why I talk to those left behind by suicide

The triggers are obvious, no? I’ve made a new category for posts about suicide, because I seem to be writing a fair amount of them. I’ve also included some resources – books I’ve reviewed and so on. I am absolutely not threatening suicide myself; I just firmly believe that the taboo of talking about it needs to be bust and banished.

Another tw for blahpolar in usual didactic mode. Sorry/not sorry, but can we please pretend I’m not blogging as often as I am? *wince*

Here we go.

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Happiness is silent, or speaks equivocally for friends,
Grief is explicit and her song never ends,
Happiness is like England, and will not state a case,
Grief, like Guilt, rushes in and talks apace.

Stevie Smith

Once upon a time, I found a blog which was tagged bipolar …

Once upon a time, there was a tragedy …

Once upon a not so long ago, there was a blogger called Rhonda, who had lost her brilliant, loved and shining daughter to suicide. She became an advocate for suicide prevention, she wrote a memoir about it and she blogged  every day. Her posts were heart rending, logical and sensible. They received a lot of love and interaction. From time to time, her own suicidality would reveal itself in heartbreaking words and the year after losing her youngest daughter, she committed suicide too, leaving a husband and daughter (Allyn and Stephanie) behind. Kaitlyn, was a medical student. They were a bright and good looking family. (More links and info at the end of this post.)

I spoke to her a few times, to express sorrow at her loss and to respond to her posts. I was extremely shocked to learn of her death; my immediate thought was oh god, her husband and daughter are going to hurt even harder for the rest of their lives. I want to stress, however, that I never have and never will call suicide selfish or cowardly. Never. Ever.

Should we be as dismissive as I was of the dead person as I just was, just because they are dead? Did I disrespect Rhonda and Kaitlyn by doing so? Although its perhaps natural to think of the bereaved first, I am reminded that both living and dead deserve my empathy and my respect.

Blogs by parents, spouses etc of bipolar people who have committed suicide stand out in my newsfeed (do they do that for you too?), because I react to them strongly on various levels. The primary response is empathy – as far as someone who has lost friends but not family can empathise, and as far as a childless woman can too. I feel agony for them and for the ones who killed themselves. That’s a simple statement of humanity and I’m sure most people would feel it too. I start off rather formally and tentatively, because I worry that my own bipolar, which is abundantly blatant right from my username onwards, might trigger some negative feelings. I fade away if I suspect that I’m causing discomfort. I don’t ever want to hurt anyone if I can possibly help it. Sometimes conversations happen and are brief, and sometimes the blogger becomes a friend.

Whether or not there’s an ongoing relationship between me and those blogs, they teach me a lot about far more than the immense and endless grief that suicide trails behind it like some kind of malevolent comet tail. Sure, those bloggers are saying don’t do it very clearly and completely understandably, but there is more than that too. As well as mourning and honouring our dead, we must learn what they teach, and those blogs contain the strong imprint of not only the blogger, but the person who committed suicide too.

I have bipolar and so did the person who committed suicide; that makes us a part of the same tribe. There is an unstated and non compulsory responsibility there, and not only to the sufferer. We (I) cannot assist when we’re in the midst of a bad episode though, and we should never expect support from the bereaved for it.

I am truly sorry if the next bit sounds clinical and callous, but I make no apology for its content.

(This is specifically about bipolar suicide, which occurs at the rate of four times the national average of the USA.) If a timeline can be extrapolated from the blog, no matter how much detail it does or doesn’t contain, there is valuable information in it. Please note that I said if. This is absolutely not a list of demands or even recommendations. I’m simply trying to identify the things that have taught me other things.

Potential contents:
Birth
Childhood
Life
Adulthood
Age at diagnosis and the journey to it.
Full diagnosis/version of the disorder.
Comorbid conditions.
Other bipolar diagnoses within the family.
Treatment regime, in detail.
Suicide note – this one is tricky. Most people would want to keep that private, which is utterly logical and understandable. Beyond privacy, there is the fact that the net is full of ghoulish rubbernecking trolls. If it is public however, it enlightens us and gives us more info to work with in the fight to prevent suicides (our own as well as other people’s).
Description of the family etc left behind.
Blogger’s ideas on how to improve suicide prevention and how to support those affected by suicide.

