Resist The Lure of Suicide

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of F...

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Sometimes I wonder, how come other people get to get away without having to deal with this?  Why can’t I get a break?

Heidi wasn’t talking about fair or foul fortune in life.  She was talking about suicide.  Heidi found the suicide idea alluring and promising.  She found life unfair and death a form of equalization.  She reminded me that suicide contagion is a real effect.  I didn’t know this before.  I don’t know when it became an understanding for me, but it was after medical school and definitely after residency.

So much of what I know, came to me outside of those places of learning.  So much of what I know, came from my patients and a settling effect into my specialty of practice.  I have learned, in one way of consideration, too much about suicide.  In that way, I wish I didn’t.

There are good things too, of course.  Suicide is no more moral or amoral than another act in life, it is simply (if one could use such a word with this) and most objectively the last.  I remember commenter Mike J said on December 17, 2011,

Whenever I feel suicidal I remember that I’m going to be dead a long time. As bad as the pain is, I understand but, why rush to get there?  

Life is like pizza or sex, even when it’s bad it’s kinda good.

I know.  Who wants eat bad pizza?!  Sigh.  Each to his own 😉 but you get the meaning – clever man.

Mike J has used this to inoculate himself perhaps to build suicide resistance.  He and you might be interested to know that the CDC takes the risk of “catching” suicide so seriously that they have made formal recommendations for our protection.  In reading them, we find friendly ways to protect ourselves not only from suicide, but also from the contagion of other extreme thoughts that actions such as suicide cluster in; such as self-injury, catastrophizing, all-or-none thinking, and self-flagellation.

Suicide is contagious as a learned behavior, which is part of why it is so confusing for Western Cultures to conceptualize it in any way apart from morality.  Another reason we have a hard time not moralizing suicide is that we still struggle with where emotions and behaviors come from.  (But moralizing emotions and behaviors is for another discussion.)

When I heard Heidi say those words,

Sometimes I wonder…

despite the patients I have known who’ve died by suicide, despite the knowledge gained in clinical practice and despite the diagnosis I had already reported to her insurance carrier – I had an autonomic response.  My skin erupted in goose pimples, breathing sped up and I realized I was afraid.  Despite being a psychiatrist whom our community imagines thinks of who is going to commit suicide next all the time, I am not.  I am not that jaded.  I am affected and I am still taken off guard.  “Heidi,” I thought.  “No.”

Heidi had the “benefit” of media exposure to suicides, media who was promoting suicide contagion through learned behaviors but also as activating her already infirm brain to increase in degree of illness, producing more suicide-thought symptoms.  When I weighed Heidi’s risk of hurting herself knowing her medical condition, I had thought, “Ok.  She’ll make it. We’ll do this and she’ll heal.”  But when the knowledge of news-worthy suicides spread in her, I knew her medical risks might be catalyzed and I knew enough to be afraid.  “No Heidi.”  What to do?

The CDC tells us to turn the copycat-suicide risk upside down by using the  media, which the gypsy in me really likes.  Instead of being silent and afraid, we can describe the help and support available, explain how to find persons at high risk for suicide, and tell about risk factors for suicide.

Today is Christmas and you may be wondering why I am speaking about suicide today.  It is because I’m hoping that by going toward our fears and our places of pain, that they will lose power over us.  I am hoping that on Christmas, which is for some a positive time, that we have a knowledge that Christmas is for others much less.

Furthermore, I am hoping that we know that we and Heidi are up against our illnesses as well as media-poisons.  And most importantly, I hope that we also know that we have power.  We don’t have to be a victim and we are free to choose.  At every level, we are free.  In every paradigm, we are free.  We are free until we do not – AKA, die.

I’ll take it.  I hope Heidi and you do too.

I hope you will speak into the wind if it be windy.  I hope you will look into the flash if you must and I hope you will fight against your own destruction as long as you can choose.   I hope you know that you are free.

Questions:  How do you oppose the lure of suicide, even when you have to oppose it repetitively and against multiple forces?  Please tell us your story.

Self-Care Tip:  When others inappropriately describe suicide and when your thoughts tell you to die, be your own friend by speaking about suicide, even to yourself, with this knowledge.

Grief Can Be Treasured At The Same Time That We Celebrate Life

Self-Care Tip #283 – Find the treasure in your grief while celebrating life.

