2020: Responsibility in Relationships, Mental Health, and Potentially Suicidal Situations
Edit 11/20/20: I have since resolved the vast majority of issues with the individual mentioned in this article. This was possible because we both chose to listen, have patience, and spend an hour talking in-person on a porch, defusing what was initially a tense meeting. For that I am highly grateful and express explicit respect for B. There were more two-way miscommunications than expected — the crux of all interpersonal evil! It ended in a hug and best wishes. This article and my interpretation of events remain published for the lessons and ideas presented within. We are moving on.
Hey all. I’m writing because, on average, I have not been okay these past couple months. Many of us are not. I’m fine right now and not a cause for concern. I’ve been playing Pokémon lately. I caught a Mewtwo! It’s a lotta fun.
I’m writing first, to heal and share a recent experience; second, to challenge morally gray social norms concerning suicide and potentially suicidal situations; and third, to inform my circles and followers of how to best walk with me through life. All are welcome. I‘d be grateful if you read all the way through this 18-minute piece—in fact, because this is such a sensitive read, please don’t begin if you can’t eventually finish it. I’ve done my best to be concise. For those sensitive to conversation on suicide, trigger warning. To all else, this topic and my views on it may make you uncomfortable or emotional, and that’s a necessary side effect of the perspective I want to share, and of the impact I want to make. Close friends: I plan on chatting with you personally.
This past year has been my worst since 2013, a hard one to beat. The specifics aren’t necessary right now—pains, losses, traumas. The rest is general hardship we’re all enduring — a global pandemic and a nation often divided.
All considered, my mental health has been unstable leaning toward dark this past month, and since an event in February 2020 I’ve been struggling to cope as I normally would. I've been feeling a deep distrust and hesitance to communicate my thoughts and general darkness to anyone lately, let alone my closest friends, and that isn’t helping matters. This is generally not reflective of them or their efforts, instead the way I’ve been treated recently. My long-term trust is recoverable. My short-term trust is very damaged.
I’ll be supporting two claims. The first is based on gray-area mistakes which are forgivable and less important than the basis of the second.
- In 2020, we need to use discretion when responding to potentially suicidal situations. Specifically, calling the cops should not be the first action taken in a potentially suicidal situation, per documented negative consequences; returning the call of the person in question should happen first
- Blatant invalidation and abandonment of a mentally struggling person’s experience and feelings in a traumatic situation is reprehensible and scarring
Here’s what happened—the backstory is necessary for my larger message. For the sake of clarity and terminology, there are two issues at hand: “the Situation” and “the Meta-Situation.”
> Let me preface this with the notion that good intentions are generally noble and usually lead to socially beneficial effects. That said, good-intentioned actions can cause more harm than good, especially when acting without consent, and this is the problem with the Situation. This much is forgivable. This blog is not written from a place a vilification, though a large amount of detail is necessary to tell the story fairly and accurately. I am certainly still hurting from and struggling with this, and that emotion will come through. Finally, as in most life lessons, I too made mistakes in varying degrees, and I enjoy taking responsibility for my mistakes. Doing so gives us power over our lives. Feel free to chuckle or laugh at my inadequacy, or jot down the lesson on a post-it.
6 months ago a best friend I considered family — let’s say gender-neutral “Blake” or “B” — acted out of good intent and made a mistake. I phone-called B for help amidst a bad panic attack, and B didn’t pick up. B immediately texted me saying “What’s up?” — I understood this as an invitation to have a text conversation. B’s second text explained that B was “working on construction” and wouldn’t be available. As B had texted first with a “What’s up?”, I assumed that meant B was only unavailable for a phone call, and I wouldn’t be violating any boundaries by leaning on B through text. B was available enough to text for the next hour, apparently confirming my initial choice to borrow B’s time and energy. My first mistake was not clarifying.
Then, there was a miscommunication which led to B interpreting this as an emergency situation. I fucked up my first text by mentioning “I’m considering calling the cops, but…”, before immediately countering it. I said I didn’t want XYZ repercussions, to imply that I knew what was best for me given 7 years of experience with suicidal thoughts, and one previous voluntary admittance to a psych ward at age 17. B insisted I find medication to chemically balance my head, to which I replied that I’ve tried multiple with a new one on the way. B asked if I had a suicide plan to which I responded that I (only) had “ideas and imagery”—passive thoughts amid high stress which have provoked panic attacks less and less over 7 years. I have never had a plan nor acted to harm myself. B kept pushing me to describe my suicidal thoughts, something B’s not qualified to do, and I advised it probably wouldn’t be healthy for B or our friendship. All this said, I thought it was clear that I was merely struggling mentally—not actively in danger—especially considering my vocal intention to attend my psychiatry appointment the next day.
