couple smiling on beach

As I have learned  from other suicide survivors, many of us have regrets over what we could have done differently to prevent our loved one from taking their own life. I am no different in that respect. For the most part though, I have come to terms with the fact I am not responsible for Steve’s suicide.

The last few years of his life, Steve frequently went through peaks and valleys of clarity and despair. Since he was so good at hiding his inner turmoil, he could fool many, even those closest to him. At times, it appeared he was coping well and possibly on the road to recovery. It is only now, going through my grief journey, a lot of therapy and connecting with other survivors, that I can understand how much pain he was in, especially for the past several years.

As an armchair quarterback, I reflect on what I might have done differently. Now, knowing more about the pain Steve was in, I would have tried to be more sensitive to that. I would not put him in a position to address some things that now, in the grand scheme of things, were really not that important.

There were times in Steve’s final months, when I believed he was doing well. I thought it was an opportunity to approach him with some business decision to be made or some other concern I would not have brought to his attention if he was in a pit of despair. As an example, a few months before Steve died, someone whom we both knew was cyber-harassing me in spite of cease and desist orders. Since Steve seemed to be on the upswing, I told him about it. I will never forget what he said.

“I don’t want to hear this.”

Although stressful, a person in good mental health would be able to deal with situations like this. However, in Steve’s case, I believe due to his fragile mental state, he was probably devastated knowing he was powerless to help me, which sent him spiraling down again.

I wish I had realized my actions may have further stressed Steve even though he appeared well. I wish I was more cognizant of the fact that he needed time to enjoy his brief moments of clarity.

What have I learned in the 18 months since Steve has passed?

1. I need not be so hard on myself.

I needed to know I did what I thought was in Steve’s best interests. Had I acted on it when Steve was alive, the regret I have now would not have changed anything or prolonged Steve’s life. I think this is the only way Steve felt he could protect himself. I couldn’t do it for him.

2. Things are not always as they seem.

Those struggling with mental illness, even though laughing and smiling on the outside, could very well be in intense pain on the inside.

3.  Hindsight is 20/20.

Follow this journey on Slipped Away.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.


When I heard my Aunt Sue died, I felt cold. The feeling spread from the base of my spine, over the top of my head, sank into my chest and pushed out my breath. I felt like I was falling.

Sue was in pain. She was drinking. She did what she felt she needed to do. She took her life. I understand how it feels: the crushing panic, the feelings that can only be described as darkness, not being able to find any space to be calm. The fact that I understand how it felt scared me.

I try to be as honest as I can with my children about the history of mental health issues and substance abuse in our family. My family history remained largely hidden from me as a child struggling with depression. My children need to know these tendencies could be lurking inside them.

More than 41,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States. On a global scale, suicide claims more than 800,000 lives every year. That’s about the entire population of Ft. Worth, Texas. Imagine every man, woman and child choosing to end their lives en masse. People who have lost a family member or friend to suicide are more likely to attempt or die by suicide.

The National Institutes of Health sponsored a study that revealed clear genetic risks associated with mental illness, something long suspected by the medical community and those who live with the disorders. The genes you are born with strongly influence the way your body responds to stress. In other words, your genes aren’t the only factor that controls if you will end up with depression, schizophrenia or any other number of mental illness. Life experiences and how you deal with stress can all influence whether you end up with a mental illness.

My youngest daughter asked, “If Aunt Sue was so sad, why didn’t she come to us?”

“I don’t know,” I said. The words felt like cotton in my mouth.

When I was in my late teens and seeking treatment for my depression, Aunt Sue sought me out to reveal our family history of mental illness and substance abuse (a desperate attempt to self-medicate the pain away) and her struggles. I had no idea about any of this. She saved me. She made me feel like I wasn’t alone, that we were both a part of the same tribe.

Sue was 22 years older than me, but it never felt that way at all. My aunt and I were very close, and we naturally fell in together. We bonded over our shared interest in making pretty things. While the rest of the family went hunting, we armed ourselves with glue guns instead of rifles. Sue was my dad’s younger sister. Their father left when my dad was 4 and Sue was an infant. The rumor amongst family members was my biological grandfather has schizophrenia. My dad and his little sister didn’t have a good childhood.

People would always say Sue and I looked alike: the same thin light brown hair, doe eyes and sharp nose. I loved my aunt, but I was afraid of becoming her. Every so often when she became convinced her depression was untreatable, she’d stop all medication and therapy and hole up somewhere. No one would be able to reach her for months at a time. Then, she’d show up again and act like no time had passed at all. It was shocking to outsiders, but this was her normal.

When I got married, she insisted on taking care of all the decorations. Sue was incredibly talented. She arrived hours before anyone else and set up the entire reception. She transformed an empty banquet hall into a twinkling forest complete with “dead trees.” She had gathered branches from the woods, spray painted them white and then covered them in silver glass glitter. She also gilded hundreds of silk flowers with silver foil and wove them into arches. At the actual party, she disappeared.

Genes don’t necessarily determine a person’s destiny. Certain triggers can alter the expression of those genes. The environment we are raised in has an effect as well. This is why the study of these diseases is so complicated and difficult. How do you identify who might be contemplating suicide?

One of the problems with treating mental illness and suicidal thoughts is researchers only know what the patient is willing to share with them, and they can’t talk to someone who has died by suicide. This has led researchers to study the survivors, the family members of those who have died and those who have attempted suicide and survived, to advance research on the subject.

One of these researchers is Matthew K. Nock, who directs Harvard University’s Laboratory for Clinical and Developmental Research. His hope is to develop a series of computerized tests that can calculate a “risk score” for suicidal behavior in real-time.

One of the tests determines if a patient is associating themselves with living or with dying through word association. The researchers observed that people who are contemplating suicide hesitated a few fractions of a second longer when the word on the screen related to dying. A word like “funeral” caused hesitation while a neutral word like “ice cream” would be dealt with immediately.

Another test measures a subject’s eye movement in response to certain photos that appear on the screen. Nock’s group follows up with questions to measure the reliability of the tests like: Are the test takers more depressed? Have they attempted suicide? What no one can really agree on is what to do with the patients who are determined to be high-risk.

In another study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research suggested that the healthy relatives of people who have died by suicide often have poor decision-making and impulse control. If this is an inherited trait of suicidal tendencies, what keeps the rest of the family members from suicide? The research showed that these living “risky decision makers” were able to identify alternative solutions to problems.

In another study that focused on how life experience affects gene function found that childhood abuse could cause changes in the body’s ability to regulate cortisol, the stress hormone. The change leaves the brain in a constant state of alertness, causing a person to overreact to stress. The combination of these two factors: impulsive genes and a tendency to overact could lead a person to see suicide as an immediate solution.

Every depression and attempted suicide is different. Because every case presents differently, one would assume all the treatments should be different. However, the treatments are not very distinct at all, and the global suicide rates are not declining.

Marsha Linehan, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, and a person who lives with mental illness herself, developed dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This therapy combines behavioral science with concepts like acceptance and mindfulness. This therapy is designed to change thought patterns, and subsequently, behaviors. DBT gives patients a skill set and requires work on the part of the patient, weekly meetings, one-on-one counseling sessions and workbooks. It is a huge time commitment, and because of that, it seems to have been relegated to the most severe cases.

Most people attempting to navigate the mental health system are not getting this type of therapy and don’t know where to begin to look for help. My aunt would check herself into the local behavioral health center from time to time. Yet, she never got the help she truly needed.

When my youngest daughter was 2, Sue showed back up. Her house had a small electrical fire, so she stayed with us for a month. My kids grew close to her. She would read to them, build forts and do crafts. I remember her smoking on the back porch. The smoke swirled around her head as she exhaled, standing wrapped in a sweater and sweatpants with bare feet and her left leg bent and foot resting on her other knee. I called it her flamingo pose. She stood like that all the time.

