July 12, 2012.
It was a gorgeous sunny Thursday just about a week past his seventeenth birthday. It started out as an average summer day and by the end was unimaginable. It was the day my son attempted suicide and the day our lives were forever changed. That day is one that we will never forget and even though I speak of it often it is rare these days that I recall the vivid details and searing emotions of it instead my thoughts focus on the after. After his attempt I wanted to make sense of it, I had to understand it. Why was this the only answer he could come up with? During that month in the ICU before he woke up, before he could tell me, a million possible reasons came to me but none were enough to make me understand. After he came to and still weeks later when he was finally able to speak his reason I was still not able to understand. Perhaps that is just the way it is with suicide, it is an idea that is both deceptively simple to grasp and yet also so deeply complex and personal that there is no way for those of us on the outside to understand it.
As a mother I came to appreciate that there will never be a reason that makes sense, so I gave up on understanding the reason and focused on understanding my boy. Why he felt this was the only way. What my part was in his pain and how I could help. We went on a voyage of discovery through doctors appointments and therapy sessions, down into the vast rabbit holes of the internet and the many avenues of websites and forums. For over a year we searched, we read and would discard ideas. Maybe it was addiction to food or video games? Close but not quite. Maybe it was depression or bi-polar, like me or my sister? Similar but not the same. It wasn’t until he was diagnosed with Asperger’s did it start to make sense. Why he felt like an alien, why he couldn’t understand our love for him, why he shut down during any intense situation or argument, why he bounced on his toes when he walked, why he was the smartest toddler I’d ever known, why he felt this was his only way out and why he had thought about it for years.
During these months of investigation I came to realize how wrong I was about my son and about suicide. I began to grasp the amount of pain a person must be in to consider this as their only option. I also saw that those who survive their attempts often have the same story; once they were on the precipice of death they saw that it wasn’t death they longed for but merely a release from their enormous pain.
It’s been five years and I cant stop talking about suicide.
I talk about it with anyone who will listen, anyone who is open to talk about something so heavy. Sometimes I talk about it with people who are completely unsuspecting. It comes out in the middle of random small talk as if I was mentioning the weather or what we ate for dinner last night. I am often surprised at how easily it slips out of my mouth. “My son attempted suicide” and then I talk about it. I talk about it because no one talked about it with me, before his attempt I knew of only a very few friends who had faced something like this. After his near death so many people I knew shared about their sister, uncle or grand-dad who had also chosen suicide. I had known these people for many years yet I had no idea that they had lost someone to suicide.
I speak about it now to promote awareness.
I hope that by sharing our story with others they will feel comfortable talking about theirs. Every single one of the lives lost to suicide has meaning; they are loved, they had an affect on those around them, they are dearly missed. Not one of those lives we lose to suicide can be completely summed up by method of their passing and that detail should not be the only one remembered. I have learned that the more we talk about suicide the less likely it is to happen. This is the most preventable kind of death; if I can help to stop one family from experiencing it then a slight embarrassment or bit of discomfort in a casual conversation is more than worth it. Those moments of embarrassment and discomfort are another reason why I talk about it.
I talk about suicide to help end the stigma of talking about suicide.
My hope is that if those of us that have this experience open our hearts to the advocacy aspect of surviving a suicide loss or attempt we can prevent many others from losing their lives or a loved one to suicide. My life has taken a path that I never dreamed of, forever altered by that sunny summer afternoon filled with such darkness. Since then I have taken up the task of educating myself on suicide. I have become a presenter for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) speaking about living with mental health issues. Additionally, I work with the Los Angeles Dept of Mental Health providing suicide prevention presentations and have been trained in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) as well as becoming a SafeTALK trainer through Living Works. My mission is to change policy and perception on mental illness and suicide.
Talking about suicide has become my purpose and for that I am grateful.
I could not have imagined all that would happen for us after that day. I could never have predicted the twists and turns, the heartache and heartfelt laughter that would find their ways to us. The storm we survived was dark and ominous yet even the most threatening storms have a silver lining. That is where we live now, in the silver lining and I will never stop talking about that.