The stigma of suicidal ideation

I recently attended an art therapy training. I expected a sterile presentation on therapeutic sentence stems for client’s to project on.

Instead an artist–in the deepest, profoundest definition of that word–stood before me. Art is Esther Wilhelm’s medium to express her life story, her life story penetrating every line, color, selected item, and word of her pieces.

(Here’s a link to Esther Wilhelm’s story

Esther’s story was both vulnerable and powerful.  Esther  apologized for her tears explaining that she could not share her story without her emotions breaking through. I nodded, feeling a kind of of kinship between us, knowing the all-too familiar throat constrictions in the telling of my story, where tears break free as the fear and heartache well up and spill over, still so real.

After we completed our art pieces, Esther asked if anyone wanted to share their “work.”  A part of me wanted to be as bold as she was and stand up and share my piece.  Esther wondered aloud about therapists’ reluctance in sharing their pieces vs. the earnestness of  traumatized people in sharing theirs.   Esther spoke of the importance of therapists sharing their works publicly so they could experience what clients experienced.  In my head I thought “how true, I do believe that” (FYI I’m pre-licensed–working toward licensure at the masters level).

But I couldn’t share. It felt too vulnerable.  I sensed that this was not a place where it was safe to get real.  If I were in a room with others who all shared the experience of going through trauma–I would have felt less vulnerable.  Their art would express the depth of their pain, heartache.  We would all be laying ourselves open to judgment and rejection, yet not judging or rejecting because we were no strangers to the  fear of being stigmatized, shamed.

I looked around the room and I did not see a room filled with hurting people. On the other hand maybe there were others struggling with whether or not to share their very private pain.  I longed to hear someone among the people I work alongside, share something that I could identify with. I longed to see someone else with tears running down her/his cheeks and know that I was not alone.

As Esther shared her story there were tears in her voice, her eyes, and in my eyes. I felt less alone.

The main reason I don’t step out publicly too often to share my story is that my story is closely linked to my husband’s story.  For me to speak my story would lay bare his story.  He has already expressed that he does not want anyone at his workplace to know (hence the anonymous blog).  There is still such a stigma to suicide, a hidden struggle–and the secrecy surrounding it maintains the struggle–a kind of Catch 22. Keeping something a secret means you can’t get support for it, help for it.  You struggle alone.  People struggling with suicide are afraid to tell, “What will people think of me?”

As a spouse, I kept my struggle, living with a suicidal spouse a secret for a very long time.   It was revealed to our friends and family 11 years into our marriage. It was not an easy revelation–since our secret was “outed” by Dave’s attempt.

But I carried that secret alone too long.  It was too heavy a burden to carry alone.

Is there anyone else out there struggling similarly?  Do you long to not feel so alone?  What’s your story?


5 thoughts on “The stigma of suicidal ideation

  1. Brittany says:

    I came across your blog tonight and have begun reading through all of your posts. It’s crazy to have someone write out everything you have once thought. I’ve been married a year and my husband has had 4 suicide attempts, one of which is a miracle he survived. I have felt so alone, exhausted, angry, sad, etc. I have my masters in counseling psychology so much of what my husband is experiencing makes sense to me logically, but unfortunately the knowing doesn’t help the experience for him or me. It’s exhausting working all day helping people heal from past trauma and pain, and coming home to my husbands pain, and mine. We are also Christian so my faith has kept me standing through this past year, but every time another incident happens, I break a little more. Our arguments are a trigger for him as well which causes me to monitor what I say or keep my mouth shut, and then I feel I’m walked all over. Some of what has occured feels emotionally or verbally abusive and he seems to turn into a different person when he’s triggered. It’s helpful to hear others are experiencing similar things. Thank you for your honesty and courage in sharing on this blog.

  2. Esther Wilhelm Pridgen says:

    Aloha friends,
    I warn you I am a bad speller and terrable writer so I am saying sorry ahead of time. I felt compelled to write a reply.
    During my process, my therapist asked me in one session. What is it that keeps you from killing yourself? I would quickly reply I know that I will go to hell. I, having a been brought up in the church my whole life remember being told that if you kill yourself you go to hell because you are taking you life which is a gift of God into your own hands. I often struggled with that because I was also reminded that I was born of rape and not of God so I would wrestle with myself talk. She replied “THAT SIMPLY IS NOT ENOUGH REASON”. That statement opened my eyes a bit more. I could understand what she was telling me. I needed more reasons to WANT TO LIVE. Why did I feel so depressed that it actually caused psycial pain within me? I thought that no one would miss me if I was gone? I believed that if I died no one would be affected, or care. That they would be better off with out me. I now know today that it was all a LIE. I needed to see the truth once and for all. I needed to stop the old tapes from playing. The broken records of the negative conversations that would talk me to death, litteraly! The fact is even a weed growing in a flower bed when pulled WILL wilt and sometimes kill the fowers around it because the roots are intertwined. Same as our LIFE FORCE. I don’t care who you feel you are, how bad off you are. You killing yourself Will harm or even kill those connected to you in some way, shape, or form. Have you ever have met or interacted with someone? If anyone knows you, I can reassure you you have made a connection even an impact. Example: Have ever had a crush on someone and never told a soul. Well it is the same concept. If that crush you had killed themself and you cared for them and they never believed anyone cared at all. Weather you are a famous Witney Houston or a homeless or Mr Wendle your life matters we all matter so let us not let our hurts or this life get us down. Let us all make it to the end and let us make the most of life’s lemons.
    I love you all.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hello Kate,

    I just came across your blog today. Thank you for sharing your stories. I find it comforting to know that you share some of the same feelings and struggles that I’ve faced.

    My wife and I have been married for two years now. Soon after our first anniversary she overdosed on pills and alcohol. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for several days. Over the next several months she had two additional attempts and spent a lot of time in hospitals and therapy. The past year has been hellish overall, though there were many happy days throughout.

    Now its coming up on a year since her first attempt and things are getting bad again. The toll on me is growing every day. I see all aspects of my life getting more difficult. My faith has held me together, but I find myself continually facing unanswered prayers. I trust God’s will in all of this, but I sure wish I could see His purpose.

    I find your stories bring me hope…and I thank you (and God) for that blessing. I’m eager to read more of your stories.

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Esther Anne Wilhelm says:

    You are not alone…. I don’t know who you are but I hope we can be friends…. In Love And Light Esther

    • Hi Esther. Thanks for your comment. I added the photo of my art work to my blog today. I hesitated to add it in my initial post as I thought it was too graphic. I did cut off part of the left side when I cropped the photo to eliminate part of the method Dave used.

      That’s Dave on the left. In his second attempt he tried to hang himself but stopped before passing out (Readers–please don’t try this out). My fear is that he’s going to complete it. So in this picture Dave’s dead. On the right–his gravestone. The larger person on the right is me and the smaller one, my daughter Beth. I made myself blue because I’m really sad. And Beth and I–we’re both crying a lot of tears. Just creating this lake. And the hand in the middle is the hand that’s accusing me of killing him and the accusers includes my daughter, and other people and even myself. I’m going to accuse myself. That I did that to him because I’m the one that said the last thing that got him upset. And Beth’s going to know because she’s going to have heard me say something to him. And Beth’s going to say, “Why did you say that?”

      That this could actually happen, that I don’t know if I could get over something like that. The guilt and the blame. I know that it’s Dave’s choice to do it, but I don’t know if I could get over that. That’s why it’s like a lake, because I don’t know if I could ever stop crying about it.

      Thanks for what you do. It was a very meaningful experience for me to be able to create that picture and then take it to my therapist and process it and heal. It helped me express the emotions and story that I could not express with words alone.

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