“You have high markers for bipolar, and depression,” said our marriage counselor to my husband John after looking over his paperwork, “but I can’t formally diagnose you or prescribe meds; your need to go to a psychiatrist for that.”
John crossed his arms, leaned back onto the therapists’ sofa and snorted in that familiar way that told me that he and his pride would not be making an appointment with a psychiatrist.
Men don’t see psychiatrists. Men, suck it up.
In this way, my husband chose suicide. I do not forgive him for this. He should have gotten help. I too was told I had high markers for major depressive disorder by our therapist. I promptly went to a doctor, tried diet, exercise, and vitamin supplements, and when those failed I went on antidepressants. In this way, I chose life.
But maybe it was easier for me because I am female. Females see doctors. Females don’t have to suck it up.
I do not forgive society for this double standard.
Two and a half years after this therapy appointment, John would attempt suicide two times before he completed. Twice by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage (he would admit this to me on the night he died), and once with a fateful shotgun bullet to his torso.
These attempts were not his choice. I know this because I’ve read his suicide note more times than I can count, and the author of that selfish, anger-laced, letter was not the man I married. I know these attempts on his life were not his choice because I spent two hours on the phone with him trying to talk the gun out of his hand. The voice on the phone that night was not my husband’s.
The voice on the phone that night made me a believer in what the Holy Bible refers to as demon possession. I recalled all of the accounts in The New Testament of Jesus healing people from demon possession as I listened to John attempt to string sentences together that made no sense on the night of March 23, 2014.
As I listened to him on that awful night, I knew three things for sure:
One, that mental illness has always existed and the authors of the Bible did not have “mental illness” in their vocabulary, so they referred to these people as “demon possessed”
Two, Jesus would not be saving my husband
Three, I no longer believed in Jesus
(I will not be responding to the ridiculous private messages and facebook comments that these last few lines will be provoking. I’m allowed to have an opinion, and loss of faith, and I am allowed to use my experiences and beliefs to make a point. I hope you have enough confidence in your own beliefs to not attack others with a differing opinion).
Not much has changed since biblical times. Although we now have “mental illness” in our vocabulary, we don’t use it very much; or we use it but don’t fully understand it’s meaning.
We call victims of suicide selfish. We tell ourselves and others that they made a bad choice. I wonder if the demon possessed were called selfish.
There are very rare cases in which suicide is actually a choice.
Legally (or illegally, for that matter) assisted suicide for people with a terminal illness is one. Suicide for the sake of honor, in cultures where choosing to die brings honor to ones tribe or family is the other.
Outside of those two examples, I venture to say that the vast majority of suicide is not a choice.
The situation with my husband is a little more complicated though. Did my husband choose suicide? Yes and no. Yes, he chose not to get help when he was told he had symptoms for two mental illnesses that could lead to suicide. Had he reached out for help he might still be here…….or he might still be dead. Plenty of people do reach out for help and still they die by suicide. Or maybe when our therapist told him to see a psychiatrist, he was already too far gone and his sick brain kept him from seeking help. Or maybe it was his pride. Or maybe it was society.
These are the questions I ponder at 1:00am while the non-traumatized people of the world get to sleep peacefully.
Did my husband John choose suicide? No. By the time he wrote that suicide note, and loaded that shotgun his brain had been overtaken by an illness. Saying that a mentally ill person chose suicide, is like saying my maternal grandmother chose not to feed herself when her cancer spread to her brain and she lost her fine and gross motor skills.
Do me a favor, next time you see or hear the word, “Suicide” replace it with the term, “Brain Cancer” and see how your perception of its victims and its survivors change.
John’s sick brain made the choice to fire that gun, but my husband did not. My husband was not merely a brain and I resent those who treat his legacy as such. My husband John was a unique and precious soul; and that soul no longer exists as it once did, encased within a sick body.
While I will always be conflicted about whether or not John’s suicide was a choice, and whether or not it could have been prevented, I am not at all conflicted when I say this:
NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO TELL ME JOHNS SUICIDE WAS A CHOICE.