It’s obvious, isn’t it? What we can learn from whatever the narrative and hypotheses are, is that we need to look at way more than sadness in order to avert suicide (for ourselves, for others). We need to look for loopholes, flaws, and in cases of suicide occuring after cessation of medication and treatment, what was working for the person before it all went horribly, tragically wrong. What exactly was going on, what went wrong? At what point should the recriminations and examinations stop, because ultimately suicides tend to be nobody’s fault at all? How can we help the bereaved to understand that it doesn’t mean they were bad parents, spouses etc? Rational or not, suicide was their choice. We shouldn’t leave it all to grief counsellors, community and compassion need to be a bigger aspect of society.

And we all need to learn that we cannot save anyone in the end, but we can support them as much as possible.

There’s more (so much more), but this will do for now.

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On the other hand …

Breaking taboos means that both positive and negative things are unleashed, and that we need to be prepared to confront or avoid triggers. Let’s not even discuss the insidious comment trolls, let’s just starve the fuckers.

Do It, a short film by the oh so sensationalist Damien Hirst, could be an intensely distressing video to watch, particularly if guns distress you, .so go cautiously if you go at all. And read the comments on it if you do. There are numerous ways to interpret it.
Performance art intended to shock.
Pretentious bollocks.
Irresponsible bollocks.
A positive and preventative message delivered ironically.
Some or all of the above, BUT he is an ‘artist’ (apparently) and most artists exist for profit instead of as prophets these days, it seems. Another big but (I like big buts and I cannot lie) is another of his quotes from elsewhere, “But the answer to how to live is to stop thinking about it. And just to live. But you’re doing that anyway.” Unfreakingfortunately, the quote that gets smeared all over angsty tumblrs is the one from the film, about suicide being the perfect way to deal with life.

Sidenote/digression: I am comforted by the fact that most of his art will only ever be fleeting; imagine an archaeologist digging up his shark in formaldehyde, for instance. And if a diamond encrusted skull guarantees immortality instead of derision, the future is bleak indeed.

One unhappily ever after is one too many.

In the words of LGBTQ civil rights group Act Up –

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RIP Rhonda and Kaitlyn Elkins: links and quotes.

She wrote my husband and I a two page suicide note, (as well as letters to some of her friends and her sister Stephanie.) In this letter she stated that she had been sad all of her life and had worked very hard all her life to hide it and protect us from it. She said that she knew she would have been a successful doctor, wife and mother, but that she was exhausted from the weight of the sadness she has had all her life, could not go on, and this is what made sense to her. She stated that I might wonder why she had not sought help and that she did not know how to explain why she did not.

CNN interview with Rhonda – Hidden Depression Killed My Daughter
Obituary: Rhonda Elkins
Obituary: Kaitlyn Elkins
Part of their legacy can be found in powerful reactions like these and these by other med students at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, where Kaitlyn studied.
How to graduate medical school without killing yourself

At least on my dying day, if I have time to think before I go, I will have known that though I have not done great feats in this world I have no doubt that I did do some of the most important things a person can do; I have loved my children, my husband and family with all my heart and did the best I could for them, though I was far from perfect. Love has always been given freely in my house. I have loved my family. And I have written this book and if one person can be saved from it, it will have served its purpose. But I hope my book spurs on more action in some way.
::source::

Unable to recuperate from her daughter’s suicide, Rhonda took her own life. I asked Rhonda’s husband, “If Kaitlyn worked at Walmart, would she and your wife still be alive?” He said, “Yes. Medical school has cost me half my family.”
::source::

I am Allyn, Rhonda’s husband. Rhonda bought many copies of her book and sent them to med schools across the country. She would contact the counselors at the schools and ask if she could donate them to the school. Some would get one for the library and one for the counselor. I thought I would pass this to you.
(From the comments on Rhonda’s last blog post)

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Published by

blahpolar

battlescarred, bright, bewildered, bent, blue & bipolar

44 thoughts on “why I talk to those left behind by suicide”

  1. It is so sad. I know how she must have felt. Sometimes it is unsurmountable. RIP Mum and daughter. Thanks for sharing their story. Being a part of the medical community is almost a handicap as the environment is most unforgiving. Let alone well being, the basic needs such as sleep and decent timely meals are too much to ask for.
    Unfortunate but true.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on my spanglish familia and commented:
    “Unable to recuperate from her daughter’s suicide, Rhonda took her own life. I asked Rhonda’s husband, “If Kaitlyn worked at Walmart, would she and your wife still be alive?” He said, “Yes. Medical school has cost me half my family.”
    ::source::
    A poignant post about suicide. Sans pity this blogger honours the bereaved and the memory of their beloved dead.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I can see already that your post had a profound effect on many. Me too me too! I try always to tell people left behind that it isn’t their fault, that there was nothing they could have done, and I believe it.