Unfortunately, instead of clarifying the potential emergency by calling me back first, B secretly called the cops — I thought I had communicated the opposite request while hyperventilating. That’s the opposite of what I wanted and felt I needed. I was and am sorry for the miscommunication. I was trying to signal the severity of pain with my initial statement, after B didn’t pick up the phone but could text me. As miscommunications go, we were both responsible for the error. Responsibility, fault, and blame are different things, and the latter two often don’t help in resolving interpersonal conflict. The miscommunication created an ethically gray situation, and an unfortunately heated conflict.
A different friend’s phone call was able to soothe my panic attack and get me through it. Now calm, pants-less, and alone, I went downstairs as the cops arrived unexpectedly for a mental health check. Given my authenticity on how I was generally feeling, they felt obligated to bring me to the hospital. I voluntarily cooperated and went with the men who were concerned and only doing their jobs. I was annoyed but understood what happened, and was confident I’d be able to resolve the issue with B later. I had a nice drive and conversation with the cop, even getting his opinion on the issue I was working on. Then, I spent four hours in the psych ward before the staff decided I was sane and safe, and let me go — because I was.
An experience in the psych ward is often unhelpful or traumatizing at worst. The only things I gained were two cold cheeseburgers and green beans; a brochure for an inpatient program B and I could’ve googled together; a decent 30min conversation with a social worker who could not replace my therapist; a mental health record which may or may not be incorrectly marked as involuntary; and a post-insurance $500 emergency room bill. The higher-up workers were cold and sterile, and genuinely only seemed interested in what I was saying to decipher whether I was a danger. Worse, I lost a best friend and gained heavy trust issues: my choice to text B and B’s actions caused a major, avoidable inconvenience, and long-term trauma connected to what comes next.
That said, this blog is not a commentary on whether or not psych ward admissions in America, voluntary or not, are beneficial in general. They generally do fulfill the job of preventing mentally unwell people from causing harm to self or others. That topic is covered elsewhere in detail—your mileage may vary. This particular visit was pointless-leaning-harmful given that I was supported and safe beforehand, and I got nearly nothing out of this. I couldn’t have taken advantage of “all of the resources” B imagined would be there—I was sane and safe enough to be discharged quickly, and had to get back to my job and life. It was very hard to squeeze opportunity out of a psych ward visit after being non-consensually put in that situation by a best friend.
The Situation was a mess. An ethically gray, scary, mutually text-fueled mess, one I wanted to clean up together.
That day ended with me expressing to B from the passenger seat in my driveway, calmly and civilly, after B voluntarily arrived at the hospital to drive me home and without my asking:
“B, I have mixed feelings about what happened today.”
This is an objectively valid thing to express, because human feelings are valid. Of course I understood B’s desire not to have me apparently die — I probably would’ve done the same thing if I genuinely believed a friend was about to commit suicide, depending on how urgent it seemed and whether or not I could reach them by phone or text. I’m not unreasonable. I understand the emotional position B was in given my poorly-communicated text. B apparently thought I was in imminent danger. Though, there is a possibility that B didn’t, and merely thought I needed general help, and couldn’t handle it anymore. That’s even worse. We should not call the cops for a mental health arrest in place of helping our friends find general help, or asking them to lean on a different friend.
B did what B was overtly or subconsciously taught to do in situations like that, per societal conditioning. I’m aware of the organization-approved and societally-accepted actions to take when a friend seems to be in immediate danger, though I argue it’s not that simple. Sitting there in B’s car, I simply wanted B to understand the miscommunication, take responsibility for B’s actions and how B impacted my life, and hear my feelings before we made up and hugged. In case it’s not clear, I planned to and have forgiven B for the Situation, within 2 weeks of the event, in fact. Shit happens.
Instead, B immediately became defensive and said I wasn’t allowed to be “mad” at B. Per stoicism I accepted the blatant invalidation of my experience, before I even got a word in; genuinely apologized for being a liability to B’s own mental health, though it may have come across as passive-aggressive, and for reasons I’ll explain later, might not have been necessary; exited the car and became angry, choosing to throw my book and coat onto my driveway as my body temperature rose; and went into my house to deeply breathe.
