Earlier this week, I happened to catch a tweet from a writer in Minnesota directed at the Austin social media community. The writer had come across a suicide note posted that day by an Austin blogger and was wondering if anyone could help. I clicked on the blogger’s link and didn’t recognize the face she attached to her self-penned obituary. The face looking back at me seemed happy. It was a cherub face with a slight smirk. Above, in the blog header, another smiling photo with her three kids. Her blog bio explained that she was a divorcing mom and in the process of trying to figure out what life is all about. The obituary added that the blogger was not able to find what she was looking for, that she hasn’t and will never be able to connect with anyone, and that it was best to move on.
I immediately scrolled down to the comments to tell her to stop. It was difficult to find the words. Cookie cutter phrases like “Don’t give up!” and “People love you!” crept up in my head and I tried to push them away for something of more substance. When I finally found the words I hit “enter” and was taken to an error page. Then the entire blog went white except for the text “Forbidden”. The site had been taken down.
At that moment I felt completely helpless. In such an interconnected system, I was completely unable to get my words across, but more importantly, to physically act in helping this woman. Even though I now knew what she looked like and I knew what she was thinking and she lived in my same town, I had no idea who she was and had no idea what to do.
I wrote back to the original tweeter asking what we should. I thought of calling the police, but I had very little information to give them. How would they find her? Track down her IP address which maybe has information on where she lives and go to her house? At that point it could be too late and I’m not even sure how the police handle such a call.
I was getting frustrated.
In such an in-your-face-this-very-minute-information-now-now-NOW! society we read her real time cry for help and were unable respond to her call.
This situation stuck with me for most of the day. I periodically checked her blog, which to this day is still down. I followed the tweeter in Minnesota- who was even more shaken by the situation due to his own brother’s suicide- to see if he had anymore info. He heard through the Twitter grapevine that she was at the hospital and getting help, but no one could confirm it. As of now, I have no insight as to who the blogger is and her status.
This situation made me contemplate how often this must happen. This was my first run-in with such a scenario, but with blogs being millions of people’s diaries and forms of expression, I began wondering how many letters of help- how many outreaches for a connection- are drifting through the blogging sea. The active Austin blogging community is a very tight-knit one- many of us are real-life friends and acquaintances- and would be able to act immediately if something like this occurred. However, there are so many writers off the radar, throwing bits of their pain into the Internet wind, hoping that something will catch. If I hadn’t to happen see the tweet from the gentleman in Minnesota, I may never have known about this and others maybe wouldn’t have either.
When I began writing this post I knew there was going to be no ending. No commentary on suicide, no anecdotes about how suicide has effected me in the past, and no follow up as to what happened to the girl. This is a story simply about technology and suicide and how we watched the two meet.
As bloggers, what can we do in such a situation?
Oh my goodness! This is terrifying. I hope the tweeter in Minnesota got the proper information that she is getting help.
I think as bloggers, if we are merely paying attention, as you did, we can help. Maybe we will get there a second too late, but we are only human. An encouraging comment can go a long way and you never know what may come of it.
Wow. I sincerely hope that she is okay. Especially for the sake of her children. No matter how quickly and immediately we can be connected nowadays, sometimes it's still not quick enough. As bloggers, I don't know what we do, other than try to be as supportive and spread as much awareness and love as possible.
A "friend" of mine on Facebook frequently writes cryptic, sort of suicide sounding status updates, and I don't know her well enough to know if she'd actually go through with it or not, but I think it's sort of crazy to subject other people to such a personal side of your life. If she isn't really going to do it, then I would appreciate her not putting it out there because then it makes me panic and get worried.
But, on the flip side, she's obviously just asking for help and/or attention, and given that Facebook and other modes of technology and social media are how we all communicate nowadays, I can't really blame her for putting out there. Hopefully it gets her the help she needs.
It's amazing what a little comment love can do for someone.
I hope she found help.
