The Tragedy of Suicide

This week many of us have been affected, at least as secondary observers, by what appears to be another tragic suicide. Robin Williams was a comedian and actor that was a big part of many of our lives growing up. I still remember wearing rainbow suspenders like Mork for a short period of time. So glad that trend ended quickly.

As someone who has suffered from severe depression, the news that he had been battling depression for quite a while and finally succumbed to it brings up so many feelings for me.

Tragedy of Suicide

I remember in the mid 90s when my depression was spiraling downward. I sought help but couldn’t find it. I tried to handle it on my own. When my friends would express their concern about my growing darkness, I would reassure them—Suicide is for cowards, and I’m no coward.

Famous last words.

Within a few months, I would find myself strapped to a gurney and on the way to the emergency room of the hospital where I worked. I remember everything that happened the day a friend called police because he couldn’t get a hold of me on my phone. “He’s been really depressed lately. I think he did something.”

I remember the feeling of ice in my veins when I finally grasped the hand of escape offered by suicide. I wasn’t sure how long it would be before people finally found me, and I had two cats. I put out a couple pans of food and pots filled with water so that they would be okay in the meantime.

I recall the joy of impending release as I swallowed enough pills to stop my heart and lungs. For the first time in months I smiled as I lay upon my bed, a copy of my “do not resuscitate” (DNR) document taped to my chest. I wasn’t aware that DNRs don’t function during a suicide attempt.

When I was placed into the ambulance, I remember being angry that I had been thwarted. However, I didn’t go into full respiratory arrest until I was in the hospital. After three intubation attempts (I kept pulling out the tube, so they finally chemically paralyzed me), they got enough charcoal into my system that when I pulled out of the medication’s control and snapped the restraint to yank the tube out again, I could breathe on my own.

Tragedy of Suicide

After my ICU and 30-day voluntary inpatient stay at a treatment facility, I returned to work. I felt humiliated because everyone knew what I had done, and damn it I had lived! While passing the ER, the physician who had saved my life came out of a room and saw me. I apologized for the hard time I had given them. (I really was the worst patient that day.)

“Do you remember what happened?” Of course I did! Every single detail. “And you remember snapping the restraint after we paralyzed you?” Yes! I was still pretty pissed about all that. “Do you know I have never seen anything like that? I gave you enough medication that you shouldn’t have been able to blink for at least 20 minutes. Within 10 you were snapping through a restraint.”

I didn’t have anything to say to that.

“I’m telling you this because I want you to realize something—You wanted to live. You wanted it bad enough that you did something I can’t even find happening in any textbook or journal. Talon, you wanted to live.”

I was forced to look back on the whole situation. I had been barely breathing for three days before the police broke into my apartment. I was blue and practically dead when they found me. I couldn’t open my eyes (because of the medication I took), yet I was able to give the paramedic a black eye when he strapped me down (thank you, PTSD), as well as do my little performance in the ER.

He was right. I wanted to live. Deep down in some hidden depth the will was still there.

When my father killed himself, I couldn’t understand it. Even though I am intimately aware of depression’s black claws, I was mystified. Here was a man who had been surrounded by family and friends his whole life. Unlike me whom he had abandoned/lost (depending on which side of the family you’re talking to). He was loved and cared for. He had been getting treatment for his depression, something I couldn’t get until after my suicide attempt.

For the 1-1/2 years prior to his suicide, I had been battling a resurgence of depression brought on by the situation with my eldest child. I had been slapping suicide’s icy talons aside for much of that time while I went back into therapy and returned to my antidepressants, both natural and pharmaceutical.

What mostly kept me from failing the battle was Tigger. How could I do that to him? How could I be yet another parent who had abandoned him? He was so happy to finally have his forever family, how could I possibly rip that away from him?

If I felt that for my adopted son, why could my parent not consider his two children, three grandchildren, and all his family members?

But I know better than that. I know what it’s like. It isn’t logical. It’s depression.

Tragedy of Suicide

As I’ve read comments from people about Williams’ death, I’ve seen them pondering these same things. He had fame, money, a loving family, people who loved him. . . how could he fall into such deep despair?

Unfortunately, it’s only too easy.

I am grateful to my friends who tried to support me in my youth, and I’m thankful for the ones who as “family by choice” stayed in touch with me during my darkest moments as an older adult. I’m thankful for the calls when I appeared silent on Facebook and for the voiced concerns when I was heading into the wilderness for a race. I remember coming back to my car after running 31 miles and seeing my phone’s message indicator blinking. I had texts and calls from friends “checking in to see how the race went.”

I’ve been in plenty of races and never had these messages. They were checking in on me because I was depressed, and I knew it. And I was extremely appreciative. Still am, in fact.

Did Robin have all these supports?  I hope he did. Did he seek help early enough? You can only do so much when you’re battling major depression. Sometimes everyone in your life can be doing everything perfectly, and it just isn’t enough to help you break those mighty chains.

My heart is heavy for his family. I know the endless questions they will ask themselves and the fight with guilt they will endure. It makes the grief that much harder to deal with.

What kept me going that didn’t help Robin or my dad? I have no idea. Yeah, I learned a lot about the symptoms of dangerous depression secondary to my attempt. Now I’m incredibly hypersensitive to those signs and jump as soon as it looks like I’m even within visual range of the dark vortex. Reportedly, both of them were undergoing treatment before they took their own life.

Even then it sometimes just isn’t enough.

I hope that this death will help demystify depression for people. I hope it helps them understand that depression isn’t something you “just get over.” Perhaps now people will view their loved ones who are battling this ugly monster in a different light.

And I hope that anyone who is struggling with depression is able to dig however deep it takes to get the help they need early enough to make a difference. You are loved. You are needed. Even if you can’t accept or believe that. It’s the truth.

Don’t wait until suicide is your only hope for relief.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this a non-sufferer of depression is wasn’t an easy read but an insight into your life and others..

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    • Thanks! I hope it helped paint a picture for you of what it can be like for people fighting depression.

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  2. Thank you for helping dispel the stigma associated with mental disorders–that often interferes with the ability to get treatment. Treatment for most types of depression can be extraordinarily effective and often life-saving.

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    • We need so much more open discussion. I think perhaps that may be one of the good things that comes out of this latest sadness.

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  3. You have my ending admiration for being so frank and open about your problem. I hope that you never reach those depths again.

    I was going to PM you with these questions, but since you so clearly are reaching out to help people, I hope you don’t mind if I ask you here. If you prefer not to reply I, and I am sure anyone else, will 100% understand.

    I come to “an interest” in depression because my father is clinically depressed,and this had a tremendous impact on my life, I realized before it was too late for me to have hurt others because of it. My questions are these:

    1. Do you think or do you know if this is an hereditary illness?
    2. OR how do you cope with the fact that it might be passed on (as perhaps it was to you) not because of genes per se, but because a parent is so disinterested and wrapped up in their illness that they cannot respond to a child in the way they should, and so the child feels worthless …. often right into adulthood?
    3. How do you forgive a parent for all of that? Or how do you forgive yourself for feeling so worthless, when you know now that you weren’t? How do you deal with the anger directed against yourself for allowing yourself to feel that way?
    4. Apart from my father, I have friends who are battling depression. Is there a tendency among people with depression to become phsycic vampires? Is there a type of depression which makes people become manipulative (I can imagine why this would be, but it would be observation and not informed research on my part, though I have tried to research it online)?
    5. If the above is true, how should we respond?
    As you can imagine, having lived with my dad’s depression all my life, (and his generation won’t even admit to it. I only knew it was a genuine illness because years ago I went to see his doctor) I understand the public ignorance and confusion about it. That said, there are families living day to day with a person with depression who are at their wits’ end about how to react and respond to it, and support groups for them would be a very good thing, just as there are support groups for familes of cancer patients or alcoholics.

    OK, enough. Hope that isn’t too much.

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    • “Never-ending” … of course. Sorry, got a bit carried away there.

