Suicide is painless…

…or is it?  The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have shocked the world.  How could people with so much money, privilege and opportunities hang themselves?  That method of suicide is very hard for those who loved them to cope with.  Most of you know that I have a chronic mental illness but I have a particularly intimate knowledge of suicide.  Two of my cousins killed themselves, one by gun and the other with medication.  I lived in a village that suffered a contagion of suicide during a ‘dustbowl’ depression.  In the UK I managed a nonprofit project for people dealing with the effects of severe mental illness.  Somehow the last telephone call on Friday night always seemed desperate and you wondered if the person would survive.  Finally, I have thought so often about suicide or nihilism myself that I hope I have talked myself out of it.

The last thing that anyone needs is castigation or judgment for feeling so desperate that you no longer wish to live.  I had my first bout of depression at age 7 and then a more serious illness when I was 20.  I was young and convinced that my living conditions (with a mentally ill mother) were the only contributing factor.  In a future life, I would get a job that didn’t stress me and marry a man who would look after me.  Never did find the former but I did marry my husband who loved me so much that divorce was never an option in his eyes.  Over the years, we both learned that I had a life-long illness that I had unfortunately inherited (why not money, for goodness sake?).

I can’t claim to know Kate or Anthony but from all reports, they were kind, loving, quirky, charismatic humans who had inner, mostly hidden, pain.  I hesitate to use the word demons because it is so generic and unfair.  When I was working in the field of mental health I would give talks to student nurses and social workers with one of my volunteers who had schizophrenia.  Despite all of them nursing or caring for people with severe mental illnesses, they struggled to empathize.  You truly do need to walk a mile in a person’s shoes to know their angst.  What surprised the students the most is that we were articulate, funny, knowledgeable and well-educated.  They rarely had an opportunity to see the hospitalized person after they had recovered from that breakdown so this was an eye-opening opportunity.  We don’t usually recover from a chronic diagnosis – we just manage our illness to the best of our ability.

So let’s talk about suicide.  One of my clients had a very severe mental illness, most likely one of the bipolar illnesses.  Every time he had a psychotic break, delusional and manic, he recovered in hospital but a little part of him died inside.  To make it worse, he didn’t react well to the medication.  Every day he would see a relative, walking the main street, who also had the inherited illness but had retreated into homelessness.  It was as if he were looking in miserable mirror.  He talked to us so many times about his sense of hopelessness.  There were other clients who could bounce back much better.  It was as though our Fairy Godmother gifted us with self-deprecating humor, a sprinkling of fairy dust and charm to balance what ‘Malificent’ gave us.  One day he called the office, having escaped from a locked psychiatric unit, and said goodbye to me.  I knew immediately what was going to happen and called the authorities.  In the weeks following I comforted his family and friends but they found his body in a wooded glade, having taken his life.  Normally, I would feel just deep sadness and regret.  In his case I understood his pain and the relief he sought.

CNN had an expert talking about a contagion of suicide which is an excellent way to reference this.  Was Anthony inspired by Kate or was it just some awful coincidence?  I mentioned living in a village with this contagion earlier.  It was a farming community and the crops had failed for the third year in a row, leaving many of the farmers with huge debts.  It had a knock on effect for other workers such as painters, electricians and plumbers whose invoices were ignored.  One farmer, who I knew, shot himself.  The plumber hanged himself in the garage a few days before Christmas and it continued.  I completely understood – these people had lived in this area for generations.  What would they do if they had to leave their farms and businesses?  For some of them it was unthinkable to live in a nearby town in rented housing when they had always lived on the land of their forefathers, in gentle silence.  Our community was grief stricken and all of us took some blame.  Did we not say hello one day or be over critical about some work?  One wife could not forgive her husband for the manner of his death.  All I could hear was “How could they do that to their family”, “Selfishness”, “Other people manage without money”.  No one kills themselves without feeling such anguish that life no longer seems feasible.  The very nature of mental illness is that it makes you selfish and sometimes narcissistic but that is a symptom not a personality defect.  Not everyone who takes their own life is mentally ill but surely in that moment it’s moot.

So, why do we think about suicide?  I can only talk about my own experience and it doesn’t really make any sense.  Having volunteered all my adult life, I know all too well about the resilience of the human spirit.  People can lose everything, be imprisoned in a concentration camp or tortured and still live a long, happy life.  Last week I had three long days of work and an event.  I managed the work and enjoyed it but I had to leave the event with an anxiety attack.  I stayed in bed for four days with my mood going up and down.  Thoughts of hopelessness and failure were flitting through my head just as quickly as writing a story about fairies.  People with psychoses sometimes hear voices that can be disturbing.  Their illness makes them unable to perceive that these are just delusional thoughts created by the psychosis.  I know what my thoughts are but can’t control them.  On the outside, I just look haunted but with so much psychotherapy, I can switch up my mood in a second so that I can manage an interaction.

