Dead Man Walking

Today marks 2 months from the day my life was pulled out from under me. I expected to be somewhere else by now. I feel I’ve put in the requisite effort. But I am still running on the same treadmill and I am going nowhere.

Loneliness has set in. And it is a loneliness that words fail to describe. There are people around me but I don’t really feel like I belong anywhere anymore. I feel disjointed and out of place. I’ve told others as much. I referred to it as feeling like an appendage to other people’s lives. Beau and I had a life of our own. We had each other and to me that was what I owned, my personal treasure. I’ve written about the guilt that I feel about what my presence reminds people of.  My presence prevents people from moving on with their lives, his family especially, because my holding on to them for support inadvertently pulls them down to where I am — frozen in place, frozen in time, frozen in pain. I don’t say anything new. My loss of belonging heightens my guilt at being a burden to others. Beau was the only one who vowed before God to care for me and now he has left me in the middle of nowhere, forcing others who come along to let me hitchhike on their lives.

Beau abandons me repeatedly. I do not mean only that the event of his suicide repeats itself in my mind daily but that even his memory has begun to fade from my consciousness. The image in my mind, even aided by hundreds of photos of him, does not come close to the reality of him. Others may say this is actually a good thing, that it is a sign that I am letting go. But it is not. Thinking of him, in a twisted way, allows me to escape my own pain. The first few weeks after his passing I was saved from thinking of myself by all the activity I put into understanding what happened to Beau. Now I am faced with the task of understanding myself and I’ve begun to feel that this is the real tragedy here. I am in the now. I live, if breathing and eating alone constitutes living. I have become a living, breathing nightmare.

I’ve seem to have lost all sense of hope. I’ve heard it all of course and I know them to be true; all the loving reminders to look at the glass half full rather than empty, to count my blessings, to learn from the suffering of others. I have no defense and I will not even try to explain why I am unable to do all that. My reality is simply different and my looking glass is stained. Maybe I am not even trying hard enough, after all, I am my own responsibility. Perhaps I do not even want to get better.

I’ve begun to feel cursed instead of gifted. I should be thanking God for the ability to process and analyze and understand, but my truth is that is burdens me. To know what I should do, what is right for survival, to see where I am at and why I am there, it provides little comfort. My intellect pushes me to search incessantly for answers that are not there. It drives me the way a cruel rider whips a horse to run faster. I wish I could stop but I gallop at ever increasing speed. Stubborness is the psychedelic drug that feeds the intellectual frenzy. I have been given expert advice that my writing is counter productive to my healing. But it relieves the pressure in my brain that threatens my sanity. When I write and read what I write it gives me the assurance of rationality. And in that, I see a small glimmer of hope for self preservation. I only hope I don’t manage to create a rational excuse for self destruction. Otherwise I would whip myself until I am foaming in the mouth and drop dead from pure exhaustion.

The loss of belonging has made me double in on myself and what a powerful other curse it is. I feel overly self centered and it shames me.

Even writing is so self-indulgent isn’t it? To write and expect to be read, to impose my thoughts and feelings and publish it for the world to see is such an egotistic exercise. I write on this blog to feel connected without having to actually be with people. The keyboard shields me from my shame. It also shields me from rejection. It keeps me from sending messages to individual people who may feel obliged to answer, and it shields me from the sensitivity and pain that I feel when those I do reach out to do not reply.

I feel I am not even uniquely special to my therapists. No matter that I actually pay them to pay attention to me. If I feel like others perceive me to be egregious and notoriously flagrant in my grief, to them I am nothing exceptional. I am a commonplace specimen that falls into one of many neatly labeled sterile boxes. To them I am a statistic, and nobody really cares about individual numbers. It is only taken as a whole that such numbers have significance. Alone I am insignificant.

Those of you who read this may at this point begin to judge me. You may wish to shake me to my senses and tell me to look up and smell the roses. I am my own worst critic. I fear judgment so much I sentence myself even before anyone has actually said anything. And each time I do that I know I doom myself to my own squalid prison. How ironic that I write and share making myself vulnerable to the world. It is me saying with certainty that I know you judge me and I write to defend myself. The truth is I judge myself. Judgment is a vile, maleficent thing, especially when coupled with paranoia. And what escape is there from ourselves? Aye, a question again without a palatable answer.

