My Husband Died by Suicide, but Died From Depression

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Two years ago — May 5, 2014 — started as any Monday would start at our home in the suburbs of Boston. It was a beautiful, sunny New England spring morning.  

My husband Gary decided to sleep in a little later than usual and would come into the office before noon. This wasn’t unusual at all. Since he’d been struggling with depression, mornings were always hard and often he’d wake up with me, let our dogs out and go back to bed for an hour or two.  

I showered, got dressed for the office then lay on the bed with him for a few minutes and we talked about the week ahead and a trip I was making to New Hampshire the next day. 

I gave him a kiss and a hug, we both said “I love you” and I left for the office.

While I remember some of the details of my morning, I can only guess what the next couple of hours were like for Gary.

I didn’t know it at the time, but he had a plan in place and this was the morning he was finally going to put the plan into action.

Did he write the note after I left or did he write it weeks or months earlier and save it on his desktop?  

Did he take Harry and Torre (our beloved Welsh Corgis) to the park for a walk?   

Was he anxious? Frightened? Sad? Relieved?   

I will never know the details of those hours. All I know is the outcome.

When I couldn’t reach him on his cell phone later that morning, I decided to drive home, wake him up and bring him into the office with me. Again, this wasn’t that unusual and it had happened before. Sometimes the depression was best faced in bed. I knew that and respected that reality.

When you love someone living with depression you expect bad days, hard days, really bad days and OK days. I assumed this was just another bad day.

But this day would be a really, really bad day.

As I drove up our street I could see there was a note taped to our screen door and at that moment I knew my life would never be the same.

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Marlin, I’ve taken my own life.

I don’t want you to find me.

I love you.

Gary

And with that the world turned upside down.

Molly was our pastor and Gary knew I would need her by my side to face what had happened.

I called 9-1-1 as he’d instructed me and the police came to the house, they went upstairs to our bedroom and confirmed Gary was dead.

At that moment I made the decision I was not going to hide how my beloved had died. While he died by suicide he also died from depression.

You see Gary was vocal about his disease and would tell anyone who asked how he’d been fighting depression for years. He made sure they understood it was an illness just as serious, real and unwanted as cancer, a heart attack or diabetes. It was not his fault and he did everything he was told to do to fight the disease. Anyone living with depression or loving someone living with depression recognizes this list: Medications, therapy, ECT, vitamins, yoga, exercise, DBT, meditation, good sleep hygiene — the list goes on and on.

Sometimes after trying a new medication or therapy there would be a day or two of a change in his mood or outlook, but eventually he’d quietly break the news to me it wasn’t working.

Often with tears in his eyes he’d say, “Honey the blackness is back… I’m so sorry” like it was his fault the depression wasn’t lifting.   

That’s part of the problem with the disease of depression.  

For those who are suffering from it, there is always a tinge of self-blame.   

That self-blame is kind of built in to our societal views of mental illness — in the back of most of our minds there is a belief the patient suffering must somehow be responsible for their own depression.

But as someone who cared for, lived with and eventually lost someone I love to this disease, I can say without any doubt that if Gary could have simply changed his outlook, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, counted his blessings or any of the other platitudes often thrown at those suffering from depression he would have done it.

In fact he did do all of those things and more.   

But the disease, just like the worst cancer, was stronger than any medicine, any therapy or any walk in the sunshine.   

His doctor came to the funeral where he hugged me and with his voice breaking said, “I’ve never had a patient that wanted to get better more than Gary did, I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to help him get over this disease.”

We need more research money, we need much more knowledge of the brain, mental illness and how best to treat it.  

We have to start treating mental illness as the public health crisis that it is; a disease just as lethal as heart failure, cancer, opioid addiction and obesity.  We need to make changes in insurance reimbursement policies for mental illness.

We have to smash the stigma of depression and place the disease exactly where it belongs; one of the most debilitating and deadly that any of us could face at any time.

Gary wasn’t able to stick around one more day to see if it might be different. But today my message to anyone living with depression is just that: Stick around one more day. This disease tends not to be permanent, there are solutions that can work, you are not a burden to anyone and no one will be better off if you’re dead. Stick around. One more day. Then one more, and keep going. You are loved.

