When despair leads to tragedy — (Arizona Daily Sun)

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Arizona Daily Sun

By GAMIN SUMMERS, Special to the Daily Sun

Jan 20, 2007

Suicide ‘survivors’ speak up for life

Third in a series about mental illness

Even if one doesn’t suffer from a mental illness, life at times can seem unbearable or even impossible. This is where depression takes root and despair emerges. Thoughts can take forbidden roads toward the unthinkable.

Suicide can first come as a fleeting thought. The thought can gather steam until one becomes consumed with the idea, or has “suicide ideation.” Thoughts can become plans, plans can lead to actions.

Suicide ideation is a dangerous, dangerous realm of thought. It is crucial that another’s talk of suicide be taken seriously. Help is available. Suicide is final.

A “survivor of suicide” could be one of two people. The first is a person who has survived an attempt. The second is one who has survived the loss of a loved one who has taken his or her life.

Following are two accounts by the latter.

Gamin Summers can be reached at gamin@commspeed.net

Knowledge gained too late

By LAURA DECKER

Life as I knew it ended on Oct. 26, 2000, the day my beautiful teenage daughter committed suicide. No words can describe the pain I felt that day. The ache never leaves, plus I am tormented with the anguished guilt of teen suicide. Haunting thoughts tell me I should have done something; I should have seen it coming. An oppressive black cloud follows me everywhere. I feel everyone sees the cloud and knows its name: Suicide.

Today I share my vulnerability with complete strangers in the hope of conveying a message — be aware and be informed.

My Tiffany was a very normal girl. She experienced typical teenage emotions and body changes, and she was dealing with the frustration of having divorced parents. But she was beautiful and smart, an honor roll student, and a tremendous artist. She loved high school and everything about it.

Despite her abilities and the joys in her life, however, she was never able to view herself as typical or normal. She didn’t see herself as pretty or talented. She assumed she was abnormal and began to see a psychiatrist. After her second visit she was diagnosed as having “a chemical imbalance.”

Upon hearing this, she turned to me and said, “See Mother, I told you there was something wrong with me.”

In a very short period of time, the people I thought would help her confirmed her worst beliefs about herself. I felt the doctor had not spent enough time with her to make a conclusive diagnosis. He seemed eager to label her instead of treating her concerns. She was prescribed antidepressant medication; she was 14 and after 36 days of antidepressant therapy she was gone. Her death was very violent and clearly not meant to make a statement or get attention.

My intense depression after Tiffany died started me on my own path of treatment. I couldn’t stop crying, and when I wasn’t crying I was angry — angry at myself, angry at the world, angry with God. The despair and rage consumed my life. My ability to function was minimal at best.

I battled my own thoughts of suicide. I longed to find a way to be with her, because I was desperate without her. Over time I was prescribed various antidepressants and dosages until we found a combination that worked.

I then felt compelled to educate myself about clinical depression and antidepressant medications. I learned the medications could be effective yet sometimes dangerous. I found clear evidence that adolescents often respond very differently to antidepressants than adults. I began to better understand why Tiffany’s reaction to antidepressants was so dramatically different than mine.

I would give anything to go back and face Tiffany’s struggles armed with what I know now. I’m tormented each day as I work on forgiving myself for how uninformed I was then. She had bouts of insomnia, drastic mood swings, high highs and low lows, and some destructive behavior shortly after beginning the medication. I didn’t see the changes collectively, but rather as isolated moments. I blame my ignorance for not seeing them as warning signs. I should have asked more questions. I should have known the dangers. I should have known about the adverse reactions. I will always wish that I knew then what I know now.

I still suffer bouts of depression, sometimes extreme. Certain times of the year are extremely difficult: her birthday, holidays, the anniversary of the day she died. I’m reminded of things she’ll never do, like drive a car, graduate, go to college, get married or have a family. At times I find myself drowning in the despair of losing her, then I remember the joy she brought others, her beautiful face and her sweet smile. Remembering her helps me to stay and fight. I have a wonderful son and husband to live for now, but I will never forget her.

I’m often asked how many children I have. I hesitate to answer and often reply — “just my son.” The shock and judgment attached to suicide are things I usually choose to avoid. But I hope sharing this part of my life will lead others to a keener awareness, a desire to be more informed, and an urge to ask the hard questions. I hope someday to answer honestly, without the black cloud, when asked how many children I have.

I’ll say, with strength, “Two.”

Laura Decker is a Flagstaff mother and executive assistant at Flagstaff Medical Center. You can reach her at laura.decker@att.net