Before going on, I want to elaborate on suicide prevention. To learn how to respond in a situation involving potential suicide, you can follow the link at the bottom of every one of these posts. But I will briefly comment here on just a little of what comes to mind regarding the ins and outs of depression and suicide. First, for the suicidal person:
Don't isolate yourself. This appears to be to be the #1 goal (of life, for all of us, depressed or not). There are few 100% true tenants in psychology, but one of best is: we need people. The more people we have around us (true friends, true connections), the healthier we are, the happier we are, the longer we live. When you are depressed, surrounding yourself with people sometimes seems like the last thing you want to do. People are also skittish around depression. They want to help, they care deeply, and they get frustrated when they can't solve it from the outside. But find a way to stay connected. And if you are only a little depressed, or have been depressed before, or fear you might become depressed one day, spend every day cultivating healthy, supportive connections with your family, friends, community, and even your pets. It will pay off if you need them in the future.
Don't believe yourself too much. Challenge catastrophic thoughts. Get therapy to help you get perspective and skills. Regulate your states of fear, and notice where it sits in your body. Exercise. Eat well. Read books. Try medication. Stay productive. Buy time till you emerge from the dark cloud.
For those taking care of depressed and suicidal people:
I know it's a cliche, but just listen. Ask questions and don't try to fake a person out of their depressed thoughts and feelings. Validate without endorsing their beliefs. Make yourself available to them and check in with them sometimes, even when they don't reach out (especially then). Get them help, and don't stop until you find the right providers and treatment options. Tell them you love them. Tell them you are going to help them get through this. If you have your own stories of depression, you can share them; it's a misconception that this will make it worse... people don't like to feel alone in their pain. Don't stop listening and paying attention when they seem to be getting a little better- sometimes this is the most likely time for them to act on suicidal thoughts (they are energized, but still have their depressed beliefs, which can be a dangerous combination).
There is so much more that could be said, but I'll leave it at that for now.
Unfortunately, Mike’s story is not a suicide prevention story. I wish it was. Every day. I actually have a lot of suicide prevention stories. Over the years, I have spent countless hours helping people with suicidality, hoping that I might come up with a magic intervention or comment or question that yanks someone out of their despair and gives them a reason for hope, a reason to shelve their suicidal thoughts and give life another chance, buy themselves time to get out of it. That actually works, almost always.
But no one was going to get Mike out of this. Man, did we try.
Back to the beginning, for perspective:
Mike was one of the most amazing people any of us has ever met. He and I fell in love, got married, had twins, and raised them in our lively, joyful home, in a beautiful neighborhood. Our kids went to awesome schools. We had (have) truly fantastic friends and we were surrounded by the most dynamic, supportive community you could imagine. Mike had his dream job, which he was great at. We took beautiful vacations to inspirational places. Just about every day involved some sort of magic that we treasured deeply.
How does one draw a line from these pictures to, eventually, suicide? They seem universes apart. In fact, I had never seen Mike depressed, in all the time I knew him. Prior to that, he had been clinically depressed for a great deal of his life, and had pursued and received excellent treatment that taught him a great deal and gave him good coping mechanisms for life. In fact, this became his life's platform; hence his profession. He believed (and he was right to believe) that he could help other people with the same kinds of problems. Then, a couple of years ago, things changed.
As much as privacy is still prudent, I will briefly describe what led up to the year of Mike’s fall.
Without trying too hard, we had created a “brand” for ourselves. Mike and I were truly living this awesome life, and other people, certainly some clients or students, saw us as mentors or advisors, and they saw us as good parents, too. I cared about this image, and I probably had a bigger ego than I needed.
I began working on letting go of this image. This started with the divorce. Yep, we got a divorce. To be honest, some people still don’t know this part. People that did know were confused and devastated about it- side note- divorce is a hell of a thing to happen to a community, at least one like ours. It stresses people out, it makes them wonder what is true and reliable in the world, it make them ask questions about their own marriages, and obviously, it makes kids anxious. It makes people a little suspicious and defensive around you, it makes them wonder who you really are. It is a topic for another kind of blog, perhaps. But back to the story.
Divorce. A private decision that mostly doesn’t belong in this narrative. Two people are always responsible for a marriage and a divorce, and I own all my stuff. But for now, the part that matters is:
We could not have loved each other more and we worked hard on our marriage. I began to perceive Mike becoming more and more like a monk, actually. He had always searched for spiritual answers and was really finding them, and was becoming more connected to a particular leader/guru (Adyashanti- beautiful person, great man, along with his wife, Mukti, also an amazing woman and guide). I was so happy for Mike to find this community. But slowly, I was losing him to this world. Eventually, it felt unfair to expect him to be a part of a more earthly existence. He was satisfied being a dad and a therapist, and his wisdom and philosophy was informing so much of his daily work, it was something I really respected and admired. I didn’t like being angry with him for not being more like his old self, and I wanted to embrace him for who he was becoming.
One more piece: his daily life was becoming too insular for what I wanted for myself and my kids. To be very fair, he spent his days talking to people all day as a clinician, then the rest of his energy was devoted to his kids and his dog, and he didn’t have room for much more. I understood and respected that. I wanted an open door to our home, where my kids could have access to their neighbors and friends and endless playdates and sleepovers and the things growing girls love. Mike wanted all that too, it was just hard for him.
So, we parted amicably, shared the decision to get a great house just a few blocks from the other one, and to be radically loving co-parents. We continued to travel together and share a very fluid parenting schedule. We focused on our kids and how to be good parents (I understand that some people think that good parents don't get divorces...). We talked about writing a book on how to redefine divorce and co-parenting (boy, is that another blog entry, Mike and all the mostly-written books he did not publish). We designed this consciously and with lots of advise, and we thought we knew what we were doing.
Little did I know, with all my (and his) training and loving and trying, that Mike was beginning to suffer, to lose something in himself, and that change would eventually determine his demise.
Ps. I know this seems like over-sharing, especially for a psychologist. I know this crosses a traditional line of privacy. I am writing this because too many people have deep questions about how someone as vibrant and wise as Mike could have made the ultimate choice to end his life. It is important to clarify that he was himself, vibrant and dedicated and wise, and there was not a hidden Mike that people didn't get to see (with the exception of his deep roots in depression, genetically and from his childhood, that emerged at the end). I was proud and grateful to have married Mike, and I still am.
Readers: Suicide is preventable. Knowing the warning signs and how to get help can save lives. Check out this link, which includes hotlines and resources: