A Psychologist’s Suicide

hThe word came that a friend and colleague, a clinical psychologist, had committed suicide.  She had suffered a hammering of profound losses and fell into a deep hole of depression.  She had placed herself in good professional hands, was hospitalized for two weeks, and released with medications and a discharge summary that she, herself, could have written.  She, later, took her life by overdose.

And if you are a clinical type, then you might be interested in knowing that she – and we will call her Susan for our descriptive purposes here — had been hospitalized once before as a young adult due to a breakdown of sorts.  That initial breakdown had shaped her career.  I would also suggest that it enhanced Susan’s humanity and made her more accepting of the mysteries of life.  Susan was a very skilled and gifted therapist.  Over the course of her professional life, she had helped so very many find their way to safety and sanity, which, of course, makes it even more incongruent that this healing type woman would take her own life.  Then, again, we are all human.

Susan was a huge dreamer – big, significant dreams, healing dreams, dreams that reverberated in her 3D life with books, pictures, and the like tumbling, on occasion, from her walls and book shelves.  Susan analyzed dreams with her patients; she explored their multi-nuanced aspects with her colleagues. Susan understood the imaginal world and the power of metaphor to transform a life.

Yet, even with all those gifts and talents, Susan’s well of despair flooded.  Taken hostage by her biochemical influences, she crossed the border of her inner terrain and entered into the place without light, with nary a crack in the darkness.  All that training and education notwithstanding, suicide seemed the answer to Susan’s very distraught and off-balanced self.

Suicide is not painless; it leaves loved ones – and in this case, patients, too – reeling in disbelief and “what if’s” and “If only, I had …” It’s hard to be left under such messy circumstances. We think, perhaps, we could have done something differently – made a move or said the right words that might have tipped the balance in favor of life.   Death is not easy on a regular basis, but it becomes tainted and shame-faced when described as a suicide.  It’s as if we, the survivors, have somehow failed to do our part.  We feel responsible.  We feel confused and, sometimes, angry, too.   “How could they?” we puzzle, as if it had anything really to do with us.

As a psychologist as well as a former suicide hot-line responder, I understand all too well what can lead up to those moments when suicide is considered a possibility that can – with enough pain and tight, airless thinking — become an option to end the torment.

I get it. I’m not saying I like it, condone it, or anything else, but I understand how someone can get there.  I understand the trajectory of suffering.   I have witnessed the sheer desperation of unabated pain — be it physical, psychological, or both — and the dark places that it can take you. I have seen how a life can crumble in on itself, worn down by the struggle, the relentless struggle.

That much pain changes a person; it leaves an indelible mark.  Suicide becomes all about moving out of the desperate pain.  It is a very intimate act; it is self on self, in all of its swirling eddies of emotional tumult. There is little room for anyone else.

There are many paths of pain and despair.  For some, suicide is an impulsive act of fury and pain; for others, it is a release from the daily torment that makes life unbearable. For some, it is the tight, airless room where they cannot draw a deep breath; much less consider compassion for the self. Suicide is an act of violence against the much-hated, broken, and wounded self.

Suicide leaves a wake of questions.  I have opted to forego the questions.  It does not change anything.  What I know is that my friend was in pain, was biochemically unbalanced, and made a choice.  Needless to say, I wish her choice had been different, but who am I to say?  Her act teaches me about the fragility and ferocity of the human spirit.

In the aftermath, I have come up with what I think is the perfect antidote.  I am sending loads and loads of light to my friend, Susan.  It seems like the perfect thing to do after all that darkness.  And, who knows, maybe it will help her soul refind its sparkle.

A sin, really?

I read an excerpt from a book by an esteemed medical professional who has been an advocate for the holistic and metaphysical for decades. This book relates a discussion of sin with his guide, who allowed that “self-suicide” (his unusual word choice) is a sin. I so disagree, adamantly and viscerally disagree.

Where does all this judgment come from? This is not sounding God-like or part of higher consciousness, much less soul development. If you believe in past lives, more than likely your soul experienced a suicide.

The Divine is full of compassion, not judgment. And, by the way, the word “sin” comes from the Aramaic meaning to “miss the mark.” When we struggle and try to find our way through our fears, conditioning, reactions, and wounds, we often miss the mark. Hello, being human. Earth school is where we learn and develop and, hopefully, expand our consciousness to the degree that we perceive the oneness in all and respond accordingly.

Suicide is not a sin. Not only do I feel that down to the marrow of my bones, I have had confirmation with the spirit world and deceased souls. Yes, I talk to dead people.

On the 3D level, suicide, first and foremost, is about pain, pain of all levels and intensities. Suicide also speaks to trauma, substance abuse, mental health, emotional alienation, guilt, shame, neurochemistry and genetic fragilities. Suicide is a response to a confluence of factors that lead to a tipping point where the choice is made, be it well-considered or impulsive.

