Couple smiling for camera

My conundrum: I need Steve now more than ever to help me get through his suicide. In the past, during major emotional upheavals in my life, specifically the passing of my parents and my cancer diagnosis, I was always comforted by my pillar of strength, Steve. He was always able to gently remind me to live in the moment, show me the power of humor or just give me a huge bear hug with his massive swimmer’s shoulders that enveloped me like a protective cocoon. Steve always instinctively knew what I needed from him to help me deal with my emotional pain.

I will never forget the last time I saw my mom alive before she passed from incurable, progressive brain cancer. Steve and I were visiting my mom at her assisted-living facility in Florida and were in the community room with her, where an entertainer was singing the Frank Sinatra classics from my mom’s generation. As I watched my mom in her wheelchair, she was smiling and singing along. Of course, I started crying, wondering how many more days she had left and if I would ever see her again. Steve gave me a big hug and gently reminded me at that moment, my mom was so happy. He said when we get old and were in assisted-living, the entertainers will be singing Rolling Stones and Aerosmith songs.

Now, as I reflect on the huge void Steve’s loss has left in my life, with gratitude, I realize others have helped me fill some of that void. My good friends for many years, Judy, Kathy, Mike and Terry, have been rocks of support for me and do not hesitate to drop what they are doing to help me in any way they can. I have my yoga teachers, Gina and Lauren, to help me focus on breathing and living in the moment. There are my new friends, Anne and Joe, who can make me laugh and smile. Then, I also have my new veteran friends, Ron and his Airborne Tri Team, who continue to inspire me with their positive, can-do attitudes. Finally, my rabbits, who always live in the moment and crack me up with their antics. At times, they give me bunny kisses to soothe my tears (if it suits them.)

Yes, Steve and I will never be able to hear covers of rock and roll songs together in our later years. However, I am so thankful for the people in my life now who will hug me, give me a shoulder to lean on, make me smile or remind me to be present when I need it the most. They do have big shoes to fill, but sometimes, “it takes a village…”

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.

Image via contributor.


In the past few days, an article has been circulating discussing Northern Michigan University’s policy that students who discuss “suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions with other students” will face disciplinary actions. The university claims it changed the policy in January of 2016, but students have reported being told the policy as recently as summer 2016 orientation.

This isn’t a news article. So I won’t go into all the specific details, but I will say this: These types of policies are not just outdated. They’re dangerous. I’ll go further: Telling people they cannot talk about suicidal thoughts is literally life-threatening.

In Thomas Joiner’s book “Why People Die By Suicide,” he lists “thwarted belongingness” as a necessary component that leads to suicidal behavior. Joiner describes belongingness as a “combination of frequent interaction plus persistent caring.” He says, “in order to meet the need to belong, the interactions an individual has must be frequent and positive.”

In essence, Joiner is saying you need to feel like you’re connected with people and that you belong. Going even further, John Caeioppo and William Patrick’s book “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection,” spends nearly 300 pages making the case that loneliness (even the perception of loneliness) leads to drastic problems in physical, mental, social and every other kind of health.

So why is it an acceptable policy to push students who are feeling alone into further isolation by threatening them if they talk to their fellow students about what they’re feeling? The road to wellness is thick with hard conversations. Why are we making them harder?

I can honestly say that some of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had in my life have been the ones where I’ve been the most honest about what’s hurting me. I can also say they’ve been the most beneficial conversations in the long run. There’s something healing about naming your pain, something sacred about having the people around you tell you truth when you need it most.

As someone who’s wanted out of this life and tried to get there on multiple occasions, I can tell you this: I needed people to tell me I mattered. I needed people to tell me I wasn’t alone. I needed people to tell me I wasn’t a burden, that I was more to this world than the pain I’d inflicted on others.

Other people can’t tell us these things if they don’t know we need them. People cannot love you well if they don’t know what’s hurting you. I can honestly say I don’t know if I’d still be here if I hadn’t found people who were willing to fight the lies in my head with me by telling me the truth.