Nearly two weeks later B blew up my phone with seven vitriolic paragraphs riddled with blame and shame. B had only heard anything I had to say and how I was processing it through a mutual friend—one who I had only texted a handful of times, certainly not indicative of how I felt on the whole.
I’ll do my best to represent the basis of B’s argument: B felt it was 100% unarguable that B made the right (“Right”) decision given my cry for help. To advocate for B’s voice, you should ask B for B’s side of the story and make an assessment then. If you’re not aware of who B is, that’s fine. My keeping B anonymous, in this case, isn’t an issue because I’m not looking to prove someone wrong in a clearly gray situation. Life isn’t black and white. I don’t care or want to be “Right.” I want to be seen and heard—we all do. Ethics are subjective between individuals, cultures, regions, and time periods. This blog is about what happened and how it affected my life.
To summarize these texts, B reduced my feelings, reality, and experiences to ‘lectures’, and insisted that I was to blame for the Situation B had set ablaze instead of calling me back. B refused to be at least partially responsible for it, nor for the anxiety B had accrued by repeatedly volunteering past B’s own capabilities. These were probably the most dehumanizing, divisive, and unempathetic messages I’ve ever received. B unequivocally felt a need to be capital-R Right, instead of seeing B’s fellow human and finding common ground. B was so hard-set in B’s reality that B completely invalidated mine. B cultivated a patronizing domination, not dignified conversation. I advised B to choose between surrounding B’s self with people who only agree with and confirm B’s reality, and hearing me. I would clearly have no part in the former.
For someone who claims to be an ‘empath,’ one I’ll partially concede given its definition,
it was clear that B wasn’t going to hear and thus empathize with me given how my mental health was weighing on B’s life. B couldn’t understand the darkness I was experiencing, nor the few words I got in to advocate for myself. I often hear people use the term ‘empath’ in 2020 to describe themselves. In my experience, the same people who absorb emotion are often also unable to hear or consider an opposing view. I think that’s something we can all work on, lest we lose friendships.
Volunteering and Boundaries as Blind Spots
Within weeks I gratefully came to the realization that B has a major blind spot in volunteering — I can count at least 5 moments when B either voluntarily chose to help me without my asking, or retracted time-or-space boundaries B had previously set, which I obviously honored. I never asked or pushed B to save me. I asked for B’s help when it was available, and B complied, because B cared about me. Imperatively, here is a timeline of relevant events because, in sum, they exemplify questionably flimsy boundaries and toxic social behavior:
- B originally offered to help me through an existential chapter at the end of January, and we were spending a lot of mutually beneficial time together.
- B volunteered to join a therapy session, and did with sincere concern for my mental health; I was explicitly grateful despite not asking for this gift.
- B volunteered to text me at length discussing mental health options and possible diagnoses for my issues; again, I was explicitly grateful for B’s concern despite not asking for these gifts.
- B had a night in which B physically felt anxiety throughout the day due to supporting me the previous night. B asked for a ‘tiny bit of space’ to recover—setting boundaries—which I explicitly honored and understood. B closed by expressing love, ensuring I wasn’t a burden, and praying for me in the time off.
- B then reached out to me first two days later, implying the retraction of previous boundaries, asking to hang out. I was down to hang, but we both felt tired and canceled, which was obviously fine.
- The next day, B chose to respond to the Situation’s phone call and SOS through text, despite being busy. B chose to make a move which would drastically affect my life, without my consent and self-knowledge. B chose to call the cops—unfortunately due to a miscommunication—instead of calling me back first. These choices were made in troubling and understandable circumstances, but they were B’s choices.
- At the end of my stay in the psych ward, a social worker let me know that B was on the way to pick me up—they had called B for further information. B volunteered B’s time, gas, miles, and emotional energy to pick me up when I had planned to get an Uber and reconvene with B later. I complied, though I could’ve rejected the offer, and thanked B despite not asking for the assist.
- After dropping me off and refusing to hear what was in my head after a traumatic day, B picked up belongings I had chosen to throw on my own driveway in a rare move to release anger, and entered my house — nonconsensually and while I was fuming — to drop them on the floor. B acted as if my parent, which is uncomfortable and not B’s place, to say the least.