If you or someone you love is struggling with depression this message is for you – from me and from my sweet husband.

Gary and his two Welsh Corgis.
Gary with his two Welsh Corgis.

To learn more about suicide prevention, visit Family Aware.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Why I Choose to Make Friends With My Suicidal Thoughts

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In the last few weeks, a song has stuck with me: “The Opposite of Adults” by Chiddy Bang. It’s a throwback, but I’m happy it floated into my head. It’s a funny song about living life to the fullest.  Every chorus ends with the line, “This life is a party. I’m never growing up.” For the longest time, it was hard to believe those words as true. But more recently, that mindset has been seeping into the corners of my mind, completely out of my control.

Whenever I see an article on mental health, there is a sweeping expanse of suicide, anxiety, depression, mania or any other dark and sticky topic. It feels like everyone is caught up on the down side of mental health issues. In the process, we forget what a gift all of those things can be.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I hate having suicidal thoughts. I hate having anxiety about my future. And I hate feeling paranoia creep into my bones. But what has really turned my life around is the full incorporation of those parts of myself into my wholehearted identity.

Instead of viewing suicidal thoughts as big, scary monsters with long claws, I have shed light on them. Truthfully, they are just a puppies whimpering in the corner, waiting for a good snuggle. Treating my neuroses as friends has changed my life completely. They are simply little feedback loops telling myself, hey maybe you need to do something a little different. A lot of times that means having a good laugh with friends, taking a nap or doing something I love. My body is constantly aching to tell me something. I’ve just become brave enough to listen and do something about it. And that has taken time — lots of time — and work and pain.

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Throughout our lives, we climb structures. They might be social, professional, romantic or whatever else you might value in your life. Our society often promotes external values and gratification. If you follow those paths, then you will get the rewards and struggles. But we rarely shed light on the interior lives each of us have. We all have thoughts and feelings, but where is the gratification for sharing them?

Mental health issues are a complete inner slog shunned to the extremes of our society. “Healthy” people might say, oh, I don’t have that, it’s not my problem.  Before I was diagnosed, that thought flit in and out of my head all the time. But the more we can realize we all exist on a spectrum of suffering, the more we can come together as wholesome, vulnerable people. 

Mental health issues have a dark side. People are scared to divulge their inner most secrets, especially in the professional or academic realm. I mean, who would want to work with someone who is “crazy,” right? Newsflash: Having a mental illness doesn’t make you crazy. I believe we are all crazy. If you are happy floating above that name, then by all means ride your high horse over the rest of us who are willing to do the real work. 

For me, the worst part about living with a mental illness is the constant secrecy. The second I broke that veil, I felt worlds better. Living alone in your struggle is a strive towards despair. Life can be a party. You don’t have to grow up. Keep that curiosity and vibrancy. Do something that gives you life instead of sucking it away. Because life is both short and long. We are all fragile. Let yourself fall in love with every part of yourself. And maybe, one day, you will look back on your dark days and laugh.

Because you are alive and breathing.

And that is the most awesome, mind-bending truth in the world.

Follow this journey on Adventures of a Little Boy.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Pain of Being Suicidal

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I want to start off by saying this is in no way meant to minimize, downplay or write off anyone’s pain because as we all know, pain is pain no matter what it is. 

At 19 years old, I have already experienced what feels like the worst pain in the world.

“The worst pain in the world.” What exactly is that?

Some might be skeptical of it because they cannot see it. 

The worst pain I’ve ever felt, the worst pain in the world, is the mental pain that made me try to kill myself. 

Anyone who has ever attempted suicide knows what I’m talking about. It’s hard to fully grasp the concept that mental pain could be the worst pain possible unless you’ve felt it yourself. Pain is different for everyone, and anyone can empathize, but you will never truly understand a type of pain until you actually feel it. I probably wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it, but now I know. I have broken a bone before, I cracked one of my ribs, and that was not even a speck of pain compared to what I was feeling when I tried to end my life.

