Fact: I'm terrible keeping up with the LTT blog.
Outcome: I've written, posted, and talked about the Kickstarter campaign for The S Word everywhere but here (if you're not already doing so, the best way to keep up with LTT is to follow along on Facebook or Twitter).
Never heard of it? The S Word is a feature-length documentary about suicide, with a focus on suicide attempt survivors, made by the award-winning filmmakers behind Of Two Minds.
I've been involved with this project from the beginning, consulting with and connecting director Lisa Klein to folks she needed to meet, but earlier this year—about halfway through filming—Lisa dropped a bomb on me: the film will be told through the lens of Live Through This, which means I play a much bigger role than I initially realized (or was initially intended)!
I feel pretty passionately about this project, and not because I'm in it. I think the power of bringing people with lived experience of suicidal thoughts/actions into the light is legitimately one of the first steps toward actually reducing the suicide rate (which has been rising consistently for several years, while rates of the other 9 leading causes of death have been going down), as opposed to continuing to watch it rise. If we can see those affected by it—who they are, where they're coming from—we can identify with them, instead of continuing to believe that suicide only affects "crazy" people.
This film has the potential to change the mental/behavioral health field(s), sway public attitudes about suicide and, most importantly, save lives.
So, here's my plea: if you love Live Through This; if you're an attempt survivor; if you've got lived experience of suicidal thoughts; if you're an ally; if you care for any reason at all; please pledge a dollar, five, ten, a million, to help Lisa, Doug, and Kurt get this film made. There's only ONE DAY left, and we're so close!
Below is a personal note from Lisa, but first, I think it's only fair to amuse you with some behind the scenes footage from the last year and a half:
A Note from Lisa Klein, Director of The S Word:
My name is Lisa Klein and I am directing a documentary called The S Word. Try telling someone you're making a film about suicide and see what their reaction is. Generally, there’s a long silence accompanied by a concerned look, clearing of the throat, and a grimace.
The more sarcastic respondents often fill the silence with comments like, “Oh… that’s upbeat,” or, “You couldn’t have picked a happier topic?” or, simply, “Fun.”
I launch into my spiel, “It’s not going to be a dirge. At all. It’s even funny! Well, not funny in that suicide is funny, but funny and human in its portrayal of people living and surviving and telling their stories so other people won’t have to endure what they have…”
Not an easy pitch, to say the least.
As a survivor of both my father's and brother’s suicides, I have wrestled with the guilt, shame, and confusion for years. I will never know why my dad ended his life. Nobody talked about my brother Keith.
My mother could never bring herself to say the words, “My son killed himself,” words no mother should ever have to say.
That was my impetus for making the film. I wanted to tell the stories of people who have lost loved ones to suicide, because it’s crucial both to stay connected and to be able talk about suicide without shame or judgment. I didn’t come to this realization easily. Quite the contrary.
When somebody asked me how my brother died, I responded, “It was winter in Michigan. He died in a car.”
All true. The only small fact I left out was that the car was in the garage. As for my father, his cause of death was hidden from me for years because the word "suicide" was not spoken in our house—it was the confused and traumatized ghost that lingered in the walls of our home. I was told he had had a heart attack, and I don’t know if I believed it or if I chose to believe it.
Once I discovered how he died and somebody asked, my response was, “His heart stopped.”
Also true. When your heart stops, you die. This was my dad, and my dad a). couldn’t really be dead, and b). would NEVER leave me and my family on purpose. That was just not possible.
It’s taken me years to figure out that speaking the word itself is not the problem. The silence that so often surrounds it is.
As difficult as it would have been for my mother to say, “My son died by suicide,” I now believe that it would have freed her to grieve and find a community of people to whom she could relate and talk and listen. And maybe I would have realized that my dad didn’t leave me because he wanted to. I think he stayed as long as he did because he really wanted to be there for us. I have to believe that he was in so much pain that the thought of enduring another day was unfathomable. I was 18 when he died, and 19 when my brother died three months later.
I knew my brother was struggling, but had no idea to what extent and, even if I had, what would I have done? I think my 19 year old self would have begged him to stay and told him all the reasons why he should. But I probably would not have asked him if he was thinking about suicide. If he had a plan. I wouldn’t have told him that it was okay to not be okay. I would have just wanted to fix the problem because that’s all I knew. What I’m left with now is retrospect and, “If I knew then what I know now, my brother would be alive.” Maybe. I can’t ever know that. And it sucks.
My father, I had no idea that anything was going on with him. Even with the enhanced view of retrospect, all I see is my dad being my dad—larger than life, roaring temper, funny, warm, and always, always there for me. Until he couldn’t be there for anyone anymore, not the least of which himself. Knowing him the way I did, I’m guessing he was so filled with shame that all his pain was locked inside. He didn’t want to burden anyone. The irony is that I would choose that burden any day over not having him here.
So, now I am going to say the word "suicide." I'll shout it if I have to, BECAUSE the silence continues to kill people every day and that isn’t okay.
Somebody dies by suicide in this country every thirteen minutes. Almost everyone has been touched by suicide in some way—there is no cultural or racial bias. We’re stuck in an endless loop of “10th leading cause of death” unless we can say the S Word and listen, with open hearts, to those who have attempted to take their lives.
I ventured into this project barely understanding my experience with suicide, but what I have found is an incredibly rich community of people who I believe are the voices we need to hear—to lead us toward the ultimate goal of suicide prevention. Who better to learn from than the people who have been there, those with lived experience who are willing to share their stories? Until very recently, first person narratives of people who have been suicidal were largely missing from this conversation, and that makes absolutely no sense. The S Word will bring these voices to the center of the dialogue, allowing for new and creative approaches to suicide awareness, prevention, and intervention.
Like most people who have lost somebody to suicide, I ask myself what I could have done— “What did I miss?” I don’t think I’ll ever have those answers, but what I do know is what we can all do going forward: Listen. Although our instinct is to try to fix the problem, we can start by listening and letting someone know that we are there and we care. We all have the power to save lives, and that is not a cute slogan for a greeting card or Instagram or Twitter. Connection to other people is a major component to a life worth living.
My guess is that my brother could have used that more than, “C'mon, it’s not that bad. You’ll be okay.” Talk about shutting someone down—even if it is out of love, or fear, or both.
I wish I had let Keith know that it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to ask for help. I had neither the wisdom nor the knowledge to say the things that I am now learning would help validate a suicidal person’s feelings. It is our collective responsibility to build an environment of empathy and acceptance, stripping away the shame and discrimination that has been the breeding ground of suicide for far too long.
Suicide is one of the most confounding and cloistered issues of our time—and the silence kills—literally.
Our film will give voice to those who have not only survived, but have courageously transformed their personal struggles into strength and action. From these stories will emerge a mosaic of the humanity that encompasses life, love, humor, triumph and survival. Good days. Bad days. A life worth living.
Those stories are so important and I have to believe would have made a difference to me at the age of eighteen, losing the strongest man in my life to suicide, then my brother three months later. I had completely lost my bearings and, in retrospect, wish I could have had access to stories like these.
So, when somebody asks me, “Why suicide? Isn’t that topic depressing?” My answer is very clear: “There is nothing depressing about working to prevent the kind of suffering that so many families have endured. The most depressing thing would be to remain silent and not do this movie.”
—Lisa Klein, Director, The S Word