A lot has been said about suicide this week. We lost Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and countless unknown, unnamed others. Even when we know that someone suffers from depression, substance abuse, bipolar disorder or a host of other common factors involved in suicide – even then, when we find out that someone we know has committed suicide, we are in shock. We say, “I can’t believe this! I thought they had their, (insert disorder) under control,” or “Wow, why would they do that? They had everything to live for.”
The questions and statements I have been hearing are what prompted me to contemplate writing this post. First, I asked myself:
Will anyone care what I have to say about this subject?
Do I really want to share the secrets of my deeply painful struggle with depression?
Can I contribute anything meaningful to the conversation?
The answers were; “I don’t know, ” “I’m pretty much already an open book,” and “I hope so.” And here I am, writing.
There is a lot of pop psychology regarding the issue of suicide and a lot of prevailing myths. I didn’t want to approach this from a technical angle, so I have decided to share one of my journal entries from 2011 to try to disassemble some of these myths and easy answers. Around the time in my life from when the journal was written, I had suffered through numerous bouts of anxiety and depression, the worst of which had come after the births of my boys. I had been on and off medication but was otherwise doing well. I was a teacher and an addictions counselor. I had both the experience and the expertise to combat mental illness, (one would think). I had just purchased my first house and my children were all doing very well. I had (still have!) a supportive family and good friends. To anyone looking in from the outside, I was a good-natured, happy-go-lucky woman with a good career (two), a happy healthy family with many things to look forward to.
During the good times, depression was like a monstrous creature hunting me. I was always looking over my shoulder, watching, waiting, hypervigilant. I ran 5 km a day, I practiced yoga, I meditated, I was grateful for all of my blessings, I was a great believer in positive thinking. I was strong and independent. I was an open book and discussed my struggles with mental illness openly.
Then one day as I had feared, the creature of blackness caught up to me again. It didn’t care that I had paid my dues, or that I was an expert. It doesn’t care if you are hard-working or lazy, rich or poor, a good person or an asshole, it just knows that it has you in its crosshairs. It creeps up on you and slowly robs you of reasonable thought and the ability to objectively evaluate your situation. It doesn’t allow you to “just count your blessings”. It turns you against yourself. It poisons you and wraps itself around your brain like a python squeezing the life out of its prey. It paralyzes you. Nobody is immune.
Following is what the mind of a suicidal person may sound like to the sufferer.
April 3rd, 2011,
I hate waking up in the morning. As soon as I open my eyes the swelling in my chest starts. God, it is so heavy and I can’t get it off. Vivian [therapist] says I need to write things down to get them out. I know this. But even just picking up the pencil feels like lifting a thousand pounds. It’s so hard. I’m tired of examining everything. I’m tired to do the work. Who cares anyway. I’m sure the boys would be better off without me. They don’t need a loser mother. What did they ever do to deserve me as a mother anyway? It’s not fair to them. What did I ever do to deserve being this stupid and ugly? I guess you just decided that I would be one of your children to suffer. Like a game of duck, duck, goose. I’m it. No, its because of all the horrible things I have done. I am a horrible person, hardly worth taking up space on the earth. And when the boys get older, will they know how much of a worthless loser I am? I am just so tired of trying. I want to sleep and not wake up and feel this way. I want to sleep, sleep, sleep and not wake up. I’m such a terrible mother and I don’t want my kids or anyone else to have to take care of me for the rest of my life. Anybody would be better than me. Seriously. Anybody. Will I feel like this always? Dr. Marotte says that I need to give the medication time. Time? Does she realize how painful time is? I don’t have time. I’m dying. I’m dead but still walking around like a fake human. Last time 35 mgs did the trick. Now I’m on 115 and nothing. Just me and the beast. I run, I have 2 therapists, I do acupuncture. I am tired. There you want a fucking writing, there you have it, Vivian, with your Westmount office and your peaceful fountain. There. You want the truth. I am a loser who can’t even take care of herself. A fake. You want the truth? I’m not a good teacher. I’m not a good counselor, not a good mother, I’m not smart, pretty, or successful. What the hell am I? Not an anything. A nothing. Just wasted skin and bones. I’m ready for it to dissolve into darkness and emptiness. Everyone will be way better off without me. It would be better if my heart just stopped beating or I got hit by a car, then my boys wouldn’t be embarrassed. How long can I keep fighting? I feel like curling up in the corner at the end of the round and waiting for death to take me. How long can I keep fighting? Can I keep fighting? Will I? Will I follow the path to quiet and serenity. Death is the only path there. I’ve been on the life path for so long causing pain and destruction everywhere I go. Time for a different path. Peaceful path I am coming.
This is a picture of me taken on or around the same day as the journal entry.
