On Suicide and Who You Are

*** TRIGGER WARNING***

Please forgive me in advance for my bluntness. I am too raw to tread lightly around other people’s feelings today.

Suicide does not just happen. Okay? It is not something that suddenly pops into your head and—BAM—you act on it, just like that. It just isn’t.

The only exception—because I can hear your objections now—is postpartum psychosis. (Don’t know what that is? Pop over here.) Since I am talking about suicide in the wake of postpartum depression, let me say that the odds of committing suicide while suffering from postpartum psychosis (a term which is not interchangeable with PPD, by the way) are extremely slim. Postpartum psychosis happens to women in 1 out of 1,000 births, and even then, only 4-5% of those harm themselves or their children. That is 0.004-0.005% of moms. Statically speaking, this is not going to happen to you. And even among those women it does happen to, nearly all of them have a prior history of mental illness such as bipolar disorder, so even psychosis rarely comes out of the blue. Not to mention, it typically happens only within the first month after birth, so the window of this happening is also extremely slim.

So I am not talking about psychosis today. Some may disagree with me [edit: and many of you have, so feel free to check out my rationale here], but I do not believe Sasha was suffering from psychosis when she committed suicide on Christmas Day in 2015, five months after the birth of her son Gus. I think she was suffering from an extremely severe case of postpartum depression.

Those two are very different things. Trust me. I know. I experienced psychosis in July of 2011 after I reacted badly to a new antidepressant. Sasha also experienced psychosis when her daughter Ember was four weeks old in 2012, as a reaction to that exact same medication. I wrote about her experience on my old blog before Xanga shut down, which I will republish here.

Now, I cannot speak for Sasha. I do not know her well enough to know what she was going through or what she was thinking in those final minutes. But I can say that her suicide was not something that just occurred to her out of the blue that day. It was planned. It was something she had likely been daydreaming about for months, like I was—perhaps even years.

Some of her closest friends knew she was struggling with suicidal thoughts that week and tried to convince her to go back to Pine Rest in the days leading up to her suicide. She refused.

No one knew how dire the situation truly was. She had been here before after Ember’s birth and survived. Why would this time be different?

The reason her decision to commit suicide hits the postpartum community so hard is because she was doing all of the right things. She was attending the support group, she had a psychiatrist and, as far as I know, was taking her medication. She was going to therapy, and she had so many friends from the support group that would be there for her in a heartbeat if she reached out. [Edit: It has since come to light that Sasha was no longer attending therapy or accepting help from the MomsBloom team.]

Her suicide strikes fear into all of us because–if she was doing all of those things and if they still weren’t enough to save her–what is to stop one of us from committing suicide too? Right? As one mom said in the support group this week, “It is my biggest fear that my anxiety and depression is going to kill me one day.”

I want to be clear on one thing. Postpartum depression did not kill Sasha. Sasha killed Sasha.

Before you get mad at me, let me explain. First of all, while depression is a very real illness, it cannot kill you; not in the sense that cancer or a heart-attack can. Depression in itself will not cause your organs to shut down or stop your heart from beating.

But more importantly, our illnesses do not define us. They are not us. Cancer patients do not believe that their cancer is the sum of who they are. So when we make that mistake and identify as our mental illness, we give them a power over us that they do not deserve to have. When I nearly killed myself on December 22, 2011, it was because I could not differentiate who I was from my depression. I thought that I was a burden on my family; I could not see that it was my DEPRESSION that was the burden—not me—in the same way that cancer is the burden, not the sufferer. Even nine months later, I still couldn’t see this difference! In September 2012, I explained:

“I was stuck on the fact that I was a burden to my family. And I was. No one can tell me that PPD is not a burden on the entire family. I felt like a burden, and that I would always be a burden.”

Did you catch it? Even there I said that I was the burden, and yet the very next sentence I say that PPD is the burden, and then I am immediately back to saying I was the burden.

THEY ARE NOT ONE AND THE SAME. Killing myself to end the depression does not make sense, because they are not the same thing. DO NOT CONFUSE YOUR IDENTITY WITH YOUR ILLNESS. Depression can convince you all sorts of terrible things, but it is NOT who you are. Never let go of that.

If Sasha was in the same place I was, she lost sight of that too. She could not see that she was not the burden on her family; her illness was. The illness had so far invaded her brain that she could not distinguish between the two.

But suicide is still a choice.

