The recent death of Kate Spade has once again put suicide front and center in the news. I’m happy to see better reporting – at least what I saw on TV was good – they didn’t mention the method and they provided the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number at the end of the segment. But all of this still affects me.
I’m not only an attempt survivor, I’m a loss survivor as well. I lost my brother, two uncles, a cousin, a high school friend and a college classmate to suicide. Not to mention all the people I knew in recovery who took their own lives, usually after a slip of some kind. So whenever I hear of another person dying by suicide, I am deeply, deeply saddened. I know what the journey for those bereaved by suicide is like and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. The pain, the guilt, the anger and anguish, the always wondering if you could have done something differently.
I’ve likened my grief and grieving process to an exhibit I saw at Fort Mackinac years ago. There was a patient who was shot in the stomach and the wound never fully closed. As a result, the doctor would study digestion by putting a piece of food on a string and inserting it. It sounds primitive and gross but it was the beginning of gastroenterology. Anyway, that’s what it’s like for me. The wound is no longer reddened and inflamed, it has scar tissue on it but it will never completely close – it will always be there. Yes, it’s gotten better and I’ve come to grips with my guilt and shame, but whenever I hear of another suicide, it brings it all back to me, if only for a minute.
Her husband said she battled with depression and anxiety and was being treated for them but ultimately lost her battle to her "personal demons," a term I agree with completely. It happens far too often and leaves us all with a sense of despair. But we need to remember that for thousands of people, treatment, in whatever form, works. If we could get more people to treatment, reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide, I'm sure the number of suicides would lessen.
There is no shame in having a mental illness or substance use disorder. We consider it courageous when a celebrity talks openly about their mental illness or struggles. Look at Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Ryan Reynolds, Michael Phelps, the list goes on. Plus the countless number of everyday people who struggle with it day after day. Yet we don't really talk about it.
All this has got me thinking about the family members of people who are suicidal. I applaud you. I applaud your efforts to keep your loved one alive, I applaud your willingness to go to the ends of the earth to help them, I applaud you for seeking treatment for them, I applaud you for speaking up and saying I need help with this. I applaud you for your courage and stamina. Because this is tough. It’s scary and it’s hard to witness another person’s pain and feel totally and utterly helpless about it. You probably feel alone but you’re not alone.
I am working on this and trying to figure out ways to help you. In the coming weeks I hope to be able to offer you something more than just webinars and blogposts. I will keep working on ways to be more supportive and helpful and as I continue to grow, I hope my outreach to you will grow also.
But for now I want you to know I see you, I know you’re there, and I care about you. I also want you to know things will get better. Maybe not right away, but they will get better. Look at all you’re already doing – it’s more than a lot of other people are or have been able to do. You’ve already taken steps in that direction and I know you will continue to do so. And while you’re doing that, I’ll be here doing whatever I can for you. I’m an email or phone call away.
As my friend Kevin Hines says, “Keep on keepin’ on!” It’s worth it.
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