On September 4, 2015, about four hours before Sue killed herself, she sent me a message on Facebook:

It has been a while since we have spoken. Just want to send my love and say how proud I am of you. You are a star in my world! Think of you often. Keep plugging away and it will all make sense in the end! Give the kids a hug and tell them Aunt Sue loves them with abandonment!       

I can pick that message apart for the rest of my life, and I likely will. I’ll analyze her word choices, and I have no idea if she intended to say goodbye. Just what the hell does “abandonment” mean in this context? I have no idea if she planned her death or if she got drunk and made an impulsive decision. I imagine in the moment, just before she did it, she felt like I often do, alone and drowning in her own thoughts.

I want my kids to know they aren’t alone and no one would be “better off” without them. I want them to know even the most impossible situation might not be so daunting if they ask for help. I want them not to struggle like Sue did and like I do.

Depression makes you feel isolated. The only thing you can do is go against what your body and mind are telling you and reach out to people for help and support. At a certain point, even that becomes too difficult. Sue desperately wanted to feel needed, to be caring for someone and I see that in myself. In quiet moments, I find myself thinking of the sound of her voice. I don’t want to forget.

Image via Thinkstock.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

How much is too much to handle before breaking?

The weight of depression is heavy, breaking the will of the strongest of people. I’ve been there. I’ve been to that point when fatigue and continuous battering drive you to your knees, desperate for rest.

However, I’ve reached another point too. It’s the point when you realize you have depression, but depression does not have you. This point is when the war you’ve fought for so long is won, you can decide which side gets the victory. Your ability to decide is how you gain the strength and courage to withstand the fight until the next decision has to be made.

How much is too much to handle before breaking?

Sometimes, breaking seems like the best option, the easiest way to escape the agony. Yet, the times when you win empower you to keep it together to conquer the next war. A life where depression has you is too much to handle, but a life where you realize you have depression is manageable. It is possible to live with depression without breaking once you realize you do have control.

Shed the weight of doubt, self-hatred and guilt before breaking. Build yourself up by reminding yourself of the truth. You are beautiful. You are loved and you are not alone. Decide to have the depression, but don’t let it have you.

How long is too long to keep holding on?

Hours spent begging to die fade slowly into days spent dreading this life. I’ve been there, to that place where dark days become dreary years and happiness is a distant mirage in the desert wasteland of your mind.

But I’ve been to a different place too, a place where a brief smile becomes a glimmer of hope and that hope slowly makes life bearable for the moment. This place is where a gentle hug reminds you that you are loved and that knowledge strengthens your grasp just enough to keep holding on.

How long is too long to keep holding on?

It may seem impossible at times, a feat requiring far more strength than you can muster. However, hold on for those brief smiles and gentle hugs. Hold on to the hope that moment by moment, life will slowly become bearable once more. Hold on to the hug that reminds you that you are loved. Let it strengthen your grasp when you’ve lost the strength to hold on to yourself.

Hold on to the truth. It is never too long to keep holding on, as long as you keep finding things to hold on to.

Image via Thinkstock.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

“Where have you been? I don’t recognize you lately.”

These words are spoken to me a week or so ago by my Dimmu (my husband). We had just woken up and were chatting about our past few days and how I had been feeling. Days that to me seemed far away and foggy around the edges.

How I feel? I told him how lost and confused I have been feeling, how I can’t even see who I am, how I don’t know who I want to be or even if I knew how to be her if I could.

He knew where I was at without me even having to say anything. He just wanted to know how it looked from my side. He didn’t say it in a malicious way, and it didn’t upset me because I knew exactly what he meant.

It’s true. I’m at this loss. I feel like part of me is missing still, even after all this work. Even after all the pain, it feels like I am putting myself through it. Even after all I have, I am still so lost.

I’m almost 32 years old, and I feel like a puberty-stricken teen in the midst of a first crush. It’s like the world is over all because her crush won’t talk to her. Except this time, I’m the crush and the girl all at the same time. Yet, there’s a big fence stopping us from awkwardly hugging or kissing.

Something is stopping me from reaching the person on the inside. I haven’t felt like myself for a few months, but recently I felt like I wasn’t present in the moment, in any of the moments.

I was me but not me, a me who was still a work in progress, a me who wasn’t recognizable to myself, my kids or my husband. My therapist called me and told me this loss, this confusion is progress because we are unpacking so much and because we are getting to the core that is me.

“Yes, you were sexually abused for a long time, but that’s not all you are, even though that is your issue to work on in life.”

In that same week, my Dimmu consoled me after I spent my shower crying like a baby on his chest because I was jealous I don’t have the balls I assume it takes to end it all. Sadly, I was feeling envious of those who don’t have to live through life. It feels embarrassing and almost shameful to admit something almost inconsiderate to those who have lived through that, or insensitive to those who have actually died by suicide. I didn’t want to die necessarily. I just wanted to take the pain away, like I have said so many times before. Suicidal ideologies, I call them.

I climbed out of the shower and watched Dimmu shave while I sat on the toilet in my soggy towel. The tears just kept welling in my eyes, falling off my face one after the other and my heart shattering over and over. My world felt like it was falling to pieces. The hurt is so consuming that life just feels wasted on me.

The earth-shattering numbness mixed with desolation is unbearable. At those points in my depression, I genuinely feel incredibly alone. I am constantly grappling at the pieces of myself I haven’t even really seen.

These pieces, I am constantly trying to find and smash together, like a 2-year-old trying to stick ripped-up paper together. These pieces I can barely hold feel like they will never become whole, no matter how much tape or glue I use. This is probably because I feel like I still don’t have all the pieces I need.

My Dimmu looks down at me with this look on his face. It isn’t disappointment. It isn’t pain. It’s love and heartbreak.

I am still sitting on the toilet with my wet hair dripping cold droplets down my back when he kneels in front of me. The exhaust fan hums above us, and he is still wet from his shower with his towel around his waist. He kisses me ever so gently on the lips and when he pulls away he places his forehead on mine.

He says, “Stay with me, OK? Even if you cry all the way to the end, I’ll still be right here when that end comes.”

That moment, which was mere weeks ago, still plays on my mind today. It still hurts. I feel guilt because I put this family through so much. I feel like I don’t deserve such devotion, such love and adoration. I also feel sadness for him because he knows how desperate I am at those points, and he knew right then it is a real possibility that one day I could slip over the line.

I don’t know what breaks my heart more: that he loves me enough to endure all that is inside me, or that he knows how much I’m hurting (because he had to say that in the first place).

His love and devotion to me saves me every day. He will never fully understand how much that devotion and support means to me, how much he keeps me (partially) sane. He picks up the pieces of me I can’t and holds them to my body until they fuze back on. He picks them up every time. If I’m not ready to hold them, then he keeps them warm for me for when I am ready for them.

No words could ever describe how good having that feels. No words could ever capture my appreciation for him. So all I have to do to show him how much that means to me is to stay with him, and it’ll all be OK.

This post originally appeared on AD Remembered.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Here is what I’ve learned about suicidal ideation — I feel it is our brain’s way of trying to solve a problem we think only has one “solution.” I spend most of my days trying to figure out how I can help people and how I can help myself become a better problem solver. I have implored others to begin changing the conversation about suicide to help erase the stigma surrounding those who have lost their lives to it and those who have survived it. I am one such survivor.

I am not pain-free, and I am still plagued by doubt sometimes that I can actually “do life.” One thing that has changed fairly recently for me is I made a deal with myself to take suicide off the table as an option. I have made a concerted effort to choose life. It’s a scary thing to say out loud and even more terrifying to put in front of all of you — because what if I fail one day?

