I’m going to put a warning up here at the start, because I don’t want people to be caught and upset or thrown into hurtful memories.
I was nominated to do the “22 pushups to raise awareness for soldier suicides” thing, but the way the “challenge” operates has hit a nerve with me, and so I bring up a very serious discussion at the end. I talk, briefly and slightly graphically, about my experiences in the aftermath of suicides. That paragraph is surrounded by warnings. After that it’s a discussion about the statistics and my solution to this most current facebook slacktivism
Thanks for reading.
On Sunday, I was nominated to do 22 pushups every day for 22 days to “raise awareness for soldier suicide”.
I have to post horrible, boring videos of me doing pushups on facebook and this is going to…. do….. what exactly?
Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to nominate one person each day in a glorified pyramid scheme to “raise awareness!”
Well damn. HEY! 21 veteran soldiers and 1 active duty soldier will kill themselves every day (An average). Awareness raised. Done. Now we all know that, and we’re all doing pushups – which makes us all look so badass and stronger.
What are we doing with this knowledge?
I get a bit vivid and a little righteous in the next paragraph. I’m discussing suicides after this point. Stop reading here, if you don’t want to be grossed out, alarmed, or made aware of just how serious the suicide issue is in our country. It’s safer the paragraph after, if you want to just scroll, but still about suicides.. I’m going to bookend the serious paragraph that follows with inspirational military photos. To make it easy to skip over, if you must.
In my previous career, I came in very close contact with suicide attempters, suicidal thinkers, and the people left behind after a person managed to kill themselves. I have been the last person to see someone alive. I have tackled someone to the ground and wrenched knives or aluminum can lids out of their blood-covered hands. I have been the first person to find someone after they killed themselves. I have had to scrub blood, gore, brains out of my shoes and wash my clothes in vinegar to get the smell of death out. I’ve walked into blood-drenched rooms, cut people from closets after they hung themselves, and helped unfold people from the position their bodies rigor-ed into after they died of the blood loss from slit wrists. I have shut down highways because of suicides. I have knocked on the doors of relatives at all hours of the day and night to give the news. I have pulled children from school.
Some were found the moment they pulled the trigger. Some were found many, many months after the fact. I have resuscitated a person who tried to decorate their room in flowers and photos in an attempt to make their (attempted but failed) death seem glorious and beautiful. I have seen the gauntlet of personal-made deaths. It is not pretty. It is not clean. It is never as easy as the person convinced themselves it would be. It is not victim-less. It does not solve the problems.
It is an act of desperation so banal that it leaves ripples that affect many more lives than could ever be anticipated. And it is harsh. It lingers. Some people choose methods that are so fucking awful (And these were the ones that really pissed me off, if that’s fair to say) that they involved other people not remotely involved with the life of the person committing the act – they ruin complete stranger’s lives to end their own.
(Okay. It’s safe from the graphic stuff now)
A lot of those suicides I’ve had to stand over in my career were once our soldiers. They were soldiers with addictions and/or PTSD…they were poor…or they were alone… and they were hurting.
BUT. Let’s all do some pushups on facebook so that everyone knows just by watching us exercise and recite the “22 lives lost per day average” rhetoric so that everyone watching those videos will know Exactly that little tidbit of the gruesomeness that is suicide. Because I’m sure that while people watch me grunting out my pushups in silence, they’re thinking about the smell of gunpowder in a closed room and the horror that the family member that finds that room feels for years.
Just raising awareness is not enough. It’s the first step. It’s meant to shock people into realizing there’s a problem. One of my running friends is a very active member of a suicide prevention organization. She lost a family member to it. And I don’t want to tell her story here (it’s hers to share as she likes) but she knows the importance of preventing this situation, not just among soldiers, but among all of us. I want to point out that all of us have probably been near or touched by a loss of life through suicide, but I know it’s not true. I know some of us who “knew that person one time” haven’t allowed ourselves to grasp the horror that it is. The implications of the drive to go that far to end something they are experiencing.
Our minds and bodies are on auto-pilot to actually preserve and survive. It takes tremendous effort to break through that natural and powerful instinct to live, in order to kill a self. It takes a tremendous break. Someone so far lost, so broken, so buried under what they’re feeling or experiencing that they can actually overcome auto-pilot. It’s… .Just…so… fucking… broken. So fucked up. To hit that low of a point, and still be able to do it.
And now. Now everyone who’s read these last couple of paragraphs… You all are aware of suicide.
