Fresh Living

kellerman.jpgHearing about anyone’s suicide is always incredibly disturbing and sad. And usually the first place we go is: Why? And when it’s someone in the public eye, like the acting chief financial officer of Freddie Mac who was found dead this morning, apparently of suicide, we start constructing a story. Like, “Well, he was made head of a firm after it lost huge amounts of money, helped to take down our economy, and so…”. And so what? The truth is plenty of people are under huge amounts of pressure and gobs of shame who don’t even consider taking their own lives. Did his position and recent public failures help his mental state? Probably not. Did it push an already teetering psyche over the edge? Maybe. Truth is we will never know whether this would have happened if he had a less stressful job.

Suicide does not happen in a vaccum. In recent months FIVE American students have killed themselves in connection with extreme anti-gay taunting. When Lady Di died suicides rose by 17 percent. A recent Swedish study found evidence that suicide is “contagious”–both within families and workplaces. Another study found that suicides rise in the spring and during economic downturns–a double whammy of this particular moment. But we don’t know what specific confluence of factors mixes with brain chemistry and tips someone over the edge. No matter what the outside of someone’s life looks like.

I’ve had one friend kill himself. The “story” didn’t need much constructing, at least on the surface. Mark, in his mid-20s, had been losing it for some time. For a while we thought his ability to talk to angels was cool, charming, and in our spiritual circle, not all that unsual. But the “conversations” started to seem stranger and stranger–the angels were telling him to eat cake, to drive certain places. He started losing weight. We had long, interesting, sometimes wandering conversations about spirituality–I was concerned but not overly, not enough. He was asked to leave the spiritual center where he lived because he seemed to be losing reality. He moved back home. A few weeks later his father found that he had hanged himself from a tree.

I have often wondered–over and over–what happened. Were the “angels” just a sign of an imbalanced psyche? Evil spirits? What was going through his head as he walked toward the woods with the rope? All of that. I still have the last letter he wrote me, a few months before he died. He was sweet and empathetic about my mid-college depression. I had even taken a line from his letter, written it in giant pink letters on a piece of paper and pinned it to my dorm room corkboard: “Treat yourself tenderly.”

Yes, yes. And of course then the thought–If only he could have done the same.  

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