I do not like myself very much. I’ve always known that about myself. Even when I impudently announce it to the world, in the hopes that someone would give me a palliative from the pain of self loathing, it is hidden by the “gifts” that were given to me by some power that strangely disappears during moments when the shade of ugliness overshadows all beauty. Not that anybody really cares. The world does not revolve around me. Everything is just insecurity, and arrogance, and vanity. Oh, the list of noxious adjectives goes on. The stench of my self-pity is nauseating. It is a slick, black, sticky tar that transfers like a virus to anyone who dares to get too near. Beau washed me clean and now he has gone and I am back swimming in it.

I’ve been told to learn how to let go. I’ve told them I do not know what that means. I do not know how to do it. But this bare-faced nakedness my writing expresses, this is as raw as it gets. It is despair. It is hopelessness. It is terror. I fear.

I seem to have started walking on my own green mile. I am a dead man walking.


Alone after the home run

I thought we would have learned how to live with each other now, this alien band of brothers that have come to visit. I knew it would be an extended stay but now I fear my guests are bent on overstaying my forced welcome. I’ve tried to get to know them all, they who have come knocking at my door. Grief, Depression, Guilt and Loneliness. They’ve hung around for so long I swear their faces had begun to morph into one another. I can hardly tell them apart and it hardly mattered, given that they’ve all wrought the same devastation on my once peaceful spirit. I’ve engaged with them, maniacally so, trying to understand how they’ve managed to convince my husband that he had nothing to live for. As the days passed I’ve come to understand the conversation they had with Beau and where it brought him. But the longer they stay with me I am beginning to dread where I would be, if, when and how I manage to push them to leave.

I’ve let myself go because I could not let him go. I drink too much coffee, smoke too much, exercise too little. I eat nothing but indulgent poison — the most luxurious of desserts, laden with gargantuan amounts of sugar, chocolate and butter; evil disguised in swirls of happy colored icing, beautiful bronze baked goodies that promise familiar highs, only to be sunk back into an even more dismal abyss when the sugar rush disappears. I need a haircut. I’ve moved back in with the ‘rents and need to start organizing the mess of my life which I had brought with me. I am on a deadline, the time I’ve borrowed from sympathetic employers was running out too fast for comfort and I seem to be on pause. Indeed, time waits for no one and life is in an ironic rush. What does it matter that life as I knew it had changed drastically and without warning?

In the beginning I had gotten on that same train of mad, frantic activity. And everyone was there, cheering from the bleachers as I rushed to cover all the bases. And I did just that.

I tried to understand what happened. I researched, read, consulted, conversed and concluded. Beau was a victim of suicide. The end result of a long fight with major depression likely caused by a genetic predisposition. He could have possibly been bi-polar or had borderline personality disorder; complicated by the trauma of losing a father at an age when he was only beginning to learn about the relationship of “cause and effect”. Freud had discovered it, the construct of “learned helplessness” where a child, unable to process the traumatic event, learns that there are things that happen in this world that are beyond our control and therefore, when challenges come up, no matter how small, he would be powerless to fight it. He told me once before that he had watched his father burn. A child watching a cremation is a nightmarish tableau. Whether it had actually happened is of no consequence. For Beau, it was his reality. Had he agreed to seek professional help he would have discovered he was suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome as well. My own therapists say it would have been a textbook diagnosis, what with the death happening the day after his birthday and the constant reminder of his father’s ashes in the family home. There were other reminders, other questions, too private to share, that had left wounds that festered. He had grown into the body of a man and yet, somewhere inside him, an 11 year old boy continued to stare into the flames.

Apparently there had been prior attempts to take his life before I had even met him, usually triggered by a relationship gone awry. He feared rejection and magnified abandonment, attaching all sense of hope to relationships that he perceived in his mind to be all that he had in his life. I had saved him twice he said, having talked him through the demise of two of his past romances. He had always threatened to end his life at the end of his relationships. I had always thought he meant I had saved him figuratively. Now I know better, too late.

