Let’s not declare war on suicide, let’s make peace

Suicide is a not a target, or an adversary. It is an individual response to a confluence of factors.

If we want to address suicide, then we must sink down into the essentials and deal with the factors that contribute to suicide. And those factors are how we treat one another and ourselves. It is that basic.

Why not embrace differences, understand commonality, and reinforce the idea of oneness? We are all connected. Let’s go for bridge-building. Let’s develop our C.Q., our cultural quotient, so that we understand one another better. Let’s make room at the table for everyone. We can agree to disagree, and we can find the common thread in our shared human experience.

Why not expand our perspective and provide tools? Let’s raise our E.Q., our emotional quotient, and gain mastery. Let’s become fluent in emotional intelligence so that we can talk to one another, express our anger, and deal with conflict in an effective way. We can have healthier relationships. Let’s teach energy techniques and self-healing modalities, like HeartMath®, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, and shamanism, for self-empowerment, resilience building, and an increased understanding of the power of personal energies.

Why not change our focus? We can increase cognitive dissonance around bullying, unethical behavior, and violence. We can work toward eradicating the learned responses of shame and fear. We can promote cooperation vs. competition; and we can make life-work-balance a priority. These are possibilities and options to create a healthier and happier society.

Speaking of priorities, how we treat our children says volumes about our societies. Let’s feed, house, clothe, and educate our children. Why are any children on this globe going to bed hungry? Let’s address childhood sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and domestic violence. Children are in crisis—and they are our future.

Let’s share our burdens by practicing empathy and cultivating compassion. We need to walk in one another’s shoes. Let’s give our wounded the help they need. Mental health services, VA services, and the like are in dire need of public support and funding. Substance abuse requires more long-term treatment strategies. Why is this problematic?

And if we are to address the pervasive soul loss, then we need to honor the soul. We can move toward that by rebalancing priorities, respecting Mother Nature, healing Mother Earth, celebrating the arts, course-correcting the pace, being open to creative expression, and developing more meaningful ways of connecting with one another.

And, lastly, we need to live peace, with ourselves and with others. If we cannot accept ourselves, if we feel we are forever unworthy, we will act in ways that can have enormous ripple effects. Peace is a five-letter word that offers relief and healing. And it starts with each of us.

When you are ready, this can help you heal from a loss by suicide

Remember the theme song from the show M*A*S*H? (“Suicide is painless…”) Alas, that is so not the case.

Your loved one’s suicide is the day you stop taking a full breath; the day you are left holding your broken heart in your hands; the day time stands still; and, unfortunately, the day people talk about, avoid or even blame you.

Suicide leaves you, the surviving loved one, holding the bag of squirming emotions and memories. There is the taint and taboo, guilt and remorse, rage and despair, confusion and regret, and the shame or guilt that somehow — in some possible way — you are responsible. You are left in a wake of jumbled emotions and self-doubts.

Suicide turns your life upside down. You find yourself vibrating with shock, disbelief, grief and, most likely, trauma from what you witnessed or envisioned in your mind’s eye. It is an enormous challenge to find yourself again and reclaim your desire to live fully after such a devastating loss.

How do you make sense of this kind of heartbreak?

Read more here .

 

Suicide Notes — Voices from the Past

The sadness will last forever.

—Vincent Van Gogh

I am now about to make the great adventure.
I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer.
It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness.
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

—Clara Blandick, age 82,
Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time.
I begin to hear voices.

—Virginia Woolf

I must end it. There’s no hope left. I’ll be at peace.
No one had anything to do with this. My decision totally.

—Freddie Prinze, actor

To my friends: my work is completed. Why wait?

—George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak

My pain is not caused because I am gay.
My pain was caused by how I was treated
because I am gay.

—Eric James Borges, part of the suicide note
from a gay, teen filmmaker

How do you make sense of a sudden death?

170px-Xvxi1The question, itself, must be a Zen koan, because, really, there is no answer to sudden death. There is no making sense of the unreal, surreal, or unbelievable. Yet, it happens, day in and day out.

One week, I was called to assist (in a grief-counseling way) at a work place. Over the weekend, a young, happy, and seemingly healthy mom died suddenly during the day; she was discovered on the floor of her home. She left two small children and a husband as well as a number of long-term coworkers, all reeling in disbelief.

These days, work hours are often longer than the “awake” hours at home. There is the press and drive of companies today coupled with an employee’s motivation to do well, get ahead, and earn more. Certainly, coworkers can become extended family.

