Suicide & Recent Events – Trying to Understand Why

Times like this mess with my mind. The tragic deaths by suicide of well known individuals. My daughter asks about it. I know she thinks of her mom. She’s seen me when I’m not well and she worries. And I realize that could have been me. Bipolar can be truly scary. You hear the stats. I’m in a good place right now, but I have attempted suicide and contemplated it many times. I can tell you I unequivocally am glad I’m still here. To live a great rest of my life. I cherish every day I have, where my mind is working well. I make the most of my days. I want to be here for my daughter, my husband, my family, my friends.

Today, when I’m of sound mind, I’m fully aware of the damage the taking of my life would do to others, and it goes without saying, to myself. My brother died by suicide. I know in my heart of hearts, the furthest thing from my brother’s mind was an intent to hurt anybody. I know through personal experience how sick his brain was at that moment. I know how he could not live with the pain any longer. If any family members blamed themselves, it was nobody’s fault. It was a fucking mental illness. It’s how it works. Nobody of sound mind wants to die.

And if I can describe the pain as I try to often do for people. Visualize being surrounded by fire in a tall building, your skin starting to burn, and your choice is to continue to burn or jump to your death. To end the pain. Couple that with a sick brain where rational thinking is non-existent. Add to that the likely presence of alcohol / drugs (our go-to tools for numbing the pain) and you can see the possibilities for tragic endings. It’s hopelessness to the extreme. Where good people are prone to do things that make no sense.

Something I’ve read quite a bit from the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain is the common theme that they “had it all.” All I can tell you is this. Mental illness does not discriminate. It does not care how rich you are, how successful you are, how beautiful you are, how admired you are. In fact, it’s people like Spade and Bourdain who likely valued their public image so highly, they did everything to protect it. I don’t pretend to be well-known like them, but in my little semi-celebrity world in running, I was guilty of the same. You don’t want others to label or see you as “crazy.” Bad for the brand. And denial is prevalent. The incentive to talk about the pain & seek help simply is not there like it should be. And you get the feeling nobody will listen or care anyway.

This is why I’m always talking about the stigma and shame of mental illness. It’s so very real. It prevents us from admitting we need help. From talking about it. Silent pain feels like the better option.

People want to know why successful, well-known people do the unthinkable. They search for reasons when it’s typically right in front of their noses and should be easy to understand. Mental illness stupid! Mental illness has the ability to kill. It should be more front of mind. Not just in the minds of those who live with it. But like physical illnesses (and aren’t we really talking about an injured brain here?), it should be front of mind for everybody. I write and talk about this stuff constantly and can feel people tune out. Very difficult to get people behind it. Why is compassion and understanding hard to find? Why is ignorance so prevalent? Really difficult for me to understand why. I can only hope for a day where more than a select few truly get this stuff. Where everybody will know the warning signs and not be afraid to help appropriately and say the right thing to an individual who is struggling. Not, “get over it.” And where there exists an environment where people who live with mental illness feel more comfortable seeking help, talking about it. You can make a difference, one person at a time.

Remember, someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. The suicide hotline (800-273-8255) is a valuable resource, but most often, a person on the edge is not in a mindset to make that call. I would have never made a call at my deepest and darkest. They need loved ones to identify the warning signs and help them help themselves. And even then, I’ll admit, as you saw with Kate Spade, the individual is not always willing to accept help. Hell, I was forced to seek help. I don’t pretend any of this has an easy solution, but we can do better. A lot better.