Even if I had known his threats to be true, I would have thought marriage would have put an end to the suicide ideations. After all, the promise of forever keeps the threat of abandonment at bay. And for all intents and purposes, as far as I knew, we had been the giddiest kids on the marriage block. But I suppose all marriages have its own challenges, and the monster that lay dormant inside him waited for the opportunity to rear its ugly head.

I had always envied him for his freedom of spirit. I was jealous that he had built a life of simplicity doing what he loved. But even before we had gotten married he had always talked about wanting to do something else, to find his fortunes elsewhere and to keep climbing as a hobby rather than his career. It had been frustrating for him, and I knew that the conservative man that he truly was, he wanted to prove that he could provide for me somewhat. There was never any pressure on this front, at least not outwardly, and not that I was consciously aware of, although I know that sometimes circumstance itself could create them. I had tried to control the situation at any sign of insecurity, although if there were any, he was such master at keeping them from me that despite my vigilance, it was only in the last three months of his life that I recognized any discontent. I had supported him by asking him to simply pursue what he was passionate about. There was much trial and error but in the end he had still hoped against hope that he could make something out of the sport that he loved. I believe it was his failure to make this happen that was the trigger for his last and final episode.

He loved bouldering. And the competition which had been named after him was his pride and joy. He had attempted to put up the event a year into our marriage. It had pushed through but at great cost. He had taken it hard, given that I had to step in to bail him out. He declared he was done with the competition, done with climbing in general and moved on. or so I thought. A year after he announced he was going to try to put the event up again and against my better judgment, I supported him once again. This time, despite his constant assurances that the postponements and delays with sponsorship contracts were just minor snags, the event did not push through. We argued about it for a day or two and I thought that was the end of it. But apparently he had again talked to some people about taking his life out of shame and embarrassment. I thought he had gotten over that particular hill, he had decided to embark on a new challenge — to get certified as a personal trainer. But now I know this only added to the weight he carried. He had put all his hope in that basket, telling me repeatedly during those days when his frustration and stress were poisoning our marriage that it was all he had going for him. I tried to refocus his thinking and emotions into positive things, to the dreams we had created together for the future, but he was incapable of looking forward and insisted on collapsing into the past. In retrospect I know now that nothing I said would have made a difference. Unless he was given the medication he needed, he was spiraling out of control towards his own self destruction.

You would think that all of the above would absolve me of my guilt. It does not. A psychiatrist would describe him as a textbook case and any diligent researcher armed with an internet connection and a laptop would agree. The illness is what killed him. It was not anybody’s fault. He was psychologically disturbed and did not have the skills to deal with life’s challenges. Cerebrally it all makes a lot of sense. But as his wife, I look at what happened with different lenses. And what a different story my heart can see.

I remember a man excited for a future. I remember a husband narcissistically proud of a happy marriage. I remember conversations about the children we were going to raise, the trips we were going to take, the long bucket list of things we needed to do. My heart cannot accept what all the research and professional consultations have logically confirmed. I have hit a home run with all the bases loaded. But now the bleachers are empty, the game is over. Everyone has gone on to their homes and life continues on. The numbers on my blog have dwindled. The hundreds of likes and comments of support on my Facebook page have all but disappeared. Very few ask how I am anymore. And I sit in the ball park alone, enveloped in the blackness left by the shut down of the stadium lights.

They wait for me, my unwanted guests. Grief, Depression, Guilt and Loneliness. They took my husband away and now they await me. I am beginning to dread where I would be after all is said and done. Because as of now I am back on first base. Bleachers empty. Alone after a cerebral home run that has done nothing to heal the pain in my heart. Beau is gone. Game over.

SOS: A handbook for Survivors of Suicide

Sharing with everyone, Jeffrey Jackson’s entire booklet. It is a concise but rich source of information –practical and realistic, written from a place of sympathy, borne out of a shared experience and spilling with the promise of hope that the pain won’t last forever.

