I’ve thought about writing this piece all week, but the announcement of Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington’s death by suicide (https://afsp.org/statement-american-foundation-suicide-prevention-chester-bennington/) has brought me a certain sense of urgency. While I enjoyed some of Linkin Park’s music, I wasn’t a faithful follower, so his death doesn’t impact me as a fan. Instead, it saddens me as someone who lives with depression and experiences suicidal ideation.
I discussed this with a co-worker today, and we talked about the connection between Bennington and Chris Cornell, who also died by suicide earlier this year. Whether by chance or determination, Bennington took his own life on what would have been the 53rd birthday of a very good friend of his. My co-worker didn’t understand why the pain from Cornell’s death would push Bennington to his own suicide. I explained that it’s not always the sadness over that kind of loss, but the hopelessness of feeling that if the other person couldn’t beat back this particular demon, how can anyone else?
In 2013, a guy I went to high school with died. I had always admired Jon Glass, and my heart broke for his wife, Amie (another friend from my school years), and their daughter. I was devastated when I learned that he had died by suicide, and shocked to find that Jon had struggled with depression for years. We were not close friends (we knew each other in high school, but did not hang out much, and we only kept in touch through Facebook), but his death impacted me because I couldn’t help but think, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” I have the same reaction every time I hear of a friend or family member or friend of a friend or celebrity who has died by suicide: why them and not me?
Almost a year previous, in 2012, I was inspired by the death of Junior Seau (also by suicide) to write about my thoughts and experiences with depression and post them on Facebook. However, after Jon’s death, I felt a desperation to talk more about depression and suicide. To understand more about these insidious issues that plague so many of us. Those of us who do so quietly and think that we are alone. I wanted to let others know that they are not alone, and I wanted to know that I was not either.
Yet, even with the honesty and openness that I tried to foster, I still could never discover the key difference between myself and those who ultimately lost their battles with depression. This frightened me because if I couldn’t figure that out, how could I avoid this being my fate? How could I help stop it being the fate of others? During a phone conversation with Jon’s widow, Amie, she asked if I had a plan. I thought she was asking if I had a plan of how I would commit suicide, but instead she wanted to know if I had a crisis plan to prevent it. This was very enlightening to me, and I began to do research on how to develop a suicide prevention plan.
Which brings me back to the past week. You see, I’ve had a house all to myself this week. And I’ve made my jokes about being able to run around naked and eat ice cream for dinner (not so much a joke, since I really did this) and how amazing it’s been to have this time alone. But it’s also been a little terrifying. Being alone also means being alone with my grief. My thoughts, which are not always gentle or kind. Thoughts such as, “With everyone gone, this would be the perfect time to kill myself.”
That’s a scary thought to have. It’s not one that I want to have, and yet it’s exactly what popped into my head as I drove to my therapy appointment a week before my family left. Now, I’ve learned enough about myself and my depression to know that it is a dangerous thing for me to keep those kinds of thoughts to myself, where they can spin obsessively around in my head. So I discussed it at length with my therapist. She assured me that this was very normal for a grieving mom, and especially for one grieving two sons in two years. She told me that it was understandable for me to have these thoughts.
I told my husband as well. It was a hard thing to do, because I have felt so much shame for having these thoughts, and because I hate for others to see how damaged and broken I think I am, even my own spouse. I debated whether I should share this with him before or after he left for a family vacation with our daughter. I didn’t want to ruin his time away with any fears of me hurting myself, but I also didn’t want him to feel as if I was hiding this. We talked about how hard it was going to be for me with them away. Difficult because I would be missing out on memories with my family, and because it was a reminder of what we had lost. A reminder that I couldn’t join them on vacation because instead of being on my maternity leave and looking forward to the impending birth of our son, I was unable to take any more time away from work since I had just spent three months grieving our son’s death instead. Those reminders are crushing for me, and I feel like I’ve been trapped under their weight for more than two years, since the death of our first son in 2015. That weight is tiring, and the thought of relief from that can be tempting. But that’s not what I want.