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    • Hi Linda,

      1. There are forms of depression that certainly could be genetic. There was a recent study that suggested even a grandparent’s traumatic experience could affect subsequent generations. It can be difficult since depression can also stem from childhood events. So is it that depression runs in a family’s genes or that their familial environment is the cause? That one is tougher to narrow down.
      2. I think being aware that depression can run in one’s family means people should discuss it openly with their children. We talk about mental illness and death a lot in our family because of my experiences. I’ve worked very hard with my son to help him identify depression vs. anxiety and so on.
      3. I don’t think a person needs to forgive themself for feeling anything. No one should feel bothered to feel any emotion. How we choose to respond to those emotions is another thing.
      4. I think psychic vampirism is something much more than depression. The need to make others around you less joyful isn’t a part of depression; that’s different pathology.
      5. Unfortunately, dealing with psychic vampires is rather rough. Sometimes you have to cut the cord and drastically minimize your amount of engagement with someone who is doing that. While mental illness isn’t a choice, it doesn’t mean that we have to allow ourselves to be victimized by other people’s disease either. Sometimes you have to make a difficult decision to spare yourself pain.
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  4. Thank you for sharing your story Talon. I have been very frustrated with the numerous comments coming up in my FB feed from people calling him selfish and a coward and heartened by those who have started speaking up about depression and sharing their stories. It’s about time it gets talked about openly and that support systems become readily available for everyone, as there isn’t anyone alive who isn’t affected in some way by depression, either their own or someone they know or love.

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    • I was really bothered by those comments as well. Unless you’ve walked that path, you have no idea of what it’s actually like to live in the kind of darkness he was pretty enveloped by. We definitely need more open discussion about mental illness in general, and especially about depression.

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  5. I shared this comment on your FB post that shared this poignant essay. My comment seemed to strike a chord which tells me that more people are affected in some way by this pathology than we will ever know.

    From my experience, it seems that depression is a disease as insidious as cancer. Some are cured or go into long term remission with treatment. Others “battle”, but the depression is terminal—i.e. results in suicide. Those left behind should be embraced and comforted as if they lost someone to pancreatic cancer — not talked about behind their backs–“what if they had only—had only had them involuntarily committed again, loved them better, loved them more….?”. Also, just as the loved one of someone who died of pancreatic cancer is allowed to be comforted by the perception that now their husband, wife, son, daughter, etc., is at peace and no longer suffering, this feeling is no less valid in a person who lost their loved one to suicide after a life time of struggle with intractable depression. Peace to Robin Williams and his family, peace to you, Talon, and to all who suffer.

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    • It can be a very invisible disease. For those of us who have learned to live (or aren’t affected as strongly) without it being absolutely debilitating, we know how to put the mask on so we can function. When I suspected my latest major depressive episode was stronger than I had realized, I went to see a counselor at work. We’ve had lots of interactions, and before I said anything she had no idea I had been battling depression. Even when I reached the point where I putting the suicide hotline into my speed dial, asking friends to check in on me, and contracting with my therapist for safety, many people still had no idea how deeply depressed I was. It just isn’t as clear-cut as people would like it to be.

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  6. Tigger saved you, as my kids saved me. Knowing what it would do to my kids was the only thing that stalled my plans.

    I finally put on my own air mask when I was getting detailed and very specific in my plans. Luckily I had a friend like a sister, and we were on SI watch for each other. We checked in with each other at least once daily, saying “Do you need a ride?” (To the psych ward). Once she said yes and I was there for her. Once I called her and said “I need a ride” and she was there for me.

    If not for my kids, I wouldn’t be here today.

    Thank you for sharing this with us all.

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    • I’m so glad you had someone that was available and could understand where you were at. And thank goodness for our children!

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  7. Thank you for being so brave and telling your story. I know you helped many people today. You were so honest and raw and so caring. Keep up the great work.

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  8. Talon I know the feeling of depression. I have been there. I still battle with dysthymia but I know the signs and have the strength to fight back too.

    I’ve also noticed that there are many , many nomads out there that live with depression on the road. I wonder if this is a way to find that ‘something’ that may help with depression. Some have pulled through, others not so lucky.

    I’m happy to know that Tigger gives you the strength to continue. I’m also happy to learn that you are well enough to write this moving post. I salute you my friend. Always here if you ever need to chat xxxx

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    • I did a whole interview series on the blog with people who use travel to treat their depression. It’s quite fascinating to see how powerful a medicine travel can be! Unfortunately, as you say, some haven’t been so lucky.