Today is my daughter’s sixth birthday.  If ever there was a person who doubled the love she received, it is this chid.  She is all passion.  Yes, both ways, but that isn’t to judge.  Just, there is so little I can offer in words to describe her power of self.

They're asleep!

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Tonight, we pushed two twin beds together so she and I could sleep beside each other.  Her sister slept nearby on another twin bed.  Her brother set his bed up in the closet.  (I know.)

If I wasn’t so tired, old and broke, I might be made vulnerable by times like this to having more kids.  Since that’s not going to change, these chubs are what we will stick with.  Happily.

My mind is turned toward God by this girl.  I somehow arrive in the moment praying when with her, perhaps for strength and patience or for humility and gratitude.  I learn from her.

Mommy, when I’m scared I talk to Jesus.

Often in times like this, I think of my niece, dead now six years, and how her parents and we wanted what was, what was stripped.  Still grieving and still living the life with us and in us, our braided thoughts and emotions easily lose their flow.

But today I have this clarity.  My niece is gone now six years and ten days.  Today my daughter is six years old.  Today I am sleeping with my three children.  Today I know that this is precious but this is not all we want.  We want what comes after our living years.  We want to let loose to Love the grief and the life; to untangle.  Not more.  Not less.  But we want.  We want what we have, now, although still in the unknown dimension of our forever.

In psychiatry, we are alert to grief that warps the ability to engage in life.  Grief that mars the connections of survivors.  Grief that becomes pathology, brain disease and a medical condition.  This grief disables and, for example, in the case of my daughter’s birthday today, would dissolve my ability to feel pleasure.

It is difficult to gain access to treatment as many of these survivors have ill opinions about medical care.  Such as; fearing medications will mute their connection with the deceased; mute their grief, or in other words, tribute/offering to the deceased; take away the personal punishment for surviving…

Questions:

  • What do you say to these weeping lives?  How can we de-stigmatize medical care for them?
  • How have you been able to treasure your grief and the life with you and in you?

How To Be a Friend to Yourself When Thinking About Your Bully?

I love real life John Waters freeze-frames

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Self-Care Tip #253 – Humanize and forgive your bully.

How to be a friend to yourself when thinking about your bully?

Have you noticed that when we think about our bully, we don’t feel so good.  Just thinking about him!  Sheeze!  In our last post on bullying, Nancy said,

Wow! This one brought up WAY too much pain. I’m feeling very vulnerable and uncomfortable and hurt and stupid at the moment. 

There are jumbled emotions that flood us, such as anger, shame, helplessness, anxiety or more.  Our autonomics may even trigger, making us hypervigilant as if we were being attacked.  We are in defense mode – all the while sitting alone in a chair at our desk, in the quiet of our bed while falling asleep, or any other place of our generally hum-drum lives.  These feelings and nervous system changes come in a time and place when we are not in danger.  They come without us realizing their approach, stealth feet and skilled hands; we are in their company before we know it.

Is there no hope?  What can we do so we don’t feel victimized all over again.

Humanize

1.  Do research on the bully.  Find out about him on the internet.  See what others have said about him.

This helps us:

  1. see him as a human, mortal, without superhuman powers.
  2. feel like we are less alone in this.
  3. realize that we are not chosen, so to speak, to suffer at his hands.  He is a bully and not just around “Me.”
  4. we didn’t cause his behaviors.  He chooses his behaviors because of the same biopsychosocial paradigm that we choose ours.
  5. realize that he hasn’t chosen to do his self-care, making him more vulnerable to his own negative feelings and behaviors.

Forgive

  1. Humanizing our bully helps us move towards empathy and forgiveness.
  2. Anger debts only hurt Me and that’s not friendly to Me.

Grow our self-confidence

  1. Such as doing our own thing.
  2. Grow our own natural genius.  Work hard at it and see how it is there for us, like a friend when we are feeling pushed down.  Our friend will be standing beside us, reminding us of our value when this remembering tries to beat us down.  Our friend will be there reminding us that this negative event in our life does not define us.

Now if they continue, these rememberings, and if these rememberings are frequent enough that we believe our quality of life is affected, we may be looking at something else.  There are other medical illnesses that can disable our abilities to cope.  In this scenario, I am thinking especially about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)

In PTSD, we relive experiences of trauma (which we perceived to have been life threatening to ourselves or observed by us in other(s).)  We may also feel hypervigilant, as if we are about to be attacked at times when our lives are not threatened.  We might have nightmares and avoid things that remind us of the trauma event as well.