    Given my recent suicidality (can I call it that?) It suddenly, in the midst of the pain, occurred to me that I had not thought of the emotional effect of my death on my son, the rest of my family, or my bff; all I wanted was out of the pain. Same as in 85 when I actually tried. It really surprised me that I hadn’t thought of that. I had thought of my funeral and how I did and did not want it to be, I’d thought of my messy apartment and whether I could clean it up before I died … but not of their living w/o me. Anyway – I am still convinced – how could it be anyone’s fault, and how could any of them have prevented it, had I gone through with it this time? (smh) – and yes I often think of those who have survived the loss of a loved one who killed themselves. What pain. I always try to reach out if I can, and let them know the nature of the beast.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Great comment and tyvm for the compliment too :)

      Yep, suicidal ideations can definitely be called suicidality. I like your thought process, I can see that your own attempt taught you a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I so share a lot of your points. Couple of years ago when I picked up a knife while 5 months pregnant, the prima thought was the lesson I was gonna teach my ex. Then I thought of the ‘freedom’ from living parallel lives, no pain, melancholia. It was even that very baby kicking me at the almost last moment, that startled me to think of my two other boys and my mum…it was then that I dropped that knife. I still picture how taterred I looked that morning, both before and after the incident. Like blahpolar said in her post, the taboo can only be faced if we dare talk about it. Sometimes I ‘envy’ those who ‘succeded’. I think they don’t get to leave with the ‘guilt’ that they almost caused so much pain on those they would have left behind. Sometimes, I just wonder if ‘natural’ death could be visiting me soon anyway. It took me a few years, but I decided I was gonna start talking about it, whether anyone thinks it fine or not. Thank you all

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Marie. I seldom regret that I didn’t succeed that time. Isn’t that funny, I am just now realizing that. But honestly my prayer so often is, “Please God just take me out.” Sad. :(

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  4. Thank you. This post… I do not know how to express how it hits me… I am not suicidal now, nor have I been seriously in many years, but to think that I may have taken my life when I was 18… I may have hurt my family so deeply… I never would have married or had my incredible son… I never would have done so many things… SUICIDE SUCKS!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Another post going to the bookmarks. This particular story really hits home because my mother often expresses that “she would die” if we died. I know every parent must think / feel the same, at the thought, but there is a particular darkness in her eyes that resembles the very blackness I see in my own when I’m in that state. And, to think that she would follow me…

    Let’s just say, like your other post… I’m keeping it in mind.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post. I remember stumbling across Rhonda’s blog just after my wife died by suicide and I was desperately searching for resources that would help me feel less alone. How sad that she too ended her life. I’m bipolar but my wife was not. I always thought I was the one more at risk of taking my own life. How wrong I was. Even mild mental illness can kill.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And society in general is so ruthless and brutal, that it makes alienation etc that much easier to feel. I look at articles like how to succeed in business as a psychopath, and think well the world is fucked. Of course, it’s beautiful too. I hope you feel less alone these days? I cannot imagine how you got through even the initial stages of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. i’ve written before, just after robbin williams passing on the path to suicide. sadness begets depression. depression beget despair. despair begets suicide. our challenge as either a sufferer and/or supporter is to find a way to short circuit the process somewhere along the way so the final beget doesn’t begot.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Jaie left a suicide ‘message’ in the form of a text msg. I’ve never shared it online because it only takes one ghoul to grab it and ‘misuse’ it. But he spoke of terrible anger. But he was so nice while he was angry. He spoke of love. He spoke of heaven. He spoke of protecting those he loves after he was gone.
    And it all just hurts so much knowing that if I’d just gone to see him once it may have all been so different. Maybe. I know. Only maybe.
    Just want to wake up from this nightmare 😓