And that’s the truth of it, the hard ugly truth of living with a depression-ridden brain that has used suicidal ideation as a way to feel less anxiety. In the back of my mind there was always the whisper of “If things get bad enough, there’s always a way out” — and this whispered statement is true. It’s addressing the “way out” part that requires some rewiring in my brain. I’m not ashamed I thought this way; I’m afraid of what I would have become if I continued. I’m also afraid of what I’d miss. One could argue in the event of death you’d never actually know, but one of the best things about our brains is they allow us to speculate about the future, and in doing so they allow us a glimpse of what “could” be. I don’t want to miss what could be.

So I keep living. I keep finding reasons to stay. I keep talking about how important it is to understand ourselves and each other. The truth is no one gets out of this life unscathed. No one is without pain, no one is ever 100 percent positive or 100 percent negative all of the time. We exist in these pockets of time, and we are in these moments that sometimes can feel like they last forever, but again with the truth — these moments, good or bad, don’t last forever. Don’t get me wrong, my brain wants to convince me otherwise during the down times, and for brief periods I may concede. I will, on occasion, literally throw my hands in the air and say out loud, “Fine, Depression Brain! You win this round. You’re right as usual, nothing will change and I’ll feel this way forever.” I wait a few heartbeats, and eventually I’m in a new moment. When I say heartbeats, this doesn’t mean seconds — this could mean days or weeks. But eventually, I find myself in a new moment with a different perspective. The point is I keep going.

When suicide was the option my brain kept presenting me with, it was so easy to see all the reasons not to stay. It was easy to agree with the option because I felt not enough, alone in a crowded room full of people who loved me, and so much pressure to be “on” all the time when all I wanted was to disappear. It was easy to find every flaw in myself and list those as the reasons why my husband couldn’t possibly love me, my friends couldn’t possibly care as much as they say they do, my children would be better off without me — because look at how horrible I am. It’s easy to find the dark and hide there, believing the only way out is to remove yourself from the world.

Here’s some more truth for you — it can be a thousand times harder to live in the light. It’s unbelievably hard to find the good things about myself sometimes, but it’s a good kind of hard. It’s a kind of hard with a much larger purpose driving it, because when I do find the good, I become brave enough to come out of the darkness. Stepping into my life and finding the reasons to stay has become my daily goal. Sometimes I have to do this minute by minute; I have to reach out into the world and find the good in it and in myself. I do this so I can keep living. I do this so I don’t miss out on what could be. I keep going because I am not alone — and neither are you, the one reading these words.

Suicide is no longer an option for me, and I hope it will no longer be an option for you. Life is. Life is hard and tiring and ugly and beautiful and full of people who are all trying to do the same thing — live it. I don’t want to give up on it, and I hope you won’t either.

Image via Thinkstock.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

You don’t know me, so what I have to say might not be important to you right now. But if you will take just one moment and read my words, it could make a difference to you. Just give it a try.

Things won’t always be this bad. You won’t always feel this hopeless and desperate. Life won’t always be so cruel. You are not always going to be this sad.

You might feel like the only way out is to end it all, but there is hope. There is help out there, and there are people, like me, out in the world who care about you. We care about what happens to you.

When I was 30 years old, my father took his own life. Two weeks later, I miscarried my first baby. I lost hope. I lost myself. I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, my dad had made the right choice. Maybe there was just too much sadness in the world, too many people who didn’t care, not enough good.

As I sat on the couch in my living room days after the miscarriage, I made a choice. I was depressed; I knew that. I also knew a decision would have to be made. Either I was going to end up like my dad, or I was going to go get some help.

I lifted myself from the couch. I took a shower. I made myself change from wearing pajamas all day long to wearing actual clothing. I forced myself to eat. I combed my hair. I grabbed my car keys and drove to a counseling center near my house. I entered the facility and explained to the receptionist that I needed to see someone, and I needed to see someone as soon as possible.

I didn’t realize it right then, but tears were streaming down my cheeks as I was telling the woman, this stranger, what had happened in my life during the past few weeks. I told her I was just about at my limit, almost at the very end of the rope, so to speak. I asked for the soonest appointment available.