If you start popping out 22 pushups, do you think its going to stop someone you’ve never met? Because if that’s all it took to keep someone alive – doing something personal (like pushups or burpees or running miles) and loading a video of it on facebook – don’t think for a Goddamn second that there wouldn’t be mass amounts of those people and videos doing just that… to help keep a complete stranger alive. To help prevent a teen from cutting them-self up because life is so hard and they can’t imagine trying to get through a whole life like that…. to help a soldier who is waking up with the screams of their dying brothers and sisters in their ears. Don’t think I wouldn’t make a full-time job of that.
I have no issues with raising awareness. None. It’s important. The problem is that you have to make sure that someone is getting the message. And you have to give more than the message. You have to encourage an act.
So I don’t just want to take this one step farther. I have to. I can’t just know what I know and think that raising the awareness of my group of friends is going to get the job done. My running friend has raised our awareness constantly over the years. She’s active and advocates and volunteers. She reminded me of her story again when I said in my first video that we need to ACT.
Lets do our pushups.
Lets feed our attention-egos created by facebook.
But lets point all that attention to something that can help.
Now we’re aware.
Let’s become ENGAGED.
Let’s start dialogues about our experiences and about organizations that work and people that we know who are struggling, and lets act on this knowledge! Lets make it okay to ask for help and to admit when we’re drowning and it’s not going away. Let’s stop brushing off our friends and family when they say they’re in a funk that hasn’t gone away, even when they use their usual coping strategies. Everyone will hit that moment. Let’s make sure everyone comes out of it alive! Lets do something to help people who are physically predisposed to those feelings so that they can pull through.
My answer? It was to stop nominating people to do pushups, and to start challenging people to donate to a charity..to take some form of action. They can do the pushups if they want, and they can do the video if they want; so long as they’re also talking about doing something with this knowledge. I promised on my first day of pushups that I would put $22/day into a check and send it to an appropriate charity, rather than naming people to workout on facebook with me.
After all: What is the point of knowledge if you’re not going to do something with it!?
I’ve done a lot of research into charities. And, actually, in my research, I have learned quite a lot about suicides here in the US.
It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the US.
Men will more likely die this way over women.
I figured out exactly how prevalent the veteran suicides were.
The national average for daily suicide rate? 117/day. That means our vets are making up about 18% of the suicides per day.
Here’s the suicide statistics: AFSP Statistics
This is such a problem among the soldiers, in the same way that PTS is (Ignored until recently, and now scrambling to provide services). And that means the “action” and specific charities just aren’t in place yet.
There are charities to get wounded soldiers service dogs; and to build homes for wounded soldiers; to ensure that families have places to stay and travel for extended stays at the VAs; and to help impoverished vets. But there is nothing specific to those vets who are feeling suicidal. The VA has programs to help with addiction and PTS, but at the end of the day, the requirements to stay in the program are too stringent and the services too taxed, to serve all the men and women who need them.
Groups like Team RWB help. Places that help soldiers feel like part of a ‘unit’ again make huge impacts.
Many of the military-focused charities rank poorly on the various charity watch or charity research sites (For things like funding being spent in poor proportion towards fund raising and pay rolls rather than projects and services). My research was to find some place that is specifically looking into the help these people need mentally and the support they need in the world to not feel so isolated and lost. And I could not find a good program in that direction, that also scored well for it’s monetary spending. In fact. I found that most programs will work with the wounded soldiers… but what about the walking wounded? What about the scars in the memories that haunt and last longer than the scars on the bodies? Who is looking into those?
It’s a lot to think about. And I would hope that people are contemplating this while they’re counting out their pushups and naming their good friends to do the same. While they’re “having fun with it” – as the directions for the “challenge” reads. But I know that there are people who aren’t. I know that people don’t have the time to dig up those numbers or research charities to make sure the money is spent where it’s needed. More needs to be done, yes. Especially for our soldiers who make up such a chunk of the suicide numbers. And, as much as I want to drop my money at some organization that will specifically work for our soldiers, its just not there yet. My thinking is this right now: at the end of the day, what’s available to all of us is available to our soldiers too. That’s why I’ve decided to shove my check toward the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They are working on the things I want my money going toward. They are productive. They score well on the various Charity review sites. And, as a bonus, I get to support my running group friend.
If you know of a better charity, then share it. Here in comments, on your social media, in your pushup videos, hell… go to my blog FB page and share it in the comments there! Because in the end, it doesn’t matter what charity. Just that there is one, and that it’s getting something out of this…so that in the end, the person who needs the help can get it.
So join me, if you want, in doing 22 push ups a day for our vets and soldiers, who are in the worst situation for finding help with their emotional pains and losses. But please, please join me in doing something to end this! Because I don’t want to be doing 33 pushups a day for 33 days… or 50 pushups for 50 days in the years to come! I don’t want to do 117 pushups/ day for all the suicides that we have now! Veteran or not! Lets do something. And, yes, lets look badass while we do it.