many of you have may met him, had him in some of your classes, talked to him in the halls.
He was a very well-dressed man in his early twenties. He was politically active, enthusiastic in his beliefs, and well spoken. Not everyone liked him, but that goes for us all. We once got into a deep philosophical discussion about religion, comparing Mormonism to Agnosticism and Christianity. I think I cut the conversation short and left after about half an hour.
This young man was a minority, even among the minority. He was Native American, of Blood Tribe descent. He was mentally disabled – bi-polar. He was a Mormon, one of few aboriginals among many Caucasians. He was homosexual. He was troubled. Yet he persevered for 24 years, taking Poli. Sci. and Native Studies classes.
Truth be told, this young man deserves an obituary in this paper. As an editor, I should have gone out of my way to contact his family and have them submit an obituary. As a human, I could not do that. As a friend, I have talked about him. I have been asked ‘how did he do it’. I do not know, nor do I need to. I have thought about him, and how he once got into a heated debate with a professor about something right there in class, and class was adjourned for 15 minutes because of it. I am now writing about him. His name was M.J. Wolf Child. He is a son, a brother, an uncle, a cousin. He was alive and unhappy. After a restless life, may his spirit now rest in peace.
I did a whole bunch of research before putting these words down on paper. I checked StatsCan and found that in Alberta alone, in total of 440 people took their own lives in 2003. This was 331 males and 109 females. 34 of them were Native. Considering the proportions of native Canadians to Caucasians, this is a staggering amount. These statistics have not changed by much since.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “someone around the globe commits suicide every 40 seconds. In the year 2000, 815,000 people lost their lives to suicide – more than double the number of people who die as a direct result of armed conflict every year (306,600).” For people between the ages of 15 and 44, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death and the sixth leading cause of disability and infirmity worldwide.”
My brother’s best friend from elementary and junior high school was named Richard Williams. He had long hair and was awesome at soccer. He grew up and they lost touch, but the long hair remained, even as he became a master glass-blower, a masterful guitar player and a soccer coach beloved by many. After many years of battling substance abuse, and playing in a local Calgary band (their name rhymes with BrotherTruckers), Richard stepped in front of a train. So many people attended his funeral that there was no room to stand, and the crowd spilled out into the hall. I will never forget him trying to teach me how to do backflips on the trampoline. I will never forget the day that he fell off his bike in our back alley, cutting his leg so badly that I could see white inside his leg. Not red. White. Richard was the coolest friend my brother had. May he rest in peace.
No matter what ones religious point of view, no matter where or what may happen to those who choose to end their own lives, they are certainly not alone when they get there.
The suicide rate for Canadians, as measured by the WHO, “is 15 per 100,000 people.” Rates are even higher among specific groups. “The suicide rate for Inuit peoples living in Northern Canada is between 60 and 75 per 100,000 people, significantly higher than the general population. Other populations at an increased risk of suicide include youth, the elderly, inmates in correctional facilities, people with a mental illness, and those who have previously attempted suicide.”
My father’s father took his own life when my father was a teenager. That is my father’s story. I suppose that this one is mine.
When I was 16 I attempted to kill myself. A girl had broken up with me; I had been basically kicked out of my rock band. I had lied and cheated and stolen from my parents. I was failing classes and doing too many drugs. I got drunk one night that summer while my parents were away for a week, and washed down half a bottle of aspirin with one more beer. I also wrote terrible depressing things all over my walls.
My sister helped me to the hospital that morning after she found me dry-heaving in the bathroom. At the hospital I was forced to drink charcoal juice and vomit up tablets into a tray, before I was admitted to the children’s ward. My friends were not allowed to come, though my brother and sister were. Otherwise I was in isolation. I would sleep and dream and hallucinate and scream and wake with a start. I was in the hospital for three weeks. As I lay there, I missed cheeseburgers. I missed birds. I missed kissing. I missed my parents. My brother and sister came in and asked me what colour I wanted them to repaint my room. It ended up bright blue with a bright green ceiling. I got released from the hospital eventually. This is my story. I have never since allowed myself to feel such despair, such loneliness, such pain and self-loathing. I have never allowed myself to be miserable. To me, misery is laying in a bed while life passes me by. It is the thought that I will never hug someone again, nor pet a cat, nor go for a swim.
In Canada, suicide accounts for 24 percent of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16 percent among 16-44 year olds. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages of 10 and 24. Despite a commonly held myth that the Christmas season has the highest suicide rate of all the seasons, studies have proven that across North America, suicide rates are actually lower at that time of year. Late July and August have the highest suicide rate out of all the months of the year.
There are many other myths.
“Young people rarely think about suicide.” False. Sure they do. I know now more than I knew then.
“Talking about suicide will give a young person the idea, or permission, to consider suicide as a solution to their problems.” False. If we talked about it more, we would realize that we are all subject to it.
“Suicide is sudden and unpredictable.” False. One’s eating habits change. They may experience extreme weight loss or extreme weight gain. They may give personal property away. Learn the signs and recognize them.
“Suicidal people are determined to die.” False. They just don’t know how else to live.
“A suicidal person will always be at risk.” False. I am no longer at risk. Do I regret my attempt? Only for what it did to my family. I gave myself a much needed wake up call. It changed my life. I thank God often.
The reality is that once in a while, most of us feel so depressed sometimes that we can barely function. We all have lives to live, and life can be very painful. All suicide really is is an overwhelming desire to escape from pain – the strangest survival instinct of them all – make the pain stop, even if it kills me. If this is a human emotion, something we all think about and or feel, then why can’t we talk about it? Is it because we think “that could be me” and “we are not so different”? Maybe. Or maybe it is because suicide is a complex process. It can not be attributed to one single factor, such as a break-up or a loss of a job, even a criminal charge. Some studies say it’s genetic. If so, then I’m living proof. There are many direct correlations to substance abuse, to sexual abuse, to poverty, to disorders such as bi-polar and schizophrenia.
M.J. Wolf Child / Strikes with a Gun dealt with some of these. He was an Aquarius like me, born February 6th, 1983. I think he lived in Cardston, or around. He liked the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus and the TV show The West Wing. He would post blogs on the Internet like this:
“With extreme sadness, I watched another family house burn down with ambulances, police and fire trucks bringing light to the otherwise dark streets of the Blood Tribe. It seems that people don’t care about other people until something bad happens, this has got to change.”
“Hope is the main ingredient in the cup of life. Life without hope means that we must face so many struggles without a shield, a strong shield that will withstand anything… to be a person with hope is to have the whole universe challenge that hope…”
These are now words from beyond the grave. They are the words of one of your fellow students. One of your fellow humans. He is you and I and everyone you know.
I would be naïve and overly optimistic to hope that this article might save a live someday, but to honour M.J. Wolf Child, Richard Williams, and Edgar Hibbard, and their families, to honour everyone else who has been overwhelmed, and to all those who lost them, this is the least I can do. Perhaps you readers might show it to others, just leave it open on the tables for others to see.
If you know anyone who may be at risk, or if you yourself could be – do not give up. There is hope yet in the “cup of life.” There is help. You are not alone. In the Lethbridge area, call the Canadian Mental Health Distress Board at 403-327-7905 and talk to someone who cares. Someone who knows. Someone like me.