And like family, they are doubled over with grief. The thought of their coworker’s children without a mother renders many speechless; the thought of their own children without a parent is unbearable.

Death of a loved one is a trigger; it reminds of all our other losses. It’s as if we each hold a memory box close to our heart which is usually closed. Yet, with a new loss, the box springs open with our personal well spring of grief and sorrow. There is a parade of visceral memories and sensations. In life, we do not forget death.

And, then there was a young man, 18 years of age, ready – in mere days — to graduate high school, was found with a book on his chest looking as if he had drifted off to sleep while reading before bed. His family, his school, and his town are shattered. There are no words; there is no comfort, at this moment. The promise and potential of his life unlived casts a pall over everything.

And his death becomes the uninvited guest at his classmates’ graduation, where, undoubtedly, parents will hold their children a little bit tighter and say, “I love you” with a tear-filled eyes. And these parents will wonder how they could ever survive the loss of their child. The idea is unfathomable.

Sudden death hits like an enormous, out-of-the-blue thunderclap to the heart. It is a sucker punch to the gut. You search your brain thinking that this can’t be true. One minute the person is there; the next minute they’re gone. Like a flame extinguished, you are plunged into a darkness that is incomprehensible and, often, crazy-making.

And you try to make sense of it all; you retrace your steps. You race back in time to the very last connection you shared. You think of the “Goodnight, honey” or the “Don’t stay out too late” to a family member or the “Have a good weekend” to the coworker on her way out the door. The everyday words, the daily connections seem so trivial and unimportant given the enormity of the loss, but they are the connective tissue of life.

And your mind, like a Google search engine, comes up with all the related memories and associations. You remember the shared laugh over a quick cup of coffee. You think of the sharp words about keeping the curfew or who is going to pick up the quart of milk, the dry cleaning, or the babysitter.

You remember yesterday, last week, last year, the day they were born, the day you got married, the day they walked into your class, your job, your life. Whenever and whatever those points of intersection, the moments of laughter and love, the hard times, the good times, the better times, you want to remember it all — in vivid, painstaking detail.

Images and words jump to the fore. Your knees buckle at the image of reading him a bedtime story or brushing her hair. Bath time, bedtime, play time, sleep time, making love time, not-speaking time; it all spreads before you, a map of your life with them.

What you shared was real; it was so very, very real. And you find yourself choked up; words, memories, and feelings are caught in your throat and chest. It is difficult to take a deep breath. Everything feels so fragile and precious now. It is hard to navigate these uncharted waters; you lurch from side to side feeling broken into a million little pieces never to be whole again.

So, how do you make sense of a sudden death?

Be very, very gentle with yourself. It is hard, exhausting, excruciating work to make sense of the un-sensible and to unpack and repack a life that you have held with such reverence and tenderness.

Take all the time you need to feel all that you need to feel.

Take all the time you need to remember and revisit all that you experienced and shared with the one you lost.

There will be a day when you do not weep.

There will be a day when you surprise yourself with a small laugh.

There will be a day when your heart’s heaviness has lifted.

And there will be a day, when like a tiny blade of grass that pushes through a crack in the cement, you will be ready to take a step forward and be in the sunshine.

And until that day comes, allow us, your family, friends, and coworkers to walk with you and share the loss. It is primal; this connection that we feel when we hear of death, especially the deaths of the younger ones.

There is a ripple effect; the loss moves out in ever-widening circles and whoever hears or knows anyone impacted by the loss wants to do something. Make a meatloaf, bake lasagna, make the calls, organize logistics, walk the dog, be a shoulder, lend an ear.

We want to feed you, nourish you, and hold you. We want to help you stay afloat when you are drowning in heartbreak. We feel your loss; your loss becomes our loss.

Loss is a universal, and the experience of loss is most commonplace, although it feels anything but common. With loss, there is a part of us that wants the world to s-t-o-p and pay heed. Don’t you understand, we have lost our loved one. Yet, life goes on and you find yourself retreating from the din and dailiness.

Loss sends out the call to gather. Hear ye, hear ye, all family and friends, it is time to circle the wagons. It is time to stop and attend. It is time for reverence and remembrance.

Jungian analyst, poet, and cantadora (keeper of the old stories), Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells us that the wise, elder women of her family would say, “The only miracle medicine we have is each other.” And so it is, even in sudden death.

To all families going through such a difficult time now, may you find peace and comfort during your dark days.

This is no ordinary goodbye

Suicide leaves you in a complicated place.

Grief and trauma are intertwined.

This is no ordinary goodbye.

