The Silent Shame of Suicide

Shame is a terrible thing. When you feel too ashamed to share how you are really feeling with anyone, it is a terrible dilemma to be in. Some of this shame I know too well myself from having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since a physical assault in 2012 and being too ashamed since then to say so as if I had created the condition myself. People shame us with their love of all things sunny and funny as if being “real” and “depressed” or otherwise hurting is a sin. It is not.

Just today in the bank I was so proud of myself for speaking out. The line was 40 deep and I began to overwhelm and panic, started visibly shaking which prompted a staffer to come out from her desk and ask me if I was alright. No, I told her, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and all these people are panicking me. She took me into her office, helped me reset my forgotten password so I could use the bank machine. Only when I was at the bank machine did I realize the money will be dispensed in twenties and I did not want my rent all in twenties. Back in the now much shorter line I went to be served in a little under 15 minutes.

Just a few years ago I was afraid to say I have PTSD lest I be blamed, shamed or otherwise abused for having something I did not want or ask for. I suspect my mother, always known for being such a strong woman, felt shame when she thought of committing suicide and this shame prevented her from sharing her thoughts with the very people who could have supported her through that very dark period of her life. My hunch is she did tell one or two church going friends who likely shamed her further because according to some faiths “suicide is a sin, a coward’s choice.” Talk about silencing the suicidal. It is not a sin.

Those are very faulty religions if you ask me. We are only human. We are allowed to have faults. If we had no faults we wouldn’t be human. I cannot know what my mother was thinking but as a grown woman who often reflected on finding her when she attempted suicide, I can guess what she was going through.

Our dad was a good looking musician in his leisure time and a hard working machinist who won some awards for his music. The inevitable groupie followers developed and some of those led to liaisons that were poisoning my parent’s marriage. Our family left Ontario when I was 11, we five of my parent’s children packed into the back seat of an old boat of a car that had seen better days but carried us to the west coast of Canada.

There, I am sure, my mother’s plan was to start a new life free of the women who still found out our west coast address and wrote my father love letters as well as hate mail to my mother. Sadly, dad could not find work on the island we resided on so he left home to find work on the mainland. We only saw him weekends after that and sometimes not even then. This led to the inevitable end of my parent’s marriage when my father met and fell in love with another woman.

Some time after this I overheard him, emotionally, telling my mother he still loved her, too, that he loved them both. Still, he ended their marriage to remarry and left us alone, broke and with a mother in such pain she could not see a future past it. I suspect we had come as far west as possible and the only other option was to return to Ontario where we had left so much family behind to arrive out west where we had none. Or jump in the ocean.

For me, I will always think of my mother’s suicide attempt as jumping in the ocean. Going back was too painful, too shameful, I believe, and facing a future with no job, five children staring at her for sustenance and guidance, and the love she made the move for now gone from her life. In those times there weren’t a lot of options for women. Many simply sought out a new man. Our mother told us she would never love anyone as much as she loved our father so this wasn’t a viable option for her.

On the night she attempted to take her own life with drugs a psychiatrist had prescribed to help her cope and sleep, she sent each of us five kids to stay overnight at our friend’s homes. I was playing board games and talking with the friend I chose to sleep over with and suddenly it struck me: Mom is home alone. Nobody is with Mom, she is all alone. Something compelled me to act on that thought and run all the way home where I found her totally out of it in her bed. She had been vomiting and some of the tiny pink pills were still whole in her vomit. We had no telephone so I ran to the neighbor to ask her to call an ambulance. She did.

Mom survived. How she survived I do not know. What support she had to get through that dark period in her life is beyond me. We needed her, that was all I knew at thirteen. Somehow Mom put her life back together. She found odd jobs until landing a government job as a Matron (as they were then called) in a youth detention home. This was one of her greatest points of pride in her work career, to have such a great position that paid well, had benefits and made life easier in so many ways. The institution eventually closed and Mom opened a daycare center in her own home which she worked at for approximately twenty five years.

During this time she remarried, too, but you could see she never truly loved our stepfather. It would be what many call “an arrangement” but that came to an end when she could no longer tolerate not having the love she truly wanted. Our father died just a few years after leaving us and shortly thereafter, Mom packed up the house, took what kids were left at home and moved back to Ontario with the stepfather she would eventually part ways with.

Many of her friends and relations had already retired but she worked on, caring for children in Ontario and becoming a source of advice and support for their often young parents. She affected so many lives in such positive ways that many took to calling her “Mom” themselves and still tell us kids what a great influence she was on them and their children.

