Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries, was found dead in her hotel room the other day. She was an adult survivor of child sexual abuse and molestation. Dolores also openly suffered from what she described as dark depression resulting from her bipolar diagnosis. She was also dealing with severe back pain. All of this had led to some speculation in the media that she may have deliberately ended her own life or accidentally suffered her second overdose self medicating. London’s Metropolitan Police is downplaying this claiming there is nothing suspicious about her death. A coroner’s report is coming soon to put this matter to rest. The very possibility that Dolores O’Riordan may have killed herself affected me in unexpected ways. I’m writing what I’ve always wanted to say about suicide, but never had the courage to say.
Dolores was only 46. A year younger than me. I think that is why the deaths of Prince, Bowie, and others did not hit as close to home. They were older than me. I grew up listening to their music, I did not grow up “with them” so to speak. She’s been through hell in her childhood. I have too. A long marriage ended. Yep. The death of her father affected her. Ditto. She has been open about her mental health struggles and many have defined her by that. Me too. Too many nerves being struck too close.
My son has lost more than three friends to suicide by the tender age of 17. No one that young should have to know so much loss from so much pain. I’m reticent to admit that in my struggles with depression, I have been in patient for treatment of suicidal gestures 2 times in my life. There was also an impulsive night in 2002 that I swallowed a bottle of antidepressants that I never reported. My child is aware of these events. Sometimes, they scare him. That breaks my heart.
When you are having suicidal thoughts. You are fighting for your life. The worst part about it is, you are often fighting for your life alone. And if you lose the fight, everyone has an opinion about you.
On social media, every so often, you see a post that someone asks you to share. It tells those struggling with suicide that they are not alone and they should call the suicide hotline number if they feel badly and they matter and blah blah blah. After children’s shows you get GI Joe, Sonic the Hedgehog, or Pink Power Ranger telling you not to play with knives or fire or hide inside refrigerators. We also have had a plethora of ABC after school specials and “very special episodes”of popular sitcoms introduce, tell the story of, and resolve serious issues like suicide or drug use in half an hour with two commercial breaks. Most of these shared posts are about as useful as those tools are and as deep as a birdbath in summer.
Suicide is not a fuzzy happy topic and fuzzy happy love will not make it better. We need to be brutally honest if we are going to fight a brutal killer of so many beautiful and strong people.
When I was a teenager we had youth pastors tell us about suicide. They had simple platitudes that included such helpful phrases as “It is permanent solution to a temporary problem,” and a reminder that “god loves you and has an awesome plan for you life.”
Then there were the school resources that would remind us that if we killed ourselves, it would hurt our friends and our family members. Stop thinking about just yourself.
If you have never felt the damage of child abuse, severe judgement or sexual molestation, you will never understand. If you have never been fighting for life where the threat to your own life is your own hand, you will never understand. If you have never had to deal with a world that judges mental illness and you have to live with a therapist that tells you that you are brave and on the right track while your church, your family, your friends and so many others have BS views on therapy, mental health, and talk therapy, you will never understand.
There are some other things that bother me about this. We keep telling people to be more resilient and give them tools to deal with a world that will continue to judge them and gets progressively worse. The problems are not just the person’s reactions to trauma and pressures, but sometimes there are things we should be doing to help the person and societal ills we need to address.
Poverty, homelessness, rape, abuse, bullying, anti LGBTQIA actions, racism, lack of healthcare, victim shaming, not employing people who are open about their struggles. These are very real problems that make life unsustainable. Take a teen being bullied over their gender identity, place them in a hospital for a few days and send them back to the same school with the same pressures and I contend you have not addressed the problem that threatens to end their precious lives.
I wish I could describe to you the conflict someone feels when they want to end their own life. You are fighting yourself. You don’t want to. Yet, you do want to do it. There is a deep terror of going through with it and there is an equally deep belief that you cannot go on any longer. You do mental inventory of what you have available to do the job. Sometimes you are calm…so very calm. Other times you are in deep panic and fear. While in this deep state of self battle, being told you matter by people who have ignored you your entire life does not mean a thing.
I once heard that every bad action has a good intention. Cessation of pain and suffering is not a bad thing. We need to help each other accomplish that goal.
I don’t want to die. The thought of being in that dark space again terrified me. Chances are, I will be there again and I will have to fight for my life again. This is often true of anyone who has attempted suicide. We are there again. And again. And again. We are told we are weak, but the very act of still being here is a testament to our strength. And if someone does take their life, they were not less, they were not broken, and they did not fail. What they did they did not do to you. They were not selfish jerks thinking only of themselves. They were going through something unimaginable to those who have never experienced it.
I am grateful that I am still here. Every day I use the tools I have learned over the years to cope with my circumstances. My circumstances are getting worse some days. The same is true of a transgender person who is outed and tortured verbally, religiously and politically. Or a woman who has a history of rape, molestation and abuse having a friend betray her and take her body without consent.
Dolores was sexually abused from the age of 8. She grew up in war torn Ireland where a bomb placed in a garbage can would kill a 12 year old child that would inspire the song “Zombie”. The passing of her dad hurt her emotionally. The end of her marriage did the same. She struggled with chronic pain. All the while dealing with being bi-polar. She was not some pretty little impish pop star, she was a warrior, a fighter, and a real life Wonder Woman.
When the coroner’s report comes in, we will know if the rumors of a possible overdose were real. If she took her own life, she did not fail, she was a warrior. If she did not take her own life, the same is true. I do fear that if she did, we will see the plethora of useless memes being shared so people can wash their hands of a topic we all need to engage with honesty, compassion, and brutality.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is one of the top ten causes of death in this country. We would never treat diabetics, cancer patients, and people with heart disease with the same level of willful ignorance and judgement as we do those who commit self harm with the intention of ending their lives.
Dolores is a hero. Regardless the cause of her death, she is a hero. If you are reading this and you know the pain and struggle of wanting to end your own life and have had to deal with the victim shaming that comes when you survive, I get it. It sucks and it is wrong. You are a rockstar and you will never get your due credit for being strong. You are stronger than the people who judge you and refuse to understand. If you are currently in the midst of the struggle, I ain’t gonna pander you. I get it.
I say this with tears welling up as I write this. Fight! I know its hard and you cannot imagine going on one more day with whatever the burden is. I am not gonna promise you that it gets better. But I will say this. Fight. As messy and as painful and as effed up as this world and its inhabitants are, it is also beautiful. The world is not puppies and rainbows and butterflies, but it does have those things.
You know the drill. Reach out to someone who will listen. Suicide hotline. 911. A friend. Anyone. As poorly worded as they (PSA’s) are, they are right.
Not too long ago (more recent than I care to admit), I had a night where I wanted to take a header off the 20th floor of a building. I told someone who loves me. She did not fix anything. She just was there to listen and she did not want me to die. I am still here to write this.
You have a friend or someone you love with depression, bi polar, or some other issue, stop judging them. Take the time to look into groups like NAMI and discover how brave and strong and admirable they are. Give them the dignity and the respect they deserve and have earned just getting out of bed. If you know someone who is a victim or someone who is put upon because of their gender identity, be their advocate and their ally. Do not stand silent when they are hurt by this world because you are afraid to make waves.
We are human beings. There is only so much we can take. We have limits and some have different limits. The same flu bug that is a minor inconvenience for me can be deadly for the person next to me. This is true of mental health, victimization, abuse and neglect. The same event the one can sustain with seeming ease can be deadly to another. That is nothing to be ashamed of, it is our responsibility to be the difference. We also need to stop judging.
That is all I have in me today.