“This book is dedicated to the life of immeasurable value that was lived by Gail Beth Levine Jackson.
May you have found the peace that eluded you when you were here.” – Jeffrey Jackson


If you are a suicide survivor, this is worth your time. Please click on link: SOS_handbook

Biology, Psychology and Depression: An explanation on why depression is one of the most dangerous diseases in the world

Robert Sapolsky is one of the leading neuroscientists in the world. He is currently a professor at Stanford University holding joint appointments in several departments: Biological Sciences, Neurology and Neurological Sciences and Neurosurgery. He graduated with a Summa Cum Laude in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University and received a Phd in Neuroendocrinology from Rockefeller University. No question about it, even without understanding all the big scientific words that define his credentials, this is definitely one smart guy.  While I was researching about him I found a transcript of an interview with him by Brainconnection.com, which is a website dedicated to providing accessible high quality information on how the brain works.  I found one of his answers particularly interesting:

BC: When you encounter something in life that is immediately too complicated to understand, what is your response?

RS: For the most part, not so much a sense of frustration as a sense of hang on. Science doesn’t explain everything, but depending on the priorities it could provide significant insight into anything, and if this “something” I encounter is one of those “anythings,” there will be more information.

Although I am far from being a genius, his words resonated with my own search for meaning. I’ve heard many well meaning loved ones tell me that to move on i needed to let go and that acceptance is the key to healing. But to heal I need information and in the case of what happened to Beau, I needed Science. Apparently, Mr. Sapolsky has an “outstanding reputation as a dynamic teacher and lecturer. In addition, he is also an accomplished writer and communicator of science to non-scientists. His field studies are composed of extensive behavioral observation combined with physiological measurements of stress.”

PERFECT. I found a guy who knows his biology, knows his psychology and has spent a lifetime tying it all together. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. One of his lectures on depression was uploaded to Stanford University’s YouTube account. What an eye opener it was.

For those who don’t have the time to watch the video since it is an hour long, I’ll be condensing the information into digestible parts in a separate blog entry.


Was Beau’s death his choice?

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I wanted to hit him.

In the 4 years we’ve lived together I had never felt the urge so strongly. Bile rose bitterly in my throat and the room began to sway in front of me. My heart was pounding so strongly it felt like it would leap out of my chest at any second. Whatever sense I still had about me went into stopping my fist from swinging across space and hitting that perfectly aristocratic nose of his. Instead I heard myself scream.

It was a scream unlike any other I’ve experienced. It sounded cavernous inside me. As if my body and flesh had muffled the anguish and anger and allowed nothing more than broken sobs and a pathetic, tinny whining. But inside, I screamed so loudly I could have sworn my insides could have combusted into a bloody visceral mess. How dare he lie there, his handsome face frozen forever in an expression that would have been peaceful had it not been marred by the thick angry red ligature mark on his neck, left by the rope he had chosen to use to end his life.

If anybody would have morbidly conjured up how Beau would execute a suicide, they would have predicted exactly that —- a death by hanging so technically proficient it left no room for error. From his Jujitsu sessions he knew that cutting off his air supply would put him to sleep and that he would be unconscious when the throes of death claimed him. He knew the kermantle rope can hold many times his weight and that his expertly tied knots would hold. He had tied them many times before, oddly enough to make sure that his life and the lives of others would never be in danger. Indeed it was the way Beau would have chosen to do it.

That made me livid. It made my blood boil so badly I felt pressure in my brain.  How dare he? How dare he plan this so methodically, without thought or care to me, his mother, his siblings, his friends? How can he choose so predictably how to do something that none of us could have predicted?  Everyday, I still continue to see his body lying on that cold, sterile pan. I hear my brothers repeat our questions and our composed answers in a mad attempt to make sense of an act so senseless and sudden. I see his mom crying from a pain I cannot claim to own… the pain of a mother who is forced to bury her son; forced not by the laws of nature, not through illness or old age, but by her son’s own choosing.

But anger immediately turned to despair and disbelief, and then to a search for understanding. My fist unclenched with helplessness and I reached to hold his lifeless hand, as if I needed to feel the marble coldness to convince me of reality.  And reality begs the question: Did he really have a choice? Is it not unreal for any human to court his mortality when what is natural is to fight for self preservation? If so, then what would push someone to “choose” to defy nature?