Many criticize me for talking about my mother’s attempted suicide as if she or I should be ashamed of it. We absolutely should NOT be ashamed of this. Besides, I was only thirteen years old. Think about that for a moment. Compassion should be the answer and nothing else. Years later after her attempt on her life my mother said she didn’t really want to die, she just thought we would be better off without her because she couldn’t see a way out of her dilemma at the time. She said she was just going out of her mind and didn’t know what else to do to stop from hurting.

I understand this. My life has not been a road of roses and I really get how when we are so far down, we forget to look up or we just don’t have the strength to look up. We overwhelm, panic and dig ourselves deeper instead of reaching out, calling out to a safe person to help us through the challenging chapters of our lives.

If anything, in light of all the recent high profile suicides in the world, we should learn something from this. We should learn that not talking is a silent killer.

We should learn that being a safe place to talk, a non-judgmental source of support is critical. If people feel safe enough to share how they are really feeling maybe we can save some lives that otherwise might end too soon.

We can talk about suicide all we want and raise awareness all we want but, if people are feeling so alone and isolated or shamed or blamed in any way for feeling they have no other option, they are not likely to reach out at all.

Make your ears a safe place for anyone to talk about how they feel. I had a friend when I was in emotional trouble after the physical assault in 2012 who said, “Call me anytime. I don’t care if it’s 2 in the morning, you call me anytime you need to. It would be my honor to be there for you and help you through this.” I never needed to call her at 2 in the morning but call her I did. A retired hospital manager, she was a key person in my healing process and we remain close, mutually supportive friends to this day.

One safe set of ears is all it takes to make a difference. If you can’t be a safe set of ears for a person, at least don’t judge them and please be kind.

Having the resources of suicide line numbers and agencies that can help is also a good idea for those who can be a safe set of ears. I don’t believe anyone really wants to die, they just want the inner turmoil and pain to stop.

All I can say in closing is that I was so glad I found my mother in time. Later when life had leveled out for her, she told me herself, “I’m glad you found me in time, too.”

© Janni Styles

Suicide: why won’t people talk about it?!

Trigger Warning!

 

Why does an eleven year old child attempt suicide? Nobody wanted me to talk about it then and I am sure nobody wants me to talk about it now.  Talking about it is something I never should have stopped doing. If we kept talking about suicide instead of trying to shame blame people into silence about the very real threat, I believe many would not be so successful at achieving it.

Think about this: An eleven year old child attempts suicide. What must have been happening to that little girl to drive her to such dire measures? What was she going through that nobody would even try to understand or help fix for her?

Two things were happening that this girl can now share. She had more responsibilities heaped on her than most adults have to cope with and she was being hurt by her parent’s drunken party friends but nobody talked about that stuff back then either. When her family moved from the Ontario country side to the city, it seemed predators lurked everywhere. And they did. Nobody wants her to talk about any of that but what they don’t grasp is she blames no one. She is not hostile or vengeful at all about being that little girl who had no safe place to turn to.

As an adult herself she knows that adults are not perfect and some people fail at keeping their children safe because they just don’t know any better at the time. Her own mother wrote on a birthday card when the girl was a woman in her late thirties “you had it the hardest of all my kids and I am so proud of the woman you are, you have achieved so much in spite of all those tough years we went through.” Like my mother, some may not fully recognize situations until they are well distanced from them and able to see with clarity. Keep talking until it is so safe for everyone that suicide becomes an acceptable every day topic for everyone.

If there were more talk about suicide, fewer people would succeed at it or suffer the shaming and blaming that many foist on those of us who have attempted it. This shaming and blaming may be the very thing that isolates the suicidal person, shoves them right over the edge as it did, sadly, with a beautiful young teen named Amanda Todd. She was bullied to death by online monsters who relentlessly rammed at her psyche with their vitriolic and most unwarranted comments. https://nobullying.com/amanda-todd-story/ Amanda is gone. Never to return. Imagine if the kindness had outweighed the cruelty; she would likely still be here if kindness had won out. 

At age thirteen I tried to suicide out again. Adding to the already burdened eleven year old girl’s world was a drastic cross country move at age 12 that tore her and her siblings away from friends, family and all things familiar. They arrived in this place on the edge of the sea only to have her father leave her, her mother and four younger siblings to start a new life without them.  Really, her father was already out the door before he actually left but there was no way of seeing that either until many decades later.

