There will be time, there will be time, to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet. - T.S. Eliot
“Nobody could tell that anything was going on. The [suicide] notes gave me something to focus on [at my desk] so that I could do my job without thinking about it and be really occupied with it. I was able to do [my job] by rote, going through my role but not being there…” - Deborah
With the news of the probable suicide of L’Wren Scott, noted fashion designer and partner to The Rolling Stone’s, Mick Jagger, we read messages from around the world attesting both to understandable sadness and shock. Quite often, we hear smart, caring, well-intentioned people say, “I had no idea, he seemed so happy”, or “Her life seemed so together…”
How does this happen?
As someone withdraws into the idea of suicide, what I’ve termed the suicidal trance, he or she becomes increasingly trapped within a closed system of corrosive thoughts and emotions. It prevents others from seeing their anguish and one misses the opportunity to receive much needed understanding and compassion. Ones inner turmoil, and in large measure his or her humanity, becomes concealed. As the withdrawal continues, a pernicious belief encamps within them – that no one will understand the dilemma they are in or even if they did, would not be able to help.
As a result, people create a façade, designed to mask their pain, and that mask is often nearly impenetrable. So much so, that when others don’t recognize the façade, isn’t an indication of their lack of attention or love, but a testament to how powerfully someone who is suicidal can withdraw into a tight spiral of emotional pain and hide it.
What happens inside this closed system? People who descend into suicide become their own judges and juries. They privately decide that their concerns are either:
- impossible to grasp
- impossible to remedy, or
- not worthy of another’s attention.
They pull further away from genuine interpersonal exchange and, over time, lose a sense of who or what could be helpful. It is as if someone has become lost in the forest and finds a cave for shelter. The territory is foreign and the sounds, alien. Every rustle of leaves or crack of a twig is interpreted as a sign that something alive and dangerous is drawing nearer, and one pulls back into the cave, withdrawing deeper and deeper. The further he or she retreats from the cave’s mouth, the less the possibility of distinguishing fact from fear, help from danger.
Some forms the façade can take:
“…everybody thought I was happy and normal and well-adjusted and I got straight A’s. I was a good person, you know? I was just trying to pass for normal." - Mattie
As inner turmoil remains unaddressed, the chasm widens between one’s silent suffering and the image one projects. Emotional pain – most often fear– continues unabated and the perceived need for the façade increases. Unfortunately and frighteningly, people can mask themselves so skillfully, it fools friends and loved ones alike. Some forms of the façade may include:
- extroverted – happy and smiling; life of the party and friend to all.
- robotic – cloaked in plain sight, methodically going through one’s day
- hostile – combative, defiant but underneath, terrified.
Here are some examples…
In the roughest times, Mattie could always call on her wit, her joie de vivre, and her considerable intelligence. People naturally gravitated to her, as she was attractive, genuinely caring, and unpretentious. Her most frequent complaint was that she didn’t have enough time for all her friends. No one knew the self-loathing she carried, or that she was bulimic and often contemplated suicide.
“There was something inside me that [felt] just horrible or bad or needy or painful, and it didn’t match the outside, because I’d always been so extroverted.”
Methodical and Robotic:
"Nobody seemed to notice, except one. When I came back from lunch, one woman asked me if I’d been crying. I went to the bathroom and washed my face and I did not talk to anyone again the rest of the day. No one bothered me!"
Deborah is a medical secretary who lives in Colorado Springs. She spent the day of her suicide attempt calmly and unobtrusively sitting at her desk in the office, writing suicide notes. The mask she wore was virtually impenetrable.
Defiant & Hostile:
"James Dean was one of my biggest heroes—Rebel Without a Cause, The Outsiders, Indiana Jones, Fonzie. I grew up on Rambo films and Playboy. Tough guys were my idols. Smokin’ cigarettes, stealing shit, comin’ in the next morning all hung over. Living on the streets, sleeping in newspaper bins—these were my battle scars.
I started realizing how much pain there is in the world, how much loneliness, and although I don’t want to kill myself anymore, it still frustrates me how many kids feel like shit. – Jason, 19
"I acted out for years—didn’t communicate with my parents, hung around the university bars uptown, and sexually acted out a lot too. I was pretty promiscuous and I drank a lot. I didn’t talk to anyone. No one. I got into the blues and listened to Billie Holiday records." - Cynthia
Next Blog: What Can Someone Do?
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