Opening the Conversation about Suicide
01 Aug 2018
By Dr. Michelle Watson
I’m so honored that you’re here for Part 1 of a two-part series. These two blogs are designed to help you navigate this delicate, yet intense topic should you find yourself walking this journey with a hurting friend or a struggling daughter. I trust that my words will validate you, support you, and provide resources that make a positive difference in your life.
Big hugs, Dr. Michelle Watson
“How could she do this when she had everything going for her? It honestly makes no sense that she would end her life because she has a global empire and actually just launched her new clothing line today! Look here—I have ‘Kate Spade’ everything—sunglasses, wallet, and even my school bag is her brand. You remember that she’s the reason I want to go into fashion, right?”
These emotional words poured forth from the depths of her 17-year old broken and confused heart as we began our counseling session that Tuesday. Our appointment was only hours after she’d heard the news that her beloved icon hanged herself that morning in NYC. And though we were having this conversation 3000 miles away from the tragic epicenter, she felt the impact personally, as if she’d lost a close friend.
Beyond that, neither of us had any way of knowing that only three days later we would grieve another tragic suicide by hanging, that of Anthony Bourdain, internationally acclaimed celebrity chef and television host.
Then, as if these tragic deaths weren’t devastating enough, the story took a heart-wrenching turn when I learned that both of these influencers left young daughters behind, 13-year old Francis Beatrix Spade and 11-year old Ariane Bourdain. One who will now be raised solely by her widower father while the other will grow up without the loving guidance of her adored dad.
All I can say is that two suicides in a row are two suicides too many.
As you can imagine, I’ve had similar raw conversations in my counseling office around this theme since these two individuals passed. One of my clients even expressed her fear that she now wonders whether she’s strong enough to resist her own suicidal urges. She said that if celebrities still commit suicide despite having access to the best resources in the world, then how can she trust herself to withstand the emotional gale force winds that regularly pound within her?
Dr. Margo Maine captures it best: “statistics are people with the tears wiped away.” Her poignant way of expressing the human reality behind the numbers is underscored by the shocking fact that suicide rates have increased in the US by 25% in the past two decades, according to the CDC.
Additionally, when someone has lived with physical or mental torment for a long period of time, it can significantly alter different areas of their brain. When the limbic system (our emotional center) is over-stimulated and “on fire,” it releases substantial levels of stress hormones, which then flood the frontal lobe (where we make decisions and activate sound judgment), leading to that part of the brain being “offline.”
Consequently, these individuals often find it hard to believe there will ever be an end to their agony, resulting in a genuine struggle to think clearly when it comes to problem solving and working through their distress. All they want is for the pain to end.
I haven’t shared a lot publicly about my past mental health struggles (though God has opened more doors the past few years to tell my story), but the truth is that I’ve lived through years of internal distress that were locked inside me until my late 30’s. In fact, I was in counseling for eight straight years and it was an excruciating process of going back into my trauma history to face all the layers of impact from sexual and spiritual abuse.
Trust me when I say that I hated putting my time, money, and energy into weekly therapy when all I wanted to do was spend my time, money, and energy on anything but therapy.
But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
- I now look back and know that investing in counseling was my way of putting value on myself.
- I now look back and know that the costs on every level were necessary to my healing.
- I now look back and know that I had to feel to heal.
- I now look back and know that the only way out is through.
- I now look back and know that I am a survivor, not a victim.
The hope-filled reality is that our brains can heal. I’m living proof of that fact! (Here are two excellent articles that confirm this: 1. On neurogenesis and neuroplasticity 2. On posttraumatic growth
More specifically with regards to my healing journey, I can honestly tell you that the torment I used to experience in my mind and emotions is no longer there, which translates to more calm and clarity. Of course I still have times of over-reacting, worrying, and the like, but overall there’s a settledness and true peace. Now I have the freedom to passionately move in ways that are in line with my God-given calling after years of feeling like I was going in circles despite my best efforts.
Also, I can confidently assert that the dissociative wiring inside my brain has been re-wired. Now I am grateful to experience an internally associated life without mental torment or dividedness. What this also means is that I am fully present to what I think and feel, and I have consistent joy that actually stays and holds! (If that sounds too good to be true or seems like it could never happen to you, I want to encourage you by saying that if healing could happen for me, it can happen for you too. Yes, it’s hard work…but it’s worth it in the end!)
In my next blog I’ll be giving you practical ways to walk through this with your friend or daughter, yet today I simply wanted to open things up and make it less taboo to discuss suicide. I also wanted to encourage you by sharing some of my story so you can know that you’re not alone and there is real hope for real healing.
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts or have a plan to end your life, please tell someone you trust. Tell that person today. Healing starts with talking. And though you may think they won’t understand you or that you’ll be a burden to them by telling them, don’t let that be the reason you stay silent. Don’t let your fear or feelings lead the way.
I know that it’s super scary to risk being vulnerable, but I promise you that there will be someone who can be your “with person.” There will be someone who is ready and willing to walk with you to guide you to someone who can help you.
And just in case you are struggling to dismiss the lies right now, here are four absolute truths that you can hold on to: (which means they’re absolutely true, 100% of the time, across the board, for each one of you!)
- You are loved more than you may ever know, especially by your Creator who has beautifully and wonderfully made you.
- The world would not be the same without you in it.
- No one can ever take your place.
- You have a calling and a purpose, and just like it takes time for a good soufflé to bake, it takes time to rise up and be all of who God has created you to be!
Before I close, I want to share with you one of my favorite verses. Feel free to adopt it as your own. “God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.” Psalm 18:24 MSG.
Let’s stand together as truth-seeking, truth-speaking women who celebrate that our story is God’s story and every page matters. I wonder what words he’s writing in your book today!
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) is available 24/7 across the United States.
Michelle Watson, PhD, LPC is a national speaker, author, professional counselor of 21 years, and founder of The Abba Project, a ministry to dads with daughters in their teens and 20’s. She holds her Doctorate in Health Psychology. She writes guest articles regularly for journals and magazines (online and print), as well as her own bi-monthly Dad-Daughter Friday blog. In 2014 she released her first book titled, Dad, Here’s What I Really Need From You: A Guide for Connecting With Your Daughter’s Heart (which will be available on Audible and inTunes in Dr. Michelle’s own voice on 9.1.18) and hosts a weekly radio program in her hometown of Portland, Oregon called The Dad Whisperer.