Mike's Story

The Accidental Narcissist

fullsizeoutput_48d8.jpeg

I have been so touched by recent suicides, both in our community and around the nation, if not the globe.  The stories keep rolling in.  An almost constant theme: the suffering person does not feel they can keep up, or prove their worth, or fulfill society’s expectations of what it means to be a good or functioning or contributing member of their family, school, community…

In psychology, the word narcissism is usually reserved for people with “personality disorders.” This diagnosis suggests they were raised without the necessary affirmation from healthy adults to develop a sturdy sense of self, one that can operate confidently and with healthy relationships.  Narcissists need to surround themselves with people that constantly build their egos, that make them feel special and even superior to others, that insist on the illusion of grandiosity to feel worthy.  

There are different kinds of narcissism, like “infantile narcissism” which is relatively unsophisticated… they throw lots of tantrums and remind me of certain world leaders. I digress.  There are much more sophisticated narcissists, like those who are super high functioning and earn all the accolades they need.  They might seem and act like sincerely effective parents or friends or professionals, feeling genuinely great about themselves.  It’s usually in times of stress or conflict that their narcissism becomes more pronounced and confusing to others.  Such as, if such a great parent, why do situations suddenly seem to be more about looking good than showing true empathy toward their child?  

You can look up different kinds of narcissists online.  These categories are mostly made up by lay people.  It’s kind of interesting to look them up, but none of them describe what I am talking about today.  You might even learn about how narcissism leads to depression, because we can’t always feel great about ourselves, and that’s depressing to a narcissist.  But what you don’t hear is how depression sometimes leads tonarcissism.  Enter the wrecking ball. 

Forgive the frequent reference to Mike.  I am not interested in diagnosing Mike with anything (other than his evident depression). Which is why he is just such a perfect example.  He was the LEAST narcissistic person I knew.  He was humble, hardworking, surrounded himself with people that challenged him, took feedback to heart, and worked on being a truly good person.  He had several chances to be “big.”  He was an award-winning writer with several books up his sleeve, but he never quite published them.  He was a little shy.  He never tried to be the center of attention.  He liked asking questions more than talking about himself, and when talking about himself he would defer to other experts- philosophers, usually, but also leading neuropsychologists and any great thinkers he could find.  He was the most empathetic person I have ever met. He felt sad for socks that were half-sticking out of a drawer, and he would tuck them in every time.  He was even better with his kids and clients, and don’t even get me started on his pets.  

Still, we all have some dormant narcissism.  We all want to know that we are good and special.  This is where the depression can go awry.  People with depression often feel crushing self-consciousness. Self-consciousness becomes humiliation, then guilt.  It consumes them.  As psychologists, it’s one of the first things we try to do away with, because guilt is so detrimental to getting better.  Depressed people often feel they aren’t living up to expectations, they won’t ever give enough to the world.  When they realize that other people have it worse, they feel even worse about being depressed.  They may fear they will not be accepted or will not be good for those around them.  They begin to feel like a burden, like they are taking up too much space and not giving enough back to be worth even the air they breathe. 

A depressed person can’t think clearly, can’t plan their way out of things, can’t see the future. It’s easy for us to tell them it will get better.  And it almost always does.  But to give it a chance, they have to agree to just be human, to just face each day with whatever they have to offer, to fend off the bullies and jerks telling them they are not good enough.  They have to find people and circumstances that resonate with them.  Or music or animals or mountaintops or purposeful jobs. 

Mike resonated with so many people and places and things, but in the end, he was too afraid he might lose them.  He was so used to being good at life that he came to depend on it.  He couldn’t just be the guy that does an okay job.  In the end, he was trying so hard to feel good about himself that he began to feel terrible.  He was a truly great person, and he set the bar too high.  He only had to be here and to take care of himself long enough to get out of his funk.  People do it, even though it’s hard.  It takes real humility, not humiliation. 

In the end, there was no amount of reassurance to fill him up, which sounds a lot like a narcissist.  

 

Remember: we are all special, we are all worthy.  We don’t always feel it, and we panic.  It’s ok. It’s a matter of time, practice, reassurance.  More practice.  More humility.  Real actions. Little ones, day by day.  Finding resonance, the right circumstances, the right environments.  Buying some time, believing in yourself.  Tolerating your flaws and remembering that we all have them.  It’s ok.  It’s not great, but it’s ok.  We are all doing the best we can every day, and that’s enough.  If you wonder if you could do more for yourself or the world, think about what you want to do, what you can do, and do it, whenever and however possible. That’s all. 

Signs. Literal ones.

 Are our loved ones communicating with us from the other side?  What are they saying?  What do we need them to say? 

With Mike, I don’t need much.  Sometimes, it’s because I am angry.  I don’t reassurance that he is watching over me or sending us love.  I just want him here with us, alive. I wish that was a choice. Other times, I just worry about him, and wonder what happened to his beautiful soul.  I feel relieved because I already know he is in less pain, hopefully no pain, by definition of having left his body and this life, or at least that mind at that time in that body in this life.  

But mostly, I miss him so much and I see signs of him everywhere.  I am a skeptic, so I assume I am making these up.  But some of them really stick with me.  Mike was a man of words, poetic ones.  So it makes sense that he tends to show up in words.  Like music lyrics. Once, I was driving home from Red Rocks on Father’s Day, the first one after his death, and I had my music on shuffle. I don’t listen to any of those music apps, I like to buy music and a lot of it.  I have a pretty huge collection of music on my phone.  Sometimes when I don’t know what to play I just shuffle through the songs and it’s quite a crapshoot.  That night, on the way home in a torrential rain storm, 9 or 10 songs played in a row, each one an uncanny memory and a specific message from Mike. Let’s just say, if he were trying to reach me, these are the exact songs he would play. 

