why I talk to those left behind by suicide

The triggers are obvious, no? I’ve made a new category for posts about suicide, because I seem to be writing a fair amount of them – I am absolutely not threatening suicide myself; I just firmly believe that the taboo of talking about it needs to be bust and banished.

Another tw for blahpolar in usual didactic mode. Sorry/not sorry, but can we please pretend I’m not blogging as often as I am? *wince*

Here we go.


Once upon a time, I found a blog which was tagged bipolar …

Once upon a time, there was a tragedy …

Once upon a not so long ago, there was a blogger called Rhonda, who had lost her brilliant, loved and shining daughter to suicide. She became an advocate for suicide prevention, she wrote a memoir about it and she blogged  every day. Her posts were heart rending, logical and sensible. They received a lot of love and interaction. From time to time, her own suicidality would reveal itself in heartbreaking words and the year after losing her youngest daughter, she committed suicide too, leaving a husband and daughter (Allyn and Stephanie) behind. Kaitlyn, was a medical student. They were a bright and good looking family. (More links and info at the end of this post.)

I spoke to her a few times, to express sorrow at her loss and to respond to her posts. I was extremely shocked to learn of her death; my immediate thought was oh god, her husband and daughter are going to hurt even harder for the rest of their lives. I want to stress, however, that I never have and never will call suicide selfish or cowardly. Never. Ever.

Should we be as dismissive as I was of the dead person as I just was, just because they are dead? Did I disrespect Rhonda and Kaitlyn by doing so? Although its perhaps natural to think of the bereaved first, I am reminded that both living and dead deserve my empathy and my respect.

Blogs by parents, spouses etc of bipolar people who have committed suicide stand out in my newsfeed (do they do that for you too?), because I react to them strongly on various levels. The primary response is empathy – as far as someone who has lost friends but not family can empathise, and as far as a childless woman can too. I feel agony for them and for the ones who killed themselves. That’s a simple statement of humanity and I’m sure most people would feel it too. I start off rather formally and tentatively, because I worry that my own bipolar, which is abundantly blatant right from my username onwards, might trigger some negative feelings. I fade away if I suspect that I’m causing discomfort. I don’t ever want to hurt anyone if I can possibly help it. Sometimes conversations happen and are brief, and sometimes the blogger becomes a friend.

Whether or not there’s an ongoing relationship between me and those blogs, they teach me a lot about far more than the immense and endless grief that suicide trails behind it like some kind of malevolent comet tail. Sure, those bloggers are saying don’t do it very clearly and completely understandably, but there is more than that too. As well as mourning and honouring our dead, we must learn what they teach, and those blogs contain the strong imprint of not only the blogger, but the person who committed suicide too.

I have bipolar and so did the person who committed suicide; that makes us a part of the same tribe. There is an unstated and non compulsory responsibility there, and not only to the sufferer. We (I) cannot assist when we’re in the midst of a bad episode though, and we should never expect support from the bereaved for it.

I am truly sorry if the next bit sounds clinical and callous, but I make no apology for its content.

(This is specifically about bipolar suicide, which occurs at the rate of four times the national average of the USA.) If a timeline can be extrapolated from the blog, no matter how much detail it does or doesn’t contain, there is valuable information in it. Please note that I said if. This is absolutely not a list of demands or even recommendations. I’m simply trying to identify the things that have taught me other things.

Potential contents:
Age at diagnosis and the journey to it.
Full diagnosis/version of the disorder.
Comorbid conditions.
Other bipolar diagnoses within the family.
Treatment regime, in detail.
Suicide note – this one is tricky. Most people would want to keep that private, which is utterly logical and understandable. Beyond privacy, there is the fact that the net is full of ghoulish rubbernecking trolls. If it is public however, it enlightens us and gives us more info to work with in the fight to prevent suicides (our own as well as other people’s).
Description of the family etc left behind.
Blogger’s ideas on how to improve suicide prevention and how to support those affected by suicide.

It’s obvious, isn’t it? What we can learn from whatever the narrative and hypotheses are, is that we need to look at way more than sadness in order to avert suicide (for ourselves, for others). We need to look for loopholes, flaws, and in cases of suicide occuring after cessation of medication and treatment, what was working for the person before it all went horribly, tragically wrong. What exactly was going on, what went wrong? At what point should the recriminations and examinations stop, because ultimately suicides tend to be nobody’s fault at all. How can we help the bereaved to understand that it doesn’t mean they were bad parents, spouses etc? We shouldn’t leave it all to grief counsellors, community and compassion need to be a bigger aspect of society.

And we all need to learn that we cannot save anyone in the end, but we can support them as much as possible.

There’s more (so much more), but this will do for now.


On the other hand …

Breaking taboos means that both positive and negative things are unleashed, and that we need to be prepared to confront or avoid triggers. Let’s not even discuss the insidious comment trolls, let’s just starve the fuckers.

Do It, a short film by the oh so sensationalist Damien Hirst, could be an intensely distressing video to watch, particularly if guns distress you, .so go cautiously if you go at all. And read the comments on it if you do. There are numerous ways to interpret it.
Performance art intended to shock.
Pretentious bollocks.
Irresponsible bollocks.
A positive and preventative message delivered ironically.
Some or all of the above, BUT he is an ‘artist’ (apparently) and most artists exist for profit instead of as prophets these days, it seems. Another big but (I like big buts and I cannot lie) is another of his quotes from elsewhere, “But the answer to how to live is to stop thinking about it. And just to live. But you’re doing that anyway.” Unfreakingfortunately, the quote that gets smeared all over angsty tumblrs is the one from the film, about suicide being the perfect way to deal with life.

Sidenote/digression: I am comforted by the fact that most of his art will only ever be fleeting; imagine an archaeologist digging up his shark in formaldehyde, for instance. And if a diamond encrusted skull guarantees immortality instead of derision, the future is bleak indeed.

One unhappily ever after is one too many.

In the words of LGBTQ civil rights group Act Up –


RIP Rhonda and Kaitlyn Elkins: links and quotes.

She wrote my husband and I a two page suicide note, (as well as letters to some of her friends and her sister Stephanie.) In this letter she stated that she had been sad all of her life and had worked very hard all her life to hide it and protect us from it. She said that she knew she would have been a successful doctor, wife and mother, but that she was exhausted from the weight of the sadness she has had all her life, could not go on, and this is what made sense to her. She stated that I might wonder why she had not sought help and that she did not know how to explain why she did not.

CNN interview with Rhonda – Hidden Depression Killed My Daughter
Obituary: Rhonda Elkins
Obituary: Kaitlyn Elkins
Part of their legacy can be found in powerful reactions like these and these by other med students at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, where Kaitlyn studied.
How to graduate medical school without killing yourself

At least on my dying day, if I have time to think before I go, I will have known that though I have not done great feats in this world I have no doubt that I did do some of the most important things a person can do; I have loved my children, my husband and family with all my heart and did the best I could for them, though I was far from perfect. Love has always been given freely in my house. I have loved my family. And I have written this book and if one person can be saved from it, it will have served its purpose. But I hope my book spurs on more action in some way.

Unable to recuperate from her daughter’s suicide, Rhonda took her own life. I asked Rhonda’s husband, “If Kaitlyn worked at Walmart, would she and your wife still be alive?” He said, “Yes. Medical school has cost me half my family.”

I am Allyn, Rhonda’s husband. Rhonda bought many copies of her book and sent them to med schools across the country. She would contact the counselors at the schools and ask if she could donate them to the school. Some would get one for the library and one for the counselor. I thought I would pass this to you.
(From the comments on Rhonda’s last blog post)


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