Not really sure what I'm looking for
Hi. I'm new here. I go to a small college in the South. My friend (I'll call him Allan) killed himself on February 12th, 2012. I was a pallbearer at his funeral. In the past few days, I've developed a certainty that I could have prevented Allan's suicide. Here's why.
A week before it happened, Allan confessed his romantic feelings for my best friend (I'll call her Rose) to her. The feeling wasn't mutual, and she let him down as gently as she could.
The next day, we sat in the communal kitchen of our dorm, he and I, and we were talking about this. I feel like, because I'm a lesbian, he felt comfortable talking to me in a way he didn't with any other girl. Romantic possibilities, I think, made him nervous. He professed to feel extremely happy about the way everything worked out, and relieved that he had the balls to come out to Rose about his feelings for her. I offered him all the conventional words of comfort: there's plenty of fish in the sea, etc. We got to talking about how crazy woman can be (I was dealing with a few problems on the romantic front myself at the time) and the conversation turned to dumb, sappy, Nicolas Sparks chick flicks. I launch in to what a stupid movie The Notebook is, especially the part where Ryan Gosling dangles by one arm from the ferris wheel, strongly implying that he'll kill himself if Rachel McAdams doesn't agree to go out with him. I ranted on, saying that, in the real world, Ryan Gosling would have been guilty of psychological abuse of the most despicable kind. Allan laughed, and then he said something to the effect of:
"Sometimes I consider telling Rose I'll kill myself if she doesn't agree to go out with me."
Which I really, really, really should have taken to mean: "Sometimes I consider killing myself."
That's what all the psychologists say, right? If someone's talking about killing themselves, you should take them seriously.
But, at the time, all I did was brush it off, saying "Well everyone fantasizes about their funeral sometimes, envisioning all the people who will burst into tearful confessions of how they've always been in love with you and stuff. But, of course, once you're dead you're gone forever..." The conversation moved on.
Allan was highly intelligent, very controlled, and very good at hiding his depression from us. Neither his parents nor his roommate, his friend from childhood, had any inkling as to what he intended to do. None of the people I talked to after the fact had any clues from Allan's demeanor or words; if anything, his mood took a turn for the better in the week leading up to his suicide.
As far as I can tell, I'm the only one who had anything. I don't think I held such a special place in Allan's heart that he chose me alone to give any hint about his suicidal intentions: I think it was something he accidentally let slip, and probably fervently hoped, the second he said it, that I wouldn't read too much into it. I played right into his hands.
I have no excuse. Sure, I had never had anyone close to me commit suicide before, but I was aware of it, and aware of how disturbingly prevalent it was among young people. Allan's suicidal tendencies were like a malignant fungus: they grew and thrived in dark, cold, moist airlessness. And while I hold no illusion that I could have swept in like a superhero and solved all Allan's problems for him, I could have at least, had I been paying more attention, been the force that initiated the process of killing the fungus by letting in some sunlight and air.
"Wait, what? What did you say? What do mean by that?" I wish so badly I said.
I know that even if a suicide victim is "rescued", there's a chance they could attempt again. This is of no comfort. If there's even a small chance I could have saved Allan, I should have taken it.
Allan, by popular consensus, was deeply depressed and determined to kill himself. But if I had identified that little flaw in the wall he built around his inner sadness, and dug at it, and exploited it, I could have been able to get him the help he needed. Maybe he would he yelled at me, hit me, begged me with all his heart to leave him alone, but with counseling, I know he would have come to forgive me.
I know I didn't kill Allan. I didn't string him up by his neck from his bunk bed... he did. But, through neglect, through mental laziness, through the desire to avoid a potential awkward conversation, I, through sheer inactivity, failed to prevent him from taking his own life. And it's been haunting me.
A lot of guides to dealing with suicide survivor guilt say that it's a fallacy to consider that I bear any responsibility for my friend's suicide. But here's how I look at it: I liked Allan a lot. He was the kind of guy you love to just go trolling for frat parties with. And if, during the course of the night, I ever got too drunk to find my way back to our dorm, he'd ALWAYS help me get back safe. Now, wasn't I the one responsible for drinking too much? If I had ever injured myself stumbling home from a party, wouldn't the blame rest solely with me? Yes, just as responsibility for his suicide rests solely with Allan himself. But still, Allan looked at me, unable to help myself, and felt, whether he should have or not, RESPONSIBLE for my safety, in the way that a good friend would.
Allan was unable to help himself just as I was, his mind clouded with suicidal depression the same way mind was clouded with alcohol. I've been reading about depression a little, and I learned that the disease gets you into a mental place where you aren't able to imagine a future that's better than the present. If Allan was in that state, he would have been unable to just shake his depression off. Can you blame me for feeling responsible for him, in the same way he felt responsible for me? His willingness to help me when I needed it was matched only by my eagerness to brush him off when it's stupidly obvious to me now that he could have benefited from mental health services?
I don't claim to know what was going on in Allan's head. I don't expect any profound insights on my part... except the basic, elementary concept that if someone claims to consider killing themselves sometimes, there's a good chance they'll kill themselves sometime. That's so obvious. EVERYONE knows that.
I don't know what I'm looking for here. I know that survival guilt feelings are normal, but I know that mine are justified, given the facts. I doubt anyone can convince me that I shouldn't feel responsible. I know Allan is gone, and nothing can fetch him back. I hope that this horrible feeling I have prevents me from letting anything like that slip by my mental radar again.
I guess what I'm looking for is outsider perspective. I've detailed the pertinent facts of the case as well as I can, but it could be that I'm too close to the story to have an objective opinion about my place in it. Can anybody out there give me some perspective? I feel like I might suffocate if I don't get an outsider's opinion.
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