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The Suicide Warning Signs I Wish I Had Known About

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

My husband, Bill, died by suicide on an autumn day in 2012 after months of deteriorating mental health.

Through the wise and regretful lens of time, I now see that Bill’s suicide plans were plain – if not obvious. Today I live with the regret of failing to recognize the severity of the warning signs he showed in the weeks and months before his death. I share these here in my desperate hope for a future with fewer devastated wives, fewer heartbroken parents and, most importantly, fewer Bills.

He lost interest in things he once loved.

Bill wasn’t just a gym rat; he was a fitness fanatic. He competed in bodybuilding competitions across the country. He prioritized his workouts above everything else. But in the months and weeks before his suicide, Bill didn’t seem to care as much. When a friend canceled workout plans, he wouldn’t go to the gym on his own. His muscle-ripped, 250-pound frame began to shrink. He just didn’t seem to care as much.

He talked about death.

It was usually theoretical, almost like he was just making obligatory conversation, but Bill frequently, even daily, talked about death. He mentioned deceased friends or family, stories from the news or even hypothetical scenarios about his own. I knew Bill was depressed, and while the talk was morose, I assumed it was typical of someone with depression and anxiety. What I didn’t know was that it is a hallmark warning sign for suicide.

He was abusing substances.

Bill didn’t just abuse substances; he was completely dependent on them. After years of steroid use to help him excel in the competitive bodybuilding world, Bill “needed” a host of prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs to combat those side effects and cope with his deteriorating mental health. Sometimes Bill would quit these cold-turkey, sending him into a spiral of withdrawal that seemed worse than the dependence. It was a cycle he could never seem to break.

His friends died by suicide.

Bill wasn’t a stranger to suicide. In fact, three of his friends had died by suicide. At the time, I had no idea that knowing people who died by suicide increased your risk for doing the same. Now I do.

He isolated himself.

While he looked like the quintessential bodybuilder, Bill was a big softie at heart. He loved people. He loved helping friends. He loved talking to strangers. He called his parents regularly. But before he died, Bill became quieter, more subdued. His happy, easygoing self was clouded with worry and sadness. Once he disappeared for long enough that I called the police to report him missing. He returned, completely surprised by my panic, simply saying he just needed some time to think. As Bill cut himself off from the people he loved, it was a clear warning he was in trouble.

He’d attempted it before.

This wasn’t the first time he’d reportedly harmed himself. Months before his death, I awoke to a suicide note, short and to the point, and panicked before hearing Bill in the shower. I ran into the bathroom, and Bill told me he’d taken a whole bottle of pills the night before. After three days at the hospital, Bill was released.

These warning signs aren’t just lists included on suicide prevention websites – even though they appear on many. They’re the regretful reflections of a devastated wife. As autumn approaches, it is a significant season for me. October 10 marks the seventh anniversary of Bill’s suicide – seven years I’ve replayed these behaviors in my head, wishing I’d recognized them for what they were.

As I brace for the memories inevitably triggered by this date, it’s almost appropriate that September, National Suicide Prevention Month, precedes it. As I consider how best to honor my husband’s memory, I can think of no greater way than to help prevent more losses. If someone you love is exhibiting warning signs for suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or call 911 for immediate help.

Photo courtesy of the author

Originally published: October 31, 2019
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