August 13, 2014

My thoughts on suicide

 If I owned a gun, I might be dead.

That’s how much pain I was in about this time a year ago. In just a few weeks it will have been one year since I tried to kill myself with a fist or two full of pills and enough alcohol to make a college freshman sick for a week.

Thoughts of the anniversary have been lurking in the dark corners of my mind. My therapist has mentioned it a time or two. But I haven’t dealt with it yet.

And then this week happened.

I felt more numb than sad when I first heard about Robin Williams. Then the numbness gave way to profound sadness as details of his struggles with depression and addiction emerged.

I thought of my favorite Robins Williams films, with “Dead Poets Society,” “Good Will Hunting” and “Patch Adams” topping the list. Such talent, such a brilliantly funny guy. I thought the same thing you thought: How could a man who could make others laugh so hard be in so much pain?

One thing I’ve learned through my experiences is you can’t judge another’s. It’s obvious from reading some real gems on social media this week that some don’t get that. People in immense pain can be masters at covering it up. Especially a brilliant actor who could play a dozen roles in a five-minute interview.

It’s not uncommon for the mentally ill to be especially creative or sensitive. I suffer from bipolar disorder. Google it and you will find an impressive list of creative geniuses who lived with the disorder and left legacies that are a part of every history book.

I understand Williams was a sensitive and caring guy who was loved by everyone in Hollywood. That’s unusual. Being sensitive and caring is not. But I think highly sensitive people who suffer from serious mental illness sometimes have a hard time navigating the world. I know because I’m one of them.

In the movie “Dead Poets Society,” Williams’ character teaches his class the classic Walt Whitman poem “O Captain, My Captain.” It’s about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

A powerful stanza reads:
O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Ironically, one of the young characters in the movie commits suicide when his father forbids him to pursue his dream. Acting. And Williams, whose eccentric teaching ways don’t fit at the rigid all boys’ school, is fired.

As he leaves the classroom for the final time, the boys who’ve grown to revere him stand on their desks in defiance and exclaim “O, Captain, My Captain!”

That movie came out my senior year in high school. As many times as I’ve seen it, that scene still puts a lump in my throat.

The deaths of President Lincoln, shot in the head, and Williams, who hanged himself with a belt, could not be more different. One died an innocent death. The other hanged himself with a belt. Is one more tragic than the other?

I’ve talked to families of those who killed themselves, and the pain they inflicted on their loved ones was too much to bear. Unfair, really. So it is different. It is hard to say it isn’t. So I won’t.

I will say that in my own experience the pain I felt at my desperate hour hurt to my bones. I had carried around the crushing weight of depression for so long one step felt like a thousand. I had choked back tears so many times my soul was full of them.

The racing thoughts had spun so far out of control reality no longer existed. The anxiety was so great I had lost my appetite and my ability to have a clear thought. The thoughts I did have were distorted. I was detached from the world as it really existed. I was stressed from work and life.

And then the switch flipped. There had been thoughts but no real plan. It was an impulsive action that unfolded in the span of a few dark hours.

I wrote a note on my iPad, scribbled a message on the mirror, drank a lot of alcohol, took a bunch of pills and awoke 12 hours later with a friend—who thought I was dead—slapping me in the face.

After four days in the hospital, a long and hard journey to recovery began. You can read about it elsewhere on this site.

My message to those who are hurting is don’t give up like I did. There is better care available than there ever has been. I found it, and you can, too.

My ride is still bumpy sometimes. The last month was a little like the Mindbender at Six Flags, with wicked twists and turns and loops, but I eventually got off the ride. And I’m still standing.

Lean on friends and family. Especially family. Caring friends eventually have to go home. Doctors move on to the patient in the next room. Family will never leave your side. Wrap up in your family like a warm blanket on a bitterly cold night.

Explore your faith. Mine has saved my life and given me hope. Sometimes I pray a big prayer in the morning and little ones all day. Lord, get me through this meeting. Lord, get me through this phone call. Lord, get me through this anxiety. Lord, quiet the racing thoughts in my head. Lord, just give me five minutes of peace. Lord, save me from myself.

Robin Williams is gone. That is a tragedy. An equally great tragedy is that there are more suicide gun deaths than homicide gun deaths in the U.S. every year. The media doesn’t talk about that.

Did you know that talking about suicide doesn’t increase the risk of suicide? Talking about suicide is the best way to prevent it.

It’s sad that it will be silent again when this latest story passes.