Months after Mike died, I finally got the courage to turn a city corner towards what had been our favorite museum, one that we loved so much that our kids basically grew up there… soaking in events on the rooftop lounge and mastering the vast elevators and nooks as if it was their own castle.  This is what I saw:

Of course, I looked up this artist and learned about the piece, which was intended as a double-entendre, the last “e” flickering on and off…

Of course, I looked up this artist and learned about the piece, which was intended as a double-entendre, the last “e” flickering on and off…

 

I actually laughed, it was so ridiculously obvious or at least ridiculously apropos.

The first Halloween we navigated without Mike was practically unbearable.  I would say it was totally unbearable but apparently, life did go on. The kids and I sat in a parking lot at one of those pop-up Halloween stores, and I didn’t think I’d be able to go in.  After all, this was Mike’s THING.  Like, I had not even been in one of these stores because Mike did this every year.  He lived for Halloween.  He was always trying to bring home more holiday stuff.  Often second-hand Halloween decorations (and Christmas decorations, any decorations).  He liked to give peoples’ old decorations new homes, I think he actually felt sorry for them.  Honestly, I hated most of that stuff.  The plastic, the clutter.  I never liked Halloween, either.  Anyway, it was hard.  I felt paralyzed. I wasn't sure I could go in.  Then my most stoic child said, “You got this.  We got this.” And we went in.  

It became my mantra and our family motto.  

This summer, we finally returned to what had been another very special family place.  We had a lot of these… we tried to create rituals and meaning with the kids by making them feel at home at a few great places and returning to these places time and time again.  This is so hard to reflect on, because it means 1. Mike went out of his way to design amazing experiences for his beautiful daughters, then he just left (I guess this one is obvious, but it still just stuns me every time) and 2. now I have to figure out what to do about all these awesome places that the kids call home.  Meaning, I have to get up the guts to take them back there.  To reclaim these beautiful places and even the memories.

So, I got up the guts to take them to our favorite hot spring (that’s saying a lot to pick a favorite, we basically travel by hot spring… especially with little kids, it’s the best).  Again, it was hard.  We brought friends.  It was special and worth it.  One morning, I went to one of the revered pools and looked around and saw this new sign installed on the wall:

eb0WUe+uTJ688hBSmDWJRg.jpg

 

Later that same day, I went to a nearby town for some marshmallows. There is one co-op in this one-street town that indeed housed organic marshmallows, strange animal products, and this rack of greeting cards:

Somehow it looked cooler at the hot spring… but it still counted.

Somehow it looked cooler at the hot spring… but it still counted.

I’ll take the signs when I can get them.  Halloween is right around the corner.  Again. 

Post-Traumatic Growth. It's a Thing!

A few weeks ago, I was surprised to learn that my graduate students, some of whom are near completion of their doctorate, had not heard of, much less learned about, post-traumatic growth.  To be fair, it is a relatively new concept.  But such an immensely important one.  We discussed it in reference to several of our clinical cases, but I know the most about it because of my own kids.  

 

I remember hearing a story about post-traumatic growth on NPR. I had an a-ha moment, because I had been trying to consider the ways that my children are growing from losing their dad.  This line of thinking feels traitorous to me, and I think to most people.  We are expected to be devastated and miserable. And that is true.  But everyone also hopes we will at least be ok.  Their hearts pour out to me but even more so to our kids; they know that young minds can’t be expected to handle the immensely convoluted event of their loving father’s suicide.  

 

So it’s pretty amazing to watch them, as they prove what they can handle.  I never take it for granted.  Every day they are happy and thriving, I feel that they are on the other side.  I know that, at any moment, the tragedy will grip them, and at times it does.  It will take decades to know just how hard and sad and strange it will feel.  How abandoned or betrayed or confused or angry or even depressed they might become. 

 

But with all those hard and yucky feelings, some great things are happening.  I can’t speak for my kids, but from the outside, they seem pretty bullet-proof.  They are not just getting through this, they are positively, explosively crushing it. And not with just the outside stuff, like grades or things like that.  I mean the real stuff.  They are genuine, vital, connected.  Although so different from each other, they both seem immensely compassionate (maybe that has more to do with our pets or some Barney episodes on making friends?). They aren’t trying to be great or perfect.  They aren’t perfect, not even close.  They are allowed to grieve and to be messy at it.  As if growing up wasn’t already messy enough.  

 

But something is happening, and, ironically and sadly, it’s related to their huge, awful loss.  Post-traumatic growth is seen when victims of trauma experience “enhanced relationships, greater self-acceptance, and a heightened appreciation of life.”

 

Yet, in order for this kind of outcome to be experienced (yes, noted, my kids are not “outcomes” yet), people need support from those around them.  They need to be loved and listened to in order to grow.  Not rocket science.  But just a reminder.  Love them up, people!  

A blissful moment of growth, post-trauma or otherwise.

A blissful moment of growth, post-trauma or otherwise.

Some cool links to information about post-traumatic growth:

https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/can-trauma-help-you-grow

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/magazine/post-traumatic-stresss-surprisingly-positive-flip-side.html

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/09/15/551339963/after-hurricane-katrina-many-people-found-new-strength

How to Prevent Suicide

Every day, every single day, I think about how to prevent suicide.  I think of this in two categories.  How to prevent suicide and how to prevent Mike’s suicide.  Yes, from a mile away you can clearly see my Bargaining, which is its very own stage in Kubler-Ross’s famed Stages of Grief model.  In my case, Bargaining involves every convoluted twist and turn in the already-finished plot that might have saved Mike, no matter how impossible or unreasonable.  It goes something like this:

 

1. Acquire a time machine.

2. Go way back. 

3. Teach all the bullies on the playground to leave Mike alone.  To leave everyone alone for that matter.

4. Teach each little kid’s parents to listen and love more.

5.  Teach each child and person that they count, they are seen, they are heard, they are loved, they are surrounded by love.  Show them by example. 

