I Didn’t Ask

October 17th, 2017

Photo Credit: Lynn Zart 

I’m diving in deep from the get go, crew. I told you I was going to give it to you real, and here she comes. I wrote this article for Southwest Health for their Suicide Prevention and Awareness Campaign. I was asked to write about knowing the signs of suicide. That was hard for me. I didn’t think my brother Ben had a lot of huge red flags, but looking back, I now notice differences in Ben’s actions leading up to his death, even if very minor. Please feel empowered to ask when you feel a loved one may need support.

I Didn’t Ask

When my brother Ben was more quiet and introverted growing up than my sister and me, I didn’t ask. “He’s a guy,” I thought.

When Ben spent a lot of time submerged in the fictional world of video games, I didn’t ask. A lot of his friends did, too.

When I was on the phone with Ben and he started getting uncharacteristically loud and upset when I talked about a girl, I didn’t ask.

When I figured he was hurting, feeling rejected and alone, I didn’t ask.

When he told us he was donating some of his clothes, I didn’t ask. I thought, “Good job, Ben!”

When he said “I’ll see ya at Thanksgiving”, I didn’t ask.

When Ben died by suicide on November 11, 2014…

I started asking.

Why would he feel like he couldn’t tell any of us how much he was suffering?
Why would he do this?
How could he do this?
What could I have done…

When you don’t know the depth of someone’s suffering, it’s hard to notice all the little signs. It is even harder when you, yourself, don’t want to believe someone you love is suffering deeply. Sometimes we make excuses for our loved one’s actions to put our own minds at ease. Sometimes that can make the signs that much harder to recognize. That is what happened to me. Hindsight is 20/20, so let my hindsight guide your foresight.

Photo Credit: Lynn Zart

When a loved one seems… off, ask. When you feel uncomfortable bringing up “mushy emotional stuff” because you are a guy and guys don’t ask, ask. When you know someone is hurting, you probably don’t know how deep that hurt goes, so, ask. When you hear someone’s language change, it may be a cry for help, whether literally or metaphorically, so, ask. You can simply and intentionally start the conversation with “How are you, really?”. Now I ask, and I am encouraging you to do the same.

Losing a sibling to suicide is not something that can be justly put into words. Growing up in small town Platteville, I had witnessed the suicides of schoolmates. I stayed as far away from the topic as I could, I never talked about it and I didn’t want to even think about it. And rightfully so, this is some big, scary stuff. But so many survivors suffer in silence. While we do not have it all figured out, it’s up to us to open the conversation surrounding suicide and mental health, help break the barriers of stigma and let people know they are not alone. There is a loving, supportive community that understands what you are going through. This community is here for you.

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