The pain is indescribable. It isn’t really stabbing or burning. You might feel some physical pain. My heart felt like it was constantly being crushed. I have felt suicidal many times, but all of them pale in comparison to the one time I actually acted on it. It’s a unique kind of unbearable pain, when you feel like the only solution is to end your life, when no drug or treatment will ease what ails you.

The pain of being suicidal is endless yet numbing. It encompasses everything so nothing matters except the pain of existing and enduring the torture of simply being alive. When you reach the point of that pain your other pains have left you. Your broken bone that screams through you is numbed. That broken heart you nurse has been shattered beyond repair and does not matter at all. The things that previously kept you alive, the possibility of life getting better, not wanting to hurt the people you love with your death, worrying about whether or not your brother will be the one to find your body, all of those concerns that kept you from ending it mean nothing anymore because this pain you feel in the moment makes nothing, nothing matter, except relief. Relief from the unending torture, peace at last, blissful nothingness.

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And from the deepest part of my scarred heart, I hope you never feel it. 

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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11 Lessons I've Learned About Grief Since Losing My Soulmate to Suicide

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March 15, 2015 was the day I lost my life partner and soul mate to suicide. To quote Michelle Steinke, “All other bad days before and after have been defined by that moment.”

“Beware the Ides of March” was the soothsayer’s message to Julius Caesar, warning of his death. According to Wikipedia, some have said the death of Caesar made the Ides of March a turning point in Roman history, as one of the events that marked the transition from the historical period known as the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

The death of Steve has surely marked a transition point in my life, from over 33 years of having a loving and fun-filled relationship to a life of loneliness.

As I reflect on this sad one-year anniversary of Steve’s death, I have observed the following and have come to some conclusions:

1.  People I thought were friends were not there for me during the lowest time in my life.  This could be because they were really never a friend in the first place or they were so caught up in their own grief, they cannot bear to talk to me, as I am a reminder that Steve is no longer here. The silence of these “friends” is deafening.

2.  People that I least expected to reached out to me and supported me in my time of grief.  These were people I hadn’t spoken to or seen in quite some time or people who had known Steve but didn’t know me, yet they reached out to me with such compassion. I was always touched and amazed by the kindness of complete strangers when I would have a meltdown in a public place.

3.  It is OK to cry in public. Crying is part of the human condition, and to this day, I still will break down in tears over a simple reminder of Steve. There is no rhyme or reason as to what that might be. It could be seeing a car like his or hearing a favorite song of ours. Hearing a special song one day may tear me apart, yet on another day, hearing that same song will make me smile at the memory.

4. Intellectually, I understand one needs to remain positive and have gratitude for things to change for the better, however, putting that into practice is so difficult, harder than anything I have had to do in my life.  I try to do all the “right” things: exercise, yoga, therapy, group therapy, socialize, volunteer work etc., and I will continue to forge ahead in my new life without Steve.  But, when one is so depressed it is easier said than done. I remember thinking how could Steve find it so difficult to exercise for only 20  minutes when he had been such an incredible athlete, once so committed to his training. Although he suffered from clinical depression and I am suffering from situational depression, I now understand how hard it was for him to help himself. Exercise has always been a focal point in my life, whether it was dance, tennis, lifting weights, cycling or race-walking.  Yet, now it is exhausting for me to do the simplest exercise and I must force myself to do it.

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5. Bringing food to people who are grieving is so important. I never understood why this custom was so essential until I was the recipient. If it wasn’t for my friends bringing me cooked food, I probably would have wasted away to nothing.  I didn’t and still have no desire to cook, and I eat to live when I used to live to eat.

6. Most people are clueless on how to deal with someone who has suffered an incredible loss, let alone a loss to suicide.  Showing compassion and even just saying “I’m sorry” or “How are you doing today” or just giving a hug with no words is appropriate.

7. No two grieving processes are alike. I lost both my parents years ago and yes, I grieved and cried. However, my grief over the loss of my mom and dad pales in comparison to what I am experiencing with the loss of Steve.

8. One can never “move on” after such a devastating loss.  I can only move through it. “Move on” is something I have learned to never say to someone who has lost a loved one.

