Suicide Prevention Help

In the wake of actor Robin Williams’ suicide, I have added more important suicide prevention help numbers and sites to my page marked “Resources.” Please, feel free to take a look.

Through the statistics page of this blog’s host, I can see the broad categories people use to find me. Since yesterday, many people have searched for suicide prevention. To you, I say I understand. I have been there. I really have. I know that black pit very well.

I do not want to take your decision from you. I would like to say, however, that before you make a final decision you talk to someone anonymously. There are numbers you can call, sites you can use to chat, and other ways to reach out for help.

You are worth it.

I know you may not feel like it at this moment, but it’s true.

You are important.

A Notable Suicide

Robin Williams, the Oscar-winning actor and comedian, died of suicide today. It is a very sad event. In a very brief statement, his grieving wife said he had been battling depression.

I am very sad, because he had a great talent that was wide ranging. He was a brilliant comedian, but his prowess as an actor won him an Oscar in 1998 for a dramatic role in the movie Good Will Hunting. I was a teenager when he made a hit on television in the show Mork and Mindy. He was indeed very funny, and he will be greatly missed.

Whenever I hear about anyone killing themselves, I remember my own story. It’s been a very long time now, but I understand the black pit of depression so deep and dark that no light shines. There is not even the slightest hint that light is shining anywhere. No light. Not an inkling. Not a tiny dot. All oozes blackness.

I was saved from my suicide attempt miraculously by the phone. It rang at just the right moment, and the person on the other end heard my cry for help. I was whisked away to the hospital and received help.

Over the years of living with bipolar disorder, I spent much time contemplating death, wishing for it sometimes and fearing it at others. I no longer think about death. Recovery has taught me many things about living with mental illness. I live with hope today.

I am reminded also of the simple words on the website Metanoia.org. They say

Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.

Those words are true. People with mental illness like depression think a lot about suicide, and they do not contemplate it from selfish motives. Suicide results from pain that is so great it outweighs a person’s ability to deal with it.

I meditate daily, and in my meditation, I call down light. I believe that light brings hope, and hope brings life.

A Wide-Ranging Session

One client during my internship has grown into a really interesting case. Readers will remember him as the combative one. He has returned several times since that appointment, and his attitude has always been good. He enjoys lively conversation, but he’s never returned to the highly argumentative tone.

Today, he arrived and sat down and informed me he’d almost taken the bus to a town about two hours away. Taking this trip is his way of saying he wants to kill himself. He’s taken the trip many times in the past decade, but he’s thankfully never followed through. His routine there is always the same. He drinks rum on the bus ride and then continues to drink the first day there. He also smokes cigars that first day. He sleeps outdoors and awakens with the intention of killing himself the second day. Instead, he takes the two-hour bus ride back to the care home where he has a bed.

I knew about this habit of his, and I’ve known about his chronic suicidality since I first met him. My response to him this morning was to thank him for telling me about his plans. Then I said that I was glad he hadn’t gone on the trip, because it would have left me without a client and I would have been bored.

He quickly said, “That’s not a good enough reason for me not to go.”

I responded that I completely understood, but that I still didn’t want to be bored. He was really interested in my seemingly nonchalant answer.

My real answer was to then launch into continuing to fill out his WRAP folder. We approached the section entitled Crisis Plan, which requires a lot of writing by the client. They have to think thoroughly about how they want their care to be conducted in case they fall into crisis. My client mentioned simply that he didn’t want to do it. I agreed that we should stop since I’ve been trained that WRAP is self-directed. He did say he wasn’t ready to completely give up on the Plan. He wants a hook. He’s looking for something that will give him a lease on life.

I told him again of my own WRAP and how it changed my life. I went from having chronic negative self-talk to none. I talked about the dark times I’d seen, and I called them that: the dark times. I kept it general. Using “I” statements, I mentioned that since writing my WRAP, I had not relapsed into dark times, and I had not required a stay in the hospital. My WRAP has kept them at bay.

His reaction was to announce that dark times are the natural state of mankind, and they shouldn’t be fought. I thank him for telling me his ideas, and then I surprised him. I agreed with him. Dark times may be the natural state for many, but I don’t have to stay stuck there. I was careful to mention that I was speaking for me.

This client has a set of interesting ideas that he regularly says for all to hear. “Man is a primate.” “Man is alienated from life.” “Life is meaningless.” “God is dead.”

I surprised him again today. I agreed with him once more. I told him I thought it was indeed difficult for people to find an ultimate meaning in life. He smiled and said he had nothing to say in response. I continued with my story and how important WRAP was to helping me out of the dark times and into a state of serenity. That piqued his interest. I explained how the Daily Maintenance List kept me on an even keel so I wouldn’t fall back into a crisis.

“The whole meaning of WRAP is to keep us out of crisis,” I said.