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some people attempt suicide and don’t try again, some people try numerous times and some keep trying until they get it ‘right’ (I know that’s a dreadful word to use for this, sorry.) You couldn’t have know he would try, or whether he would keep trying. None of it makes you a bad parent, or a bad parent. You are a heartbroken one though. Suicide is not like a physical accident and so it isn’t possible to save someone. Support and love, yes, but at the end, whether or not it is rational, for Jaie it was logical. And once people have decided on suicide, they frequently appear more relaxed, because they’ve made a decision that feels right to them. No matter how close we are to someone, we cannot know their mind (and in the case of the beast bipolar, there are times when we don’t either). it isnt a nightmare, its a horrible and tragic reality – and there simply are no words dark and sad enough to describe just how awful it is. You loved him and you did your best. He was an adult and chose what he did. It’s utterly unjust and revolting, but he is gone. You will never, ever get over it – how could you? You will, however, find that the spaces between the assaults of grief grow wider, it will be easy to focus on remembering the good things and you will cope. You must cope. And Jaie has not gone from your heart, mind and memory – he never will. You can love and hold him there forever. You write so beautifully about him, that he will also live in my mind and other people’s too. And you show bipolar people so much understanding and compassion, even though your experience and knowledge were horrendously hard won. That is major – both objectively, and for me, incredibly gratefully and subjectively. Jaie was an amazing human being – but so are you.

      And I am so, so sorry if this comment has hurt or offended you in any way.

      Rest in peace, lovely Jaie, you will not be forgotten.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I hope and pray you don’t find this objectionable. The Bible says we have an appointment once to die. I believe that. We may be late for other things but not for that appointment. It does not make me happy but it also tells me that there’s nothing I can do to change that outcome. I just pray that you find some comfort somehow. I’ve heard it said it takes a year to grieve when we lose someone. I DO NOT believe that could ever apply to losing a child. :( I am so sorry.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. The thing which bugs me is I know Jaie wasn’t relaxed. He was bawling his eyes out. Like a baby. He was so scared and alone. And that bugs me. It tells me that he really didn’t want to die but felt he had too. When he didn’t.
    His last words to his big sister “I just wanted to hear your voice one last time”, kills me. Her and I sound the same. Especially on the phone and videos. And it’s like his way of saying I love you mum but I can’t speak with you myself. And he was crying. Not calm

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  10. Reading his goodbye text was difficult but at least he wasn’t ranting and raving. There was nil punctuation used. But it was coherent still. I don’t know. So many contradictory threads from that night. He apologised to his sister for everything. As in making mistakes. My poor child didn’t realise that making mistakes is what we humans do. Ferk me 😰

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    1. Logic gets twisted when a bipolar mind is in full flight :( I have stuff I can’t/won’t forgive myself for, even though my shrink said, “don’t you feel better knowing that it was due to the bipolar?”

      One year is still very soon and raw …

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I just naively and stupidly assumed because I’d been that age once and survived life events, that Jaie could cope too. I also assumed that because his brother and sister spoke of their depressive episodes that Jaie would also speak with me.
    WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. I WAS SO SO WRONG. HOW COULD I BE SO WRONG.

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    1. None of you had enough time to learn about bipolar and its extra severe depression and impulse control and disordered thinking and and and. I don’t know whether it applies to him, but I feel almost physically unable to speak sometimes.

      Before I learned about it all, I assumed that all I had was depression, and that I could beat it by sheer force of will and hard work. It’s also hard and heartbreaking to hear that you are bipolar, especially early on when you’re beginning to find out just what a bitch it is.

      Your assumptions were logical. It isn’t your fault. What would he say if he knew you blamed yourself so much?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I feel great sorrow for your loss and the new hole in you heart. no one deserves what has happened to you or anyone who loses someone to depression/depression, for that matter. it never make sense.

      do keep in mind the ones who ride closest to the ragged edge are ones who are least likely to let people how close they are to the edge. it becomes a little secret they hide from anyone and everyone. the people who talk about taking their own life, stand far enough back from the edge to remain safe.

      you say your should have known. jaie kept his secret locked away so thightly, you stood little to no chance to know his true intent. his dis-ease, bipolar, took jaie. short of finding a cure, unfortunately, you had little chance of talking him back from the edge.

      you talk of you are jaie’s siblings who made it through. why do 25% of the people who get ebola survive? sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason. something in jaie’a life, from genetics to how a friend spoke to him three years before, caused enough of a perturbation to make the difference.

      please go easy on yourself. i believe no one, not even jaie or you are responsible for his death. it is just something outside of your control that very unfortunatety happened.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Sometimes I can rationalise it and understand that there’s nothing any of us could have done, short of physical intervention, to save Jaie. But I’m just over a week from his birthday and Angelversary and it’s difficult to contain all this. Thank you all for being so patient with my ramblings ❤️

    Like

  13. Jaie would tell me to not do that. Not feel this way. And I do believe Jaie struggled to articulate his thoughts and emotions more than the average person. 2 weeks earlier. If I had known certain things only 2 weeks earlier, or even 1 week, the difference it could have made for us all. And especially for poor Jaie 😓💔😓

    Like

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