9. I notice when some people ask me how I am doing and I tell them the truth. I usually never hear from them again. But I will not lie and say I am doing great, just so they can feel good about asking me.

10. I believe that not being Steve’s wife has made a huge difference in how some people have treated me. Society deems marriage to carry certain tangible and intangible benefits.

11.  What I do know for a fact, and no one can ever dispute this, is that Steve and I were like two peas in a pod. We knew each other so well and could finish each other’s sentences.  Our love was so strong, and no one can ever take that away from me. Yes, there were trials and tribulations for us in the last two years of his life that were exacerbated by his mental illness, but we never stopped loving each other. Unless someone has walked a mile in my shoes, they have no right to judge my actions or dispute the never-ending love Steve and I had for each other.

Mental health professionals and bereavement counselors have all told me my feelings and experiences are not unique to me. As it is with mental illness and suicide, no one likes to talk about death and grieving, and most people choose to remain silent.  My hope is that someone who reads this blog can take away something to help a person in their life who may have suffered the loss of a loved one.

To this day, I am still grieving and trying my best to move through life without my beloved Steve. Sadness over what has transpired since Steve took his own life continually haunts me.

There are some bright spots in my life, and since I don’t want this blog to be a total pity party, I will end it on a positive note by expressing my eternal gratitude to my closest friends who have been by my side every step of the way and to those people who have shown me such compassion and kindness  in my journey of grief.  I am so blessed to have them in my life.

Although I may always be lonely, I will never be alone.

The author and her husband on the beach.
Jean and her husband, 1985

Follow this journey on Slipped Away.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Student Issued Problematic 'Wellness Agreement' After Disclosing Suicidal Thoughts

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A student in Canada has spoken up about signing what his university calls a “wellness agreement” while seeking help for suicidal thoughts last October.

Brody Stuart-Verner, a student at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, went to his university’s Residential Life Office for support.

The residence life manager promptly put the pen and the piece of paper in front of me and I was given very little clarification,” Stuart-Verner said in an interview on the CBC Radio show “As It Happens.” “There were just a few things that just popped out at me that didn’t sound completely right but again, at that time, I was in such a fragile state that I thought that I had to sign it.”

The agreement, which Stuart-Verner shared with CBC Radio, states he must call a helpline in times of crisis, see regular counseling and that he “will not discuss or engage in conversations with residence students regarding personal issues, namely the student’s self-destructive thoughts.”

The contents of the agreement must also remain confidential. “Should you break the agreement,” the document reads, “you understand that you will have to vacate your room in residence and your lease will be terminated.”

“The way I understand that statement is that I can’t talk to any of my friends on campus about how I’m feeling,” Stuart-Verner told “As It Happens.” “It really did lead to a sense of embarrassment and I felt ashamed.”

After Stuart-Verner went public with the agreement, Mount Saint Vincent University responded on Facebook.

The full post reads:

A message from Paula Barry, AVP, Student Experience:

I was saddened to see the Global story broadcast last evening.

This situation is not in keeping with the Mount’s stance on mental illness. We are committed to the health and wellbeing of all of our students and we work very hard to ensure they are supported. That is why this situation is especially upsetting.

The intent of all of the Mount’s residence life policies is to ensure the support and safety of all of our students. As clarity, wellness agreements are plans put in place, in collaboration with our Student Health Services and our Counselling Team, to support (not isolate) residence students in rare crisis circumstances only. In the past year, the language in question was included in one of only two plans.

There are many supports available to students facing challenges. Peer supports, including trained mental health responders, residence assistants and dons, are an important part of that community of regular support. This group is always available to our students.

We don’t want any other student to feel the way Brody did. And we’re committed to continually improving. We are consulting with our Students’ Union and will ensure the continued input of mental health professionals as we work to review and modify the agreement.

According to Active Minds, more than half of college students have had suicidal thoughts, and one in 10 students seriously consider attempting suicide. An estimated 67 percent of college students tell a friend they are feeling suicidal before telling anyone else.

Stuart-Verner says he’s hoping the school will change its policy.