- B’s vitriolic essay made very apparent the massive weight the Situation (and growing Meta-Situation) had on B’s life over the next 10 days. I textually empathized with and apologized for that weight—though I’d argue it was largely caused by B’s incessant need to volunteer, and B’s unwillingness to have a civil, in-person, human conversation, even months later. The smartest thing B did for B’s self was draw a new boundary such that B refused to carry weight over “the Situation” any longer. That much is impressive and I’m glad B grew in that direction.
I offer these observations as constructive criticism which B may or may not eventually realize on their own time. Whether I am thanked or attacked in response, I couldn’t care less.
All of this detail is to describe one instance of what it’s like to be a passively suicidal person torn between utilizing their support system, and going it alone. Companionship isn’t easy. The hope is that our companions can have enough emotional control and empathy to see through our disagreements and mess, especially when the going gets tough, to resolve conflicts and carry each other through dark chapters. Per the Meta-Situation, that is not what happened here. B forced “help” on me without my consent, and refused to hear how it had affected me, worsening things. It fucked me up. I spiraled. I had frequent panic attacks. I stopped reaching out in general, as a pandemic grew. All events considered, B’s choices and actions contributed heavily to a worse suicidal state these past 6 months. The following are my closing statements on mental health, potentially suicidal situations, and responsibility—individually, societally, and philosophically.
I do my absolute best to be empathetic and considerate when leaning on others, though I definitely sucked at it as far back as 2013. B gave me much more than I asked for, and I refuse to take responsibility for B’s savior-mindset decisions.
I responded to B civilly with an apology and responsibility for my actions and the miscommunication, with intent to elaborate further; civilly pointed out how ridiculous and hurtful B was being; and ended on a note of mutual love and desire to reconcile. I waited 2 months before deciding to remove and block B from my life — no one deserves to anticipate a possibly negative response that long after experiencing such harsh emotional invalidation. Technology has made it too easy to drop bombs on people’s lives then ghost when we can’t handle the fallout. My neural pathways are hella averse to the idea of allowing possibly destructive behavior back into my life—sayonara. The most B could do is offer an in-person apology. Even should I accept it and be on civil terms, the idea of a restraining order isn’t out of my mind. I can’t say I’ve ever hated an individual in my life, but now it’s easier to empathize with those who’ve grown to. B has shown such blatant, poisonous disregard for how they affected my life, and I’ve felt disgust growing. Not per the Situation—that is forgiven—but per the Meta-Situation. I am working to let it go and be at peace.
I want to publicly clarify where I’m at in life:
- I am *not* a victim. Unless someone acts against me with bad intent, I refuse to gain power from the notion that the world is out to get me, that I’m entitled to comfort, safety, and privilege. (Disclaimer, I can empathize with the regular feeling of victimhood marginalized groups often have, including but certainly not limited to people of color, women, and LGBT+.) B made a mistake given the gray situation, one I was very willing to forgive and resolve. I took my portion of responsibility and owned my entirety, darkness and all.
- I reject the notion that we’re obligated to save each other. Before we are a society, we are individuals. We are primarily driven to take care of ourselves first, others second — and in today’s circumstances, it’s unfair, unhealthy, and unreasonable for anyone to *expect* to save someone else’s life, or to be saved by someone themselves. Obvious exceptions include parents saving their children and children needing their parents. B was not my parent. I argue that it’s toxic to both parties to feel obligated to save someone — it takes away the sufferer’s agency and creates guilt and self-doubt in the savior when they do choose to end their life.
- Involvement of law enforcement in mental health situations can be dangerous at worst and ineffective at best. On a contemporary level, there are [numerous] [documented] [cases] of police mental health checks ending up in a fatality. There are more examples at the end of this article. Cops are not social workers. B was likely unaware of the possibility that a cop mis-trained or untrained in social work could’ve killed me — more likely if I was B’s black friend. This study discusses the benefits of reducing the likelihood of law enforcement encounters with untreated psychiatric conditions, namely, less fatalities. Additionally, my story is one of many in being non-consensually visited by the cops, or involuntarily admitted to the psych ward. If you care about how your actions might affect your loved ones, consider the stories shared from both sides at these search queries  .
- When discussing suicidal thoughts with our loved ones, a great place to decipher the level of urgency is with Emmengard’s Suicide Scale graphic. A friend introduced it to me and I’m glad to say I’ve never been on the highest end of the scale. Severity is crucial in understanding each other’s minds, and whether or not greater help is needed.
