My Thoughts on Suicide: A Progression

When I was very young, my thoughts on suicide were so simple. The Church said it was a sin, so it was a sin. Suicide was bad. and those who died by suicide were sinners. End of story.

In high school, I met people who had tried to end their lives. Not many, but a few. By this time, I was very comfortable questioning what The Church had taught me, so there was room to consider what I thought of these individuals and how that fit with the idea of suicide. My thoughts and feelings were complicated.

On the one hand, these people who survived suicide attempts appeared to be living typical teenage lives. They were decent people who weren’t that different than I was. I was confused as to how they could seem normal now and have tried to die before. I was happy they were alive, and they seemed, at least mostly, happy about it, too.

I still believed, down deep, that suicide was a sin. And also, that choosing to take your own life was the most selfish and awful thing you could do. The thought of it made me angry — white hot angry I could feel to the tips of my ears.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from considering suicide for myself, either. Mine were generally amorphous fantasies that lasted only a few minutes before they acted like a rubber band snapping against my wrist, bringing me back to a more moderate place where I believed that things were not that bad. For me, there was always something better around the bend that would fix everything I didn’t like about my life — going to college, getting away from my parents, not having to put up with the whole high school thing– these were concrete things I knew would change. And that was enough to keep my depression at a low simmer most of the time.

I remember being at a party when someone came to our group and told us that a friend was rushed to the hospital because he had tried to take his life. Some people said he was dead. Others said he was dead for a few minutes, but was better now. I remember being scared and confused. And also, I remember somehow believing that maybe suicide was a little less permanent than people said. I was young and invincible. The idea that my friends could outsmart death seemed plausible. More importantly, I don’t think I could truly wrap my head around what it meant to want so badly to be dead that you’d actually try to make that happen. Especially as that pertained to a friend I’d seen and talked to that day. He had told me he’d see me at that very party.

During college, I learned that some friends of friends from high school completed suicide. It was shocking and unnerving. These people were far enough from me that I felt sadness, but not grief, and close enough that I felt comfortable judging them for what they had done. From my perspective, their lives did not warrant their actions. They were wrong and selfish. Whether it was a sin or not was of no real consequence to me, but I had no problem condemning them for their suicides.

During my early twenties, I saw suicide from a closer perspective. A sort-of cousin was staying with my parents and brother while I was at college. While my mom was out picking up my brother from work, after she and my cousin had had a tense exchange, the friend ended his life in my parents’ home. My mother and brother found him, tried to revive him, called 911 and dealt with the particulars.

Seeing what suicide did from that perspective was profound. My cousin’s wife and children were obviously devastated. My mother felt so terribly guilty that her words may have added to pain she didn’t see or understand and may have contributed to the suicide. My brother was traumatized by the event, both because of the death itself, and also because there was a moment whee he couldn’t fully process what he saw, and thought that the cousin had killed my mother.

We did not know how to deal with any of this. I was mad. I was offended. I was confused and sad and so scared because there was not a way to make it better for anyone. There was so much pain. And so, I blamed the cousin. It was easier to see him as selfish and awful than to consider what might have pushed him to that point.

It took many years for me to turn that corner and see the desperation in the act of suicide. To see around what I called selfishness to understand the the depths of hopelessness, pain, loneliness and despair that lead a person to the brink of suicide and beyond. I can’t say I enjoyed that journey, but I know that it has made me a better, more empathetic and caring human.

The Church also changed its position on suicide, taking into account that a person who chooses to end their life is not making a rational choice because of forces beyond their control (like depression and other mental health issues). While not condoning suicide, The Church has found a way to include mercy and grace into the equation. I believe this helps everyone involved — but especially those who are left to pick up the pieces and wonder why and how and what happened.

After the birth of my second baby, I suffered through a bout of post partum depression. I remember feeling lonely and sad and hopeless. And oh so tired. There are not many specifics I remember, except for one. I remember telling my husband how I felt and yelling about how mad I was because I remembered being a teenager and having thoughts of suicide that would deliver me to the brink and let me reject that path and start looking for one that would lead to a better place. And now, it hurt so much that I couldn’t let myself get to that brink because I had two kids who needed me. I felt trapped by not being able to consider suicide even though the only reason I wanted to consider it was to reject it. That conversation, as little sense as it made, ended up being my way out after all.

I don’t know, at this point in my life, if I see suicide as it truly is. I am not suicidal. Both of my kids are, or have been. Both have gone beyond my line in the sand of consideration and created plans and timelines. One has followed through and made an attempt. My view of suicide is up close and personal, and while I hope that my girls grow and leave suicide behind them, I don’t know that it is going to happen soon.

I am grateful that my thoughts, feelings and judgements about suicide have changed and grown over the years. I’m not sure that I would be able to help my girls without that growth.

11.18.19: After and before

My girl came home a couple days ago. She is starting PHP now. She is on the waiting list for a longer term residential treatment center, which she sort of knows about and is not that happy about.

Kay is happy that she is home and angry that she is not getting her way. She seems to believe that suffering through inpatient earns her the right to do what she wants when she gets home. Somehow it is a shock that there are rules here — and not only the same rules that she bristled against when she left, but even tighter controls because we are scared and distrustful about what she is going to do.