The implication of saying this to me, a suicide widow, is that one, my husband chose to leave the kids and I (which only makes us feel more shitty…so thanks for that), and two, that my husband was a selfish person. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Either way, I’m allowed to think and say this about my husband, you are not.
I am sickened when I see people attacking the loved ones of those who have lost their battle to depression, PTSD, bipolar and other un-diagnosed mental illnesses. Your opinions are self-serving, pretentious, and of course “well-intended.”
You’re not allowed to voice an opinion to someone who has slept in their dead spouses shirt in hopes that their skin cells might still be on the tattered fabric.
You’re not allowed to voice an opinion to someone who has had to tell their young children, “Daddy did something called ‘suicide. ”
You’re not allowed to voice an opinion to someone who has picked out clothing for a corpse to wear in a coffin.
You’re not allowed to voice an opinion to someone who has ever had to check the “widowed” box on paper work.
So, what are you allowed to do?
You’re allowed to shut.the.fuck.up.
© Copyright 2017 Michelle Miller
35 years together. Most of them good, but much of the last 10 years laced with the edginess of depression. The last 3+ years full of worry, hand-wringing, failed attempts to get him to try something-anything-to actively engage with his depression and self-medicating, and eventually, even with me. Yep – trauma and grief – and also, finally some peace within the rage/sadness/guilt. I no longer have to worry about being away from home too long, no longer have to strategize with my adult children about how to manage him, no longer have to feel torn about doing/saying too much or not enough.
That peace doesn’t stop the tears, though.
Which is worse? A marriage in which I have devolved into nothing more than a caretaker for someone who is plotting his own demise and just biding his time, or living alone, in grief, and wondering who the hell I am now, and what is the point in coming home to an empty house?
If he had only….what would have become of him? Would he have lived to a happy, ripe old age, or would he have died of some other, even nastier fate? And where would my children and I be? The brilliant man I loved did no choose suicide – his depression did. Maybe it knew something I didn’t? But god damn anyone who thinks that I or anyone else either caused this or could have prevented it, or that this is something he thought was a splendid idea.
Just. shut. the. fuck. up.
Well said, Michelle.
Thank you for sharing so much of your story! I completely understand all of it. We’ve lived a similar experience. ❤️ For that I am grateful and sad
Thank you all. So much of this is exactly what I’ve felt and SO much more. It’s coming up on 7 years and I’m stuck. There seems that There is NO way out for me. I’m not sure what to post publicly. (It’s not because I’m afraid of opening up. – I WANT to. I need help. Its because if 1 certain person read this, it would be more this person has to ‘use against me’. I can’t get away from them.)
I’d lost a lot before my husbands suicide. I need to get some of that back. I do Not have transportation to go to a counselor. I have very little & limited privacy for phone calls or computer use. I have no money. I don’t have employment. I have physical limitations.
I have tried improve all these. Is extra difficult because of my living situation. The person in control wants me to suffer and pay for choices I made when a teen. This person is mentally troubled and trying keep me here, under control just to serve their purposes.
(My apology I am trying not to identify who this is. Is Just 1. That is telling many lies and stacking obsticles higher against me.)
I was stopped from using home internet to earn money. My laptop was broken. But nothing that I can do. But have been used as a mental punching bag, by the 1 who most can usually count on.
Any advice appreciated. Please understand I know the first thing I need is obviously counseling. I have no way to get that until I have a finances and personal transportation to aquire freedom to do the steps I NEED to rebuild a life. I’m smart, I am capable of much. I can drive. So my 1st thing need is my own transportation to get freedom. To earn money, get the counsel and support to find MY calling to help others.