Getting older, in my case, is making my illness more difficult to manage.  I suspect the natural drop in estrogen is contributing.  With the help of my doctor, I have been changing drugs, combinations and strength.  Right now it is difficult for me to do the other things that help such as eating well, no alcohol and exercise.  Here is an example of one of my thoughts. “Whales are being found with lots of plastic in their stomachs” “Perhaps if I cooked from scratch I could avert this” “That’s not possible but perhaps I could just eat bananas and avocadoes?” “Life isn’t worth living anymore; do I have enough air miles to go to Switzerland for assisted suicide” “What about Teddy and Toffee – I can’t leave them”.  At the end of these thoughts, which go on for hours, I am utterly exhausted.

Two days ago I felt exactly like that but today I went out to lunch with my friend and we had a genuinely lovely time.  I have gone for a walk, cleaned the house and have been asked to do a really fun job next week.  The job will exhaust me but the accomplishment will help my mood.  Now I can anticipate a good weekend, living for the moment.  There is not much likelihood of a cure or completely successful treatment for me.  When I think objectively, I realize that life is full of beautiful moments and I try my best to avoid stressing myself.  During all of this, I feel so sorry for those people who do take their own lives but pity whatever drove them to it.  I hope that this post might help someone who is considering suicide or those who have lost someone.

If you feel desperate please share your feelings with someone you trust or reach out to –

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

“We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.”

1-800-273-8255

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61 thoughts on “Suicide is painless…

  1. You are extremely brave to have written this. I am not going to pour out my thoughts and feelings on reading it. They won’t add anything to what you have said which should be published in ALL the national journals both here and abroad as a living documentary of how it is. For some things there are no answers. But we can try to understand and not condemn. And we can be kind to and vigilant of those whose paths we cross as we journey through our lives. For those that, despite it all, we can’t help we can mourn and we can grieve and we can be kind in their death and not condemn. Many hugs to you, my dear friend. I am always here for you. Know that x

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’m currently reading a book which cites this Albert Camus quote: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”

    The author of the book (EVERY TIME I FIND THE MEANING OF LIFE, THEY CHANGE IT), Daniel Klein, comments, “I know a man whose eldest child killed herself in her late twenties. For a long time, this young woman had been withdrawing from society, spending most of her time alone in the woods. Her family and friends worried about her, but she did not respond to their pleas that she seek psychiatric help. She did not leave a note. Her father was inconsolable and left his hometown for several years.. When he returned, he appeared more at peace. He said to a friend, “It’s not only that I wish she was still alive, I wish she had found a reason to live.” Bravely and profoundly, he had found his way to the source of the tragedy.

    Liked by 5 people

    • That is a beautifully written comment – thank you. I think what I would like to impart to those loved ones left behind, is that you cannot take blame nor completely understand why the person took their own life. The brain is so very complicated.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Kerry. A truly insightful post. I have been to a few funerals recently and see the devastation Left behind. Life is too short. We should all celebrate the moments of loveliness. Take care x

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Kerry, thank you for sharing this thought-provoking post. I always imagined the immense depth of pain one must be in for them to resort to ending their lives. It’s very easy for those who are not in such shoes to cast aspersions forgetting that the dead person must have been undergoing a whole lot of hidden pain. We are not all cut from the same cloth. Some are better able to withstand what others may succumb to.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. It is heartbreaking to read your story that seems to be increasingly found in all corners of society for many different reasons. Life is so tenuous, a mood change can throw us all off balance and for some, they might just for a second lose it completely, and yet the next day, cope quite well. For those of us with mental illness or dealing with a loved one who has gone or is going through mental illness, I feel like we are walking a tightrope every day. But I never ever give up hope. It is a brave post you have made and I really hope you are doing better today. From reading the comments, it looks like there is a supportive blog community here!