It was the fight of my life against a mighty foe backed by society’s opinions and judgment. I am proud to say I survived the depression and the invasive thoughts that accompanied it. I am in remission and have been for 7 years. I have had to make some lifestyle changes, continue with the life-affirming habits that I had already developed over the years and continue taking life-saving medication (150 mgs finally brought me to a place where I could use all of my expertise and experience to fight my illness).
Not that you’ve asked for my advice on what to do when you discover or suspect that someone you know suffers from depression and/or suicidal thoughts, but I am going to give it anyway. Much like if you discover that someone you love has ALS, cancer, or multiple sclerosis – show compassion, thank the universe that you are healthy and extend a helpful hand, a kind word or a hug. Don’t shrink away. If you don’t understand, do some research. Call a psychologist, call a hotline or a hospital. Read evidence-based research from the experts, not the opinions of friends and family, and pseudo-experts. Don’t be a pseudo-expert yourself. There are opinions and there are facts, learn the facts before you develop an opinion. Do NOT discourage the use of medication. The result of not using it as a part of a treatment plan may well be a death. (Imagine yourself telling a friend not to take their prescribed medication for tremors that are caused by Parkinson’s disease because you read an article or two about the negative side effects.)
Know that people who are suicidal are that way for a plethora of reasons, and one person may not be the same as another. Suicidal people are not always walking around displaying their thoughts on their sleeves. Suicidal people are not attention seekers or weak minded. They are disordered. They are suffering from a very, very, serious illness.
They may appear sad, lost and disheveled, or they may be well put together and seemingly happy. Some discuss their plans while others stay silent. Some make a spontaneous decision to follow through on a plan, and some stick to the plan and pick a day, time and place. Some leave a letter, some don’t. Sometimes you know they have a mental illness or suffer from addiction and sometimes you don’t. Many appear peaceful and content once they have made the decision and others frantically give possessions away, profess their love for friends and loved ones and attempt to make amends. Never assume that you “would” know if someone you love is suicidal. Ask the intimate questions you fear asking. Hear the answers and don’t brush them off or judge them as dramatic or attention seeking.
At the end of the day, whether the reader hates this post or loves it, dismisses it, or judges it; if just one person reading it gains some clarity about the issue of suicide and depression as it relates to a loved one, if just one person sees this and stops blaming themselves for the death of a loved one, if just one person realizes they need to contact a mental health professional, if just one person becomes a little less judgemental and a little more understanding – then it will have been worth the time and effort.
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
Canadian Mental Health Association
Toll Free: 888-835-9041
Mental Health Commission
Mood Disorders Society of Canada
Schizophrenia Society of Canada
The Jack Project
Your Life Counts
British Columbia Crisis Hotlines
Toll free: 1-800-784-2433
No area code: 310-6789
British Columbia Resources
Aboriginal Wellness Program
Canadian Mental Health Association – British Columbia Division
Toll free: 1-800-555-8222
Here to Help
Youth in B.C.
Greater Vancouver Area: 604-872-3311
Howe Sunshine & Sunshine Coast: 1-866-661-3311
Alberta Crisis Hotlines
Centre for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Information and Education Services
Saskatchewan Crisis Hotlines
Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service
Mobile Crisis Services
Canadian Mental Health Association – Saskatchewan Division
Manitoba Crisis Hotlines
Manitoba Suicide Line
Klinic Community Health
Mental Health Education Resource Centre of Manitoba
Yukon Health and Social Services
Mood Disorders Society of Canada – Yukon Division
Northwest Territories Crisis Hotlines
Northwest Territories Help Line
Northwest Territories Resources
CASP – Northwest Territories Crisis Centre
Nunavut Crisis Hotlines
Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line
Ontario Crisis Hotlines
Gerstein Crisis Centre
Ontario Mental Health Helpline
Connex Ontario Health Services
In Ottawa: 613-722-6914
Outside Ottawa: 1-866-996-0991
Distress and Crisis Ontario
Do It For Daron
Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention
Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Services
Self-Help Resource Centre
Toronto Distress Centre
Toronto Rape Crisis Centre
Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council
York Support Services Network
Youthdale’s Crisis Support Team
Quebec Crisis Hotlines
Centre de Prevention du Suicide de Quebec
Action on Mental Illness
Centre de Prevention du Suicide du Haut-Richelieu
Movement Sante Mentale Quebec
Newfoundland and Labrador Crisis Hotlines
Coalition Against Violence
Newfoundland and Labrador Resources
New Brunswick Crisis Hotlines
New Brunswick Resources
Prince Edward Island Crisis Hotlines
The Island Helpline
Prince Edward Island Resources
Nova Scotia Crisis Hotlines
Capital Health – Mental Health Mobile Crisis
Nova Scotia Resources
Canadian Mental Health Association – Nova Scotia Division
Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia