Fighting the stigma

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A member of my ‘widowed by suicide’ support group shared something with the rest of us this week that has inspired some deep reflection around Dan’s death in a way that I haven’t done in a while. 

On Thursday night, for the third time, he presented to a class at the University of Utah about ‘death and dying’, talk specifically about suicide. He shared with us his research notes that he’d prepared for his presentation, including excerpts from Richard A. Heckler’s book ‘Waking up, Alive’.  This book is based on interviews with 50 people who had attempted suicide who describe heir states of mind before and just prior to their attempts, as well as describing the work they had to do to recover afterward.

In reading through his notes, I realised that on some level, I had stopped thinking about Dan as depressed and started to disregard the incredible battle he would have been facing in the lead up to his death.  

This sounds strange to me now, as I put it in to words, but I sometimes forget Dan was sick and that he died from the symptoms of this disease and instead, I start to think that he just left me.  Like, maybe he decided it was all too hard and we’d all be better off without him, so he just gave up and because he didn't care enough to stick around and fight for our life.

I often feel frustrated and angry at him.  I’m upset at him for not being here with me, creating a family with me, planning our Christmas lunch and my upcoming visit to Sydney to see his parents with me.  But I’m not sure why, because I also understand that it wasn’t his choice to die. 

It’s so confusing when these emotions take over.  I feel ashamed at myself for forgetting.  How could I possibly think that he didn’t care enough?  What ignorance!  These are the kind of comments that ignite instant fury in me, when I hear anyone else even utter a word like ‘weak’ or ‘selfish’. 

I have been a strong advocate for the fight against the stigma of suicide publically ever since he died.  Even in the first few hours and days, I repeatedly explained to people that he was sick, that he’d died from his disease and that he had fought with everything he had. 

Yet, in the corners of my mind creeps this frustration at him for not trying harder.  And as I recognise this in myself, my heart breaks all over again for my darling husband who only ever wanted to be a good husband and protect me from pain. 

I’m so glad that this brave person shared with me this week, and that he’s speaking about suicide to others.  He’s reminded me how very important it is not to forget.  Not to sweep mental illness under the carpet but to draw the curtains and open a window and let light and air in to all corners, banishing the dark spaces where the stigma tries to hide.  


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  • commented 2015-11-25 06:47:30 -0800
    My sweet husband committed suicide August 8…I miss him so much..He as a 38 year Paramedic myself a RN we were so compatible I am so sad I couldn’t see through the darkness
    The Holidays are horrible…This article gave me some insight into his darkness
  • commented 2015-11-23 02:50:02 -0800
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  • commented 2015-11-21 10:12:13 -0800
    Hi Rebecca, my name is Kevin Conn. I’m friends with Kelley Lynn. Most of my life I battled with depression and suicidal thoughts. I let my anger take over at one point and stopped talking to certain friends, including Kelley for a few years. I do not know you or what your husband thoughts were but I am writing this to you because earlier this year I finally let those thoughts take over and I attempted suicide. I don’t need to go into details but it dealt with a crappy hotel, my dad’s stolen gun and being arrested and put in a Mental Hospital for 2 weeks. But what I do want to go into details with is what I was thinking. Up until that point—over the years, the suicidal thoughts were always encouraging, the stuff you hear that everyone will be better without you, that you are worthless and that no one will understand you pain. And you fight back because deep down you know it’s not true, but it exhausts you everyday. What I need you to know is the actual moment it happens: you aren’t there. I can’t describe it other than, the few hours leading up to me getting the gun, going to the motel 6, writing a note, loading and holding the gun to my head, even with all the tears and shaking—I wasn’t there. I was not in control. The cops bursting through the door, I was still in a haze. A trance. Them grabbing the gun as I finally lowered it, still in a haze. It wasn’t until I went in the hallway and saw a friend who had figured out where I had gone that I snapped back. Seeing them in the flesh made me come back.
    You cannot be angry at yourself or think you could’ve stopped him because it’s fucking sad to say this but it’s like a trance. And while I don’t know him, if he was like me…he loved his wife, his family and friends. Never forget that.
    Mental illness has such a horrible stigma to the point where I believe so many more people are hurting but are afraid to reach out. I’m lucky that I FINALLY found a medicine and therapist that is helping. And while the thoughts have subsided, I still fight everyday. But I don’t do it alone anymore. With you writing this, you aren’t alone. Others will reach out to you and with these words you’ve shared you will give strength to others hurting. I thank you very much and wish you love and peace in your life. I hope I didn’t upset you or overstep my welcome, but thank you for writing this. Strength to you and those in your life. ❤️
  • commented 2015-11-21 09:38:56 -0800
    Yes. And you have EVERY right to feel every emotion that you have, no matter how confusing and back and forth they might be. Your head knows that suicide is not a choice and that Dan was fighting a battle against himself really – but your heart and soul gets angry and the grief says “how could you leave me? How?” It makes total sense to me, and each time you make the choice to get up each day as a suicide widow AND help others understand this better, you are someones hero. And so is Dan. I miss you and cant wait to see you again at a future Camp Widow hopefully ….
  • commented 2015-11-21 09:29:57 -0800
    Thank you Rebecca. Thank you for bringing me back to focus. My Tony did fight so hard, and to this day so many people have the idea he was weak. I too feel like he left us from time to time. I guess it’s all part of the process. But it’s also so important to take a step back and keep the difficult battle they faced in the forefront so we may someday be better able to help others who are struggling. They deserve the best we can give them.

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