6. Get people help when they need it and don’t stop until they get the right help.

 

There is a new book that my friend Tim turned me onto, it’s written by Ned Halloway but it won’t be out till the summer.  It's about why he prevailed despite so many risk factors.  Here’s Ned talking about it:

 

www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/driven-distraction/201802/beating-the-odds

 

Man, this story makes me think of Mike, and he could have written a book like this if 1. He stayed alive to write it and 2. He could finish things like books (not his forte).   Luckily, Dr. Halloway has written tons of books, and I do look forward to reading this one.  I guess I would add to my Bargainers List: Ask Dr. Halloway to climb into the time machine with me and mentor Mike for months or years or, preferably, decades. 

 

Regarding how to prevent other people’s suicides, which is what still deeply matters, that list might work.  There would be some better, specific objectives like noticing when a person really does need help but isn’t getting it or stops asking.  Also, noticing a person’s depression and anxiety before it even gets to that point.  Finding better medications and better understanding the medications we already have.  Finding and implementing alternative treatments that reflect our growing understanding of neuropsychology and neurochemistry.  

 

Even loftier, finding better lifestyles, at least for us Westerners, that don’t constantly demand product (doing, doing, doing) over process (being…).  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have jobs or be productive (we should, and depressed people need basic productivity as much or more than the rest of us).  This is just a comment on a society-wide mis-prioritization of self-sufficiency and self-worth at all costs.  It leads to constant self-evaluation, self-evaluation relative to others, self-judgment, judgment of others.  Why do you think the bullies are on the playground in the first place?  Because someone (or even their own brains) made them feel bad about who they are.  Because in our society, we feel better when we climb up ladders, stepping on other people’s heads to get there.  It is a fundamentally faulty system and I spend a great deal of time every day trying to help people find better, more sustainable life philosophies.  

 

Meanwhile, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves but we are not great at self-care.  In better times, Mike touted the importance of self-care and he did things every day to protect and care for himself.  In the end, his depression still became insurmountable.  

 

The kindest, wisest people in the world can have depression.  Lifelong pain accumulates and takes a lot of forms.  Not all depression is treated by life philosophies, and Mike is proof of that.

 

Back to the bargaining table. 

Life as a long (but not long enough), beautiful, complicated journey.

Life as a long (but not long enough), beautiful, complicated journey.

On Being a Psychologist

I love it.  Some people have asked how I do it now, or if it’s fair or right for me to listen to others and help them when I have suffered this deep, strange loss that I have to face daily.  I understand and respect that question, and it is very kind of others to try to feel what my family might be going through and not to want to burden me.  Or to wonder if I can help them.  Anyone who has been to therapy knows that, as one prepares for their therapy meetings, they think about how their therapist will react, what they will say, maybe even how they will feel about their client’s story.  This is called transference

Well, I see that my situation is a real transference dilemma for some people.  But people who know me and work with me know that I know how to focus on each person.  I know how to compartmentalize.  I don’t compare one person’s pain to another, including my own.  I never have. 

Ever since I began my job, I started a ritual where I envision my client and what their week might have been like, the space (like real, physical space) they might have come into the meeting from, the mental space, and the events that might have impacted them.  It’s a mini-meditation that allows me to get into their world.  Honestly, having hourly mini-meditations in the effort of becoming another person, understanding them, and helping them is a very good practice.  At least for me. 

More generally and even spiritually, sometimes I wonder what it means that the tragedy of suicide happened to a psychologist, to his wife, who is also a psychologist, and to his kids, whose parents are both psychologists.  I used to joke... everyone assumes that kids whose parents are psychologists are either totally perfect or destined to be totally pathological.  I have always known that my kids were neither of these extremes.  I wonder what it will mean to them that I am a psychologist, one who specializes in families, development and growth.  It all seems so ironic.  Or, maybe it’s destiny… like, I was going to have to care for these kids and I needed a lot of skills.  Sometimes I think I had twins for that reason, too.  So they can have each other through this terrible tragedy that no one else can understand.  Either that or to help finish each other's math problems.

Anyway, in the meantime, I really like my job.  For some reason, I was destined to be a psychologist, and I am here to reassure people that the work still can and will get done.  It’s sad but true that no one can relate completely to any other person.  What happened to Mike was unique, what happens to all of us is unique, and that’s how I enter every meeting. 

fullsizeoutput_49d1.jpeg

(At least) one more tribute to Mike

I have received SO much feedback from people that truly knew and loved Mike, they say this blog has helped them as they grieve.  None of us really chooses to grieve; it’s not like we think, hey, I wonder what we should do tonight?  I know!  Let’s sit around and grieve some more!  In that vein, I realize that for me to linger on and on about Mike, about his life, about his death, all of it, it can only go on so long for the rest of you, although those of you who knew and loved Mike will surely grieve some more.  So, maybe just a couple more posts that do some justice to both his wonderful spirit and epic challenges. 

Mike’s memorial service happened on a bright, beautiful day, at one of his favorite places.  It strangely and certainly felt a little celebratory despite the undeniably tragic and untimely circumstances.  So many wonderful people loved Mike, so that energy was a shared gift to us all.  And so many of my daughters’ beautiful friends were there to support them.  I found this remarkable, as I imagine many parents might struggle with how and whether to have their children attend an event such as this.  Nonetheless, they were there, and they were absolutely adorable. 