I find it tragic that the original form letter sent to students includes the line, “Engaging in any discussion of suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions with other students interferes with, or can hinder, their pursuit of education and community.” I’m not sure what definition of community is being used there, but I’ve never known a community to get worse when people discovered a safe space they could be genuine and vulnerable about their pain.

So please, push back against policies like this. The stigma surrounding mental health, and especially suicidal thoughts, is strong enough already. For us to be healthy and whole, we need to be encouraged to talk, not forbidden from it. Open conversation saves lives.

(For more on the news stories that prompted this article, click here.)

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.

Editor’s note: If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

When I was 13, I attempted suicide for the first time.

Let me back up a bit, though.

I grew up with a severe mental illness (bipolar II), which was complimented by extreme chronic migraines that would constantly lead to hospitalizations for pain management. It was an interesting way to enter my teen years when they both decided to manifest at the same time. One thing led to another, and I found myself alone in my room with a couple of pill bottles next to me. I attempted that night for the first time, and I woke up the next day groggy and with a killer headache that had nothing to do with a migraine.

I didn’t need to go to the hospital. I didn’t need to have my stomach pumped. I wasn’t put in a “mental institution.”

None of this means it didn’t happen.

When I was 14, it was more of the same. Another migraine, another episode, another attempt. I went all the way this time. Had I been a person at the beginning of the struggle, new to pain medication and sleep aids, I would not have walked away from that one.

Due to luck, fate or perhaps because I had built up a tolerance, it didn’t work. I remember wanting it to work so badly. Waking up that next day was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I can’t even kill myself, I remember thinking all day. As if I were the biggest failure in the world.

Sometimes it can seem like the only people who are recognized for suicidal thoughts or attempts are either: a) Those who didn’t survive or b) Those who needed to be taken to the hospital and put under observation. You don’t tend to hear about the people who attempted at home and just walked away.

My attempts should not be viewed as cries for help or as if they were not attempts. I had every intention in the world of going through with it, but it didn’t work. This doesn’t mean the attempts didn’t happen. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t emotionally scarring or those attempts will not stay with me for the rest of my life, hiding behind my eyelids just waiting for that vulnerable moment when they can pop back up again. It has taken a long, long time for me to be comfortable talking about these experiences, but I have come around to that part of my life. I still try to make peace with my decisions every day, but it isn’t easy.

Just because a suicide attempt doesn’t put you in the hospital doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We need to pay more attention to those who struggle in silence without the hope and support others receive in these situations. It should underscore our responsibility to treat others with respect, regardless of their story. It is on us to make this life a better and more supportive place for those in need. For too long, I watched as some of my friends and family members struggled in silence, thinking no one cared. Some of those people are not here today because they couldn’t get the help they needed.

Not all suicide attempts are created equal, but this doesn’t mean they should be treated differently. If you or a loved one is struggling with these thoughts, then know you are not alone. There are people who care about you, even if you can’t see it right now. Hang in there.

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.

Trigger warnings, seems like you love them or you hate them. Intended to forewarn those who might be seriously and detrimentally affected by something about to be read or discussed, trigger warnings have come to represent the newest affront on our country’s Puritanical past and pull-up-your-bootstraps attitude from the warm and fuzzy, helicoptering, overprotecting parents on the left.

It seems like no one likes trigger warnings, but college campuses are becoming increasingly annoyed by them. Interestingly, mental health issues on college campuses are also on the rise.

Is that because we’re getting soft?  Is it because these helicopter parents haven’t adequately prepared their kids for independence and self-sufficiency?

Or maybe people just talk about and express their psychological problems, whereas 20 years ago they would’ve kept silent?  Maybe the world is becoming more stressful?

We could debate the reasons for mental health issues in young adults until the cows come home, but would that refute the fact that more of these college kids are having them? Telling a 19-year-old that the reason they feel anxiety is because mommy didn’t prepare him for life doesn’t change the fact that he feels anxious, it just makes him feel ashamed.

