Today, November 19, is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
I started to write a special post for today, but I just can’t finish it. As someone who lost her birth mother to postpartum depression driven suicide, and six years ago almost followed the same path, I am giving myself full permission to not finish this painful post before I am absolutely ready. I am also giving myself permission to cry my eyes out, and seek comfort with people who love me unconditionally. So instead of a fresh post, I am going to reuse the post I wrote about my personal story of suicide for PostpartumProgress.com.
Should you ever find yourself on the listening end of suicidal thoughts, I hope you will find this useful. And please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine for your friend’s sake, but also for yourself: 1-800-273-TALK(8255)
The counselors are eager to support not only those contemplating suicide, but also those trying to prevent it. As a former volunteer for the service, I can tell you this sort of calls is particularly meaningful to the counselors.
From Suicide to Joy: a tale of three mothers and three birthdays.
I failed where my mother succeeded.
Make that “failed” and “succeeded”.
My mother had PPD since I was born. It got worse after the birth of my brother. She was 29 when she took her own life. I was 6.
But this is no sob story: after my mother killed herself, she went up to heaven and searched for the best stepmother ever. My second mother (Mati) came to my life when I was 7. I have always believed that my first mother, Mina, sent Mati over to take care of the family she left behind.
When I was 33, I almost followed in my birth mother’s footsteps. I swallowed a whole lot of pills and woke up in the hospital. Yes, in the psychiatric ward. I believe that my birth mom had something to do with the fact that those pills didn’t end my life.
What a story, right? If I saw this in a movie, I’m not sure I would have believed the story line. It would seem too convenient, orchestrated to make a point (you know what I mean).
But wait, there’s more:
With a lot of therapy, medications, and learning, I got better. A few years passed and I felt well enough to have another child. I thought that I knew enough about PPD and hoped I’d be fine. I carefully weaned off of my meds (under the supervision of my doctor), got pregnant, and I was fine, until my second child was almost one year old. I had late-onset PPD with him.
There I was, 38 years old, and suicidal. Again.
While I attribute my PPD to a hefty dose of genetic predisposition, I know that the real triggers were sleep deprivation and guilt. Both of my children went through long periods of waking up every hour, sometimes more often. The first kid was born early, had oral motor issues, couldn’t nurse, could barely drink. I was pumping for hours every day, and he was spitting my milk up. He wasn’t growing, and wasn’t sleeping. My second son was born on time. He was nursing fine, he was growing fine, and when he was teething, he wasn’t sleeping.
And the worst part was that in both depression episodes I had completely lost my own ability to sleep. Even when someone else was on kid-duty, I would lie in bed, awake and miserable. Whenever I did fall asleep, I would wake up after 15 minutes or so, covered in cold sweat. I was drowning in that special combination of emotional and physical pain which was a cold, bitter burn. It raged from my skin to my bones to my soul, like acid. I would look at the baby that I was supposed to love, and all I could feel was anxiety and resentment. I would look at my husband, who was doing so much to help, and all I could feel was guilt and inferiority.
I was hijacked by PPD. My PPDemons made it all seem very logical:
I’m a terrible mother = my husband and baby deserve better = they will really be better off without me = I should kill myself.
Considering my family history, it’s not surprising that this actually made twisted sense the first time. But I was spared. And I wasn’t going to waste my second chance at life.
With my second child, my suicidal thoughts did not include pills. My visions centered on my green belt (the one I am wearing right now, as I type this). One evening I actually wrapped it around my neck and longed to pull it tight. But I did not attempt to kill myself again.
This time I did know enough about PPD and anxiety to recognize that the horrible thoughts were not really me. There were moments in which I could tell the difference between my real self and my PPDemons.
In one of those moments I spoke up. I asked for help.
On the day before my baby’s first birthday, I nursed him for the last time, and my husband drove me to the psychiatrist’s office. I was actually prepared to be hospitalized again, but my doctor didn’t think that was warranted, because my family had the capacity to get into suicide prevention mode: someone was going to be with me at all times. I went back on psychiatric medications. After weeks of not being able to sleep, I slept for 14 hours straight.
The next morning, I awoke to the sound of my 6 year old singing “happy birthday my little brother, happy birthday to you”. It was the day before Thanksgiving.
I resolved to never try to kill myself again.
I wish I could tell you that I never wanted to die ever again. It took weeks before the suicidal thoughts were completely gone. But every time I felt the call of the green belt, I remade this promise: I won’t kill myself TODAY.
My recovery had many components of course, but I sincerely believe that I wouldn’t be with you here today had I not internalized one concept: that there is a fundamental difference between having horrible thoughts and being a horrible person. Sounds basic, right? Why is that so important? Because when we are in the grip of PPD, we forget this basic distinction.
We forget the huge difference between suicidal thoughts and a suicide attempt.
It’s about as big as the difference between thinking that another guy is attractive and cheating on your husband.
I’m not kidding: when you are suffering, the thought of permanently ending your suffering is bound to be attractive at times. Guilt and exhaustion cause millions of mothers to imagine killing themselves. This thought is so common it might as well be considered normal. Which means we should prepare for it. When we are not prepared for the possibility of suicidal thoughts, we mistakenly see them as evidence that we are such horrible mothers already, we really should get out of the way.
My goal is not to fight the suicidal thoughts and the guilt. The goal is to disarm them before and when they show up.
I call this Permission-Based Healing. After I got better, I heeded the call of my (sappy movie script) life story. I became a postpartum depression advocate and peer-support provider.
On my 39th birthday, I wrote my first blog post here. Soon after, I started leading peer-support PPD groups here in Ithaca, NY. Then I created the #PPDSpeakEasy: monthly phone support chats for mothers anywhere. And I’m teaching a class called called the UnGuilt Trip. Guess what we are going to talk about there…
Tomorrow, on September 24th, I’ll be turning 40. To celebrate my birthday and my blog’s first anniversary, I decided to offer a thank you gift to everybody who supported me on my journey: I have tripled the #PPDSpeakEasy phone chats for September. Our next call is on Tuesday, September 27th at noon Eastern. We talk about a lot of things at the Speakeasy. Suicide is one of them.
This is what I tell my callers: If you ever have the thought that you would like to die because your family deserves a better mother, know this: millions of other mothers had, have, and will have such thoughts. This thought is so common it should be considered normal. It hurts like hell, but it doesn’t mean that you are a bad mother. So please don’t kill yourself today. Talk to your family, see your doctor, reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, tweet with the hashtag #ppdchat, and you’ll get instant community of mamas who “get it.” You are not alone. Even when you feel like the only freak in town (because people don’t usually talk about this sort of thing) you are never alone. So please don’t kill yourself today. Every day, remake this promise: I won’t kill myself today.
Talking about PPD and suicide is hard. And it saves lives. I am eternally grateful to Katherine and Postpartum Progress for working relentlessly to change the cultural conversation about postpartum mood disorders.
I created a 5-minute video specifically to help mothers start this tough conversation. Guess what that’s called? Not the Only Freak in Town.
Finding a community where you can talk freely and normalize your struggle is essential for recovery. I encourage you to seek local support groups. But not every community has such groups, which is precisely why I created the #PPDSpeakEasy phone support chat. I hope you can join me on the next call check out the right sidebar for the dates. You can sign up to the call right here.
Until then and always, hugs for the hard. May the Joy be with you.
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Click here to go comment on Katherine’s blog.
My friend Cristi, the brave mama who started the trend of blue haired bloggers for suicide prevention (#bluebloggers on twitter) shared her story of surviving a suicide loss on PostpartumProgress.com. Please go there and give her some love.