Clearly, no one would think to take pictures at a memorial service, either, except that one of our favorite family friends is also a stunningly talented photographer.  She brought her camera that day and asked if I’d like for her to take pictures.  Of course, she lost Mike, too, and I said I hoped she would get through the service in whatever way felt best to her.  As are many photographers often most comfortable behind the lens, she captured photos that day that I have already realized I will treasure forever.  It’s almost impossible to get through a service like that, so the last thing I could do was remember it. 

I think the best way to communicate a sense of Mike’s memorial service is to share a few words that some of his amazing friends said about him.  He was remembered for being generous and universally compassionate.  His passion for learning was described as “tremendous curiosity crossed with a deep desire to help people.”  He influenced people with his kindness.

The fact that he was “not fully equipped for this life” was precisely what made him perfect for his life of helping other people.  He was always searching, always outside the box, asking hard questions.  He was always looking for new ways to understand things.  Wondering what could be possible. 

Mike was remembered for his seriousness about life, but equally for his “states of reverie.”  He spent most Halloweens dressed as a wizard, which personified his notions of transformation and magic.  One friend astutely pointed out that, because we have lost him, Mike’s search is now our search, and we carry him with us as we ask ourselves all the hard questions going forth. 

Here are a few excerpts from another friend’s eulogy; his words are better than mine, so:

How many times did you pull into a troop meeting as he was single-handedly wrangling some convoluted project with a dozen high-pitched girls buzzing from one corner of the room to the other? No one else paying attention to anything but this magic he'd unleashed, and Dr. Mike barely containing the madness, determined not to squelch any ounce of exuberance.  Him just sopping it up.  All the chaos.  He loved it.  He empowered all of us to be innocent and free and our best.  

Everyone in our wacky multicellular community depended on him in a million different ways -- not just because he was so easy to take advantage of if you needed a Girl Scout troop leader or a chaperone, but because he was so fundamentally good.  You'd talk to him and know that at his core he just wanted to help.  

Everyone.  And anyone.  It was his life's work, and you could talk to him and just feel it.  

Clearly, there were gaps in his life that he was trying to fill in.  He was adopted and sought out his biological parents, but he was too late.  He joined the navy after high school, because he didn't have a home.  Did you know that he coded military computers back in the day and could still have probably built a machine from scratch if he had to?

For all of his awh-shucks humility, he was brilliant.  And the danger of delivering a eulogy for Dr. Mike is that you could summarize all of his accomplishments, and that would be enough because his accomplishments were prodigious.  

Not just professionally where he was revered for his gifts as a psychologist.  Right, he went into psychology late in life to heal other people, because he deep-down understood their pain.  He was famous for jiu-jitsuing suffering and turning that pain into strength.  He could do this because he was so sensitive to it. 

But as a father and as a friend, he never failed to be there for everyone else.  Everyone else.

But that leaves me wondering why he couldn't be there for himself, and why it was so hard for him to understand how incredible he was and necessary and needed and loved.  

It honestly beats the hell out of me, but it makes me think of To Kill A Mockingbird and Atticus Finch's pronouncement that you can't judge a man ‘til you've walked a mile in his moccasins.  

Now that he's gone, though, there a million sparkling ideas he isn't gonna share with me anymore, so I'm going to try, and I am trying.  Because there's this Dr. Mike-sized hole in my life, that it's left to me to fill in with his grin that rippled from his belly and stretched across both cheeks and his eyes that listened deeply. 


Now it's on all of us and on each of us to be that much more for each other.  Our great and good friend Mike inspired us to be more, and we owe it to him.  And we owe it to ourselves to keep him with us.  

What 10-year-olds wear to funerals.  Thank you, Katy Tartakoff.

What 10-year-olds wear to funerals.  Thank you, Katy Tartakoff.

Flowers that we arranged from the garden that Mike loved.  Himalayan salt rocks, his literal and metaphorical favorite. 

Flowers that we arranged from the garden that Mike loved.  Himalayan salt rocks, his literal and metaphorical favorite. 

A Love Letter to My Daughters

fullsizeoutput_45ba.jpeg

 

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this blog is really just a love letter to my daughters.  It’s the kind of letter that I can’t just leave on their pillow.  It’s the kind of letter that’s hard to read.  Plus, they are too young.  It would be wrong for me to crowd their brains with my own ideas and words about their terrible loss. 

But here’s why it belongs in a blog.  They can’t talk about it with almost anyone.  They know that other people don’t understand what they went through.  They hear the word suicide thrown around throughout the day, often incorrectly and insensitively.  They understand this.  They know better than to try to correct people or to explain. 

So, nothing happens.  In our family, we talk a little, we share memories.  But, sort of on purpose, not much more happens.*  They don’t want to carry it around every day.  They don’t understand it, and they don’t want to, yet.  So these words are for their archives, for when they are ready to look back.  So I can get the words out before they change or get lost.  Mike was a special soul and his life deserves to be remembered. 

These words are a statement about why we ALL need to talk about suicide.  Not just Mike’s.  These words are proof that we can talk about it and still hold our heads high, still walk with some grace through life, knowing that we don’t need to be ashamed of mental illness. 

You see, everyone associated with a suicide feels pretty awful about it.  First of all, we feel guilty.  We should have saved them.  Also, we feel hurt and angry.  Does it say something about us that they were willing to leave us, that they were absolutely compelled to leave? 

I can’t answer these questions for anyone else, and I am barely scratching the surface for myself.  But there is one thing I know, which is that my beautiful, perfect daughters didn’t deserve any of this (none of us did).  Their magical life was bombed into oblivion one humble summer’s day, and that’s that.  We have to address that, and these words are a start.

This story is about serious pain.  It's about realizing how hard it was to live in Mike's depressed, suicidal body and mind.  It is about the rest of us feeling lost and abandoned and betrayed and stigmatized.  It is about the trials of single parenting.  Which is hard enough for anyone.  Then add the goal of constantly distracting my kids from the biggest abandonment they also must experience.  Trying not to over-compensate but also trying to be totally there for them. 