Go gently.

Be kind to yourself.

Take as much time as you need.

Remember.

Cry some more.

Rant and rage.

Love some more.

It’s all ok.

In fact, it’s perfect.

Your heart will lead you

into a place of shelter.

Take precious care.

This is no ordinary goodbye.

 

The 7 Points On The Spectrum Of Suicide

Every three seconds, on average, someone is attempting suicide, according to research out of India. The numbers of suicide attempts are exponentially higher than the number of completed suicides, which average every 13 seconds across the globe per the World Health Organization (WHO). Tragically, every minute of every day is influenced by some aspect of suicide.

Suicidality shows itself in a range of behaviors and thoughts that can become more fixed and concretized. There is a progression of pain and disconnection. Emotions are not linear. Thoughts can be disordered and scattered. There is no straight line or exact trajectory. That said, there is a continuum of suicide, where aspects of suicidality are portrayed by each individual in their own idiosyncratic manner.

Over my 30+ years of clinical work, these are the aspects of suicide I have seen in the consultation room and through crisis intervention lines. There are seven points on this spectrum, each with its own degree of severity. Clearly, some points are more intense and critical than others, but each is to be taken seriously and warrants professional help.

1. Ideation
Quite simply, you are thinking about suicide. You are rolling the idea around in your brain. Does this make sense for me? Would it be my answer?

Many people consider suicide in the abstract. What if? Thinking does not necessarily mean doing. Ideation is considering the option — usually, when there seem to be few options, and distress and overwhelm are at the fore.

2. Gestures
This is a seeming attempt at suicide by self-injury without serious or fatal consequences. Taking an overdose of aspirin or cutting one’s wrists are good examples.

(Please note, there is a distinction between self-harm and suicidal gestures. Cutting as self-harm is intended to relieve crushing emotions or to be able to feel something and no longer be numb; whereas, the intention of suicide is to cease the painful feelings and end one’s life. That said, be it self-harm — very common with trauma survivors who are at risk for suicide — or a suicidal gesture, both indicate a need for professional help.)

Suicidal gestures are a cry for help and, sometimes, attention. They are an alarm bell for action to be taken. These gestures are often labeled with the unfortunate term “para-suicide,” which minimizes the gravity of the situation. Repeated gestures are frequently a precursor to a completed suicide.

3. Passively Suicidal
This is a form of suicidal ideation. You are thinking about it, but know at this moment you would never do it. It sounds like a plausible idea because you are in so much emotional pain. There is a level of resignation in this thinking.

If someone magically took you out of your misery, you feel certain you would not fight back. You don’t want to feel so much pain any more. You are thoroughly depleted and paralyzed. You are exhausted on every level; you feel powerless and unable to change your current situation.

4. Active Thinking
This form of suicidal ideation is farther along the spectrum. You are developing a plan. You are working out the details. You know exactly what, when, and how you will do it. For some, there is relief in having a plan. For others, there is a grim satisfaction in imagining the impact their death will have on others. Maybe now they will understand how much I hurt.

5. Thinking and Doing
There are two forms of thinking-and-doing; one is planned and the other is impulsive.

Planned:
You are now making a concrete plan. You are making preparations, securing the necessary accoutrements, and orchestrating how you will make your suicide happen.

Frequently, when individuals have reached this step, they may present themselves as happy to their loved ones and therapists. They have a plan of action. They are resolved, and there is no more equivocation.

Sometimes, the plan is enough in and of itself and serves as a fallback position if everything goes horribly wrong. When there are self-doubts about the viability and impact of the plan, the individual may be open to outside intervention and assistance, and the plan may crumble.

Impulsive:
Impulsive thinking-and-doing is, as the name states, impulsive. It’s a flash of a thought and a rush of feeling that makes sense at the time. It’s an immediate way to end the internal anguish. Frequently, this occurs with teens and young adults.

This impulsivity can be accelerated by substance abuse that lowers the inhibitions, a history of risky behavior, unfettered anger, and unrelenting anxiety.

Impulsivity can also be triggered by a psychotic incident where there may be delusions and hallucinations. For example, voices in a young man’s head told him to kill himself immediately because all of his family were now living on another planet.

6. Chronically Suicidal
The chronically suicidal are individuals who, by virtue of mental illness, are always in and out of suicidality. Usually, they have been on psychiatric meds for years, and they have been hospitalized frequently.

Suicide is their default wiring. It’s where they land when their pain escalates; their thinking contracts, expands, or becomes chaotic; and they want to escape from the effects of their medications. The chronically suicidal want out; they want their internal struggle and torment to be over.