On the soul level, suicide can be a choice to do important work from the other side, leave compassion as a legacy, re-arrange dynamics and situations as part of a soul contract, a death of the ego, a teaching lesson and much more.

Judgment around suicide is hurtful. Condemnation around suicide serves no purpose than to further alienate us from one another and the divine. Compassion is the only response to suicide.

Allow me to repeat: suicide is not a sin.

Remembering the gifts of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

Kate Spade, the American fashion designer, made people happy, very happy, with her iconic line of color and playfulness. She was known for her fresh, feminine, and, oftentimes, whimsical take on accessories and clothing. Kate Spade made getting dressed fun. For many, acquiring a Kate Spade piece was a rite of passage.

Kate Spade was a woman who was not afraid to wear vibrant pink tights and shoes with a black and white ensemble at the Met gala. Her friends, family and associates found her incandescent. She was a bright light who was full of fun, generosity and genuine kindness. It would be fair to say that those in her orbit would describe her as one of a kind.

So, how does somehow who exudes such happiness and joie de vive consider suicide as an option? Wouldn’t devoted loved ones, success, popularity and wide-open doors for creative expression insulate her from such an act? Alas, no. All of those worldly accomplishments, gifts, talents and support are not a guarantor from the ravages of psychic anguish, biochemical propensities, genetic vulnerabilities and mental illness.

Kate Spade had a history of mental illness. She was a woman who struggled with her inner demons. Curiously, she had focused on Robin Williams’ suicide. Perhaps, Spade felt a resonance with Williams’ pain (which we later learned was exacerbated by a dire diagnosis of Lewy’s dementia). Both had sought treatment; both were known to have suffered with severe and longstanding depression and anxiety, a devastating combo that can bring you to your knees, time and again.

And within 72 hours of Spade’s death by suicide, we learn that Anthony Bourdain (whose history of substance abuse implies a strong likelihood of depression and anxiety) had taken his life – in the same manner as Spade. We are shell-shocked and reeling. How could this happen? He was our irrepressible, fearless, ever-on-the-go, globe-trotting, culture-loving foodie who made the world more accessible through his travel shows and writings. Bourdain was an intrepid pioneer and straight-shooting chef. He was a master storyteller who encouraged us to step out and step forward. We were right there with him enjoying the yummy noodles in broth. He opened us up to new experiences we never would have tried on our own. He broke bread around the world and, in doing so, Bourdain created international communion.

Bourdain was a man of passions, most recently with the #MeToo movement. Bourdain came from a cut-throat food industry, which historically was known for its less-than-ideal treatment of women. He had come to realize, after the fact and in light of #MeToo, that there were many female colleagues who had experienced harassment and assault in the kitchen and he had come to the painful realization they had not viewed him, then, as the ally he became today.

Anthony Bourdain conveyed openness, adventure, directness and strength. He was akin to a global cultural cowboy, rounding up adventures, taste treats and conversations.

Kate Spade projected happiness, confidence, creativity and individuality. Like the fairy godmother who could snap her fingers, she created magic that honored the feminine and the playful.

Both of these highly creative, very sensitive and aware individuals were complex, multi-dimensional human beings. They knew happiness, laughter and light; they also knew darkness, vulnerability and pain. Perhaps, that is why both were so good at what they did.

Both Spade and Bourdain struck a nerve with us. And we responded wildly. We loved their work. We loved their signature styles and the way they embraced the world. Through their creative expressions, we felt they understood us and because of that, their deaths feel personal. We will miss Bourdain’s adventures and his tell-it-like-it-is commentary, and we will miss the je ne sais quoi of color and design that was uniquely Kate Spade.

In their respective deaths, Spade and Bourdain also made a difference. The one and only “positive” from their celebrity suicides is that their deaths – and within such a short timeframe as well – made the world take notice and be mindful, yet again, of the global epidemic of suicide. Their respective deaths accentuate the reality that no matter how much success and fame someone has enjoyed, no one is impervious to the strangleholds of deep depression, the terror of unremitting anxiety, the tight, self-defeated thinking that can further shatter perspective and break a life. Sometimes too much pain is simply too much.

Suicide is a counter-intuitive choice. If I were to hold a pillow over your face, instinctively you would fight for me breath. So imagine the intensity of the psychic pain and the density of the heart for both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain to make that final choice to find relief from their internal torment.

Let us not judge; let us remember that being human is challenging. Let us be a little kinder, more compassionate, more adventurous, less judgmental and, of course, more colorful as we go forward.

Please know, Kate and Anthony, that you both are loved, admired and appreciated for all that you shared with us. Each of you made our worlds a bit brighter, more interesting and expanded with possibilities. You both have been great gifts, and you have made a difference.

May you both rest in peace.

One year later: What have we learned from Robin Williams’s suicide?

images (1)Every experience brings us wisdom. This is what Native Americans call “medicine,” also known as our personal power.