During our couple’s therapy session, our therapist reiterated how normal these thoughts are, especially in light of all we had endured over the past few months. The past few years. Then she suggested we make a plan. At this point, even after I talked with Amie and researched plans, I still did not have one myself. Nothing concrete any way, just a vague idea of what I would do. That wasn’t enough, and we devised a real one during our session. We agreed that Justin would call me everyday to check in. He promised to not allow me to blow him off with easy platitudes like, “I’m fine,” and I promised to be fully honest with him, and not worry about ruining his vacation. I also made the decision to not drink while I was alone, since that could lead to further depressing thoughts and lowered inhibitions. Our therapist suggested that I make concrete plans with friends, so that I would have limited stretches of time to get lost in my own thoughts. It gave me something to look forward to. I also had friends that I knew would be available at the last minute, if I felt the need to be with someone. Finally, I knew that if I began to have more thoughts of suicide, I could call either my therapist or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255, which is available 24 hours a day), or, if I was really desperate, I could either drive myself or have a friend drive me to the hospital and let them know I was having thoughts of hurting myself and needed help.
The plan helped me feel better, safer, about having concrete tools to get through this week. You see, I don’t believe I would actually follow through with killing myself. I don’t want to die, I just don’t want to live with these overwhelming feelings all the time. I don’t want to hurt my friends and family. I don’t want to scar my daughter with that kind of loss. I believe I am stronger, and that these ties will keep me here and living. Perhaps that’s what Jon thought too. Perhaps that’s what Chester Bennington, or Chris Cornell believed. It is impactful to see people who walk my path, yet succumb to the darkness of it. I had the same feeling when I learned of the suicide death of Amy Bleuel, mental health advocate and founder of the Semicolon Project. Even people actively involved in awareness and destigmatizing mental health, who ceaselessly talk about prevention, are not immune. https://themighty.com/2017/03/project-semicolon-amy-bleuel-suicide-there-is-still-hope/
I can’t sit back on my belief that I will not harm myself, and think that’s enough. I can’t stubbornly deny the possibilities and what ifs. Some people might say that suicide is not an option, but for me, that isn’t true. It is an option. It’s just not one I want to use. I want to continue to get through these moments, because that’s all they really are. Times when I have been stifled by depression or plagued with suicidal thoughts are still just moments in the grand scheme of my life. What I need is to find ways to get through those moments. Something to bridge between the good, or even great moments that are also a part of my life. I have to remain ever vigilant, because my depression is unrelenting. Having a plan is part of that vigilance. It is my bridge and, hopefully, the key that I’m looking for. The answer to my question of why not me. That answer, this week at least, is that in making my own suicide prevention plan, I made a plan to keep on living.
My Suicide Prevention Plan:
- Tell others: Instead of letting these frightening thoughts fester inside of me, where I could obsess over them and let them grow, I chose to take away some of their power by speaking with others about these thoughts. Those people included my therapists, husband and brother (who lives with us, and could then be aware while he was home).
- Keep the lines of communication open: I knew that I would be checking in with my husband each day, which kept me open and aware of my feelings, rather than hiding from them.
- Make plans: Having concrete plans helped me have something to look forward to during the time that I thought I might struggle most. Instead of isolating, I allowed myself to be distracted by something I don’t often get to do and I enjoyed it immensely. Even during the time I wasn’t with a friend, I made sure to reach out and interact with others via Facebook to occupy my time.
- Avoid alcohol: Since I don’t use drugs, alcohol was the only concern for me. I don’t drink often, but knew that this would be the best time to abstain altogether for me.
- Reach out to friends: I made sure ahead of time that I had friends who would be available during the week, even if I didn’t tell them why. I also made a list of people I would be able to reach out to at any time, such as my friends, Vicky and Sara, if I felt I was struggling at any point in the day, as well as Trisha and Kainoa, night owls like me who I could contact in the middle of the night, without guilt, and talk to about how I was feeling.
- Reach out to my therapist: Since my therapist was aware of how I was feeling, we had talked about me contacting her if I needed to.
- Reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: I have often encouraged others to call the lifeline if they needed to, and I knew that I could as well.
- Get to a hospital: If all else failed, I would do anything to protect myself, including finding others who will protect me from me.
This plan may not work for me in every situation, and some things may need to be added or replaced or moved around. But the basic foundation gives me something to hold onto and use. If you would like to make your own crisis plan, or help a loved one with theirs, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website has a great tool: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Brown_StanleySafetyPlanTemplate.pdf