The bottom line is, the bigger their community of support, the better.  Speaking of which, a special shout out to all of you who are there for us every day, you know exactly who you are.  And for those of you who have reached out to me because of this blog, I appreciate every one of you for listening and showing your love and maybe even sharing your own stories.

*Actually, one especially big thing did happen, and that’s Judi’s House.  So much gratitude for that awesome resource.  If you suffer a terrible loss but are lucky enough to live in Denver, you will know what that place is about.   

https://www.judishouse.org

The Metaphors.

x-men-apocalypse-image.jpg

 

I use a ton of them.  Both at my job and in my own life.  Here are just a few, about the suicide. 

 

The Apocalypse:

How it felt when Mike died.  My daughters and I holed up in a bunker, knowing it was not safe to go outside, not knowing if and how life would go on. 

Some strange things happen in a bunker after the apocalypse.  First of all, everyone gets really close.  That’s a good thing.  Also, you pass the time with weird activities.  We watched mindless movies and read books to each other.  We couldn’t play any games, cause that was pure Mike.  We couldn’t handle the holidays, also Mike.  We couldn’t look at pictures or talk about the past or the future.  We just focused on whether we had enough rations for the day, and what episode of Star Wars we would choose (also Mike, but somehow exempt).  Better yet, Zoolander (definitely not Mike). 

 

College, the Metaphor:

This is one of my favorites, but also one of the hardest to implement.  Basically, college is (usually) awesome even though you know it’s going to end in 4 years.  So, why can’t our lives and our memories be awesome, even though whole thing had to end?  What if we could think of Mike as a super-cool college that we all got to attend, get filled up with, shape our minds around.  And then we just move on to the next phase, the next great thing?  Well, there are tons of reasons why, making this the hardest metaphor.  But sometimes I try it anyway.

Life of Pi is another example.  Having to say goodbye to everything you ever knew and loved, then surviving on a raft with a large predatory animal.  Trying to make the best of it.  Building meaning from it.  Becoming spiritual.  Something like that.   

 

The Iron Stake:

This one is harder to describe, it’s really more like a feeling I can’t shake.  I just picture Mike’s death as a giant, heavy, black, iron stake in the middle of my mental, emotional landscape.  I can’t get over it, I can’t pretend it’s not there, I can’t move it, and pretty much everything has to revolve around it.  I think people dealing with loss, maybe a lot of kinds of loss, might relate to this one. 

The Aftermath.

14612552_10211631829338460_2153240100181886856_o.jpg

I feel I should label this: The Aftermath, Part 1 of about 37,000.  Really it's more like... infinite.  And I can't even begin to do justice to what this has meant to our community, Mike's clients, his students, his friends. 

But back to our little family.  How do two young girls navigate the colossally enormous and complicated loss of their dad's suicide?  How do they understand that the most loving, empathic, giving, spirited soul on the planet chose to, or felt he had to, leave? 

They don’t.

They go on with their other life, the life where they are just kids with friends and goals and things to do and places to go.  Their life, like mine, irreparably split between two universes.  One where dads love their daughters and reassure them when they are scared, remind them that the world is ultimately benevolent, that everything is going to be ok.

And the other world, where everything is never going to be ok. 

Right now, it sort of reminds me of the Upside Down.  Thanks, Netflix.

 

When I was young, I was electrocuted on the third rail of a train track in Chamonix, France.  Really.  Anyway, I was told that it was a miracle I was alive, how unlikely it was that I survived.  The doctors sort of stared at me for days and ran a bunch of tests and fixed my dislocated elbow and then let me go home.  I looked out over the Alps and thought, there is some sort of god/purpose for me, and every day from here on out is extra, a bonus.  I have no idea if this was real but it is what I believed. 

I honestly have resonated with that truth since the day it happened.  I am genuinely grateful to be alive.  It’s not easy, life, but it feels amazing to be here.  Sometimes I wonder if it is superficial not to have questions about the universe or “God” or my purpose in life.  But I just know.  I feel like every day on Earth is a gift, maybe a totally random one, who knows.  But somehow we have been given this time in these bodies and these brains on this earth.  Not for long, either.  Let’s definitely make the best of it. 

Still, I spend my days trying to help other people figure out their truths, their gods, their purpose.  It seems like a very good way to spend the time.  Many people really struggle with being on earth.  It helps to feel heard, and to share the struggles with each other.  Compassion and connection: the currencies of humanity. 

 

Anyway, Mike sure struggled with this.  Suicidal people struggle with this, sometimes every day.  Sometimes their suicidality screams at them, interrupting their attempts to go about their day.  Sometimes it gets too loud or too real and it takes over.  I have tremendous respect for this struggle, and for people that fight this battle in their lives. 

If they could just be reassured.  If they could have enough good things to balance out the bad.  If they could calm the demons… like, literally calm their bodies and thoughts down when they get so flooded.  That’s what it’s all about.

But ultimately, we all decide how to make meaning in life.  It’s a lot of work.  Actually, Mike worked harder at this than anyone I know.  But he did that work because he had to.  He did it because it kept the demons at bay.  He got really good at it.  Eventually, it exhausted him. 

 

Mike “died” when he was 8.  He drowned and was saved and revived.  Just like in the movies, he saw his little eight-year-old life flash before his eyes.  AND, he had an overwhelming sense of calm and safety, of letting go, of God, of transcendent love.  Then, he was yanked back to earth and to life. 

 

I can’t help but wonder if this experience impacted his ultimate decision, if he remembered and deeply craved that sensation of connection with the universe, and if he thought he could get there through suicide. 