And when we make others feel ashamed of their illnesses, the results are disastrous.  People don’t seek treatment. People die.

So while you may have no need of trigger warnings, perhaps a portrait of why they are sometimes necessary will help negate the argument that they shouldn’t exist?

Nineteen years ago, I lost my twin brother to suicide. It was traumatic. It was unforeseen. It was horrible. I wouldn’t wish the turmoil and grief and guilt we all experienced after his death on anyone, let alone an enemy. I do everything I can to help others in the same place he was.

But 18 years ago, my grief was still very raw and fresh and painful. I have little need of trigger warnings now, but almost 20 years ago, I would’ve loved them. Unfortunately, they didn’t exist in pop culture. If I was lucky, someone would tell me not to read or see something because it was about suicide, sensing intuitively it might upset me. There was a kindness and empathy in that warning I never hear in the voices of the people who complain about such warnings today.

Two years after my brother died, I was somewhat healed. I was living in a new city and trying to move on. I was doing a good job. My boyfriend took me to see a very popular movie at the time, “Fight Club.”

Most of the movie is hazy to me now, but I do remember the ending. Jack takes a gun and he shoots himself in the face. This is not how my brother died, but it was close enough in time that this bothered me.

Bothered me how? I can hear you wondering.

I tumbled from my seat as he pulled the trigger, dry-heaving and falling over myself the whole way, desperate to unsee. I ran through the lobby, holding back sobs, and into the dark parking lot. Outside, I began screaming through my sobs, “How could they do this?  How could anyone do this?  Why would anyone want to see?” as my boyfriend apologized profusely. His guilt over being a party to my pain was tremendous.

Because you see, if he’d known, he would’ve warned me. He would’ve told me to close my eyes or given me the option to avoid the movie altogether. And I could have decided for myself if I was ready to see a death by suicide, if the pain it would cause was worth it.

Are we babying kids too much these days? Absolutely. I think it’s absurd I can’t let my 8-year-old walk to the bus alone without raising eyebrows. But when it comes to mental health, I think it’s high time we shut our mouths when it comes to judging someone else’s problems. If you haven’t been there, you could hardly understand. And in the absence of knowledge, don’t defend your ignorance. Gracefully acknowledge it, and let others decide for themselves what is and what isn’t OK for them to deal with today.

Tomorrow, if your time comes to live through a trauma, we will extend the same courtesy.

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.

To Pooky,

In this moment of unbearable pain, it feels impossible to take another step — unless it’s the one to end it all — but please don’t. As you stand, contemplating whether to go on or to stop, you are basing your decision on a series of truths that need testing. You cannot test these truths when you are gone. Let me help you test them now with the unprompted words of others you will hear in the months following this moment.

Truth? You believe you are a bad mother.

“You are the best Mummy in the world. I wish every little girl could have a Mummy like you.” One of your daughters tells you this whilst half asleep, climbing into your bed seeking solace from nightmares. 

Truth? You are a bad wife.

“I rarely look at couples and think perhaps they have something as special as I’ve been blessed with, but I look at you and Tom and I see that bond. He’s as lucky to have you as you are to have him.” These were the observations of a happily married friend who you love dearly.

Truth? You are a bad friend.

“You are the best friend I could ever hope for. I love you”

The words of a beloved friend as she speaks for the first time of her pain.

Truth? You are a bad colleague.

“You were incredibly inspirational in the meeting the other day, and really set the right tone and direction for what we need to do.” The reflections of a dauntingly well-qualified colleague after your first time of meeting.

Before you make an irreversible decision, the truths on which you base it need testing. 

You are a scientist and currently you have not gathered enough evidence to make this decision.  Step away, live another day and begin to allow those who love and respect you to help you test those truths. 

It may take years before you can hear words like those and believe them. Still you don’t believe them — but you have hope. You hope that with hard work, perseverance and by taking things one day at a time, one day you will believe them.

And wouldn’t that be a wonderful life — one worth living?

Walk on… please.

Pooky x

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.

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.

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