Her mother blamed the girl, said it was her fault the father left and her fault the younger ones were acting out because she was the one the little ones were supposed to look up to. The girl asked the mother who she was supposed to look up to but that question went unanswered. Then, also still at age thirteen I had an overwhelming urge to run home from a friend’s where I was to sleep over. I found my mother unconscious and covered in vomit from pills she took trying to suicide out.

Finding my mother trying to suicide out proved too much for this already shattered girl’s mind. I get that my mother was mentally and emotionally  in trouble but many in my family do not or will not, many of them are angry that I even dare talk about her suicide attempt. All I have to say to them is not talking does not help a single soul, Mom lived to her eighties and it is a well known fact mental illness runs in families. Just look at the number of family members or relations treated for depression and anxiety,  the hostility visible all over the internet from some relatives too incapable of dealing with their internal anger or misery in a healthy manner, the self harm of cutting or multiple addictions in one family alone and you can see the writing on the wall –  and not talking about suicide or mental health matters has ever  helped a single soul. Ever.

At age fifteen I tried to suicide out again. Suffice it to say I still had responsibilities heaped on me no teen should have. Being resourceful as I had learned to be from the age of eight onward, I was able to connect with people familiar with crisis and dealing with people in crisis. This helped me learn coping skills I still carry with me to this day. In my twenties I started taking courses that ultimately led to me working with victims of violence and being a lay counselor and serving on the board of directors at the local rape and trauma center. I was good at those jobs and services, I believe my own trying childhood and teen years were why I was so effective in those jobs. I did burn out after years of doing this in the non-profit sector and the justice system, though and had to leave those types of emotionally draining positions behind me.

Fast forward to 2010 when a twenty year friend of mine began visiting me for as much as twelve hours at a time, sleeping over and spending weekends at my apartment I had taken after leaving an abusive 32 year marriage that proved to be a false front, not a true marriage in any sense. Silly me thought my friend was just being kind to me, spending so much time with me because I was newly single. I could not have been more trusting or more wrong. She was pursuing my alcoholic, gambling and porn addicted ex by sleuthing information out of me to pursue him with. He thought it magical she knew his favorite candy, beer, meal, etc At the end of it all, I felt raped. Inside outside, all around every side. It felt so “incestuous” and “mentally raping” as the trauma counselor put it. I was so blindsided by she who claimed to be so Catholic she would never even touch a married man, let alone one she knew had committed so much harm to others, myself included.

When I went to retrieve the rest of my pretty things (I had no room for them in my tiny apartment, I just wanted to get them out of my former home of many years and give them away or sell or donate them so she was not touching/using them), I arranged this all over the phone with him when he was at work because that was the only time you could find him sober.

What I did not expect was that he would set me up not once but twice. Twice I arrived to find her there. The first time he said she is leaving she just came to say goodbye because I broke off with her. Well goodbye, you may go, I told her but she refused to leave. I grew more distraught and sobbed, asking her to leave as did he, repeatedly. She refused and when he grabbed my flailing arms waving and pointing to the unblocked exits, she started kicking me.

It was like being in a horror movie you can’t escape. It was surreal. The second time I arrived (again arranged when he was sober at work and under assurance she would not be there as, again, he said he was sick of her and they were done) she called the police to say it was a “home invasion.” The police were astonished she did that because they sent eight units to my former home that night but she was never charged with the mischief that should have been the least of the charges against her. They were very surprised when they asked how I got in and I showed them my house key and told them my ex knew I was coming, we had arranged it three days ago. I still had my key as it was my former marital home where many of my things were being stored and I still slept in the guest room on occasion to visit with family of choice and their children living near that home a good hours drive away from my apartment, if traffic was favorable.

The night the kicking happened I felt sure the police would protect me. But I was wrong. She lied to the police about kicking me because she was in health care and would instantly lose her job if she admitted to assaulting anyone like that. He was blithering drunk and supported her story, said he didn’t “see” the kick, so police treated me like the wrong doer and a week later dropped the charges because their stories lined up but mine did not even though her kicking left me with bladder trouble for over a year and I was so traumatized by all of it, I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My sleep time was so full of nightmares of them coming after me, I have permanent scars all over my shoulders from clawing myself awake for the next few years.

This whole experience thrust me into the deepest depression I have ever been in since my teens.  Not only was my whole marriage a false front but my 20 year friendship with her was false and now the people who should have protected me were traitors, too. There was no one I could turn to and no one I could trust anymore.

Blackness was my home for the next couple of years. I could see nothing to live for. Everything I ever believed in was a sham. All I wanted to do was suicide out. I lost time, I went through days of being on my couch or in my bed not moving.