Thank you, so much, Michelle, and others for your brutally honest comments. The 10th Anniversary of my late husband’s suicide is fast approaching in 2 days. I have had to recently re-live the avoidance I first encountered when I was first widowed by his suicide 10 years ago when I’ve tried to engage with friends, healthcare professionals and acquaintances, some of whom knew Terry, in order to talk about this significant anniversary date (at least it is for me). I’ve been met once again with the polite first few moments of their attention and then watch the avoidance as all of a sudden their attention and eye contact goes to the person I’m with, or they abruptly change the subject, or worse still, they pretend not to see me at all. I’ve had a good friend who I turned to because I was in rough shape last night say she’d call back and didn’t. My best support has been the new man who has been in my life now for 3 years …and believe me, it took a lot of time, effort and fighting to get him to see that what I’ve been through is NOT the same as what he experienced as a widower whose wife did NOT die by suicide. There are 2 pieces that all of us who’ve lost someone to suicide experience: trauma and grief. Having lost my parents, a young niece, and many friends in the last few years, I can now see that although heartbreaking, the trauma piece wasn’t part of those losses for me. I will continue to talk as needed. However, I am hoping that I can somehow make a difference in pointing out to a larger segment of our population (besides those who already understand as we do), that their attitudes actually prevent our healing and recovery in so many ways. We all need to keep talking and challenge those who would rather avoid and find out what they are afraid of. I am committed to being an “ambassador” for mine and others whose voices have been dismissed, for those who’ve been shunned and/or blamed for another’s illness and subsequent death by suicide. Like you, Michelle, I do NOT believe Terry’s suicide was a choice. I also experienced a man who for all intensive purposes was “possessed” (for lack of a better descriptor) and certainly not “himself” the day before his life ended. I did not know or recognize him. And when a neighbour asked how he died, I said he died of his illness. He asked what that was and I said, “Clinical Depression”. He replied with shock, “You mean you can die of that?” Then, I watched as the light bulb went on and he “got it”. I said this is no different than someone with heart disease dying of a heart attack. Because we don’t understand mental illness (I like your re-framing it as “brain cancer”), as a society, we are afraid of what we don’t understand. As human beings, we are hard-wired to “fear the unknown”. The only way this is going to “get known” is for those of us left to mourn/grieve, is to keep talking and especially to those who don’t want to listen… My late husband was one of those people who did go for all of the help he could and still didn’t survive. I will NEVER regret when I got up at his funeral, in front of the church community he loved (and which I no longer attend), and gave a eulogy which included the statement: “God called him home”. I know that statement must have rocked more than one person there…even I didn’t fully understand what I was saying. All I knew is that is was a TRUTH I was experiencing at a very deep cellular level. For me , if it weren’t for my belief that there is something else much bigger than ourselves that we cannot see, but that we can feel in those rare quiet moments, I would not have gotten to the place I am today…surviving, sometimes thriving and most of all, refusing to be silenced!!!!! Thank you, to all of you whose comments have deeply touched me today and have not left me alone at a time when I really need the support and love you offer!!! Love, Laurie
you take everything I feel and put it into words. I love you Suicide widow sister!!!!
Thank you for this. So true. ❤
Michelle, your post hit home in so many ways today. Thank you for reaching so many with your words.
I’ve been widowed twice by suicide. (In a matter of 4 years) And soooooooo many hours are spent on trying to make sense of it all. Yes, please… if you haven’t felt the extreme conflict of love mixed with abandonment then I truly do not give a flying fuck what your sentiments on my spouses suidides mean to you. “Shut.the.fuck.up”…. is the best advice for anyone who is lacking in the understanding that comes with being a widow. I knew both of these men deeper than their own mothers and yet those same women place the blame on my head like a fucking crown. I apologize for my profane language. I’m going to stop now before I really go crazy on a comment thread. In short… I feel you girl.
Well said. We just lost my 44 year old nephew, Husband, father of 2 young kids, sheriffs deputy , army veteran. I lost my step-father to suicide. Another nephew to suicide. My Mother has made 2 attempts. I’m sick of people saying they are cowards. And that they just need to do it right so it’s over. Mental illness is a DISEASE. A disease that destroys the life of the person it lives in. It also wreaks havoc on that persons loved ones. We are each unique and some of us are able and willing to work to keep depression out of our minds. As you said some of us are too proud, too manly, too strong to seek out the help we need.