The shocking loss of Robin Williams on August 11, 2014 has had a profound impact on opening the door and bringing suicide out of the closet. Not only did Robin expand us with comic genius and acting during his lifetime, he opened our our hearts  and stretched our minds with his death as well.

The Huffington Post (Canada) featured my article which identifies the lessons we have learned following his suicide. I invite you to click the link to read the article in full.


The heart of a home: tales of suicide and compassion

heart and homeThe foreclosure agents repeatedly rang her doorbell; there was no response. They pounded on the door; there was no response. The locksmith, who accompanied the team, unlocked the door; whereupon, they saw 53 year-old Amaya Egaña standing on a chair on the sixth-floor balcony of her apartment in the Basque city of Barakaldo, Spain. Upon seeing the agents enter her now-foreclosed home, Amaya jumped off her balcony and died a short time later from the injuries she sustained.

Egaña’s death was not in vain. Her suicide became the tipping point in a series of suicides and ongoing street protests that have now prompted the banks in Spain to stop foreclosure proceedings for two years for those who cannot pay their mortgages (under certain provisos regarding income and young children at home). The news reports say there will be financial repercussions for the creditors.

In Spain, Italy, Greece, Ireland, India, the US, and other countries, “suicide by economic crisis” is a very real event. Far too often, hard -working family members are faced with the shame, despair, hopelessness, and powerlessness of being unable to keep a roof over the heads of their loved ones. These repercussions are bloody and tear-stained.

On a bitterly cold night in an upmarket enclave of London, there is a knock on the door, a homeless man asks, “May I sleep on your porch tonight?” The homeowners are taken aback, but they quickly invite their unexpected guest to spend the night in their home. They offer food, a hot drink, a blanket – all of which their visitor refuses. He simply wants a sheltered place near their front door to sleep for the night. They agree.

Now, three years have passed and the homeowners and their visitor are on a first-name basis. Every cold night, their visitor is fast asleep on their porch. They acknowledge one another when their paths cross in town. The homeowners have put a chest in a corner of their porch for their visitor to stow his night gear. Every once in a while, they will leave a warm sweater; on particularly cold nights, there is a thermos of something warm to drink. Their visitor always leaves them a note that says thank you.

In a world rife with fear and apprehension and all-about-me-ness, these London homeowners take my breath away. Would I have been able to be so boldly compassionate? Could I have responded with an immediate open heart, especially when it comes to the idea of my home?

Be it a house, an apartment, a lean-to, a car, a tent, a mountain top or cave, our home is our sense of personal space. Indeed, our home — in whatever form or fashion– is our personal castle and sanctuary.

Just the sound of the word “home” can connote deep feelings of safety and a place where we let it all hang out. Home is our shelter from the elements – as well as a world gone mad. We can close the door and block it all for the moment. Home serves not only as our physical base; it is also our psychological touchstone — all will be well when I get home, when I am surrounded by the familiar, the comforting and the comfortable. At home, I can slip into my fuzzy slippers, tattered sweatpants, and take a breath.

Home is a heavily weighted four-letter word.  It is a psychological anchor, physical tether, and for many, a once-considered secure financial investment to keep body and soul together.

In today’s world where a precarious economic climate has been sent teetering by bloated banks, profit-margin-crazed corporations, redundancies, shifts in the work force, and CEO payments and perks akin to the national budgets of a small country, the individual has been summarily overlooked in favor of the greater bottom line. From my perspective, many companies have lost their heart. Hey, no problem in making a profit….but does it have to cost so much that mothers jump off their balconies. Was there no thought to the ramifications? Does global leadership preclude the consideration of consequences?

The banks and creditors can be like the Big Bad Wolf; they huff and puff and can blow your sense of home to smithereens. In the Old West, these banks would have been met with the business end of a rifle because losing one’s home is a place of enormous desperation.

Where to go? What to do? Without your home, you are adrift, homeless, and helpless. It’s hard to get a step up when you have no home base — no restful place to sleep, bathe, dress, cook a meal, or do your homework.

And, then, there are those like our polite gentleman on the porch who has, like many others, his own story about how he ended up without a place to call home and living off the streets. Be it mental illness, physical disabilities, unemployment, substance abuse, lost family, or no traction and going under, he represents one of many. And the numbers of the homeless are increasing exponentially.

Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just one.” And, that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is where it all starts. It starts with one person making an act of compassion.

Be it a check for the shelter, a bag of groceries for the food bank, support of the veterans (current stats place them at 40% of the homeless population and inordinately high risk of suicide), children’s advocacy (1.5 million children, that’s 1 in 50 go homeless every year in the US), job training, ethical business practices, and the myriad of creative things we can dream and do to help one another, each of us needs to be mindful of our ability to make a difference. Drop by drop, compassionate act by compassionate act, we change the statistics and help our neighbors find a place to call home.

As the saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.”