Little did I know, there was a therapist quietly eating her lunch in the small area behind where the receptionist sat. She heard everything I was saying — how I’d lost my dad, the guilt I’d been carrying around for weeks, how my husband couldn’t understand why I couldn’t smile, eat, or work, and how the little ray of hope and sunshine I’d been growing in my womb had died, and now I had nothing. She heard all the things I said about how my heart was broken and how I didn’t think I’d ever be able to fix it — that there was absolutely nothing in this world, in this life, that would ever be able to repair all the damage that had been done. I was broken.

This woman, this person, this angel came to the window. She took my hand. She put down her sandwich, looked at the receptionist and said, “I’ll see her now.” She motioned to me to come back through the door.

I followed her to an office with a comfortable couch, colorful throw pillows, and several pieces of beautiful artwork all over the walls. I can say that’s what I see now — the colors, but on that day, everything looked gray.

I didn’t talk much during that first appointment. I think I was shocked that my new therapist threw away her lunch so she could help me get through the day. But whatever I said, I will never forget, made her cry with me. It was then I knew that she cared. She wasn’t just there to work or get a paycheck or bill my insurance company. She was there because she wanted me to live. She wanted me to know I wouldn’t always feel the way I did right then. She told me there was hope. She said I had a future. She promised me I didn’t have to end things the way my father had.

I didn’t believe her on that day. In fact, it took me months to believe her. Now that I think about it, it took me years to truly believe her and even longer to believe in myself.

We talked for an hour each week. I took medication. She made me say “goodbye”  to my dead baby. I thought she was ridiculous. She sat a little statue in a chair and she actually made me talk to it as if it were my precious little baby who was gone from the world way too soon. I rolled my eyes, but I did it. I let my baby go.

It was harder to let my dad go. I don’t know if I, to this day, 15 years later, have truly let him go, if I’m being perfectly honest. Of course there are days that go by that I don’t think about him. But most days I do. Many days I think about what it would be like to have him here today.

Because, you see, today I am strong. Today, after years of therapy and months of medication, I am just about (not quite 100 percent), whole. My heart that was broken, is still bruised, but now it beats, and it’s filled with love.

The stress and pain of my father’s suicide coupled with the loss of that first baby broke up my marriage. We weren’t able to fix it together; we just grew apart. But we made the best two children I could ever have wished for.

I have two boys, ages 14 and 12. They are strong, smart, funny, happy, loving, and secure. My greatest blessing in life has been to be their mother. I take nothing for granted because I remember back to that very first day when I walked into that counseling center. Had I not insisted on getting help for myself, my boys might not have ever been born.

When my boys were still quite young, I met a new man who loved me and quickly grew to also love my boys. We’ve been married now for seven years, and he’s the best step-dad any kid could ever hope for.

My therapist was right. There was hope. I did have a future. I became a mom, the most important job I’ve ever had, and despite all the hurt, the broken heart, the loss of a marriage, the loss of a baby, I was able to be a really good mom.

I took my pain and my grief and started a chapter of a nonprofit organization that works to prevent suicide. I worked for that nonprofit for nearly nine years. When I left, I was confident I’d helped hundreds of people cope with their own mental illnesses, as well as helped those who were like me, those who’d lost a loved one to suicide.

People would tell me how unselfish I was to have started the organization and tried to help so many people, but really, it was one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done. Starting that chapter and meeting other people like me, people who’d lost a loved one to suicide, helped mend my broken heart, gave me hope for the future, and made me feel like I’d finally accomplished something since my father had died. If I did help people, it certainly wasn’t as much as all of them helped me.

I know you feel sad. You have tried so hard, I’m sure. I understand why you might think there’s no hope, but I promise you, there is. Something good is out there waiting for you to find it. I know you can do it because I did it. And if I could do it, so can you.

Take it one day at a time, one hour, one minute at a time, if you have to. There are people out there, like the therapist who cared enough about me to throw out her lunch, take my hand, and guide me into her office, who will help you.

I wish you nothing but the best, and I believe in my heart that you can have a happy, and healthy life full of love.

Give it a try. I know you can do it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Image via Thinkstock.

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