How to save a life
FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - August 8, 2020 - 12:00am

The skies over London are changing now that the height of summer has passed. The wind has picked up and is kicking the clouds across the dusk like footballs scudding across the pitch. I get my camera phone out to record a time-lapse video but my hand isn’t steady enough. Perhaps it’s just as well, so that I don’t linger again on the new grief of the past few days since my friend died by suicide.

I met C when we were both asked to be trainers for a communications course in Tokyo and we hit it off immediately. He was extremely charming and skilled at his work. I learnt a lot from him at a time when I was feeling very low myself and we would speak for hours across continents about everything and nothing. C was addicted to alcohol and though he’d managed to kick the habit for a while and made serious attempts to deal with his demons in his 30s and 40s, by the time I met him he’d settled into equally serious, and ultimately deadly, routines of self-destruction.

I made the choice to write about him this week because it’s difficult for me to think about anything else. As a journalist, I’m obliged to do so responsibly. Public health and journalism experts have come up with sets of guidelines for media professionals to use when reporting on this serious public health problem and social inequality issue. It demands our attention but it is no easy task to prevent or control. So I take the opportunity to educate readers about suicide. It is not a solution to problems; it is not sensational; it is not normal. I will not tell you how or where he did it.

The other day his best friend and I sat at a distance under the terribly unsympathetic summer sun and spoke about our conversations with him in the months and days before his suicide. When had we last spoken? What was said? Were there signs that we should have picked up on? Tracing the story, trying to put together a narrative that would make sense of the fact that we are here and he is not.

(I am rigorously watching my language here in order to not glamorize or ennoble any part of this man’s suffering. There is no reward or glory in it.)

He lived in isolation and constant emotional and sometimes physical pain, dulled with alcohol and television, his relationships mediated through phonelines and social media, endless takeaways of burgers, chicken tikka and crates of beer. He even introduced me to the delivery guy once. It was his last night on the job after years of bringing the same meals to the same door night after night. C tried and failed to calculate how much money he must’ve spent on takeaways and whether he was in fact responsible for financing the delivery guy’s son through college. It seemed funny at the time.

Suicides are preventable with timely and evidence-based interventions, according to the Samaritans charity in the UK which is dedicated to reducing feelings of isolation and disconnection that can lead to suicide. It’s found that suicide is more common among some groups than others; for example it is more likely among men than women and in particular men in their 40s and 50s from a lower economic group. Nevertheless, it is complex and mostly isn’t the result of one event or factor, but usually a combination of lots of different factors interacting with each other to increase risk.

Some people considering suicide may hint at or even disclose to friends or relatives that they intend to take their own lives. Others who feel suicidal might not mention it or give any indication at all of their intentions. There is NO evidence to suggest that asking someone if they’re OK will make them feel worse. Talking can help.

It was as if he (or was it we?) ran out of steam. We stopped finding great music tracks to play to each other and sing along to, we stopped finding our own jokes far funnier for far longer than they deserved. There were tearful breathtaking torrents of insults when I’m not sure he even knew who he was speaking to, 20 missed calls between 3:09 a.m. and 3:31 a.m., nonsensical misstyped text messages designed to get a response, but we always made up again. Lately he’d remind me how much we love each other really and what good times we’d had on infamous nocturnal escapades in grotty Kowloon dives, sun-drenched wanderings in English gardens, even a biker bar in Makati.

Looking back is so different from living forward. It’s like peering the wrong way down a telescope at the landscape you’ve left behind. The perspective creates the possibility of making a map of the choices you made, the paths you didn’t take, the words you never said, the journey you and you alone took.

Now I find myself wishing my stupid phone would ping again and his name would come up so I could say it to him once more, tell him how much I miss him, despite the booze and insults, the ruthless honesty, the fearsomely sweet utter surrender to the moment, but never beyond.

And he would say goodbye.

Suicide is preventable. When life is difficult, there are lots of people who want to help. Hopeline Ph’s 24/7 hotlines are: 0917-5584673 (Globe), 0918-8734673 (Smart), 02-88044673 (PLDT) and 2919 (toll-free for Globe and TM). The Department of Health National Mental Health Crisis 24/7 Hotline is at 0917-8898727, 0917-9898727.

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