7. Slow Suicide
Slow suicide speaks to a long-term history of intractable, unrelenting addiction and substance abuse, such as full-blown anorexia nervosa, chronic heroin abuse and alcoholism.

Slow suicide is evidenced by a lifetime of self-harm that chronically erodes a person’s health, well-being, mental stability, emotional resilience, and vital energy. There is inordinate pain, grief, and anger. Unresolved trauma is likely.

Slow suicidal people choose to stay stuck in their toxic and self-defeating spin and steadfastly refuse any offers of help and assistance.

Suicide is never easy. We know it’s not painless. This spectrum of suicidality delineates the range of behaviors and thinking in order to increase understanding and compassion and, perhaps, circumvent tragedy.

This column was also featured on The Huffington Post Canada.

The connection between suicide and childhood sexual abuse

It’s September and we are honoring suicide awareness and suicide prevention. To that end, we are sharing again some of our most popular posts.

Circling the international news is the story of the assisted suicide of a young Dutch woman due to long-term childhood sexual abuse. This woman in her 20’s asked for — and was granted — euthanasia by lethal injection.

She requested an end to her life due to intractable trauma (i.e., severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and concomitant medical issues (i.e., advanced anorexia, chronic depression and hallucinations) that left her primarily bedridden.

Her story has raised questions and concerns.

As a mental health professional who has worked first-hand with childhood sexual abuse survivors, I have witnessed the repercussions of the compounded and complicated trauma of childhood sexual abuse.

Read more here.

 

 

Understanding the stranglehold of Big Grief

Worried man blues

We are hard-wired for connection and when a meaningful connection is severed – be it someone who has held a special place in our personal firmament of love and affection or someone who has betrayed and abandoned us — we feel devastating loss.

Loss of this magnitude births grief – grief for what was, what is now and what will never be. Big Grief brings you to your knees. How can the world continue to spin when your world has stopped?
Inside, you can’t stop howling. Night after night, you howl until your voice is gone. You sleepwalk through your days, unable to connect the dots of your new reality. You barely function. You sit on the edge of hysteria.

Grief places a stranglehold on your heart. Your world contracts and constricts. You can’t take a deep breath. Grief holds your breath in shallow field now made fallow with loss. It’s impossible to unclench the tension that locks your body in pain and, even, fury. Your days and night wind endlessly in an ever-tightening knot held buoyant by your tears. Everything has been squeezed out of you. It hurts. It hurts like hell.

It’s hard to imagine there is life beyond your exploded heart. How can you possibly merge back into the cacophony of dailiness and demands when your life has been captured by grief? The hollowness, the memories, the break-downs, the images, the gut-wrenches, the what-ifs have kneed you into a tight, dark corner.

The pain, akin to a high fever, has kept you writhing and sobbing in unrelenting deliriums. The raging intensity of the hot pain eventually crescendos and breaks. You are left shivering in disbelief. You re-enter the world, shaky and vulnerable. Blinking and staring blankly, you emerge with a heightened sensitivity to everything around you. You feel fragile and raw, as if you are wearing new skin. You want blankets and covers and comfort. You take in nourishment and emotional sustenance, spoonful by spoonful.

Your re-emergence cannot be rushed. A part of you has died and another part of you is being reborn. Your struggle has been enormous, one that has left you hanging perilously close to the edge. You have been so very brave.

The splinters of your shattered heart were deeply embedded in your psyche. Slowly and painfully, you extracted their pierced shards. You laboriously pieced together, tiny bit by tiny bit, a new heart, spread-eagled by pain and re-imagined with love and courage.

It has taken a Herculean force of will and enormous personal strength to break out of the tight, madness-filled constriction of grief and to move beyond the darkness.

The world is no longer the same. You are no longer the same. You have new eyes with which to discern the essentials of life. You see more deeply; you can read the soul. You swim in depths heretofore out of your reach because you have learned to hold the tension of opposites.

No longer are you constricted by grief. Now, you can take a deep breath. Now, you are ready, albeit gingerly, to embrace life once again.

The loss of your loved one does not disappear or evaporate, nor is it diminished. Your loss is re-configured. Your grief has been absorbed and incorporated into your being. It’s a forever part of you that has re-arranged your being on a cellular level.

This Big Grief has expanded your heart – a heart that now has the capacity to cradle both the light and the dark.

You have broken the stranglehold.

This article also appeared on The Huffington Post Canada under the title “You Can Survive the Torture of Big Grief.”

