I Do Not Understand – Yes, You Do Not Understand

A Discussion on the Dichotomy of Suicide

I Do Not Understand – Yes, You Do Not Understand


I went to a funeral of a young man recently, successful military career, husband and father.   So why suicide, why was that final decision made?  To modify a quote from G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man “ For he who doubts (or can’t comprehend) can only say ‘ I do not understand,’ it is true he who knows can only reply or repeat ‘You do not understand.’”   Those who die by suicide aren’t making a choice — they’re losing a fight against intolerable pain, emotional turmoil, and loss of hope.

Suicide is not chosen; it happens
when pain exceeds
resources for coping with pain (perceived, real, towards self or others).

Suicide in a broad context: …is the act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally. That’s how a majority of people would describe the act of suicide.  Voluntarily is often related to an action that is freely or willingly committed.  Intentionally is defined as “…done as by design or planned.”   Professor of psychiatry Ron Pies, M.D. states the following:

A person may be said to act freely to just the extent that three threshold criteria are fulfilled:

1. The act in question is not coerced; imposed by some outside force or authority; impelled by overwhelming emotional turmoil; or hindered in a significant way;

2. The act is intentional (rational and purposive); and

3. The act is subjectively consistent with the person’s wishes at the time and is experienced as “free”.

If an exhausted individual only sees a flawed option, is that a choice, where it is a solution that parts with hopes, dreams and fears?  Suicide becomes the solution others can’t understand and so the person considering suicide feels, that others don’t, can’t, and won’t understand the point where their pain has brought them.  Pain is a balanced triad of emotional, physical, and spiritual and is something that over time can and will build to the point of collapse.  Many in the military can relate to carrying a pack.  The pack on your back, keeps getting heavier and heavier as more items are added to the pack.  No one will complain, they may grumble as many were trained not to whine or to suck it up, shut it up, move on...  The individual truly believes they can handle it, keep going, they don’t want to be the weak link, or be considered in that awful term ‘weakness’.  The hills turn into mountains, and every time they think they are over the hump, they find it is only a false peak.  The tiredness and pain creep in, but they march, shut up, suck it up.  Then before they or anyone realizes it, even though all the signs were there, the weight becomes unbearable.  They collapse with no one around to catch them in their fall.  Fortitude, perseverance and self-will have nothing to do with it, in fact sometimes an individual’s perceived strengths can bring them to the breaking point.  When their strengths fail them, then irrational solutions can become rational to someone questioning their very existence.

What can be done, as a consequence of a complete emotional, physical, and spiritual breakdown?  Always look for the signs, but this is easier said than done, as signs are easy to see after the fact.  In the aftermath the map and links are drawn backwards from the end to the beginning.  Remember the connect-the-dot games?  They are much easier once all the dots are laid out and numbered.  The questions become why didn’t they see this, why didn’t I see it, why didn’t someone do something?  The problem isn’t the route the individual took to get to the point of suicide, but the unknown about how the person felt, what they heard, and how they perceived the world around them.    A person’s strength or tool if relied on to often can be the problem, similar to the old adage “If you only have a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail”.  The point here is the hammer is a great tool and can be used many different ways, but if relied on for many things, can and will lead to failure.  So, what to do?

In this dichotomy of suicide, choice, understanding and intervention, the point is straightforward: The question of whether suicide is a choice can’t be answered yes or no.  Both answers are wrong because the hypothesis that there happens to be some predetermined inevitable course of action, is wrong.  The individual’s course or trajectory towards suicide isn’t inevitable and they can change their direction or not.   If you know someone who could be on a path to suicide.  First, stay aware when someone is taking on a constant weight, ask them how things are going, listen to what is being said and what isn’t being said.  Be aware to look to see if the load is becoming a burden, an encumbrance, or an obstacle to growth and openness.  But as the listener it is not your problem to solve.  Listen to grasp what the individual is seeing and feeling, ask clarifying questions as needed, and provide a safe haven without judgment or rescue.  Know where there are resources for the individual to reach out to for help, like the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255, press 1/ send a text message to 838255 / or the Suicide Prevention Resource Center1 (800) 273 talk).  For the individual in pain to heal they must be able to look at themselves; own their problems and share feelings and thoughts, without attacking, accusing, labeling and judging (based on the author Jim Petersen).  Faith has a lot to do with any healing process.  There must be renewed faith in themselves, that has already wavered; faith in others that they won’t be abandoned, but they already feel alone; and faith in a higher power, that either has never been realized or has receded.  There is a balance in life between whining, asking or accepting help, and/or bearing it all till the collapse. Someone doesn’t have to understand how pain can bring about the exhaustion of coping resources, only that it is real, it can happen and there is help.