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.


12 comments:

  1. I'm glad you're still here. I'm glad that you write about the silent killer that a large percentage of the world is afraid to admit that they are dealing with. Thank you for being honest and God bless you in all that you do.

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  2. Jack, we've not met, but we have mutual friends in Columbus. Your blog is immensely helpful to me and I greatly admire your courage, your eloquence, and your willingness to share your pain in an effort to bring hope to others. I read every word you publish, and you have been very much in my thoughts recently because I knew it had been a while since your last post. And now this. I thought you'd have valuable wisdom to share, and you haven't disappointed. Please know that there are many of us who cheer you on. Thank you for what you share with so many of us.

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  3. God bless you Jack and I cover you and your family with my prayers!!!

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  4. Thank you Jack.

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  5. Jack...thank u for your blog. I am where you were a year ago...and I'm a therapist...the meds are not working...isolated...scared...I feel like I'm slipping into the dark bottom of a well. Maybe this isn't the right forum for this..but I knew you would understand.
    Thank you jeffrey

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    1. In my plan, I have a list of the places that I should go if I run into symptoms and situations like this. The quickest is the emergency room. Tell them you are having suicidal thoughts and you should be admitted. (I know that you know this, but it helps to hear it to push you out the door.)

      Also tell yourself that Reality is different from what you are experiencing right now. Write out the reality of your life. What is going in your favor, what is against you, then share it with God and someone else. If there are some real problems that can cause you to think suicide call someone and ask them to come over and help you write it.

      The last one that has worked for me is to divide myself from the shame and the disease itself. It's so easy to get the feeling that the disease is you, not that you have a disease. My email is maninthearen@gmail.com I'll even share my phone number to give you someone to talk to. Just try to think for a moment, one second about what you are doing, thinking, and if your reasoning is faulty or solid.

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    2. I don't know you but I felt the need to tell you that I care about you. You matter, you are loved. You may feel alone, but you're not. Know that intellectually, even when the demon thoughts enter your mind, quickly move your thoughts into the intellectual side. And for right now, I ask you to close your eyes and imagine the feel of the hug I'm giving you. I have you wrapped in my arms, snug, close, and firm. I will not let you go until you no longer need my hug. And when that happens, pass the hug on to someone else who DOES need it next. Realize that you may be the reason someone else chooses to stay here One More Day. You may be what saves the father....the child.....the friend.....to die and look back at the influence we had on others will be a moment of true enlightenment, of how we helped others, and how we might have but chose not to. And I believe the pain of seeing what we COULD have done but chose not too, for whatever reason, will be the most painful thing we have to work through in the here-after. So stay, friend, stay and fulfill whatever destiny you have here. You were not given life to destroy it, you were given life to live it. No guilt here.....just encouragement, and words to remember. You are loved. Like it or not! ;-)

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  6. And it's the little things. The straws that break the camel's back. My best coping device is being able to say "I feel sick" to friends and relatives who make sure I get medical help right away. The other coping device for bipolar disorder is to consistently take prescribed medications, have a good working relationship with a psychiatrist, AND attend psychotherapy with a psychologist. By working with both, the relapse rate for BP works out to 85%- in your favor. A good site for more information is NAMI.org.

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  7. I just found your site. Indeed, this is an encouragement. I have struggled with depression when I was a child. I sometimes wished that I was dead. But you are indeed right, our faith in the Lord can save us. Sometimes, thoughts about taking my life run through my head but I immediately turn my thoughts in prayer asking Him to grant me strength. Thank you Jack for sharing this to all of us. I will keep you in my prayers as well.

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  8. Excellent post, love to read it. Very inspiring content.Most of the time with depressed person suicidal activity shows but this type of inspirational things will help to stop these.

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  9. Thank you for the insight. It's a relief to see other men share their thoughts on depression, suicide.

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