 

But in fact, most people who are suicidal are terrified of a lot of things, including dying.  Mike remembered what happened to him when he was a kid, but he also researched other perspectives.  He often referenced the research by  Dr. Sam Parnia; he wrote Erasing Death.  He reported that people who are resuscitated from a suicide attempt often report terrible, horrifying experiences whereas people who “die” of natural causes experience universal love and compassion (in the rare times you can interview any of these people).  He does not postulate why these trends occur, he simply reports the science of peoples’ experience (mostly with the hope of improving universal resuscitation methods, but also to study peoples’ near-death experiences).  This research is fascinating and amazing and scary, all at the same time.  

Of course, the classic notion of suicide is that it is the most selfish thing a person can do.  The person who dies escapes their wrath and everyone else is left without their loved one and to pick up the pieces of daily life.  Luckily, this strategy helps some people get through depression.  They personally wish to die, but they know the impact on their loved ones would be so tragic that they fight through it instead.  Other peoples’ depressions are worsened by this notion.  They are already wracked with guilt and stress and pressure, and they are terrified of hurting their loved ones, leading to more guilt and stress and pressure.  Some religions say suicide is a sin.  So there’s that, too. 

Ultimately, it’s not anyone’s place, not a therapist or a spouse or a parent’s place, to tell a person what to do with their own body and life.  This is so painful.  There was not a single thing I could do to stop Mike.  The more I did with him and for him, the worse he felt about himself and his future.  The more people reached out to him, the more he turned away from them.  It was a terrifying and perplexing time, and the worst experience of my life, and his too, of course.  This is where I run out of words, which could never describe this time in our lives.  

 

So what does a family do?  They live.  They look for love and joy and forgiveness and connection. The exact same thing they have always done.  Also, they are tasked with being kind and caring for the world.  They have a mission to be there for people in need, to recognize how hard it is to be human, and to honor their memories because they are special and real.  And, of course, to honor their Dad.  

 

And they get to be really pissed off about it, too. 

The List.

I used to think, if Mike really died by suicide, I would literally have to move out of town.  I could not do my job respectably and I could not raise my kids respectably, it would be too much.  This was so ridiculous.  I forgot that my kids live here, this is their home.  This is my home.  This is not something you get away from.  As unimaginable as it was at the time, it is exactly that unimaginable now.  It’s just that I live with the unimaginable.  I just show up and live.  What other people think about my/our reputation is so distant now, totally irrelevant.   

 

I often have this fantasy that I could design some sort of list of Reasons Why; I could just hand it out at the door, maybe at parties, even at work.  It would make everything so much easier.  In fact, when I have time to rattle off a few of the “reasons,” people seem to feel a little better.  They seem slightly relieved, actually.  First, the list makes some sense (to a suicidal person).  It also represents his values (in the most sadly ironic way).  But for all Mike’s uniqueness and specialness, he still died the way lots of suicidal people die.  Feeling lost, isolated from his loved ones, distanced from his long-term goals and dreams, with a history of mental illness. 

 

For some, there is an especially traumatic event that leads to suicide (still, usually with a history of other complicated stuff).  For others, it is just a culmination of many things.  For Mike, it was sort of like a perfect storm.

 

In the days immediately leading up to his death, Mike had several scares that seemed to him to be signs that he should not remain alive. 

 

First, he was going through a change in medications and he was groggy when taking the girls to camp one morning.  They got into a car accident.  Everyone was fine, but it was a bad accident and his car was totaled.  He was terrified that this had happened and felt afraid for the kids’ safety. 

 

Also, our beloved dog, Scout, was almost 15 years old and was dying.  In fact, we had to put her down the day after Mike died.  Mike and Scout were deeply connected, and she was one of his closest companions.  It appeared that he simply could not tolerate letting her go.

 

Probably most relevant to the days before he died, Mike was going through a somewhat aggressive medication change in an attempt to improve his depression.  Mike was always deeply suspicious of medications for depression since he had tried them years ago with no benefit.  He really hated having anything alter his mental state, and again felt that the medications were not helping him.*  He stayed loyal to the advice of his psychiatrist, whom I highly respect and who I believe did all the right things to help Mike.  So, he was going through a transition in medications and it was extremely destabilizing.  Mike felt and looked very sick all weekend, as if he had the flu.  He slept a great deal and had trouble communicating. 

 

Also to his obvious detriment, he was showing signs of psychosis.  This can happen in a serious depression, and relates to his deeper mental illness that was so hard to see from the outside.  I am hesitant to elaborate on all of the forms of this, as it seems too personal.  But it is an important component for people to understand.  When he made the decision to die, he was paranoid and destructively illogical. 

 

Mike deeply feared that his physical health was irreparably failing.  He had always had hearing loss since his time in the Navy working on computers in loud vessels.  He wore hearing aids that worked well for him.  But in the months leading up to his death, he felt his hearing and sight were failing significantly.  He was diagnosed with a mild heart condition that was in no way insurmountable but that scared him.  He literally believed that he was actually dying, even though he was one of the healthiest 54-year-olds I knew. 

 

He also feared that he was failing at his work.  Indeed, if you consider everything that was happening, his work had to be affected.  But in fact, I have heard from so many people who worked with Mike right up until the day he died, who say that he helped them enormously (of course there could be other people who experienced something different and didn’t communicate their observations).  This ties in with a larger theme in which Mike was so very talented that he set an extremely high bar for himself, and he underestimated the benefits of even moderate job performance.  This will have to be revisited later as is a key theme for many people who die by suicide.  Perceived failings in life that disavow the simpler, common ways that we all get through and feel competent.  Mike feared that he was losing his identity by not doing his best for his clients.