He looked at me quizzically and muttered something about the meaninglessness of life.

I answered him by describing the meaning I find in a string of small things. I love my job. I love my family. I enjoy reading and writing for myself and others to read. Finally, I have a passion for theater. While I reserved my speech to “I” statements, I tried to steer the conversation to his enjoyments. He loves classical music and speaks about it with fervor.

Then I mentioned the word “pleasure,” and we started a tangential discussion of how a meaningless life could or couldn’t possibly have any. The talk was fascinating. We spoke about hedonism, and yes, we used that word. He’s a smart man and has read a good deal of philosophy. I threw Epicurus into the mix, and he was impressed when I mentioned that Epicurus was a champion of the middle path rather than what Epicurean philosophy has come to represent, namely hedonism. My client said he preferred a more stoical way.

We ended our time together with a talk about Shakespeare’s sonnets and specifically, the unknown lady mentioned therein. My client called Mozart and Beethoven eternal, and I said the lady of the sonnets was, too. Shakespeare even tells the lady she will be eternal in his words. My client appreciates the beauty of those words. He was surprised at me again that I seemed so enthusiastic about the Bard. For our session next week, I’m going to take a few of the sonnets for us to study, I think.

It was indeed a great session. I am blessed to know this man. He touches me with his candor. He honestly appears to be searching for something that he can’t or is afraid to grasp. I’m not so presumptuous to imagine I will help him find it, but I truly hope I can demonstrate that reaching out doesn’t have to be painful. A desire can sometimes lead to pleasant surprises.

Working with my Peers

Life is for living. I am devoted to the notion that recovery from mental illness is possible. I have been trained to work with my peers and model recovery. I began my internship about a month ago as a part of my certification process. The clinic I am assigned to has me working one-on-one with clients developing their Wellness Recovery Action Plans. Some are very enthusiastic about the idea of WRAP, and some are not. Many are indifferent.

WRAP changed my life. It rid me of years of negative self-talk. When the negative thoughts return on those rare occasions now, I can let them be, observe them, acknowledge them, and simply let them go. They have no weight like they did in the past. I don’t feel their burden.

I have two clients who desperately want to recover and regain a life resembling what they lost before they were diagnosed with mental illness. It’s a joy to work with them and watch them grow. I encourage clients to decorate their WRAP folders. Using creativity marks them as their own. One man placed stickers on his folder in a careful grid. Most clients draw. One young man used magazine pictures to demonstrate where he hoped to go with his life. Their creativity is limitless.

And then there is the one client who is argumentative. He told me the first time we met he would question everything we discussed. Yesterday, he crossed from argumentative to combative. He began by voicing his displeasure at our starting time. He debated about the posters on the walls. He took issue with the idea of recovery itself.

I thanked him for his ideas, and I tried to steer the conversation to our task of working on his WRAP, which he then proclaimed “lame.”

I thanked him again and confronted him with my own experience with WRAP. He changed the subject.

This client wants something in life to cling to. He has no family. He has no friends. What’s worse is he is almost chronically suicidal. Yesterday, he was like a wounded animal striking back at anything moving near it.

I am a Certified Peer Specialist Intern working with others who have severe and persistent mental illness. I am learning quickly that some of us want to get well, many of us don’t even know that recovery is possible, and a few are stuck.

Funerals, Memorials, Death, on and on

Clouds

I’m thinking about my dead friend and past lover. His memorial service was yesterday. It was lovely, being held in a small theater space where he had performed and helped out backstage.

Another friend provided pictures. They were very large and easily seen from every seat. There were lit candles, and flowers strewn about the tables and floor.

My heart is quite heavy writing these words.

A friend spoke eloquently about the kind man who chose to leave us so soon. Colleagues from his work shared their grief, and a regular of the theater spoke graciously of his last role. The director of that show brought a prop used by the departed man. He told us how he and my former lover drove the streets of our town singing with each other, and then he sang a hymn.

The father of the deceased spoke about the boy he had been and read a letter from a life-long friend.

I sat.

We all sang a group song, which I joined.

I returned home and distracted myself with mindless browsing on the Internet. I wrote an entry on this blog. I read other blogs. I chatted online with a distant friend.

This morning, I have been harassed by a fly. No amount of hand waving chases it away, and my mind – my easily amused mind – assumes it is the ghost come back.

Yet, I need no ghosts. I have text messages we sent one another to pour over. There’s even a picture of him. Our flirtations are right there in little bubbles. They are short bursts of yearning with a mixture of silly faces made from punctuation marks.

And there’s a long message from me telling him our sexual relationship was over, imploring him to seek care for his bipolar disorder. Quickly following that one were his questions, followed by my silence.

Today, I hear birdsong outside my cottage. Music plays over my computer. Cars rumble by on the street. A dog barks. There is no silence.

I sit.

I play no what-if games. I am simply sad. My heart aches.

Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” My friend hid great pain. His questioning eyes and smile masked a soul full of angst.

Now, I’m left with pain, but it will pass. Time heals.

My friend is dead. I am here.

Water

Being Left Behind

A former lover killed himself two days ago. He was a kind, sweet gentle soul who never uttered a harsh word against anyone but his wife. Yes, he was a married man, and that’s just one of the reasons he was a former lover and not a present one.

I first met him maybe six years ago, and I was instantly attracted to him physically. It was the kind of attraction that felt like pure, unadulterated need. Nothing came of it. He moved far away.

Then one day, he was back. We met for coffee, and in that public place, it was all I could do to keep my hands off him. He electrified me. I put my hand on his knee and felt the charge surge through me. I know he felt it, too, because we made it to bed rapidly.

The affair did not last. I could not satisfy his many needs, and actually, I encouraged him to get psychiatric help, which he did. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, too. He called me quickly after that asking, “Are we still friends?” “Yes,” I replied. “With benefits?” he continued. “No,” I managed to eek out.

I saw him several times after that in social settings, and the meetings were pleasant.

I remember his soft voice, his questioning eyes, and his wide hands.

I remember his want. He had an enormous void.

His needs, desires, wants, and that void are all gone now, and I am left behind to carry the sadness and the anger.

I can’t tell his friends we were lovers. He was not out of the closet. I can’t tell my friends I lost a lover to suicide. We knew the same people.

It’s all bottled up inside me. The cork stopper is pushed down tight, and I so want it to pop open and release the pain and tension that boils in my stomach and sits on my shoulders.

I feel very much alone.

Finding Stability

Bipolar illness is — I’m sorry for the cliche — a roller coaster. There are periods of slower ratcheting up to highs that catapult a sufferer into the depths. The rush of the ride provides momentary exhilaration but is always followed by the hollow feeling of the pits that drag the stomach down. What’s more, the person with the illness doesn’t realize it’s possible to live without the constant highs and lows.

When manic, I am exuberant. Colors are brighter. My nose is more sensitive to anything around. I want to hear words of praise for whatever I might be engaged in. I want music, and interestingly, it can be quiet and soothing. It doesn’t have to be raucous and loud. I want to eat. I like spicy food or the flood of good chocolate melting around my mouth or a piece of crisp toast flooded with ever-so-slightly-salty butter. And I want hugs. Touch becomes important. Clothes have weight, and I feel them. I don’t just dress. I adorn myself.

Depression slows the whole organism. Senses become dull. Simple routines are hurdles to overcome. The example for me is brushing my teeth. When I find I neglect that small chore, I know I’m sliding down the slope. Most importantly, my mind turns on itself.

Negative thoughts abound. They are present on awakening. I hear them when I look in the mirror. Turning the corner from the living room into the hallway, they bounce to the front of my mind. It’s not something that can be battled with affirmations. If reciting happy ideas would rid me of these horrendous voices, I would never have had to endure them even once.

In my eleven years since I was diagnosed bipolar type one, I have been hospitalized four times for psychotic breaks, suicide attempts, and suicidal thoughts. A person isn’t admitted to the hospital for biting his nails. I applied for and now receive government benefits that provide me a means to live. I cannot work a normal job. Government benefits for mental illness are notoriously hard to come by and require a long wait. Mine came in a short six months revealing a bit of something about my case.

My distant past was fueled by alcohol, which ceased to be a remedy for me a very long time ago. Once that fog lifted, mental illness rushed to the foreground. Stress on almost any level stops me in my tracks nowadays. If positive thinking is not enough, if prayer is not the answer, if herbal remedies won’t suffice, where then is the fix to the conundrum?

Happily, it’s in a mixture of modern medicine, vigilant self-help, and heavy reliance on a tried and true network of support. I rely on medicine to help regulate the highs and lows of my condition. It works. It’s been proven. I know in my experience that taking medication for bipolar illness far outweighs the alternative. I help me by practicing some simple strategies for coping with the extremes. I try to remain logical when I’m manic. I vociferously question those negative voices that hound me. I exercise, which may be one of the most important components of all. I meditate. It’s not a formal religious ceremony. It’s something that centers me and gives me a safe place to go in a troubled mind.

Then there’s therapy. After 26 years of it, I’m sold on its benefits. I get the advantage of sitting with a professional who is not emotionally attached to my situations and hearing sound words of help and solace and encouragement and even chastisement but never judgement.

I’ve come a very long way when I look back over the years. I’ve survived self-hatred and self-loathing that have come close to killing me on a number of occasions. I’ve rid myself of fears that spotted the inside of my eyelids with angry points of lights. I’m continuing to work on filling my life with substance and meaning.

I am an active participant in my own existence today.