- I do NOT advocate suicide. I am NOT a suicide advocate. I see it as an unfortunate human loss traded for that person’s permanent peace, one to be mourned and learned from. That said, my own psychological experience has led me to deep empathy with and forgiveness for anyone who chooses to take their own life. We live in a challenging, existentially threatening world both individually and as a species. Mental health disorders are at an all-time high. I don’t believe it’s possible for someone to fully understand, respect, or be at peace with another’s suicide—whether it’s labeled a mistake or not—unless they have experienced such immense psychological pain that they’ve also felt compelled to follow through, at some point. I am personally tired of mentally resilient or marginally less suicidal people shaming and blaming the ill for their desire to be free from a tormentous existence they didn’t ask for. Only when you reach a point in mental illness that you’re regularly resenting the fact that you exist, can you understand and eventually forgive someone who followed through with suicide. Suicide is selfish, yes—and though I’d hope it’s closer to a last resort, such selfishness is something the mentally strong often won’t and can’t fully empathize with. American society often conditions us to stay alive past our biological, social, and evolutionary roots—so much of our culture is built on keeping consumers, taxpayers, and workers alive, often for the sake of the rich. I refuse to vilify or permanently hate someone who finally chooses to be free from their torment.
- Throughout life we’re sometimes unfortunate to engage with people either blind to their volunteership, or actively using it to manipulate. I have a strong disdain for people who give gifts (physical, social, emotional) and expect something back. I have been told off for not taking unsolicited advice, as an adult. I have been gifted things and services by a roommate, some which crossed my spatial boundaries, meanwhile they used my things without permission, repeatedly. I have been guilt-tripped into thinking I was wrong for openly mentally struggling, when such stigma blames the mentally ill for the listener’s discomfort. We need to listen through discomfort, and we need to be held responsible for our choices. To clarify, we can do our best to *help* each other — but when someone else’s mental weight is so heavy for us that we blame the sufferer for our own volunteer work, we are way out of line and not enforcing healthy boundaries. I no longer fuck with people who identify as “Good Samaritans,” specifically those free to do whatever they want in “altruism” for the sake of their self-worth, feelings, and egos, without repercussions or reconciliation.
- I am a sovereign, independent man with objectively valid feelings. I have no time or space in my life for people who (repeatedly) deny my reality. I only have attention for those willing to talk, to listen, to cooperate amid hardship and disagreement. My circles have been growing smaller and smaller out of both necessity and paranoia — the former because I’m tired of being mistreated and neglected, and the latter because losing B amid B’s vitriol has inhibited my vulnerability, hopefully temporarily. Anyone outside of the (Meta-)Situations can’t fully understand what I went though.
- We should seek to empathize with each other and create common ground in conflict, instead of seeking to be “Right.” Black and white thinking keeps us divided. We are meant for unity, balance, and mutual respect despite our different realities.
All damage considered, I’m not naive enough to fall into a mindset of isolation and bitterness. I am working toward forgiving (the Meta-Situation) and forgetting B. I am struggling with reaching out right now, but I strongly believe in the power of community, friendship, and solidarity with others: over coffee, on walks, and in quarantine. I will continue having conversations about suicide and mental health. If my general darkness makes you uncomfortable to the point of resentment or panic, please remove or distance yourself. I will continue asking friends how they would hypothetically react to a potential emergency; and how they would hypothetically react to my reaction. I will continue cultivating circles of empathy, patience, and cooperation. I have written this blog as tactfully as possible while holding B accountable and discussing generally controversial topics. I challenge us all to grow. Critique me otherwise.
To end on a positive note, this experience has been partial blessing in growth. I am so often grateful for the few friendships I have cultivated as family; who can bear to disagree and still love each other; who are there for me through thick and thin, and it’s mutual. If you’ve read this far consider yourself included, if you “feel me” on all this. If we’re otherwise connected but not exactly close, I want the door to be open for conversation and mutual growth. Let’s talk. In 2020 especially, we should seek to spend our time with those we feel best around — and conversation surrounding mental health and the clear subjectivity of ethics is key. Thank you for reading.
Final disclaimer: I am mentally safe and sound at the time of writing, and lately. I have a therapist and medication. I am free of suicidal thoughts and in good company. Back to Pokémon and reading.
Edit 9/10/20: Here are a few relevant and recent examples in which mental health checks by police turned into shots fired and fatalities: