You have likely heard it said that suicide attempts are cries for help, that these people really don’t want to die but use the moment to get help, help which they otherwise could not figure out how to get, even with the availability of suicide prevention phone numbers.
I wonder how many, who attempted suicide, ended up dying, who never wanted to die.
I wonder how many, who attempted suicide, found themselves in no different a situation after the attempt, leaving them just as frustrated, leaving them just as trapped, leaving them feeling just as terrible as before.
And leaving them contemplating their next suicide attempt.
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When I found myself feeling the worst, I never wanted to die, but I really wanted to try to kill myself. Over and over, and over again, I had the same conversation with myself: “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. I wanted to “beat this thing” as I would say, whatever that would mean. And though my will to live was so strong, I could not shake the thought, even the desire, to try to kill myself.
Outside of talking with Julie, with whom I shared everything, holding back nothing that I was experiencing, I had no ability to imagine revealing my secret to anyone else. Telling my kids—are you kidding me? Telling my siblings—was that any less worse? Telling my closest friends and fellow pastors—was that not just as bad?
Trying to transition? At my age? As tall and large as I am? Having the money to do so? Becoming a laughing stock, an offense to many?
Leaving the ministry? Leaving the work I so loved, the perfect job for me? Leaving the people and town which Julie and I adored? Giving up a secure income, with good benefits?
Trying to keep my mouth shut and go on as I had been? Hoping therapy would finally help me find a way to stop hating myself?
Every question came back with an answer that just plain stunk. How was I ever going to live through this?
So, what did I do? I went about my life as if all were well. I did my job, putting on a happy face for everyone and then, when I went home, once again fell apart. One would have had to have been able to read minds to know that I was constantly thinking about killing myself.
That’s the way it is with those suffering suicidal ideation—they are really good at hiding it.
It was this time of year, four years ago, that I began the trek of telling my kids, and then my siblings and, as I had opportunity and need, talking with friends and professional peers. That I navigated everything and successfully transitioned, mine is a survivor’s story and, just for that, it is worth telling, because someone might read it and find the strength to take heart and move forward. Even more, I find it important to talk about why people try to kill themselves, because what I hoped to achieve by it has a common plot.
Two of every five people—41%—who are struggling with their gender identity, will try to end their lives. The reasons come from the internal struggle and the external realities. I am confident that there rarely is one thing, but a mixture of stressors—trying to accurately understand oneself, fear of rejection from family, what will happen to job and economic situation if I attempt transitioning, will I be safe, will God reject me, and more—which pile on, egging on that “just kill yourself” voice, to call more often and more clearly.
Again, we who are suffering—not only we with gender dysphoria, but anyone who is suffering terribly—don’t really want to die; we simply can’t see a way out in which we will not suffer horribly, ending up in a life which could be far worse than what we have now.
But we don’t know how to cry out, to say the words to others, and so we turn inside. Fear is mighty powerful; addressing it can be crippling.
We make a plan. We hope that, should we attempt to carry it out, we won’t die, and we won’t be permanently disabled, but we will be hurt badly enough so that when the most important people in our lives ask why we did it there will be so much concern in their words and compassion in their hearts that we will finally be able launch into our story.
I had made a plan. Whenever I thought about my plan, I wondered why it was my plan. “Just take a bunch of pills,” I would tell myself. “You’re not a violent person. It’s the only logical way to do it.” Yet, pills were too passive for me. Though I constantly rejected the notion of causing pain to myself, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
Another reason some of us attempt suicide is because we believe we deserve to be punished. We tell ourselves that we were not strong enough to get our act together. If others knew about us, that’s exactly what many of them would say. Indeed, after I undertook transitioning, I was asked: “Why didn’t you try harder to be a man?” Before I transitioned, one pastor said it straight out: “Greg, be a man.”
I was finding it impossible to satisfy either of those men, and I wanted so desperately to do so. I was a failure.
Encapsulated in their words is another reason we attempt suicide. We are misunderstood. Many will never understand us. Many will not even try. Many will allow their prejudices and preconceived notions to speak louder than we can talk to them.
Two events in 2013 stand out as low points, when I so wanted to try to kill myself. The first occurred just before I was about to begin telling others about my gender dysphoria and that I was going to retire from the ministry. The second came in the autumn, after I had an intense week of telling key people in the ministry.
Both times, I was on county roads near Port Hope. In the first, I was heading home, just east of Filion on Filion Road. In the second, I was going south on Ruth Road, on my way to Bad Axe.
Both times, my situation had so broken me that I devolved into bitter bawling. I was driving fifty-five miles an hour, crying hard and screaming at the top of my lungs everything that I was feeling, and begging the Lord to spare me.
“Please, let me die,” was combined with, “Please, let me live.” Back and forth.
On Filion Road, a semi was heading west. “Turn into its path,” I tried to convince myself. “You have to do it now, or the opportunity will be lost.” As the truck neared the ideal spot, I knew I could not do it, because I would have put another human into harm’s way. No, if I were going to try to kill myself, I could not bring another person into it.
Four months later, as I was crying and screaming and praying down Ruth Road, I had already formed my plan. These county roads have really wide and deep ditches. I had buried two teenagers who had fatally met up with them in separate crashes, so I had experienced their power against a careening vehicle. I would release my seat belt, increase my speed, and aim myself at the ditch on my side of the road.
If it is possible to be equal parts angry that you didn’t do something and glad that you didn’t, I was that. My desire to live, to “beat this thing,” not to test the Lord that He was duty-bound to take me to heaven, not to harm Julie and my family and all who loved me, won the moment. I would drive to Bad Axe. Instead of calling on some shut-in members, I headed to Julie’s place of work. She came home with me. I resolved to quit the ministry that very day. My pastoral counselor talked me out of it. I managed to plow forward eight more months in the ministry, to tell my kids and siblings, and Julie and I figured out a path for ourselves, a path which now is in its fourth year.
I didn’t try to kill myself mostly because I didn’t want to die. I also didn’t try because I feared that I would . . .
. . . barely be hurt, but I would total my car, and the whole thing would simply be an expensive, embarrassing, impossible-to-explain mess.
. . . be hurt so badly that I would be left paralyzed. Can you imagine that, still suffering gender dysphoria and now confined to a wheelchair? I could, and it almost took away my breath.
. . . actually die. And I didn’t want to die.
But I so wanted to try to kill myself. I saw it as a way of letting the world know so that I didn’t have to find my own way to do it. I wanted sympathy, because I feared judgment. If I went public only after surviving a suicide attempt, maybe—just maybe—I would get the “Poor guy. What he must be going through” comments for which I longed, that everyone would feel sorry for me and, if I did find that I had to try transitioning, they would recognize it as the life-saving measure it would be.
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If you know anyone who is hurting badly, please show them a gentle spirit and compassionate concern. They might be suffering suicidal ideation. And they might find you a safe person to whom they can open up. You might just save their life.
If you know anyone who tried to kill her- or himself and lived, please be sympathetic and kind, and do not judge them as weak. Actually making the attempt to take one’s life might be the hardest thing a person can do. How badly does a person need to be hurting, to finally take the pills, hang the noose, turn the wheel, pull the trigger? For as badly as I suffered suicidal ideation, I still think an actual attempt was a long ways from my grasp.
If you know anyone who has succeeded at the act and is now dead, I hope you are able to mourn and grieve this horrible loss, to love those who remain, and to grow in compassion and understanding. Somewhere, someone else is having the thoughts, making the plan, and longing to try to end it all.
And hoping to live through it, so that the suicide attempt can speak for them, to be their lifeline.