PTSD is easily reactivated by other stressful situations – such as being bullied.  When we have a history of PTSD that has been quiet for a time, even years, we are more vulnerable to stressors reactivating it’s symptoms.  Then, although the said stressor may not have been a life-threatening stressor, we perceive similar feelings and neurologic changes we did when in the life-threatening situation.  Then, although the said stressor may be over and not recurring, those PTSD symptoms start happening all over again and may continue indeterminately – propagated by the disease process and not our bully event.

This might be endured and it may go away in time without treatment.  But it isn’t good for anyone while it is happening.  PTSD can improve with medical therapies.

Question:  How have you been able to humanize and forgive your bully?  Please tell me your story.

The Testimony of The White-Headed People – Connection and Aging

Once again, I find myself in a café.  This doesn’t happen often enough for me.  But here,Almond paste tart with chocolate mouse and blueberries

I am

at the wonderful le Croissant Bakery, indulging not only in the quiet of my private thoughts, not only in my delectable chocolate croissant with coffee, but also in the ambiance.

Here, there is this completely lovely group of white-headeds, maybe ten of them at a table, sharing the treasured community of each other.  None of them walk completely upright.  One is wearing his oxygen tubing with tank in tow.  The ladies are coiffed irregardless of their folding skin and thin hair.  Fruit tart

I am

so blessed to be in their community, testifying to me that aging doesn’t have to be done alone.  Flourless Chocolate cake with Ganache inside

I am

sure, 100% sure, that none of them are aging as they dreamed.  Each of them have outlived many loved ones and the ground they walk on has changed many many times.  They have, each of them, learned to walk again after suffering the type of loss that put’s any of us in bed.

I am

blessed.  This collection of café moments they have together does not account for these losses.  This does not resolve their ongoing conflicts or pain.

But none of them,

Almond paste tart with chocolate mouse and blueberries

I am

100% sure, did not let those things keep them from having this moment together today.

All this sureness without having checked my notes with them?  Yes.

I am.

Crumbs on a Plate

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Your Pain is Not Special. It Is Normal.

Self-Care Tip #243 – See yourself as special rather than your pain and know that you will find your normal again.

What is your normal?

When we were kids, we all had a perspective of what normal was.  Let’s say it was “here.”  Let’s imagine we were lovely then, nurtured and emotionally bonded.  We struggled through peer conflicts, social anxiety and rivalry.  We wanted a bike.

Two Sisters

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Then we got a little older.  Maybe our parents divorced.  Maybe, a sibling died.  Maybe we were abused or in an accident and damaged.  Damage changes normal.  What we never would have thought would be acceptable in our lives became acceptable.  We suffered.  We lived.  Life was indiscriminate and ignored our status.  We think there must be a mistake.

What is our normal at one point, filtered through remaining hopes, grew into regenerating fantasies, through real potential and it moved again.  We are older now and more suffering comes.

Where is our normal?  We survive our child, our own dear perfect boy, hanging from a tree.  Normal?  No dear God!  No!  And we continue to live.

Two years.  Two years are what it takes for our biology to catch up to the shock.  Two years are what it takes for us to begin to accept and realize that in this new normal we care again.  We choose it in fact.

People don’t remember his name or talk about him and we can’t remember his eyes.  We are ashamed and lose our breath from panic just trying to see them.  We want to bang our head because we know there is something wrong about feeling normal! Ever! Again! after that.  But we do.

Our normal mutates over financial ruin, abandonment and a growing healthy list of disfiguring illnesses.  We accept them and say yes please.  Live.  We want to live.  This is acceptable.  This is normal.  Our friends die.  Our memory.  We can’t find our teeth.  Our heart stops.  We die and the world finds normal.  The world chooses just like we did.

What we don’t think will ever be allowed to happen while we brush hair, clip our nails and microwave food, happens. We endure these changes.  We find normal again.

What is your normal?

My brother, Vance Johnson MD, is a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist.  He said that during his residency, close to 100% of spinal cord injury paralysis survivors he worked with wanted to die after their injury.  Many of them would beg him to let them die.  They would cuss at him for keeping them alive.

I leaned very heavily on the studies and data during those times.  It was very hard.

Vance said that what kept him faithful to his task was knowing that close to 100% of them after two years would be glad they were kept alive.

