Letter to Brian: May 30, 2014

Dear Brian,

My friend Christine, a fellow AFSP Volunteer with whom I advocated in Washington, D.C. a few months back, is a suicide attempt survivor.  She was recently asked to write an article for CNN.com about her attempt and survival.  It was such a great article and I am so very proud of her and of what she is doing for suicide awareness. However, I made the mistake of scrolling down to read the comments that followed.  There was a lot of encouragement, which was so great to see.  But sadly, there were many disturbing comments made that reminded me just how far we have to go in educating people about suicide.  Comments such as these:

“Only wimps try to commit suicide, no sympathy from me.”

“Your 15 minutes of fame is over, come join the rest of humanity in our struggles while you are trying to profit from your own choices of death.”

“I disagree that anyone benefits from any of the sentiments you have expressed – you really are flat wrong in everything you have said. Fine, so go kill yourself. Even better, kill yourself to prove me wrong. You need one, maybe two more excuses, right? There are two more, easily. Off you go. When you come back desperate for more sympathy and attention and threatening to kill yourself if you don’t get it? Just call this # for all the attention that you need: 1-800-GIVAFUK”

“I can’t help you with this excuse-mongering. Everyone goes through periods of depression, overwork, anxiety, feelings of failure. You either work through it or you quit and try to kill yourself. It’s really that simple.”

“Mental illness is a frightening thing. Sadly there is no cure for crazy and your best bet is to avoid involving yourself in relationships with people with mental illness if possible.”

“Studies show that whenever the media does an article about suicide, in the months that follow, there is an increase in the number of suicides.”

“Enough with coin-phrasing yourself with ‘I am a blah blah blah’ , no you’re NOT. You’re just like everyone else who’s had to endure this neurotic self absorbed and heartless society.”

“”Hi! I was a miserable twat, and I decided to kill myself, now I’m making money off of it.”

“Suicidal people are also homicidal people. Very dangerous indeed.”

“This article is disrespectful. I’ve had many friends that went all the way. Shut up. I don’t care about your cry for help. How much were you paid for this crap? You are weak, just do it already.”

By surviving her attempt and going on to open up and share her story with others she’s letting it be known that she doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of and she is doing her part to create a society in which people are not afraid of seeking help when they need it most.  All of those hurtful comments do nothing but perpetuate the stigma surrounding depression and suicide! If that kind of response is what they can expect, why would someone seek help when they are hurting?  They are in genuine pain and to have it met with comments like, “you’re weak” or “if you can’t deal with the pressures of life that the rest of us have to deal with then just do the world a favor and just finish yourself off” would only serve to hurt them further.

But then I saw the TED Talk video above and was again more hopeful.  He was an officer that patrolled the Golden Gate Bridge for 20 years and prevented more than one suicide there. If only more people were as kind, understanding and respectful as he is!  I was struck by a few things he said, in particular.  When he talked about what to do if someone you know is suicidal:  “It’s not just the talking that you do but the listening. Listen to understand. Don’t argue, blame or tell the person you know how they feel because you probably don’t– by just being there you may just be the turning point that they need.” He also added: “For most suicidal folk (or those contemplating suicide) they wouldn’t think of hurting another person, they just want their own pain to end.  Typically this is accomplished in just 3 ways: sleep, drugs or alcohol or death.”

I don’t need to remind you that I’ve never been angry at you for your choice to end your life.  I know there are many in my position who are angry at their loved one for leaving that way… but as I’ve told you I know exactly how it feels to be in that mindset and to know that when you are in that dark place that there truly seems to be no way out.  To those who would say, “You simply need to change your thoughts– just think positive thoughts,” I would say this– exactly how do you change your way of thinking when the very organ in your body required to do that is what is failing you in the first place? Unless someone has experienced a depression like no other that leaves you feeling as though the only way to escape it is to die, they couldn’t possibly understand.  I’m not talking about just a bad day, or bad week, bad month or even bad year… but a soul-crushing darkness that weighs so heavily that you can’t possibly imagine it ever NOT being there.  I started having suicidal thoughts around the time I started self-injuring– at about age 5.  Would you tell a 5 year old, “Hey, buck up” or “pull yourself up by the boot straps” or “life’s hard, deal with it?”  There obviously was so much more at work there than just a “bad attitude” to cause someone so young to want to end their life.  There’s also the heredity factor, I’m well aware.  We have a robust family history of major depressive disorder and substance abuse on both sides of our family.  Suicidality is also very present in our family history as you well remember our father’s attempt in 1995 along with several attempts made by his mother, our grandmother, in earlier years.  I wasn’t aware until just yesterday that our aunt attempted twice to take her own life, as well.  Even among family, suicidal thoughts and attempts are kept a dark secret… so how can we expect people to seek help outside their family?