Fortunately I knew of many resources from my work with victims of violence and I reached out to the local Women’s Center where I received Trauma Counselling for about 1 and 1/2 years. I also used the counselling services through my ex’s work and received massive amounts of support and coping skills to manage the grief I was also processing because at the time this was all unfolding, I lost my mother, my job (they laid me off to hire their relative), a guy I was seeing (mutually exclusively he said, ha) cheated on me, my dog had to be euthanized and some of my sisters and their adult children who were unaware of all the harm my ex had done in the marriage and to others (because I never told anyone about it all until after I left him),  sided with him and her, leaving me with no safe place to turn. I just could not believe people could be so cruel. But they were. There was no one I could turn to and no one I could trust any more.

If not for the Grief and Trauma Counselling and those safe environments I would not have made it. I would not be here. They were kind and supportive voices that called to me in the dark of night, helped me feel safe and stable and if I could remember, to employ the techniques they taught me to manage my trauma. I credit those counselors, Vicki, Mary and Sean with my life because they are the ones who helped me breathe and live again. Talking about suicide as well as relationships, realities and ways to help myself heal from all of that trauma and loss saved my life.

In May of 2014 my ex phoned me to tell me that former friend of mine finally admitted to him that she kicked me. Kicking is considered lethal force where I live. You or she, I told him, should phone the police and correct that file, it is too late to press charges now but the least you owe me is the truth.  Neither of them did that nor will they likely ever despite driving me into such black abject despondency for nearly three years.

In 2013 I met a man who loves me just as I am and says my ex, that former friend and those three sisters of mine and their adult children owe me a big fat apology. I will likely never get that either. But I’m okay with that because  of all of my relations who never abandoned me, who loved me and supported me through my darkest nights are such loving kind people, I really couldn’t ask for more.

In our first year or so together, this man would wake me up because, he said, I sounded so distressed in my sleep, I woke up screaming or crying almost every night in those black years, when I could get to sleep, that is. In the safety of this man’s acceptance and support of me, my PTSD and newly diagnosed Fibromyalgia (which many believe was triggered by that physical assault)  I was able to breathe and let myself learn to trust again because this man did not judge me or blame or shame me for anything I had been through.  He warmly welcomed me into his world and said, “We’re your family now.” And, as if to prove him right, all of his family also welcomed me with such love and respect, some days I am still in awe that I got so lucky. Many say luck had nothing to do with it, it was not giving up that got me where I am.  That may well be so but I still believe I am one of the lucky ones because I found love in the midst of the darkness and had professional help that kept me going.

These days I don’t look back so much despite the emotional and mental scars that can still dog me on days when  stress or pain levels are high. I am sure I drove my readers and followers around the bend in talking so much about all the trauma and losses I survived from 2010 onward but really I wasn’t even aware that I repeated myself so much, it was all I knew in that moment and it helped me keep going, stay breathing and for that I am eternally grateful.  And, though I am in a much better place now, I will never forget the lessons I have learned. If I ever get strong enough to write the book, I am sure it will outdo Fatal Attraction at the box office, lol. So, you see, I am dreaming of life goals and looking forward again. 

Talking about suicide is the only thing that can keep people alive. Shunning them will not. Ignoring them will not. Ridiculing them will not. Abandoning them will not. Shaming them will not. Blaming them will not. Talking in a safe and understanding way is the only thing that can avert or prevent a suicide.

Please let your people talk about it, make it safe for them to talk to you about whatever they are going through or feeling. Don’t use their trauma against them. Don’t make the conversation about you. Don’t tell them to just “go ahead.” And don’t blame yourself if they succeed in spite of all of your talking or listening.

Sometimes talking or listening won’t be enough. Some who are truly bent on suiciding out will still succeed. I am guessing when I say they are the ones who did not want to talk about it at all to anyone. But there are signs of suicide that you can reference if you think someone you love may be contemplating it and in closing, I will share links to some sites folks may find helpful. Just don’t forget that there is help out there and just keep the conversation going, don’t give up.

You never know who you might save.

(c) Janni Styles

Some links to help if you need them, many more available online.

http://suicideprevention.ca/

http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml

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Note to readers:

This piece took me three months to write. This is how my life is now since PTSD and Fibromyalgia. I do what I can when I can but everything takes me longer now.  I know you would think why should it take anyone three months to write such a brief piece but that’s how my mind works, it takes longer to think about what I want to say, how I want to frame it and present all the information together. It can be very confusing for me and all information overwhelms me now. Still, I do what I can when I can and am glad for that.