 

The single most important reason that you must try to understand that Mike was delusional, untethered from reality is this: he chose to die for his daughters.  He sincerely, emphatically believed that they would be better off this way.  He believed that he had spiraled back into a depressed state that he had inhabited for decades, and that he had no chance of recovering.  He believed this despite the fact that there was less than 9 months between when he got depressed and when he died.  He believed this because he was an “expert” who knew all the rules and tricks, and they didn’t work on him (yet).  He cited many examples of when adult children feel they need to care for a depressed parent, and how it wears on them.  He believed he had given his children everything he had to give, and that he was completely unequipped for their upcoming needs.  In part, he believed in me and knew that I would carry the ball, that I would stop at nothing to take care of our kids.  He saw this as permission to exit. 

 

This is the arresting crux that tends to stop us all in our tracks.  No one has ever known a father that loved his children more than Mike.  It was his passion to be a father and raise children.  He was great at it, truly exceptional. 

 

Did Mike get help?  Yes, he did.  He got as much help as he thought he needed.  I am not going to elaborate on this, as, again, these specifics are more private.  But he got help from the best people I can think of.  Still, Mike refused to be hospitalized and, like certain suicidal people, he craftily lied at the end to ensure that he could follow through with his plan.  We were watching him and caring for him all the time at the end, and he still figured out a way.  Perhaps not like most other people, Mike was misguided in thinking that, because he was such a talented psychologist, that he knew everything about programs and interventions and that none of those applied to him, his depression was bigger or more special than other peoples’.  

 

So, it happened.  In all his previous years of depression (before I knew him), Mike had never attempted suicide, not once.  He landed exactly in the category of people who don't want to attempt suicide, they want to complete it.  

 

Hard to pick an image for this post.  All that comes to mind is total darkness. I guess the total eclipse works, too. 

 

total-solar-eclipse.jpg

 

*Medications help a LOT of people.  Sometimes it takes time to find out if they can help, and which ones, and which doses.  It can be a frustrating process, but many people get an immense amount of relief from medications.  

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: 

https://www.cdc.gov/features/preventingsuicide/index.html

What we need.

Before more about Mike, I want to talk about what we need.  I don't think anyone knows what to do in situations like this, but I have figured a couple things out. 

I have been given the book by Sheryl Sandberg (and Adam Grant), Option B.  It's a good book and a great gift for me at this time, although her husband died unexpectedly of a heart condition, which is awfully different than our situation.  But it's also striking to see how differently we all respond to grief.  She describes feeling frustrated with people that ask, How are you?, finding it insensitive to her obvious grief; she prefers, How are you today?, which assumes the grief, but is still a way to check in, authentically.  

Personally, I don’t really care about details like that at all.  It’s actually really nice when someone just says a casual hello, asks how things are going, or starts talking about their own life.  It gives me a break and makes me feel like a normal person. 

What is a lot more unfortunate, although totally understandable, is that people don’t let me know about their own feelings of grief about Mike because they don’t want to burden me. 

When I am being selfish, I long for people to reach out to me more.  When Mike died, many people wrote letters about him, letters to my kids for later in life.  These letters are absolutely priceless to me.  It was sad when they stopped coming (although they would have to, someday).  I wish people knew that it is never too late to reach out.  I could talk about what I have learned about the people that reach out and the people that don’t, and it has hurt to realize some people drop off while others show up.  But the truth is, I don’t know anything about people, especially the ones I don’t hear from.  Maybe they have their own reasons, their own stories, their own sense of betrayal or confusion or anger, who knows?  But for the people that still wonder what to do, reaching out is what is best for me, and eventually my family (my kids know about the letters, and read most of them, then had enough for a while, and it will keep going like that).  It’s like what I teach in my practice: if you are wondering whether to communicate, always err on the side of communicating. 

I was so grateful after my kids’ recent continuation, a good friend came up to me, asked me how I was, and said how the ceremony was so sad for her because she kept thinking about how Mike was missing it, and how beautiful the girls are, and how proud he would have been. 

I actually was not having that experience that day.  I was missing Mike a ton, for sure, and I was sad to be saying goodbye to a very special school my kids have called home, and where Mike frolicked with them afternoon after afternoon, year after year.  There is a Little Free Library dedicated to him that he and his Girl Scout troop installed a couple years ago.  Anyway, I was feeling sad that this beautiful place would become a memory, that another chapter was closing, one in which everyone knew and loved Mike and where he was interwoven with the girls’ memories.  I knew that, when they go to their new school, it will never remind them of Mike at all, but of other people’s dads, their teachers, maybe me, their friends.  I was sad about that.  But I was super proud of my girls that day, indeed they were beautiful and poised and perfect, as all the kids were. 

Anyway, my friend came up to me and shared how she felt and it meant the world to me.  We cried for a moment over the potluck table.  Then we got on with the celebration. 

fullsizeoutput_44bc.jpeg

 

Mike's Story

Has to be told.  And yes, he died by suicide. 

Now that that’s out of the way, I am going to figure out how to tell (enough of) the story. 

Some people won’t approve.  I didn’t ask anyone’s permission or guidance, as there are so many reasons the story should not and would not be told.  But it has to be.  I could try to describe the constant barrage of emails and phone calls and even worse, the people that don’t email or call.  They ask each other and they wait, dealing with their own confused grief.  But everyone wants to know. 

It’s instinctive to want to know, I guess.  Survival instinct. 

It’s love, too.  People are concerned, want to know if we are going to be ok. 

It’s learning.  Our psychology community deserves to learn and grow and grieve themselves.  Everyone he touched deserves to learn from this. 

It’s concern for everyone else.  Like, if you know someone with depression, how worried should you be?  What signs will there be?  What can you do to prevent it?  I can only attempt to answer.

It’s probably a little voyeurism, too.  I really don’t care.  I don’t care about that because I exist in a parallel universe in which things like privacy or “image” are just distant memories of a normal life.  But this will never be normal.