13 Everyday Ways to Prevent Suicide

September 10  is World Suicide Prevention Day where we focus our attention and energies on the rampant global epidemic of suicide and consider ways to end this pernicious, deep sorrow.

From my research, I would say everyone has been impacted by suicide. Be it their own abstract thoughts, a school rocked with grief at a student’s suicide, the loss of a loved one, the sudden death of a coworker or hearing about the friend of a friend. Alas, suicide is everywhere and touches every aspect of society.

It feels fitting that today I share with you once again 13 Everyday Ways to Help Prevent Suicide. Please never estimate the power of one to make a difference.

What can we do to help?

Here are 13 small steps that we can all take to help tip the balance in favor of life. We never know the impact we make on one another:

  1. Be neighborly.

Reach out to decrease loneliness and isolation. I love the story of the woman who would occasionally leave freshly baked pies for her very lonely, dismissive and cantankerous neighbor. After almost 16 months, the wall finally came down and a connection was made.

 

  1. Become the anti-bully.

Become tolerant of others. Don’t punish differences. Be it hair color, body size, sexual preferences, clothing choices, religion, culture, race, socioeconomic status, level of education, kind of work, appearance or any other something that is different from you, learn to accept.

Making someone feel small, belittled and terrified does not serve any of us. And that kind of terror begets terror. Let’s stop the cycle and increase the cognitive dissonance around bullying.

 

  1. Seek help.

Check out your local resources and find help for your depression, addiction, run-away anxiety, PTSD and other mental health concerns. You don’t have to do it alone. There’s no shame in getting help. Ever. We all need a helping hand from time to time.

 

  1. Be kind.

Give others the benefit of the doubt. Lend a helping hand. Proffer a smile. Or simple be present and acknowledge. Kindness is never wasted. It positively shifts energies and impacts the neuroplasticity of our brains. Not only does kindness makes us feel good, it’s good prophylactic medicine.

 

  1. Be proactive.

Write a check, volunteer or take steps to help those of in need of a job, a bed, a meal or how to read a book. Advocate for mental health resources. Support our veterans. Every little bit does count.

 

  1. Work on your emotional intelligence (EQ).

Fluency in expressing our feelings in a direct, non-threatening way we can make a huge difference in our personal interactions. It helps us feel connected and understood. After all, we are social beings.

 

  1. Make peace with yourself.

No more cursing at your inner demons. No more emotionally leaking or ranting and raving due to your unhealed childhood wounds. If needed, get help. And learn to accept – and, even, love – your very humanness.

 

  1. No more bad-mouthing.

Put an end to the snarky comments, gossiping and mean-spirited character attacks. Put judgment and criticism in the deep freeze. We never know someone’s situation, particular context or backstory. As the saying goes, everyone is struggling and fighting their own battles, a running, pejorative commentary of another only causes more pain.

 

  1. Develop your cultural IQ (CQ).

We all share one blue-green marble. Let’s respect our wealth of cultures and learn to understand one another. The more we learn, the greater are our experiences as we expand our respective comfort zones. Crickets may not be my go-to food, but I am happy you are enjoying your crunchy meal. There is room and space for each of us.

 

  1. Practice compassion.

Who needs judgment? Practice compassion. Compassion asks us to walk in one another’s shoes. Compassion asks us to treat others the way we would wish to be treated. Compassion asks us to lead from the heart.

 

  1. Practice Latitude.

Everyone has a bad day, a bad season or, even, a bad couple of years. Sometimes, we just need to let it go, let it slide and give the other person (or ourselves) a break. Sometimes, what we don’t say can be the greatest gift of all. Latitude allows us to take a breath and re-center.

 

In the behavioral sciences, we know that accentuating the positive goes much farther than harping on the negative. With discernment, you will know where to practice latitude.

 

  1. Talk and disempower the stigma of suicide.

Suicide is universal and global. It has been around since the earliest of times. Suicide has been tainted by taboo, shame and guilt. Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide. Bring it out in the open. Don’t be afraid to ask. The “S” word is far too prevalent for us to ignore its presence or to be in denial. Let’s have heart-to-heart conversations and put suicide in the light of day. No more secrets. No more hiding. Let’s talk. Let’s connect and change the paradigm.

 

  1. Be a power of example.

Our actions often speak louder than our words. Walk in your integrity, coherence and with an open heart.  Share some of your light. It can help ease the darkness.

Thank you for your open, caring heart.

 

And please share if you find this of value. You can never underestimate the power of a suggestion. Many thanks.