No Words

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Paramedic 40839 will be laid to rest tomorrow. He was coworker and friend to both myself and my late husband. He was station mate to my husband. I’m told he died by suicide.

This week has been pretty tough on me. I wanted to write earlier but there just weren’t any words. I went through the same shock, the same turmoil of emotion, the same painful shredding of my soul that I experienced last year after my husband’s suicide. You know, I keep blaming him – if you hadn’t just set the worst example in the world for other people, then maybe he’d still be alive, maybe they wouldn’t all be in shock and grieving again. They weren’t supposed to copy you, they were supposed to give their collective heads a shake and get their shit dealt with.

One suicide usually births another.  It’s why we’re supposed to watch out for one another and learn the lesson…you have to fight harder. You have to say, “I’m not okay.” and you have to be willing to hear it from other people. You all have to know you’re not okay in some way and that is FINE, you’re human, you’re not machines.

You’ll never see it coming.  I was worried about him. He took my husband’s death to heart. It bothered him, he told me so. He apologized when he reached out to me, told me he didn’t know what to say or even how to say anything and I told him that was okay, you’re not supposed to know what to say, you’re not supposed to know what to do and you can’t make it better, you can just be there together trying to make sense of it all.

And it won’t make sense. Please know that, it won’t ever make sense.

He’d wanted to come visit with my husband’s remains. We had to reschedule his visit. He reassured me he was getting help but I was worried about him nonetheless. Suicide can be infectious. It can seriously affect even the people we may not consider. He didn’t reach out to me again, we didn’t reschedule our visit. I just realized this about a week ago because for me now, time passes without meaning. It had been two months since I’d heard from him and I was intending to check back with him this week.

I saw the first black badge on social media a few days later.

His death is not my fault. To think that it was would be to place an over-exaggerated value on my connection to him; he wasn’t my “best friend”, we weren’t “close”, we were acquaintances, now distant friends and we worked together some years back. He was closer to my husband, who’d spoken of him often. He was a “brother” in service; my “brother”.  I still feel guilt for not being well enough to have him visit, for denying him the talk with my hubby that he wanted. I will feel guilt. This is how it works in the after-loss of suicide. Everyone will go through some amount of guilt and self blame.

His reasons for his death will forever remain his reasons. It is not our fault.

He loved his family. My husband loved me. If love were enough to save us from ourselves, then we’d never have to deal with this thing called suicide.  Please, don’t ever doubt his love for his family, a suicide has nothing to do with the strength of someones love for another. A suicide has nothing to do with anyone else but the person valiantly fighting a battle inside their own mind that we could never see and may have never known about.

What could you have done differently? How could you have stopped it from happening? Nothing and you couldn’t. Truly, the only person who can have any influence on the outcome of that internal battle is the person fighting it.  I know what it’s like to fight like that. I know what it’s like to nearly lose that battle and I know what it feels like to watch someone else lose their battle.  I’ve seen it too many times.  I sometimes wonder why I get to be among the fortunate ones who come back out the other side.

It’s not about you.  Please know that. It’s about reacting to a trigger while already carrying an armory of hurt behind you. It’s about going into battle already weary and  injured. It’s about not being able to fight anymore because fighting takes so much out of you. It’s about not knowing how to ask for help and not knowing what you even need help with. And mostly, it’s about not admitting to yourself that you are thinking about dying because you are ashamed and that shame locks down your vocal cords and prevents you from reaching out.

Instead, you scream inside of your head where no one can hear you and you cry and you kick and you hate life for being so unfair to you and you act out of sheer pain. And you just stop being – because being hurts.

Know this. Being does not always hurt. Always is a thinking error and when you’re in the midst of a suicidal battle, your mind will show you only irrationality and errors of thought. The pain you are in during those moments goes away, it’s like a wave, it will wash over you, threaten to drown you and then it will recede and you will breathe again, you will think clearly again and you will see something other than hurt again. You have to hold on. You have to believe the pain will eventually go away. You have to know the emotional tidal wave clouding your ability to think rationally will leave you. You have to KNOW this and you have to hold on.

How many others are there out there in this same boat? How many of his coworkers who hadn’t quite come to terms with my husband’s death are now trying to make sense of this one? How many of them will have the courage to learn more about grief in the after-loss of suicide? How many of them will seek help for their own complicated grieving or their long-standing depression?

How many of them are already walking around in those uniforms with past attempts hidden beneath their shoulder flashes? When are they going to have the courage to reach out and finally get help for their tenuous hold on life?

Oh and hey, managers, give your heads a shake too, your people are hurting and they’re YOUR responsibility, their lives are in YOUR hands! The suicide rate in your service is YOUR responsibility, don’t just throw money and hope it goes away, get out there, get in there and be proactive. Be the leaders people look up too.