It is said that people commit suicide because they feel backed against a corner and have no other choice. At least for me, that was never true. I always knew I had a choice, and I think most people in this spot know it too. The thing is, suicide feels like the BEST choice in that moment. It’s not your only choice, but it is your BEST choice.

That is what depression does to you. It lies.

Believing suicide is truly the best choice is the acceptance of a lie from the depths of hell.

But it is still a choice. And I think we need to know that. Because if it is a choice, then we have the power to CHOOSE DIFFERENTLY.

Look at Sasha’s family right now. Look at Ember and Gus who will grow up without their mother. Look at Cody who now has to raise these two children alone.

You tell me. Did Sasha make the BEST choice?

No. She did not.

Now, I do not say that without compassion. Do not accuse me of that. Because I stood where Sasha stood. I know what it is like for suicide to feel like the best choice. I even wrote about it here.

I firmly believe that Sasha made the choice she made out of love. I believe that depression took her undying love for her family and her children and wielded it as a weapon against her. I believe her depression convinced her that the truly loving thing to do was to sacrifice herself for the sake of her family. I believe that choice came not from a place selfishness but a place of selfless love. Don’t let go of that.

But don’t let go of the fact that we can make a different choice. Sasha made a thousand little choices that led up to that moment, and a single different choice along the way could have saved her. But she didn’t make different choices. There is nothing anyone could have done to save her if she made the choice not to be saved.

I know a lot of women in the group are suffering with guilt right now. I feel a lot of things, but guilt is not one of them. I understand better than most that you cannot help someone who has decided she is beyond helping.

I committed myself to Pine Rest of December 22, 2011 because I, too, felt that suicide was the best option. I felt like suicide was the right thing to do for my family. But I also knew I had a choice. I made the choice to put myself in a safe place because I no longer trusted myself not to harm myself. I had struggled with the overwhelming urge to harm myself since November of 2010, and after a full year of fighting it, I was too tired to fight it anymore.

I was backed into a corner only in the sense that I had lost the will to fight. But I still had a choice. I could quit fighting in two ways—by choosing to act on those overwhelming urges to kill myself, or by choosing to put myself somewhere safe so that I couldn’t harm myself, no matter how badly I wanted to.

Suicide is a choice. And if you are afraid that you are going to make that choice one day, the good news is that I firmly believe you can decide right now that you will NOT make that choice. Turn away and slam the door. (Sing it with me!) Let it go. When the thoughts come back, say “Nope. Not happening.”

After Becca was born, I had not yet made that choice. Suicide was always an option, even though I would never say so out loud. It was subconsciously my backup plan, a last resort, if things got bad enough, if nothing else helped.

But before Lizzy was born, I consciously decided to remove that option from the table. I decided then that suicide is NEVER, EVER, EVER the best option. And it NEVER, EVER, EVER will be the best option. And because I know that now, I will never even entertain that choice again.

For the first time in my life, I have no fear of killing myself. It is a fear that has lived in the back of my mind since the first time I became suicidal at 19. I distinctly remember thinking that I would not have to decide what college to transfer to because I would be dead before I would have to make that choice.

You can say that that’s all good and dandy that I made that choice while I was mentally strong and healthy but that it won’t stop it from becoming an option again when I am not. But you’d be wrong. I had another baby; I put my decision to the test. Not deliberately, of course, but believe me when I say it’s been tested. The thoughts came back. The appeal of suicide came back. All of it came back. But as they say, you cannot prevent the birds from flying overhead but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.

The thoughts still swirled around in my head. Constantly. But I told them to piss off. I told them this was MY choice, and I choose to shut them out. To swat them away. To smash them like bugs. When suicide is not an option, the only option is to work through it and keep fighting, or get somewhere safe if I can’t fight anymore.

I cannot choose not to be depressed. I cannot will my way out of it. It is a disease of the mind that I battle and will battle on and off for the rest of my life. I can’t choose otherwise, as much as I wish I could. But I can choose how to ACT in the midst of my depression. I will not let my depression define me. I am not my depression. My name is Karen, and I struggle with this illness named depression. But it is not who I am. And I will never, EVER make that mistake again.

Choose today. If you are afraid you will follow in Sasha’s footsteps, choose right now that you WON’T. It is that simple. It’s not easy, but it is simple. And know that you can make a different choice at ANY step along the way.