This morning Kay failed a nicotine drug test, although she swears she didn’t vape or smoke since before the hospital. Husband seems willing to believe her, despite the conversation they had yesterday where he basically made her promise not to as a condition of his bringing her to see a friend. And he doesn’t know what, if any, consequences he wants to have for it.

Kay also managed to self harm in the hospital. Rows and rows of skin-breaking scratch marks from the crook of her elbow to her wrist, made because she was angry at one of the employees there. I asked her if making those cuts hurt him, and she understood and smiled, able to laugh at herself for a second.

She may have self harmed more. I don’t know. And I worry that she has found a new way not to take her meds. I watch her take them, and yet, I worry.

Two to four weeks is the span of the waiting list for the longer term residential center. She knows and doesn’t know. I am (we are) trying to decide whether to show her pictures and videos, and offer to take her on a tour of the place. It could make it better. It could make it worse.

For the moment, I am sitting with the uncertainty. If she asks, I will tell her and show her. If she doesn’t, I might have to bring it up. But not just yet.

In a happy moment over the weekend, Kay and her dad spent some time together that went well. He let her drive wherever she wanted and she took him to one of her favorite places, and they did one of her favorite things together. Then they ate pizza, drove around a little and came home. I’m so glad they were able to connect and see the good in each other this weekend.

11.14.19: The Beat Goes On

I have checked a teen into an inpatient psychiatric hospital four times now.

Twice, I knew my girl was depressed, but I didn’t know how close to the edge she really was.

Once, I had no idea my girl was depressed at all, and was shocked to learn that she planned to end her life that night.

Once, I met the ambulance at the hospital because my girl had attempted to end her life and thankfully changed her mind at the last minute. She spent two days in the ICU and legally had to be transported by ambulance between hospitals.

None of the times has been easy. Waiting through the admission process, I’ve sat next to scared, destroyed kids who feel like their only option has been ripped out of their hands. They’ve felt like they were being sent away and are in trouble no matter how much I try to tell them differently.

Each time, I’ve sat there raw and terrified, feeling like a failure because I couldn’t keep my kid safe and wanting to be alive. I’ve wanted to hold onto them and stay with them the whole time so they could see how much I loved them. I’ve tried to be strong and keep it together and tell them everything was going to be ok even though I didn’t necessarily believe it myself.

Each time, I’ve left the hospital alone. Scared and sad, praying and bargaining with God, hoping for grace and healing.

Each time, I hope it is the last time I will need to do it.

This time has been no different.

11.10.19: Wrecked

After discussions with her therapist, we decided that Kay needed to go back to inpatient hospitalization. This makes the third time in 14 months.

I’m heartbroken. And scared, confused, angry, sad and so much else.

I just want my baby to be ok.

11.9.19: Signs of the Spiral

Kay snuck out of the house last night. More specifically, Kay got caught sneaking out last night. I woke up around 2:30, and stopped by her room to check on her and there was a note instead of Kay in the bed.

Don’t call the cops. I’ll be back soon ❤️

I was scared. I was hurt. I was sad. I was mad. I am still feeling all of those things.

She didn’t have her phone, so I couldn’t track where she might be. I checked her social media, and which didn’t give me any clues. I couldn’t figure out how she left. I sat and stewed and prayed and worried. I walked around the house for something to do.

I went back to her room and she was there. I don’t know how she got back in without me knowing.

At first, she denied having left, and then said she just sat outside by herself for a little while to think.

I don’t believe her. I don’t know what she did or who she was with, and I don’t know that it matters what she says. I don’t know that I am able to believe her at all right now.

She is clearly struggling. These risky and defiant behaviors are not things she does when she is healthy. These are signs of something deeper and sinister happening in her psyche.

Clearly, her depression has swelled up and is attempting to consume her. I don’t know what to do for her or how to help.

I will. I will figure this out and find a way to help her help herself. She might not want it, but I will. I will keep fighting and working until she is able to do it herself.

Then, I will fight alongside her.

Depression is a Thief

Depression has stolen a great deal from our family. Not all of it has been bad.

Obviously, depression has stolen joy, peace, motivation, carefree feelings, trust, calm and most comfortable feelings. Not always permanently, but when face to face with the beast of depression, there are not many happy feelings for anyone.

The feelings that are there are fear and despondency; isolation and confusion. I know my daughters have felt that while their bouts of depression have intensified, and sometimes when depression has stayed at a lower, constant level that has eaten away at them. I have felt these things too while trying to help and not being able to; when talking to them and knowing I am not getting through.

Depression has stolen the trust that peace and constancy will be the foundation of of our daily lives. Surprises happen in every family. When raising two daughters battling depression — as with so many other special needs, both physical and psychological– the surprises tend to be bigger, and not nearly as pleasant.

Depression has stolen lots of money. Ok, that isn’t stealing – we made and make conscious choices about spending that money, but mental health was not a line item in the long ago budget of raising kids. Therapy, psychiatry, skills classes, hospitalizations, medications… these things add up.