I look forward to the day when depression (or any mental illness, for that matter) is considered by the greater population to be a legitimate, treatable illness rather than a character flaw.  I am grateful that people like Christine who have lived through that horror are willing to step up and talk about it because people like her, who managed to survive an attempt on their own life, can provide invaluable an insight to suicide, mental illness and the hope that it can be treated.  And, hopefully, can keep spreading the word that it is OK to ask for help and create a world in which that help is readily and lovingly provided.

I really wish you had survived your attempt, Brian.  But sadly until a short 5 months before you succeeded in taking your life I was made aware that you’d already survived two previous attempts.  It isn’t lost on me that I was lucky to have had you around for another 10 years but selfishly I’d ask for another 60.  I miss you, dude.




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I lost my brother Brian, my only sibling, to suicide on October 13, 2010. I write about dealing with the loss as well as my own life-long struggle with depression and suicidal ideation.

4 thoughts on “Letter to Brian: May 30, 2014”

  1. I know what you are talking about and you said it well. However most people don’t seem to care anymore. They chastise Christine for being self-absorbed but in the same sentence are saying “don’t bother me because I have my own problems”. Talk about being self-absorbed!

    Laura, as you know, I have been working on the idea that we must seek peace in this world and I run across the same sentiments. People just don’t seem to care about how we Americans have treated others around the world or don’t seem to have any empathy or really care about their friends either. (Not all of course but way too many)

    Until we all reach out to help others and understand their plight, not much is going to change. If we could get even one-half of the people to work for peace and justice (and that is what you are talking about too) we would have it.

    Justice is having empathy for people and doing something to help them no matter who it is.

  2. Laura,

    I love this post. All of your posts, as I said when we met, are touching as you write them in the format of a conversation to your brother. The brother you love, who is now gone due to suicide. This is impactful on so many levels I won’t go into them all here because we spoke of this a few times when we met a few months ago. That was an experience shared with other amazing and brave individuals like yourself that I will not forget nor would I want to. It was incredible.

    There were many wonderful, supportive and sweet comments to my article that were far more plentiful than the hateful ones BUT I would be lying if I tried to pretend they didn’t bother me. Some made me angry and some made me sad. Many were just so ridiculous that I knew the whole purpose of the comment was to get a reaction from me. I knew there would be some difficult opinions and I also knew I would need to be strong enough to accept those comments as what they are; true opinions people have on this subject. Everyone has a right to their experience and opinion and I tried to respond as such.

    I did have to correct people in that I did not earn a dime from that writing. I do not profit from my suicide attempt, not that doing so would be wrong; it is just not something I am ready for as I typically have to jump into my professions with both feet and there would be no turning back and I don’t know that is what I want. I am fully satisfied in volunteerism with my abilities as I feel it helps me atone for my perceived weakness that I have in myself (without mean spirited people confirming it as such) and also to try to help other people who are not like I was; sad, depressed, hopeless and on the edge. They NEED people like us…those that have survived and continue to survive an attempt, or the attempt of a loved one. They NEED to know there is hope and to see that people like us can thrive and be contributing members of society. Success can be malleable. Sometimes it is just breathing. Today, I am successful! <3

  3. Thank you for commenting, Christine! I had hoped you would. You are far stronger than I am– it was so hard to read some of those comments and they weren’t directed at me. You handled them with poise, grace and understanding. Yet ANOTHER reason you are amazing!! And I’m so glad you clarified that you didn’t earn any money from it– I’m not sure why so many were under the assumption that you were “profiting” from the article. If any “profiting” were to be had I’d hope it would be of the kind that means an abundance of minds opening up to understanding suicide in all its complexities. So grateful to know you!! <3

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