Your story is your own. Your story is not Sasha’s. My story is not Sasha’s. And my story will have a different ending. Because I say so.

I hope you will say so too.

Don’t let the fear of death—especially death by your own hand—rule your life.

 

But I cannot end this post there—not in good conscience. I cannot compare my journey to Sasha’s apples to apples. Because I have something Sasha did not have.

I have the power of the Holy Spirit living in me. I have eternity written on my heart. I know that death is nothing to be afraid of. I know that death itself will die one day; in fact, it has already been conquered. I know that one day I will be in a place without mourning or crying or pain. I know these things to be true.

I know that I was worthless and not worthy to be loved. Was. But not anymore. I am loved by Jesus Christ and a daughter of the King. I am a priceless princess, Jesus’ beautiful bride dressed in white.

Sasha turned away from that. She turned away from the Light. And when you turn your back on the Light, your own shadow causes you to walk in darkness.

I suppose we will all walk in times of darkness. Psalm 23 does not say “Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death;” no, it says when. WHEN. You WILL walk through the valley of the shadow of death. You will. If you haven’t yet, you will.

We can stumble around in the darkness of the shadow of death, or we can walk with our hands and faces lifted up toward the Light of the Son, even in the shadow-filled valleys.

If you try to walk in your own strength, you will fail. What do you do when you come to the end of yourself? The truth is, I don’t know how to battle suicidal ideation without the Light of the world. I don’t. Without the Light, my fate would have been the same as Sasha’s.

This really is the only choice that matters. If you do not choose to turn toward the Light, you will walk in darkness. Only the Light can conquer the darkness. And no darkness is so dark that it can stop the Light. Just turn around. Turn toward the Light, and you will see clearly to walk forward. One foot after another.

 

I don’t know how to mourn a suicide. Just like I didn’t know how to mourn Tim’s murder. Death is a different beast when it is at the deliberate hand of another. I confess I may be wrestling with my own past more than I am mourning Sasha. I don’t know.

But I do know that, as much pain as I feel, I am even more overwhelmed by thankfulness. I am thankful for my journey. I am even more thankful to be on the other side of that part of the journey. I am thankful I never had to journey alone. I am thankful for the women who came alongside of me and the dear saints that have shaped my life irreversibly during dark times. I am thankful for the overwhelming love, grace, and healing that only God provides.

But mostly, I am thankful for a God who knows my pain:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.” (NIV) / “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (NLT)

Overwhelmed with sorrow. Crushed with grief. To the point of death.

I serve a God who knows what it means to be human, who knows what it is like to hurt so badly that it felt as if it were going to kill Him, God in the flesh. I serve a God who—as surely as He knows the number of hairs on my head—knows the number of tears I cry. I serve Immanuel, God with us.

In those moments when sweat and tears fell like drops of blood, Jesus chose to surround himself with his closest friends. Now, those friends kind of sucked it up and kept falling asleep, but they were there. They showed up. “Stay here with me” were Jesus’ words when he felt like he couldn’t go on.

Choose “stay here with me” over suicide. Ask your family. Ask your friends. Your family and your friends might fall asleep on the job; do not depend on them alone. But Christ Jesus—God in the flesh who knows what it like to be human and what it is like to feel so overwhelmed that death looks like a relief—He will always stay here with you.

Always. Not some of the time. Always. To the very end of the age.

And He has conquered death. How much more will He give you life, in abundance?

 

 

Living Water. Bread of Life. Only You satisfy.

 

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About kneumair

Karen Neumair is a lover of God and a lover of words, especially when those two things come together. She has experienced multiple depressive episodes in her life, most severely after the birth of her second daughter, but is overwhelmingly thankful for how God has used her depression to teach her more about Who He is (and who she isn’t). Wife to Chris and Mommy to Hannah, Becca, and baby Lizzy.
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9 Responses to On Suicide and Who You Are

  1. Pingback: On the Selfishness of Suicide | karenneumair

  2. This really hit me hard tonight. It is so difficult to separate me from my mental state and recognize that what is going on in my head does not define who I am.

    • kneumair says:

      I am so sorry you are or have ever been in a place that this resonates with you. So incredibly sorry. You are not your depression. And God has no trouble discerning the difference.

  3. Suicide is a rational response to depression.

    By killing yourself, you no longer suffer from depression. It ends. Mission accomplished. Sure, you lose other things but you’re also dead. You cannot suffer from deprivation of them.