Paula Barry, Associate Vice-President Student Experience at Mount Saint Vincent University, told The Mighty, “On behalf of the Mount, I am sincerely sorry for what happened to Brody. I spoke with our Students’ Union office yesterday morning to initiate a review of the wellness agreement. This review will include our students as well as mental health professionals and will focus on ensuring that, in future, no student feels the way Brody did.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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5 Things to Know If Your Loved One Dies by Suicide

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I have written a lot about what to do before, during and after a suicide attempt. I guess that’s because the people who are here on my blog are the survivors and the loved ones, mostly, of suicide attempt survivors.

But there’s a underserved community in conjunction with suicide — the loved ones left behind by suicide. They are suicide survivors, too. These people are left with a void. These people are left with a hole in their hearts and a hole in the information that’s available. But there are things I think you should know if your loved one dies by suicide.

1. His (or her) suicide is not your fault.

This is a big one. Huge. You have to understand no matter how it went down, the suicide is not your fault. You didn’t force him. You didn’t give her that final push. Even if the last thing you did was scream at him — that didn’t cause his suicide.

His suicide was about him (and most likely his mental illness), not you. His suicide is not your fault.

2. It’s OK to feel angry with, and hurt by, the person who killed himself.

When a person dies you feel loss and you mourn that loss, but mourning a loss due to suicide is more complicated because there are so many contradictory feelings in play. You feel guilty because you didn’t do more. You feel hurt because he didn’t come to you. You feel angry the person won’t be there at your wedding. You feel profound sadness this person is no longer in your world.

And so on, and so on, and so on. The feelings pile up one on top of each other until you’re standing on a hill of confusion, seemingly, with no way down.

This is normal. Those horrible things you’re thinking about the victim of the suicide? Normal. Feeling angry? Normal. Feeling hurt, loss, sadness, guilt? All normal, normal, normal, normal. In short, whatever you are feeling is normal for you. It will hurt and it will be confusing but you will work through it.

3. You may never understand why someone you love died by suicide.

There are exceptions to this, but predominantly, you’re just not going to understand what drove that person you loved to suicide at that moment. You’re not going to understand why he didn’t call a helpline. You’re not going to understand why he didn’t reach out to you or someone else and say he was suicidal. You’re not going to understand why, of all the moments, he chose that one to end his life. I can tell you that it had to do with ending pain, but that’s about all we know.

You’re just not going to understand his suicide — you can’t. It’s not possible. Even if you were one of the few who were left a suicide note, you still won’t understand all the deep questions that come up. Sometimes we need to learn that there are no answers, only painful questions.

4. You will try to look for the logic behind your loved one’s suicide.

Because you’re a thinking, feeling, rational human being, you will try to look for the logic behind your loved one’s suicide. You won’t be able to find this logic because suicide is not a rational, logical choice. Acting on suicide only makes sense in the mind of someone who is in such extreme pain that most would find it unfathomable. The logic exists in the illness and if you don’t suffer the same way, you’re likely never going to see it.

5. The pain from suicide will get better.

The emotions will be almost unbearably painful and they will seem to swallow you whole — but that won’t last forever. The anguish that you feel will lessen. The outrage you feel will quell. You will heal from this wound that feels impossible to heal from. Grief often feels like the end of the world but it really never is. It’s just an interruption to your world. A horrible, nasty, massive, painful, angry interruption — but one that won’t last forever. I promise.

While You’re Processing the Emotions of Suicide

And while you’re working through all the painful questions and emotions tied to suicide, remember this — take care of yourself. Going through something this difficult makes you vulnerable emotionally and physically so make sure you meet the basic requirements of sleeping, eating, drinking enough water and going outside from time to time. I know those things tend to fall by the wayside during times like these, but you need to focus on them because they’re going to only make you stronger to face the pain that suicide leaves in its wake.

Survivors of Suicide Resources

If your loved one has died by suicide, you may wish to check out:

And there are many, many more that are more local. Just Google “suicide survivors support your area.

My thoughts are with you. You shouldn’t have to go through this, but you don’t have to go through this alone. Reach out.

Follow this journey on Bipolar Burble.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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