I'm hoping for a positive outcome for the blogger and her family. We are all looking for a human connection – to remind us that all is not awfully inhumane about the world we live in. Sometimes I feel socially disconnected, partly because I'm anti-social/shy by nature, and geographically relocated to outside Austin, which is already cliquish and competitive. But I don't give up hope, no matter what the circumstances are. We need to make an effort, despite our own personal blocks, and connect more to our real friends (on and offline) – and make new friends with meetups. Karaoke, live music events, and simply hanging out in the bookstore and coffee shop with a friend or without one can make a small difference, as well as volunteering may seem small and insignificant, but it can remind us that we are connected, or can be.
What can you do really? Unless you know the blogger personally, it's very hard to know the right response. It seems like you did all you could anyway but I'm sure it feels like it just wasn't enough. Though sometimes a cry for help is just that and she may indeed, be getting the help she needs and deserves.
This shook me up. Took me back to what I saw last October in a big way.
Suicide is very ugly. I don't really have anything else on this. I've lost friends and family to suicide. I've attempted suicide (as a teenager). And I have witnessed suicide up close and personal. And it's ugly.
While I can see why anyone would wan't to help, I'm not so sure most cries for help come out as clearly as actual notes announcing suicide. Some can never fully express how they feel. Others only lets bits of their pain show and disguise it as something else.
It's hard enough to recognize those who are asking for help indirectly in the real world let alone the internet where the clarity of one's thoughts depend wholly on their ability to express them through words. Or, the right words.
Then you have the added frustrations of who is actually asking for help, and who is simply begging for attention.
It's a tangled web. It's a difficult situation. And, the only thing one can do is to try and talk. Or, more importantly, listen.
Under the circumstances, you did what you could do and I commend you for it. You tried. And that is probably more than some people did for that individual. Sometimes, that's all it takes is one person giving a shit. I know it helped me.
What can any of us do? Our best. Sometimes it will be enough. Sometimes the pain and suffering will just be too much for anyone to help.
I've seen suicide take three lives. All three different types of people. Different circumstances. One, I understood and thought that I'd probably do the same under the circumstances. Another was a surprise. Nobody saw it coming. The other…well. More could have been done.
As I said, listening is probably the best thing anyone can do for an individual facing thoughts of suicide. All we can do as fellow humans is try and be there for one another.
~Dale R Wilsey Jr.
As bloggers, just like as people experiencing this 'in the real world', we can only do what we can. Which, if we're lucky, is intervene, but more often than not — when it comes to suicide, we are usually helpless.
That's how it is. We can only true, in whatever small ways we find, to show people: hello. I hear you. I want to know you. What else is there?
I hope the blogger is okay. I hope there is a happy ending for her, whatever that means for her.
Thanks for this post.
Good question. What *can* you do in such a situation? I find it's hard to reach out to people even under normal, non-desperate situations, whether it's because you can't get your comment to post on their blog (damn you, Blogger!) or there's no email address on the blog itself, but in an emergency situation like that, it's hard to say what else one can do. If you know the person, you clearly have an obligation to act, but if you don't know them personally, are you still responsible?
I suppose what you could do is try to Google this person until some scraps of personal info (real name, email address, phone number) come up on other sites (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.), and try to contact them more directly. Barring that, you could definitely call 911 to report a potential suicide (if you have her number, you can probably find her address). Aside from this, I think all you can do is try to connect with people in as personal and supportive a way as you can. We all feel down sometimes, like there's no hope, but a kind word can really help. You did what you could; hopefully she will see that there are people out here who care what happens to her and want to help.
OH MY GOD. Lauren … I'm just now reading this.
Did she attempt it (the suicide, I mean)? Is she ok?
The computer can be such an isolating world — and ironically — a lifeline too. I'm so glad your kind heart compelled you to act on her behalf.
Oh I'm just sick about this. One of our own! I sincerely hope she is alright. 🙁
I can understand why she put it out there on the Internet. She didn’t want to die or she wouldn’t have reached out. That’s where I am right now and it’s a place I find myself visiting often and with more frequency over the years. I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to live, either. Quite the conundrum. I’ve communicated to family on such a raw, honest level but they don’t hear me. Every day runs into the next and I don’t know how to turn things around. I don’t know how to start living. I have made so many starts and stops… I can go along for a while thinking I’m getting there this time, then I sabotage it all. For some reason, I don’t allow myself to succeed at even the simplest of things. I don’t believe I deserve to.