    Suicide isn’t just a choice but a fundamental right we’re deprived of. We do not choose to be born. We’re forced into life and it’s often rigged against us. Society rejects us, or our genes aren’t functioning. Maybe we just don’t like our life. Why can’t we be rid of it?

    • kneumair says:

      Thanks for stopping by. I am incredibly sorry if these thoughts come from a place of personal pain for you. I’ve been chewing on them since I first saw you write them.

      I am not sure I agree that suicide is a fundamental right, but I admit I do not have a good argument as to why. I suppose we have a “right” to do a lot of stupid things to our bodies as long as we are not violating the rights of others in the process–which I suppose suicide does not do. The trouble with suicide is that it is–with the exception of the elderly or terminally ill–a permanent solution to what is otherwise often a temporary problem. Most of the circumstances you mention can be changed or treated. I nearly committed suicide when I was 19; at 20 I met the man I have now been married to for 10 years and have three beautiful daughters. I am thankful I did not make the choice to “exercise my right” to be rid of my life at 19. Or again at 27.

      Nothing in life stays the same. Not even depression. I cannot promise anyone that brighter days are ahead, but it is the unknown that keeps me hanging on.

      • Here’s something to consider. Antinatalism is a branch of philosophy that believes life is bad in and of itself. According to an antinatalist, by living you harm yourself and by killing you the antinatalist actually ends your suffering and ‘helps’ you.
        Notice how close it to the logic of suicide prevention – helping people against their will ‘for their own good’.
        People have a right to do things to themselves we consider harmful.
        You found a man by the age of 20. I’m living 21 years and still don’t see a rational reason to continue. I desire non-existence like you desire life. I don’t want to improve and I don’t want more options.
        Anything you do is a No Turning Back point. By forcing your kids into existence, you close the door of ‘living without kids’.
        Suicide closes all doors, but for some of us it’s desirable. We didn’t choose this life. It’s the same principle of consent that protects people from getting raped or enslaved.

      • kneumair says:

        I was not familiar with the term antinatalism though I am quite familiar with the premise because it is laid out in the book of Job, chapter 3:

        1After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2He said:

        3“May the day of my birth perish,
        and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
        4That day—may it turn to darkness;
        may God above not care about it;
        may no light shine on it.
        5May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;
        may a cloud settle over it;
        may blackness overwhelm it.
        6That night—may thick darkness seize it;
        may it not be included among the days of the year
        nor be entered in any of the months.
        7May that night be barren;
        may no shout of joy be heard in it.
        8May those who curse daysa curse that day,
        those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
        9May its morning stars become dark;
        may it wait for daylight in vain
        and not see the first rays of dawn,
        10for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me
        to hide trouble from my eyes.
        11“Why did I not perish at birth,
        and die as I came from the womb?
        12Why were there knees to receive me
        and breasts that I might be nursed?
        13For now I would be lying down in peace;
        I would be asleep and at rest
        14with kings and rulers of the earth,
        who built for themselves places now lying in ruins,
        15with princes who had gold,
        who filled their houses with silver.
        16Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child,
        like an infant who never saw the light of day?
        17There the wicked cease from turmoil,
        and there the weary are at rest.
        18Captives also enjoy their ease;
        they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout.
        19The small and the great are there,
        and the slaves are freed from their owners.
        20“Why is light given to those in misery,
        and life to the bitter of soul,
        21to those who long for death that does not come,
        who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
        22who are filled with gladness
        and rejoice when they reach the grave?
        23Why is life given to a man
        whose way is hidden,
        whom God has hedged in?
        24For sighing has become my daily food;
        my groans pour out like water.
        25What I feared has come upon me;
        what I dreaded has happened to me.
        26I have no peace, no quietness;
        I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

        I am curious where we get the notion that “turmoil” is bad. If this is how things have been since the beginning of time and all signs indicate that it will continue in the same way, why has mankind not concluded that suffering is normal and morally neutral? Why do we yearn for our suffering to end? I think it is because each of us knows in our hearts that this is NOT how things are supposed to be. We know that there is something better out there. This sense of dissatisfaction with how “life is stacked against us” tells me that we intuitively know and yearn for a place where life is not stacked against us. I believe it exists, and it is what we all hunger for.

  4. Pingback: On Suicidal Ideation and Psychosis | karenneumair

  5. Pingback: On Motherhood and Growing Up | karenneumair

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