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  9. The only thing I can think of – or imagine – is being that depressed, fighting addiction and having the world expect you to be funny every single moment of every day. Actually, I can’t imagine it at all. But it is a tremendous loss and it’s terribly sad that he wasn’t found in time to survive.

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    • It is such a tremendous loss. His wife finally mentioned that he had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson disease. Having been with someone during a parkinsonian crisis, I can only imagine what a challenge this must have been to his already depressed state.

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  10. I sit here at my computer with tears running down my face. Your comment: “It isn’t logical. It’s depression.” is truth. This is not my post; this is not my time to share my life story. This is, however, my time to thank you for speaking up and speaking out for all of us who suffer from depression. God bless you.

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    • Thanks, Marilyn. I hope at some point you do share your story. The more of us who do, the less mystical and misunderstood this whole thing becomes.

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  11. Hi Talon: I’m coming to your blog via the Boomer Travel Bloggers grp.

    Thx for your post. It is wonderful that you and others are trying to spread the word about depression and suicide, and how there is always someone who needs us and cares if we are alive. Here’s hoping this post will save a life.

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  12. Wow…thank you so much for sharing such a personal story and struggle. I have a lot of respect for you for opening up and facing something so difficult. Hopefully your story helps even just one person seek help. I’ve battled depression on and off since I was very young…every day is sometimes a struggle, but I feel like as each day that passes, I’ve made a little more progress in finding where I want to be in life.

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    • I hope it helps as well. I’m glad you’re seeing progression for you own life. I’ve been truly happy for just over 3 years now, and I just can’t describe how amazing it is to be able to say “I love my life!” and mean it! I still have my moments when the sky is a little darker, but nothing like I used to have.

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  13. Thanks so much for sharing your story. One light in the tragic loss of Robin Williams is that people are talking about this subject. It’s hard to know what to say or do as a friend of someone battling depression, but so important to take it seriously.

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  14. Depression is often misunderstood and not recognized for its seriousness. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  15. Talon thank you so much for sharing this very personal and timely story. Especially in this time of quick responses on social media we rarely get to really know the people we interact with every day. It’s time we ask people how we can help them and learn more about their lives. I am grateful to you for sharing your intimate feelings. I wish you peace and continued strength as you continue down the road of life.

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    • Thanks, Sue. It’s always a risk putting yourself out there so openly, but if we can’t use our experiences to help others what’s the point?

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  16. Talon. Raw. Your story is riveting, but your writing talent is amazing. So grateful you are around to share. This is the most powerful reaction to this week’s events I’ve experienced. Others you will touch with this piece are privileged, as am I.

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    • Thank you for the kind words, Betsy! It’s been tough seeing some people’s comments about his death. It really has evidenced just how mysterious depression remains.

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  17. I am glad you were saved from your demons. I’m intimately familiar with their sweet persuasions. Thank heaven your will to live was stronger than them, and thank you for sharing. <3

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    • They are powerful buggers, aren’t they? So important to work hard to keep their claws so very far away from us.

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  18. The brain is the last frontier in medicine in my books. Trying to understand how it works and what chemicals, genes and environment play what roles will one day – I hope, make depression a thing of the past.
    You have been through hell and back. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. May you never sink that low again.

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    • A truly amazing mystery! So much uncharted territory. I just hope we can demystify some of these things so that people will get help before it’s too late.

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  19. I don’t have anything to say that doesn’t sound trite. And I just cried big elephant tears all over my keyboard. Thanks for writing this.

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  20. Talon, as someone who has struggled with depression and had thoughts of self-harm (though, thankfully, never followed through with them), I wanted to thank you for your courage in sharing this story in the hopes it helps others who battle this terrible affliction.

    Like you, I am terribly sad about what happened with Robin, but I do also hope that it helps destygmatize the disease and that it reminds us all that we need to treat others with compassion. If someone means something to you, don’t wait until it’s too late to let them know!

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    • I am hopeful his death will have a far-reaching impact. I think his suicide incredibly stunned the world. I hope those ripples continue for quite some time.

      I’m so glad you never reached the point of self-harm!

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