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I hope that I have taken some of the stigma out of suicide. Our society is getting better talking about mental health but suicide is still taboo. I have noticed that death is also a taboo subject here in Texas. Nobody dies, they just pass. Talking to someone supportive boosts our endorphins and helps us all. Thank you! K

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for courageously sharing these intimate thoughts. Your insights are making strides in braking down the negative paradigms of mental illness. One day soon, Jehovah God will rid this world of sorrow, sickness, pain and death and we’ll all have the opportunity to reside in an abundance of peace (Revelation 21:3,4; Psalms 37:10,11). Until then may God continue to help you endure.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you so much, Roy. Sorry for my tardiness but I have been working long hours out of town – so much for keep life stress free 😁… I am working this morning but look forward to a few days of calm and will read your post. K x

      Like

  7. Hi Kerry,
    First and foremost, I want to say I am sorry for what you have to go through. And then I also want to thank you for what you going through.
    I lost my dad to suicide just three weeks ago and it hurts so much. I don’t know what to do with what I feel since it happened. It is difficult, so difficult, that I can’t speak to family and friends as yet. And even though I know and keep telling myself it’s going to get better, it’s still very difficult.
    Even though we tried helping him, I can’t help but wonder, “Maybe I could’ve done more”. I have been looking for him that tragic day and found his body at the hospital morgue. He threw himself in front of a train. They could only show me pictures of him. And that graphic photos, with that whole day is playing over and over in my head. He was so sweet, soft hearted, but was in so much pain when my mom passed on.

    Your story is so brave and it can educate so many and I thank you. GOD BLESS YOU

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dear Rageemah, I am so sorry that your Dad has died. Please don’t feel any blame or regret. If it is possible, and you would like to, it might help to speak to a grief counselor. It is particularly hard to recover and grieve from such a death but it is also natural that you feel shocked. I hope that my post helped share that in a moment of disordered thinking suicide can happen. My friends and family ask me to tell them when I am feeling suicidal but I am locked in my own little world. I hope it gives you some comfort that your Dad is with your Mum in the next world. You have inherited their genes and all the memories of sweet gentle parents. They will always be with you in spirit, guiding you through life.
      I am sending you love and healing thoughts, Grief is a long process with many stages; be kind to yourself. Love Kerry xx

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Kerry, thank you for sharing this with us. I just finished reading a book and its sequel, “Suicide Station,” and “Suicide Machine.” The one thing that ‘saves’ me in my moments of despair is my fear of dying. I guess, that is what is good about having my panic disorder.

    My brother died of a drug overdose. I believe it was considered ‘accidental,’ though I have to say that if I person sticks a needle in their arm, (and I’ve been there myself), there has to be a wish to leave life behind, even if it’s unconscious.

    Fim

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, Fim. Both my parents were smoking alcoholics who died young by slowly killing themselves. I am so sorry about your brother and I agree that if you stick a needle in your arm you are escaping some inner turmoil.
      Like you, I think about escaping this cruel world but would prefer a painless assisted death. Given that my moods change from hour to hour, my sensible self tells me to just take the medication and see my doctor. I wish you didn’t share my disorder but at least we can all share ways of coping. Wishing you good health. K x

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome, Kerry. I think you’re right about we can all share ways of coping, and I think knowing there are those around me who get it because they’re in the same place helps to not feel so alone. Good health to you as well.
        Hugs,
        Fim

        Like

  9. I feel none of us are completely stable, for whatever that means. We all have a breaking point from which we may feel there may be no return, but somehow we keep it together. My ex wife had severe bipolar disorder and I struggled to keep our relationship together to no avail. I have seen first hand the power of mental illness and have felt it’s control over ones thoughts. I myself have never been suicidal though I think I can see it’s draw. I guess I’m just to stubborn to give in and allow myself to let go. We all have a burden to carry and it is up to ourselves to ultimately push through and maintain some measure of faith to carry on and not give in. I feel it is our duty to those who cam before to make the best with what we have and never give in no matter what.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you so much for sharing! My dearest friend has struggled with suicide most of her life. There have been countless times we have enjoyed a lovely day together when I know at the same time she is dying inside. Thank you for being open. More people need to know what it’s like for their hurting friends, so they can do a better job of loving them well. You are making such a difference!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Kerry, I had a cousin who committed suicide. His uncle had also committed suicide after returning from WWII. Both used guns. I found after my cousin’s suicide that my whole life changed. I did a 180. Many people didn’t understand my new lifestyle of not partying and drinking anymore. The changes that occured in me at that young age of 20 have stuck and I have never turned back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am very sorry that your family has been affected by suicide. Sometimes we learn something really valuable from a tragedy. I try very hard not to overindulge in alcohol or sugar as I don’t want to follow my family’s missteps.

      Liked by 1 person

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