This dark side of depression is obvious.

Depression has also stolen some things that probably needed to be taken away.

Depression has stolen complacency. Depression recovery has a high entropy factor. If you aren’t intentionally moving forward, you are definitely moving backwards. Helping the girls make forward progress without pushing all the time is a delicate balance. I don’t maintain that balance perfectly (or even close to perfectly), but I am mindful of trying to make sure we aren’t backsliding because we aren’t paying attention.

Depression has stolen comparison. We have never been a family who tried to “keep up with the Joneses.” Sure, every once in a while, we’d wonder what it would be like to have fancier cars, or a bigger house, or take flashier vacations. But, after a little while, we have always come back to liking what we have and the decisions we’ve made about why this is our path. The Joneses can do the Joneses. We’ll do us. When depression came into the picture, that sentiment also had to be applied to our kids. Our relationship to sports and school and pressure in general had to change. Excellence was great. Fun was better. We have had to opt out of the push-push, go-go that is so much of parenting these days. We prioritize mental health above grades and excellence in sports and most other things. This one is a struggle sometimes, but it is worth it.

Depression has stolen lots of arguing and yelling. Again, we aren’t perfect. Having depression play such a large role in our family has made us better parents. We work on responding rather than reacting so much. We work hard on hearing what the girls are saying and responding with validation even when it is uncomfortable (for us) and then talking about it instead of talking over them or not really listening to what they are trying to tell us. It has changed the pace of our family.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

-Viktor Frankl

Depression has stolen our idea of what all this would be like. As parents, had a picture in our minds of what these teenage years would be like. Sure, we knew it would not be smooth sailing, but we (insanely!) thought we had a clue about what challenges would come our way and how we would deal with them. We knew we didn’t know everything, but we thought we knew something. Probably, we thought we knew more than something.

And now we have been humbled and made teachable. We’ve had to change personality traits or habits we thought were fine and make them better. We’ve had to learn to be more honest with ourselves and each other about what is real and what are stories we are making up based on our fears or projections.

We’ve had to grow and plan to grow.

And we’ve had to accept not all of what depression has brought into our lives has been bad.

Concussions

Em had 3 diagnosed concussions in just over 2 years. That is a lot of brain jiggling. When I asked her if, looking back, knowing what she knows now, she thinks she had 3 or more than 3, she said definitely more than three. Like a lot more.

And I cannot believe that all those brains bouncing off the inside of her skull did not contribute to her mental health issues. I’m not willing to say they created them, but I think they were part of the storm that brought trouble

During the same 2 years, Em went through puberty and middle school. There were friend struggles and she was bullied and academic changes, too. And her depression and anxiety took over. I spent a good amount of time and energy trying to figure out causal relationships between symptoms and issues.

Eventually, I realized it doesn’t matter what came first. Everything needs attention and treatment — the why & how & when of it all makes no difference.

Em has given up contact sports as a result of her concussions. She’s made some amazing changes to how she spends her time to help take care of her brain. She’s found both non-sport activities and non-contact sports that she enjoys.

I’ve listened to podcasts and read books and done internet research about the links between concussion and depression. I’ve learned about supplements to help brain healing, and made sure that, in addition to the traditional medicine Em takes for depression & anxiety, she also has fish oil and MCT oil and B12 and D and C and folic acid to help heal and strengthen her brain.

Recently, Em started pushing back with the supplements. Too many big oily pills in the morning left her stomach feeling weird. I can’t argue — I was taking less than she was (hey, I’ve got a brain, too!) and I didn’t like the way they sat in my stomach. So, she stopped taking most of the pills. I’ve since convinced her that a multivitamin and B12 will not upset her stomach and still help. So, she’s doing that.

And then, over this past weekend, she turned a corner while thinking about something else and smacked her head on the corner. The next day at school, all the concussion symptoms came back.

It did not look like a hard hit. I even joked about it with her, and she joked back. I don’t know if Em is simply prone to concussions, or if it hit in just the right (very wrong) spot, or if it was some combination of the two. Again, I am forced to remember: does it really matter?

And Em DIDN’T want to deal with another concussion. She didn’t tell us that her head hurt after she hit it. At school, Em resisted going to the nurse to get checked out. She sat in classes feeling bad and then worse trying to get any friend to tell her to suck it up and deal. (She has great friends. They all told her to get to the nurse and get home.)

She scored high on the concussion probability test and has been largely confined to a dark room since. And probably will be for another day or two. This will complicate a challenging semester.

She is mad about it. She’s bored and hurting and worried. She doesn’t want to have to sit without screens. She is mad I won’t let her do schoolwork. She is mad I won’t overlook the symptoms and let her go to school anyway.

I emailed her teachers to let them know what is going on and their resounding call for her to rest and be patient has helped a bit. Many of her teachers this year are coaches who are well versed in concussion protocol, which is very helpful.

I am worried about what this concussion will do to Ed’s already spiraling depression. I hope that having this will bolster her efforts to take things slow and work to make things better. I fear that it will skew her perception even more and the depression will gain ground. Only time will tell.

So I will need to be patient as well.

These brains we have are amazing. And sometimes fragile.