What Suicide Taught Me
In 2010 I sat in my living room across from Bob Woodruff of ABC news. Woodruff was conducting an interview with myself, my now ex-husband and interviewed Shannon Galloway, who’s husband Major Chris Galloway had committed suicide not long before the interviews.
Woodruff asked me a question that has angered and haunted me since 2010. He asked, “What did you do differently from Shannon? How did you stop your husband when she couldn’t?”
I remember my first reaction was confusion because I hadn’t been aware of the Galloway’s story. Later I learned that the Galloways had been through a similar experience to mine. Shannon Galloway and I had sought help for our husbands’ issues with PTSD, only to be told by the Army that they were fit for duty. We both tried couple’s therapy because our husbands couldn’t seek individual counseling without being stigmatized. We’d both done our best to help.
My second reaction was that of anger. How dare someone ask a question like that- I hadn’t done anything special, and asking it seemed to imply blame for not doing enough. Not a fair question to ask and a really horrible assumption to make given the circumstances. I knew from personal experience and working as a suicide peer counselor that when someone wants to die, there is nothing anyone could do or say to change their mind. I could only imagine that was the situation for the Galloways.
Military suicides are a lot like an unfinished mission in the minds of those suffering with PTSD. Suicidal veterans say they felt like a weak link, unable to perform their duty. They say they’re a burden to their unit and family. Ending their life by committing suicide feels like a rational objective in protecting those they love.
Not knowing Galloway’s story, my answer was something along those lines. I said, “I got lucky. My situation wasn’t any different, my reaction wasn’t any different, I think what happened was that my soldier was calling out for help, and I was able to answer that call. If he really wanted to die, he’d be dead. I wouldn’t have been able to stop him.”
With the recent suicide of Robin Williams, I’ve noticed polarizing reactions in myself and others. There are those who are understanding of the circumstances and those who are calling him selfish. Some of us know the demons he faced, others only see the grief his death has caused his family and fans. More so there is an undercurrent of fear in our military community. I fear for those around me who struggle everyday with some form of mental illness; substance abuse, clinical depression, and PTSD are far too common for us.
For many of us, our first inclination is to slay the demons our loved ones battle. But that is a struggle only they can endure. Often that endurance comes at too high a price, not just for the person suffering, but for those around them. I’ve come to understand that I can only be a presence in someone’s life as a reminder that they are of value, they are not a burden, and their life matters. I can’t fix it, but I can listen, and some times that is all that is needed. Suicide is a permanent fix for a temporary problem, reminding someone of that has sometimes helped.
Warning signs that someone may be thinking about or planning to commit suicide include:
- Always talking or thinking about death
- Clinical depression — deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating — that gets worse
- Having a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights
- Losing interest in things one used to care about
- Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
- Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
- Saying things like “it would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out”
- Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
- Talking about suicide or killing one’s self
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Not everyone expresses these signs, but if someone does express suicidal thoughts, take it seriously. Seek professional help IMMEDIATELY- call 911 if the person is in immediate danger or placing you in danger. Suicide hotlines are a resource that is free, confidential and available 24/7.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Press 1 to be connected to the Veterans Crisis Line.
Last but not least-never do more for someone than they are willing to do for themselves. I learned the hard way that dealing with the mental health of others can ruin your own mental health. Never be ashamed of asking for help, or recognizing that you need to walk away. The only life you are responsible for is your own- make it a good one.