(WARNING: The following post may be a trigger for those
who are sensitive to content about suicide.)
This post is a follow up to my previous post: My Best Friend Committed Suicide
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After losing my friend to suicide, I found myself searching for answers. I spent hours thinking through moments together, reading old texts and recalling previous conversations. I can’t help but ask myself, “Were there early warning signs to my friend’s suicide?”
My friend’s illness was not a secret to those who were close to her. For years she was fighting her illness fiercely. Trying different meds, seeing different doctors. She was always searching for the magic combo that would take her illness away. But as many of you know, the illness itself lies to you, it tells you that the meds will never work and that the doctors are doing everything wrong. It makes it almost impossible to accept the diagnosis and thus the treatment.
Over this past year, I saw her quit her job and give her dogs away. She gave her reasons, but looking back it’s hard not to see that as a sign. She claimed that time away from her job would allow her more time in therapy and that giving the dogs away were a good step to simplifying her life and removing responsibilities that caused her too much stress.
These events happened months apart, so at the time they didn’t appear connected. Yet they both seemed impulsive.
As her illness progressed, I witnessed more and more erratic behavior and extreme mood swings. It was hard to tell what the driving force behind it was. Was it mania? Was it depression? Was it a by product of her past trauma?
For months I watched her waste away, losing a lot of weight. Friends started to call, asking me if she was suffering from anorexia. When I expressed my concern to her about this, she dismissed it, claiming that she had only lost five pounds. Trying to get past her denial only led to arguments and hurt feelings.
She continued to pull away from society, isolating herself, afraid that people could see her depression. She was always so good at hiding her mental illness, only revealing it to those she trusted, but as her disease progressed, it became harder to hide, which made her isolate even more.
There was a day about 7 months prior to her death that I visited her and I could feel the weight of her depression in my bones and noticed that her expressions were completely flat. It was a disturbing experience, and made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin.
I had a terrible feeling then that she might try to take her life.
That afternoon I went to her home and asked her to go on a walk with me. As we walked around her neighborhood, I told her how concerned I was because she appeared to be dying. I told her that whatever she was doing to treat her illness was not working. At the time, her once bright eyes were dark and her speech was slowed down. Her depression made her appear drugged-up and zombie-like as she slowly shuffled by my side. I tried to encourage her to go back to the hospital, but she was resistant after her recent admission. I asked her if she had thoughts of hurting herself and she admitted to it, but she reassured me that she had no plans of it. That night she agreed to go back to her doctor and request a medication change.
Soon after she was on a new medication and she started to look better, even telling me that she had her first good day in 5 months. She even started to put on a little much needed weight.
But the illness is so deceitful. As the light was returning to her eyes and her energy was returning, she couldn’t accept it. Instead of recognizing the improvements, she was worried about the possible side effects, especially the weight gain.
Overtime she convinced herself that the side effects were worse than the illness.
Weeks prior to her death, she shared with me that she had quit all her meds and was now taking a supplement that she had researched online.
At this point, I was no longer able to encourage her to stay on her medications. I already had a heart-to-heart talk with her about not being med compliant and not telling her doctors everything so that they could appropriately treat her; in addition to sharing my concerns about her unhealthy weight loss. It pained me to be so blunt with her, but I couldn’t stand by and watch her continue down this path of destruction. Unfortunately, this conversation only added insult to injury and damaged our friendship.
What followed next was a deep dive into depression over a two-week period of time. Eventually she could no longer feel anything and she lost the desire to do the things she once loved. She was deteriorating before our eyes.
During this time her family was monitoring her closely and working with her doctors to keep her safe. She was surrounded by a network of family, friends and church members who were present or continuously stopping by to offer her support and care.
From the outside, it may seem obvious that she would try to take her life, but after years of seeing her through her ups and downs with her illness, and the fact that she never attempted suicide in the past, I don’t think any of us really thought she would do it. We had seen her like this before and she always bounced back.
The best way to describe what I saw towards the end was comparable to watching a person with a terminal cancer or better yet, Alzheimers. As the depression progressed, she was slowly overtaken by the disease. Eventually, she was no longer recognizable.
The last time I saw her she brought me a small, travel size tube of sunscreen.
“I thought you could use this for your boys since I won’t need it.”
It seemed odd to be giving me sunscreen when it was raining outside, but in context, it wasn’t unusual for her to bring me gifts or pass things on to my boys that she no longer needed. She was always so generous. But looking back, I think it was her final good bye. She knew then what she was planning to do and she knew it would be the last time we saw each other.
As I said goodbye to her that day, I didn’t realize then that it would be the final goodbye. But the memory of her facial expression said it all.
A few days later, she was gone.
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Below is a list of the suicide warning signs I can now recognize after her death. Having previously seen these warning signs below through online resources, I thought I would be able to recognize them in the moment, but I have learned that it is much more complicated and subtle. These signs can appear over a long stretch of time. Some of these signs can also be witnessed in those who are suffering depression and have no plans of hurting themselves, so it can easily be dismissed. I know my friend saw a psychiatrist the day before her suicide and he didn’t pick up on this possibility either.
I have to add that in some cases, there are no cries for help. My friend didn’t mention her plans of suicide or thoughts of death to anyone that I am aware of and she was surrounded by a lot of people who were invested in her care. She kept this plan a secret and lied in order to make sure her plan would be completed in the small window of time she was alone.
It’s important to note that a person can be an advocate for suicide prevention and have strong feelings against suicide, but as their disease progresses, their perspective may change, making them vulnerable to something you didn’t think was ever possible.
Warning signs witnessed over the past year:
• Feeling hopeless. She talked about this a lot.
• Rapid weight loss.
• Feeling like a burden to others.
• Acting anxious or agitated.
• Withdrawing, isolating.
• Loss of interest in things she once enjoyed.
• Giving things away.
• Extreme mood swings.
• Issues with sleep.
• Not taking care of herself as she use to, grooming etc.
• Researching suicide methods online (found after her death)
If you have a seed of suicide in your mind, please do not allow this thought to grow, please call for help right now, this very minute!
I believe in my heart that if my friend could reverse time and undo her final act, she would.
No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area,anytime 24/7.