Before jumping in, here’s just a few reasons why NOT to tell the story:

Mike had a lot of patients, and I don’t know their stories.  Some were young, and some were dealing with their own depression and maybe even suicidality.  We all know that people are vulnerable to giving in when they see that others have done the same, especially people they really admire.  Still, the most important part of this is the education around it (for example, look up whether more people really did follow through with suicide after Kurt Cobain died, and how the community rallied to support and educate people and it worked).  I could also argue that Mike wanted people to know, even his clients.  This one doesn’t hold up, though, because he wasn’t making sense at that point.  Still, he was decidedly NOT wanting this to be kept private.  He insisted on being authentic, even at the end.

This will affect how some people see me professionally.  I also don’t worry about that.  I remain good at my job, or, sadly, better.  I certainly don’t need clients, and I am not looking for attention or sympathy, I get plenty of both.  To be honest, it would be a lot easier to try to sweep this under a rug, if only there were a rug that big.

Also, my kids... they deserve their own story.  They deserve to bury the story, too, if that would be more convenient for now.  They are finally starting new experiences (camp, school) where people don’t already know the story, and how refreshing is that?  Unfortunately, it’s also not true or fair.  People will know the story, and they will tell it to each other in hushed tones, and feel shocked and sad and maybe even scornful but without the right information.  Parents might need to decide whether and how to talk about it with their children, or even whether to let their kids hang out with my kids.  After Mike died last summer, we had a few weeks to figure out a strategy for school.  I sent an email to the classrooms my kids would enter.  After having grappled with the tragedy for weeks on their own, I heard from so many parents how grateful they felt that I had reached out to them in this way, to give them just a little information and language to prepare them.  This is what I said:

Fifth grade families,

I wanted to add a little to the email you received about Mike and our family.  I want you to know it obviously pains me greatly to lose Mike and to such tragic circumstances.  I know that each family will need to deal with this in their own way.  I don't have any script, so please do what is best for your family.  I have some families telling their kids about Mike's death but not offering any other specifics to their kids.  I have other families telling their kids it was an accident or a health issue.  I really don't judge anyone's decisions, and obviously some people will have different needs regarding their religions, their own kids and what each parent might know about their kids' own worries/life perspective, etc.  Believe me, it occurred to me it would be easier not to tell my kids the truth, but in the end, I knew I didn't have a choice with my kids.  But please handle this however you would like.  

I don't really think that [my kids] are going to advertise their situation.  But they are also getting accustomed to speaking about it directly when appropriate.  Mostly, they just want to have a normal life and normal interactions with their friends.  It has helped to see a friend here and there to acclimate.  I think they will like to just get back with their daily life as soon as is remotely possible.  We are inviting letters/cards just as a way for kids to feel they can do something tangible, if that is healing for them.  

In the last few weeks, [my kids] have come closer together than ever, and their love and friendship for each other is truly a gift to us at this time.  But at times, they are quick to moods and a little snappy with each other.  I mention this just because I would love for our already awesome community to help me parent at this time.  For any parents who really know me, I will never be defensive if you share observations with me about things they do or say.  So by all means, if something comes to your attention, feel free to shoot me an email.  

For those of you who are actually going to tell your kids what happened, I will just let you know that we are telling our kids that Mike was very sick, depression is a real disease, and in the end, it took his life the way that cancer might infect a person's cells or brain.  I also get a lot of questions because Mike seemed fine to other people, so some kids worry that if Mike could do this, could this happen to just any parent.  I think it is fine/fair to say that Mike was a lot sicker than he looked on the outside, and that it ran in his family, and that he struggled with depression for decades, not days or months or even years.  You are welcome to share any of this if it helps.  

Ok, I will turn off my child psychologist brain and just say, as a mom, love up your kids and take good care of yourselves.  See you soon, 

Mary

You would think a lot has happened in a year, but in fact, I could say almost the exact same thing about my kids right now.  Just get to know them as people and look over them with love and support, as we all do for each other. 

So, most people we know feel better with at least a little bit of the story, and maybe some words to share with their families and friends.   You could argue, in a situation like this, there really are no words.  And there are also no “answers.”  Even once I get this story out, you will feel dissatisfied, distracted by the fact that Mike should really just be here right now, no excuses, no explanations needed.  I agree and get stuck on this all the time.

At times in my life, I have been told I’m a pretty good writer.  You won’t see that here.  A person in my state loses words.  Everything is constricted, choked.  Even language.  I have nothing sophisticated or philosophical to say. 

The bottom line is, suicide isn’t shameful.  It’s something to be uncovered and understood.  If Mike died from cancer, we would just say so.  He got a disease, he got very sick, and he died before we could cure him.  

If you want to learn more, check in periodically for posts, whatever words I can muster (I wrote a little all year, but didn’t allow myself to consider sharing until at least a year of grief and stabilization).  

Ps.  Dear People I Lied To, there are two of you.  You asked how he died at the wrong place and time (aka, I wasn’t ready and couldn’t break it to you).  I said it was a heart attack.  Mike did not die of a heart attack.  This is the same lie I planned to tell my kids on the shocking evening of July 5, 2016.  I mean, telling your children that their father just died is... seemingly impossible, and something I hope you never have to do.  Telling them how he died, that was unthinkable.  Luckily my sister's wisdom ran the rest of that evening. 

 

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: 

https://www.cdc.gov/features/preventingsuicide/index.html

Quintessential Mike. 

Quintessential Mike. 

 

Mike's Story, continued.

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. 

841195_10200796028770218_2020140530_o.jpg
26952_1383142505767_2651491_n.jpg
10380555_10204796534420359_8098528537490648885_o.jpg

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: 

https://www.cdc.gov/features/preventingsuicide/index.html