It is an aberration, to be sure. And yet I wonder, what kind of unfathomable mental illness denies us of the freedom of choice? Is a rogue synapse in the deepest part of his brain to blame? Was he somewhat like an epileptic or an autistic child who have no control over the movements of their bodies? What physiological process can weed out love and everything positive and leave and magnify only the thoughts and feelings that cause the loss of hope?

I burn. I burn with anger. I burn with the need to know. I burn with a quest for knowledge of this intangible disease, if disease indeed it is.  While I am still in the process of finding my peace, I came across something that gives me temporary comfort. I share it below:

Suicide is Not a Choice: People Who Die by Suicide Do Not Choose to Die

by Kevin Caruso

People do not choose to have clinical depression.

People do not choose to have bipolar disorder.

People do not choose to have schizophrenia.

People do not choose to have cancer.

People do not choose to have post-traumatic stress disorder

People do not choose to have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

People to not choose to have tourette’s syndrome.

People do not choose to be autistic.

People do not choose to have seasonal affective disorder.

People do not choose to have heart disease.

People do not choose to have dysthymia.

People do not choose to have narcolepsy.

People do not choose to have muscular dystrophy.

People do not choose to have Alzheimer’s disease.

People do not choose to have dementia.

People do not choose to have anxiety attacks.

People do not choose to have delusions.

People do not choose to have psychosis.

People do not choose to have phobias.

People do not choose to be paralyzed.

People do not choose to have migraine headaches.

People do not choose to be victims of crime.

Children do not choose to be bullied.

Children do not choose to be sexually molested.

Children do not choose to be abused.

Women do not choose to be brutally beaten by their husbands.

Women do not choose to have postpartum depression.

Women do not choose to be raped.

People do not choose to be discriminated against.

People do not choose to be mistreated.

So why do some people think that people choose to die by suicide?

Answer: ignorance.

Many people (including some who are supposed to be “professionals” in the area of suicide, psychology, and religion) maintain the misguided, ignorant, outdated — and idiotic — belief that people “choose” suicide.

Over 90 percent of the people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. And the vast majority of those mental illnesses are untreated, under-treated, or not properly treated.

People who die by suicide are not thinking clearly — and they cannot possibly think clearly — because their brain is not functioning properly at the time they pass away from suicide.

Their brain is giving them overwhelming signals to die.

They have a chemical imbalance in their brain, are in extreme emotional pain, and their mind is saying “you must die by suicide to end this.”

Again — it is an overwhelming condition.

They do not “choose” do die — their mental illness causes them to die — just like some people die from heart disease, cancer, or other things that are out of their control.

And every time an ignorant person makes the statement that “people choose to die by suicide” the stigma of suicide is perpetuated.

Let me draw an analogy between suicide and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD have recurrent, overwhelming, obsessive thoughts that compel them to act in ways that others do not understand. For instance, a person with OCD may believe that his or her house is contaminated — even though it is immaculately clean — and thus compulsively washes his or her hands to get rid of the “germs.”

So do people who are otherwise very intelligent simply “choose” to wash their hands 500 times a day?

No.

They have a disorder and need treatment.

Now, someone with severe depression — and untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide — has a similar signal that their brain is sending to them, and that signal is this: you must die by suicide.

That “signal” is incessant and overwhelming.

Again, the person does not “choose” suicide; the mental illness causes the suicide.

One more time: People do not choose suicide; their mental illness causes the suicide.

People who die by suicide are strong, intelligent, loving, caring people — who happen to have a mental illness.

And there should be no stigma whatsoever associated with that mental illness — regardless of what it is — as well as no stigma associated with suicide.

The people who do not understand these basic, irrefutable truths about suicide are part of a serious problem — and that problem is ignorance. And, unbelievably, many psychologists, psychiatrists, suicidologists, and members of the clergy are part of this problem — and thus they actually perpetuate stigma instead of fighting it!

So, don’t be part of the problem. Share your understanding about suicide with others, and help combat this ignorance.

And be as supportive, helpful, and understanding as possible to suicide survivors. They deserve our unconditional love.

And always remember this: People who die by suicide do not choose to die, they have a mental illness — and it is the mental illness that causes them to pass away.