#SuicideAwareness has been circulating the internet over the last year or so. I am sure it has been around much longer but recent events have caused this hashtag to spread dramatically. It’s a great hashtag and is usually preceded by someone asking to post a status that says, “Share this so others can see that someone is always listening,” or something similar.
Honestly, I roll my eyes at this. Before you jump on the hate train, let me explain why.
I have experienced postpartum depression.
I have been in the depths of postpartum depression. It sucks and I don’t wish it on anyone. It was a surprise to me as I had not experienced postpartum depression after the birth of my first baby. 10 years later, following the birth of my second living child, postpartum depression appeared. I didn’t realize that’s what was happening to me. A therapist pointed it out when I arrived to her office, in tears, fearful that what I was about to say meant that my baby was going to be taken from me.
I don’t share this story lightly. I realize this can hurt my career and any future career. I know that in sharing this part of me there will be judgment and that clients may question my abilities. I also want to assure you that postpartum depression or depression for that matter, does not occur in a vacuum and people can be extremely functional with depression. This is why suicide can be so shocking. There isn’t always a sign that can be seen before, sometimes it occurs after an attempt or completion of suicide.
For over five years, I sat with suicidal patients in a hospital. These patients had either attempted suicide or had what is called suicidal ideation (they are contemplating suicide or have had thoughts of suicide but may or may not have a plan to act on it). Twice I sat with patients who actively tried to kill themselves in front of me or my staff.
I empathized with them although I didn’t understand completely how they could be in such despair. They had people in their lives that loved them and they had their own children and families (people who were worth living for). I sat next to one person who had just attempted suicide. I asked them why they felt so deeply that they should be dead.
The emotional pain hurts much worse than any physical pain I have experienced.
I will never forget that statement. This person explained that cutting off a leg would hurt less right now than the pain they were feeling. I asked many more questions but ultimately it boiled down to this one statement; how to calm the emotional pain so they wouldn’t want to die. I am not saying there aren’t other excuses for wanting to commit suicide, there certainly are but this really struck me. This person had so much going for them.
As I sat in my therapists office, it took me several tries to say these words, “The other day my baby was crying and I wanted to throw him into the wall.” She stared intently at me and didn’t say a word as I blurted out, “Please don’t take my baby away from me.” She smiled and stated that was not in the plan at this time. I felt safe to also share, “Another time he was crying, I just wanted to smother him.”
I was glad that it was a safe place to share these thoughts with her. They were horrible thoughts and I felt extremely guilty and scared about them. I had lost a child a few years before, why wasn’t I cherishing every moment I was having with this child? Then I made one of the most shocking statements, as if what I haven’t already disclosed wasn’t shocking enough.
My husband left his gun on the counter and when the baby was crying the other night, I looked at it and thought, “If I just blow my brains out right now, the crying will stop.” Then I picked up the gun. Obviously I didn’t use it. I picked it up and placed it in the gun locker and locked it away. Then I closed the door to the storage room it was in. Sure I had the key but I had also placed several steps in front of me that may stop me from using it.
There was so much that went into why I was having these feelings. Lack of sleep, a difficult baby, feeding problems which meant sleeping problems (for the baby and me), unresolved grief from the miscarriage, little help at home (an inability to ask for help), expectations for how my baby should be compared to my last baby, and hormones. What was even more confusing for me was that I was at least five months postpartum. How could this be happening now?
We talked and came up with some plans. I had already had a day where I handed my husband the baby, bawling as I looked at him and said, “I am not leaving you or the children but I need to leave. I need sleep.” My husband looked at me and replied, “You do what you need to do, we will be here when you get back.” If that night away didn’t help me, what would?
When my therapist said to me, “I know you don’t want to hear this and don’t believe it but you have postpartum depression,” I didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t have depression. People like ME don’t have it. I have a good support system, people who love me, children and family to live for, and very little wants and needs. Plus, I was at least five months postpartum. How could I have “it?”
Ultimately, it didn’t matter, I was in the depths of postpartum depression.
The plans we came up with did not involve medication. I was glad for that and after a few months of therapy, I was feeling so much better. By the time my son was nine months, the fog had lifted, I felt sane again, and I bonded and fell in love with him from that point forward. By twelve months, I was contemplating another child.
Roughly a year later, we were pregnant again but sadly, our son Gus had triploidy and passed away at 10.5 weeks gestation. I processed his loss very well and move through my grief more quickly. I think it really helped having a commendation ceremony/funeral for him.
We had decided that our family was complete and began our journey of utilizing Natural Family Planning (NFP) to avoid having another child. With my age (I was now over 40) and the depression I had experienced, we decided it wasn’t healthy for us to attempt another pregnancy. In Gus’s short life, I had experienced several weird illnesses and was under the care of a GI specialist. This can happen when a woman is pregnant with a baby who has triploidy.
To our surprise, God had other plans for us an in September last year, I became pregnant. Ensuring my mental health was priority and this is something we planned ahead for. I will blog about this journey on another date but it is important to share with you my thoughts on the #suicideawareness and how it may not really be that successful.
It is suspected that a friend and former employee of mine may have committed suicide. There is some speculation on how that happened (not necessarily related to depression) but friends are left wondering how they missed the signs. What signs are those people, who are not experiencing depression, looking for? Are you looking for someone to say, “I am going to kill myself.” How about, “I just want to die.” Or, “I am in the depths of despair.”
What does it look like to you to see that someone is depressed or contemplating suicide. You see, I have reached out in the past and no one noticed. I felt I was pretty blatant in my post. I was really struggling and needed some help that evening so I shared something on Facebook and seven out of 500+ friends of mine responded with a “like.” It was the only way I knew how to ask for help because a person like me doesn’t ask for help. Yet, no one knew. No one saw that my message was asking for help and if they did but did not reach out to me, well…I don’t want to think about that.
So the signs can be there and can be extremely subtle. I am highly functional through my postpartum depression. I smile, I laugh, I visit with friends. I am not crumpled up on the floor. If you ask me, “how can I help,” or “let me know what I can do,” you won’t get an answer. If you want to help, HELP. Say, “I am going to bring you dinner on _________ night,” or “I will hold your baby so you can take a shower,” or “I am going to pick you up and take you out on _________ night. I have already talked with your husband and he is going to watch the children.” Just help someone when they are experiencing depression. (After I wrote this blog, a friend passed along this article. It has pictures and explains the faces of depression well.)
When I write these down, I see they are familiar. These are some of the same things that can be done when someone is experiencing grief or just had a baby. These are helpful things and when you are doing these helpful things, you are opening the door to conversation, for planning other ways to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, but most of all, you are showing this person that they are loved.
I see it all the time. “Didn’t _________ know how much we loved them?” Or, “I told them I loved them and that I was here for them but they still are still sad or they still committed suicide.” It might not be enough to say, “I love you.” So it might not be enough to say, “Could one friend please copy and repost? I am trying to demonstrate that someone is always listening. #SuicideAwareness”