Saturday, July 16, 2011

Suicide Revisited

Being in the throes of suicidal thoughts and feelings is a devastatingly lonely place to be. I know this from experience… twice over. A number of years ago I was there, for an extended period of time, several years in fact. I was solidly stuck in that place, that excruciatingly painful place where I was (or so I thought) completely alone and literally struggling to hang on.

I still look back on those days with incredulousness (is that a word?) for a number of reasons first and foremost being how on earth did I ever get to that point? I think no matter how much therapy I have, no matter how much I learn about myself, no matter how much I come to understand that adult depression has its roots in childhood experience I will still and always be incredulous that I ever got to such a point. That I could reach such a painful place that it seemed the only way out was death. I think many would agree with me when I say that after struggling in such a place for so long, after exerting so much energy to a) keep myself going and b) trying to hide my awful state of mind from everyone around me the peace, the sweet release that I envisioned could only be offered in death became almost an obsession. I can honestly say that if I did not have a young son at the time I am not entirely sure I would be here now.

I said ‘twice over’. These days my son suffers from depression and I have seen him struggle through some pretty low times. I know he thinks of suicide, he told me so because I asked him. Trust me when I say there is nothing, NO THING on God’s green earth that can strike the kind of fear in the heart of a parent as the knowledge that their child thinks of suicide. I have not yet decided if it is good or bad that I have first-hand knowledge of how it feels to get to this point. I suppose it’s a double-edged sword. On the good: if I hadn’t been through this myself I wouldn’t have the first idea what he goes through sometimes and beyond that I would have that same unwillingness to talk about it with him. Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of people talking about suicide in everyday conversation. It’s one of those topics that grown people shy away from, too unpleasant, too awkward to talk about. Let’s change the subject. I am here to tell you that to have to sit calmly while your child tells you this requires a fortitude like no other.

It is the utter loneliness of that place that is so much a part of the devastation one feels. This is part II of my incredulousness. How on earth could I have let myself suffer for so long in isolation? I cannot believe I did that. How tragic that this is such a taboo subject that somebody who is seriously considering driving into the nearest tree at top speed feels like they have no other option, nowhere to go, nobody to talk to.

Little by little I am going to engage him in conversation about it. I have cracked the door open a bit and now he knows (hopefully) that the doesn’t have to suffer in this alone, that I can handle talking about this and that I can even empathize in a very personal way with him (that’s the bad side of the sword).

It is undoubtedly to those of us who have been there that falls the responsibility to bring this taboo subject out of the darkness. I can honestly say that the opportunity to talk about it openly and honestly with my therapist without her freaking out or reaching for the phone to call the nearest psych hospital has been shockingly helpful. Such a simple thing and yet the benefits that I have reaped are immeasurable.

And so I ask how it can be that something so devastating, so tragic and yet so controllable in so many cases can be buried in obscurity? Unsayable.

Because it makes us uncomfortable.


  1. It is true that feeling depressed and suicidal is one of the loneliest, most frightening places a person could ever be in their lives. The how we get there is the smaller of the questions - the bigger question, the more important question is how do we manage to survive it? Living in those moments with a brain that seems to be bent on taking us off of this planet is truly terrifying. Trying with every fiber of your being to convince yourself that the thoughts in your brain are wrong is as great a feat as winning an Olympic Gold medal. I too had a child to live for - truly, thank God for that. If everyone who is suicidal can hold on long enough, live long enough for the sake of someone else then their chances of getting through the finish line in once piece is a little bit better.

  2. Hi Sheila, thanks for coming by and commenting. I'm not sure I'd agree that the 'how we got there' is the smaller of the questions. I think they carry equal importance. However I would most certainly agree that managing to survive it takes everything you have and then some.

    Perhaps in an odd sort of way the stigma attached to it can be part of the saving grace for those who manage to survive it. As I recall there were times when I couldn't bear the thought of being a person who would do that. And I'm not going to lie... there were times when I cursed God for making me that kind of person who could "never" do something like that.

    It is the most horrendous state of mind while at the same time being a profoundly life-changing event.

  3. I agree it is a most horrendous state of mind and is profoundly life-changing - it opens up your eyes to so much and you really think differently than most - you stop taking your life for granted - well, at least I have.

  4. You are amazing and brave and your son is blessed to have you.

    I understand your line 'I cursed God for making ;me that kind of person who could 'never' do something like that' more than I can express.


  5. Hi WS - you give me too much credit. Believe me when I tell you that I have frequently lost my patience and my temper with my son's depression. It is a constant challenge to remain understanding and supportive. A challenge in which I continually fall short. What are you going to do right? Keep trying.

    By the way I was wrong about that whole God thing. Turns out he did make me the kind of person who could seek help. Some of us are just a little thicker in the head than others.

    Thanks for coming by. Hope you're hanging in there.

  6. One of my close friends, high school loves, committed suicide a little over ten years ago. He was beautiful, intelligent, compassionate and passionate. He lived life fully and it was so devestating to see him a prisoner in the clutches of depression. He hung himself. I often wonder if we, his friends and family, could have said or done anything to save him from himself. What if...

    Hold on.

  7. Hi Michelle, you see there's the rub. It is afterwards that people are left wondering what if. And in the end who knows if there is something that somebody might have said that would have changed everything for that young man.
    It is my belief that if as a society we weren't so damned afraid to speak of these things (among others), if there wasn't such a stigma around mental illness then there would be far fewer suicides.

    I fear we are a long ways away from that. Sadly.

  8. JSS,
    I just discovered your blog while reading Storied Mind. I am 51 and have had dysthymia + recurrent depression since age 11, and recurrent thoughts (no attempts) of suicide since age 15. My parents do not know this. I have never been close to them. I guess I sensed at a young age that I could not trust them to help me with my feelings. My mother had her first "breakdown" when I was 8 and the second when I was 21. Anxiety and bitterness consume her. My father is emotionally distant and probably has dysthymia. Those of us that never bonded with our parents, that never learned to feel loved, that never learned to trust someone, are at high risk for chronic problems with sadness, among other problems. I have worked with the same patient, nonjudgmental, kind therapist for 20 yrs yet I am still uncomfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings with him. I often wonder if I will ever be able to comfortably share my feelings and thoughts with others, to trust others, to feel worthy of being loved....I am just coming out of a recent relapse and went through some scary suicidal thoughts. How can I discuss suicide with a never-depressed person? They don't get it. "WHY would you ever think that way?" "How could you consider that?"

    I am glad that I found this blog but am worried because I see no posts sine July 16th. I hope that you and your son are OK.


  9. Hi LM - as you can see I'm still here although thanks for your concern.

    I am sorry for your difficulties. While I cannot relate to dysthymia I do know what it feels like to have long-term recurrent depression. I was also struck by your comments about having emotionally unavailable parents. I grew up in the same environment, in my case the mother was emotionally unavailable while my father struggled for many years with severe alcoholism. It was a home where you didn't dare express your thoughts or feelings and as a result I had a lot of trouble in the early going (first couple of years I'd say) opening up to my therapist. Little by little though I have been able be more open with her.

    While of course I cannot comment on your therapist I do wonder if maybe you might find something different with another therapist. Perhaps it could not hurt to consider a change, maybe you would find the experience beneficial. Just a thought. Twenty years is a long time not to be able to open up to your therapist.