Even the ones who were basically breathing through a straw and that’s all that moved on them; even they wanted to live.  These people found a new normal.

Where is our normal?  We will want it.  We will adapt.  Biology will catch up to our reality.

Remember that your pain is not special.  You are special.  Not your pain.  Pain is normal.

Question:  When this happened to you, how did normal find you despite the rubble?  How does this concept feel to you, that your pain is not special?  Does it make you angry or what?  Please tell me your story.

Your Bridge Between Choosing and Being Chosen By Guilt

INNOCENCE/GUILT

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Self-Care Tip #227 – Find out about your bridge between choosing and being chosen by guilt.

Guilt.

Sometimes we think people who do wrong should feel guilt.  But how many of us improve ourselves or others in response to guilt?  And because this is a self-care blog (wink), I have tooled around with what it is all about and if it is a positive self-service.  In my meanderings I remembered, Schadenfreude.  (Isn’t that a marvelous Americanized German word?!)

Schadenfreude is different from guilt, although often in the same company.  It is a natural response in which we find pleasure at observing another’s demise or suffering.  I speculate that when we see someone feeling guilty and suffering from that guilt, even against our better natures we experience a degree of Schadenfreude, i.e. pleasure.  Because we moralize things, we responsibly feel shame when insight dawns on Schadenfreude, but “it just is.”  It is a part of who we are in this time of humankind’s history.

However would we go so far as to say that we want people to feel guilty when they do wrong because of the motivating reward that Schadenfreude has on us?  For example, Mom is disciplining her children and just won’t stop until someone cries.  I remember hearing jokes about this in mommy groups when my kids were a bit younger.  …Mom thinks silently,

I’m suffering so I want to see you suffer.

Even though we maturely and grandly empathize (the counterpart to Schadenfreude) with the kids, there is a simultaneous “secret Schadenfreude” (a private feeling) that goes on at their failure.  The blend of both can be confusing.

As we continue to travel the bridge between voluntary and involuntary, we are learning more about how choice remains regardless which side we are looking at.  For example, if guilt and Schadenfreude are so natural, so biological, so reflexive, we look for our choice.

Cathy wrote on the blog-post, Choosing Perspective,

I become trapped in my own guilt. Yes it is about perspective but what to do when even changing your perspective provides no relief, only a different source of constraint?

Questions:  I can’t help but wonder what you think about this?  Where and what is your bridge between choosing and being chosen by guilt and other negative emotions?  How do you choose when guilt and other negative emotions come involuntarily and inappropriately to context?  Please tell me your story.

Go Towards Your Pain to Relieve It

A family mourns during a funeral at the Lion's...

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Self-Care #197 – Go where your pain is to prepare for what happens badly in life.

Yesterday we talked about the power of loss, grief and pain not being one that can take away the potential of life.

Carl appreciated the idea that “scripted cue cards” with platitudes on them to read off for ourselves or for others when something bad happens – “Good comes out of bad,” “I know what you feel like,” and so on – is nothing anyone wants.  His comment included, in true Carl-style, a great question:

But what else can we say to show respectful empathy?

Goodness.  For crying out loud, we aren’t a bunch of calloused puff heads who don’t care or who don’t have a clue when someone is suffering!  We’ve all asked this question and wanted to help.  We’ve wanted to connect, to serve, to answer Carl’s question when we are in or come into the presence of pain.

In self-care, we can’t help others if we don’t help ourselves first.  We can’t give what we don’t have.  Airplane crashing, put your oxygen on before your babies.  Can’t withdraw if the bank account is empty….  We take care of ourselves and find that we can serve others more as a result.  It’s the same way in grief.  If we don’t go where our own pain is in life, if we aren’t present with our life journey, if we don’t fight hard for who we are, it is very hard to know how to answer this question.

There’s something to say about doing the work before the trouble comes and then when it comes, use it to prepare for more.  I love Ecclesiastes 12 which tells us in Solomon’s depressed and yet feisty words,

Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—

Solomon was talking about self-care here.  Holding us responsible at the elemental level to use the time we have before trouble comes, so that when it comes, we have a way of answering.

Carl gave his own answer,

…live life on life’s terms like it or not.  If we allow Jesus to embrace us and comfort us it will fortify us through life’s unfortunate tragedies.

Question:  What is your answer to Carl’s question?  Please tell me your story.