The emergency safety hierarchy as it was taught to me;  “It’s You, Your Partner, Your Patient and Your Vehicle.”  You can’t help others if you yourself are hurt. Know where to draw the line. Have the courage to stand up for your own mental well being. Remove the stigma of suicide and suicidal thinking in the emergency services.

Peace be with you, brother, I guess you finally had that talk with my hubby after all. Rest now. 40839, 36378, Never Forgotten.

In Solidarity.

 

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Paramedics & PTSD: Why Suicide?

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photo courtesy Sander van der Wel

I am a follower of Michael Landsberg’s daily Landsblogs at sicknotweak.com. Yesterday he wanted to know why people commit suicide and how we can stop it; what goes on in a person’s brain when they are in their last moment’s wanting to die? I think it’s very important here to point out the difference between a “reason” to die, or a trigger event that occurs in one’s life, and the emotions that people who are fighting with death are experiencing. Reasons are tangible events that can either be additive over time or a single trigger that releases a firestorm of negative emotional reactivity and thought patterns. Emotions are the things we experience every day, happiness, sadness, anger, joy; these can also be additive and negative emotions can change your entire mood and outlook on life if they are not dealt with appropriately.

Not many people are taught how to deal with the impact of their negative emotional states, instead we are taught things like, “let it go”, “get over it” or “just move on”. When we get this response, we will automatically silence our outward expression of our emotions and begin an internal rumination phase trying to resolve this emotional state and return our internal condition to a balance. What has occurred is that our emotional state has just been invalidated. You have been told that your reaction is not valid in the other person’s sphere of existence and often, we wrongfully generalize that to include the world. (Thinking error. These are so common in our existence and no one is immune from them.)

What is missing in this scenario above is that the person experiencing the emotion has never been taught how to effectively deal with the emotion they are experiencing and return their internal state to one of homeostasis. Our bodies exist in balance and can easily be thrown out of balance and when that happens illness can occur. Our emotional states are so interconnected with, not only our thoughts and mood, but our biological reactions – we cry, our heart rates go up, our respiratory rates increase, we can experience physical pain, or a sense of enlightenment, all due solely to emotional reactions occurring in our brains.  Now, the good thing is that our bodies automatically know how to restore an internal state of balance, hence the reason we have mediating hormonal signals and systems built into our body and brains, but these systems target only our biological being and not our conscious/unconscious thought processes. Those processes can keep going and struggle to find their balance, thus our moods can fall, our thoughts can become negatively dominated and we can suffer; our brain can become “sick”.

As humans we understand sickness can be anything from a common cold, to the flu, to a serious life threatening illness or disease process. So why is it so hard to understand psychological illness from that standpoint? Our psychology originates in signals and chemical processes in our brains, in effect, our psychology is an extremely complex form of our biology, one we do not fully understand yet.  Some of us have the equivalent of the “common cold” of negative emotional states, something that can easily return to baseline as you consciously override your thinking patterns and correct your negative thoughts, others can have more deeply set emotional states that will take some time and guidance to unravel and control again, still others have emotional states which can be purely biologically generated either idiopathically or through some form of  injury and where constant management of the internal state is of utmost importance.

So why suicide? I wish the answer was right there in black and white but life doesn’t exist in black or white, it exists in the many varied shades of grey or hues of each color in the spectrum. All I can say is that suicide arises from the complexity of our brain’s inability to return itself to a state of balanced function. What we can do, each and every single person, is to educate ourselves on the things that signal suicidality in others and especially in ourselves. We need to recognize when our moods, our thoughts and our emotions are out of balance and we need to act to help our brain restore it’s balanced state; reach out, ask for help, keep trying even if it hurts.

Now, what I have seen in reading stories from others who have wanted to die is that very rarely will they say, “I want to die” and many “normal”  people will actually use those words lightly in response to trivial incidents, so it muddies the water of just who is really suffering. Many people who are struggling with suicidal ideation don’t even know they want to die, all they really know is that they are feeling things that make them hurt, feel torn up inside, shroud the world in blankness so they feel detached from it and not a part of it.  Many will say how tired they are, how sick they are of fighting and you may not even see that reflected in their behavior because of how hard they are fighting to just appear normal and be accepted. You see, we as a society do not tolerate illness, we make the ill feel ashamed for not being productive and functional.  We do not teach ourselves how to be psychologically supportive, not only of ourselves but of others and tolerant of others mood states. If we can’t handle our own negative emotions, how can we be expected to handle those of others?

I think the entire attitude toward suicide and psychological disability needs to change and that change starts in each of us.  Educate yourself on just exactly what constitutes stigma, correct your behavior when you find yourself doing it, encourage people to share their negative emotions and consequently, get well acquainted with your own. Dispel the myth that suicide is a weakness, a failing, a result of disease and a selfish act. There is nothing selfish, weak or faulty in not knowing how to seek help. Be the help you may one day need yourself.

In Solidarity.

 

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