Book review: The Suicidal Mind

| Aug 28, 2017

This month’s book is about Suicide. Some may say that this isn’t Transgender related, but I disagree. 41% of Transgender people have attempted suicide, compared to 3% of the cisgender population. I am a suicide survivor. My dearest friend killed herself in 2013. I’m still not over that. I don’t think I ever will be.

Book cover

Suicidal Mind

Suicide — ending one’s own life. In some cultures it is considered honorable, and is indeed expected if one is dishonored. In Western culture, suicide is sometimes romanticized (Romeo and Juliet anyone?) For the purposes of this review, we are discussing suicide due to despair, not due to honor, or to save others (jumping on a grenade to save your comrades, for example.) Also, I will not discuss theories on afterlife/oblivion.

We, as living, thinking creatures are supposed to cherish life almost by definition. So what would drive someone to the point of killing oneself. This has puzzled psychologists, poets, and thinkers for centuries. What could possibly be so horrible that the only solution is death?

The answers are numerous — as numerous as the people who suffer from them. In my blog, I refer the feelings related to suicidal depression as “the Darkness.” What could be so horrible?

Life.

Life knowing that all that you love is denied you. That things will NEVER improve. Knowing that for all you’ve suffered and sacrificed, you will NEVER be the person you need to be.

Sounds selfish? Narrow minded? There’s a reason.

Professor Shneidman calls these feelings “Psychache,” which is his term for psychological pain. “. . .this psychache stems from thwarted or distorted psychological needs. In other words, suicide is chiefly a drama of the mind.” (p 4) He then defines his terms and discusses what can be done to assuage the possibility of the person actually following through on the feelings (“lethality.”) In his theory, it is the role of the psychologist, friend, caregiver, etc, to reduce the Lethality — to work on the cause of the psychache instead of assessing family history, looking for biological reasons, etc. I absolutely agree.

Professor Shneidman put into words precisely how it feels when the Darkness is upon a person. When I read the passage, I was stunned. I highlighted the passage and put a Post-It to mark the page (p 60.) At this point he is discussing the case of a woman who set herself on fire, yet survived. She mentions that there were many who tried to help her — friends, loved ones, but while she acknowledged them, it was like they were background noise.

“Those other persons in the life are not forgotten; they are simply not within the narrow focus of the suicidal lens. Suddenly they are just not in the picture.”

He calls this “constriction.” He then provides examples. I will provide my own. Lisa planned her death meticulously. She had steps she took in a definite order, including saying goodbye to people, but subtly. As she said goodbye to those people, her world “constricted” one by one, until it was just her and her Wife. By the time the day arrived, no one could reach her. She described her March attempt in a Facialbook note. I quote (edited slightly):

“And I turned off my facebook account too exhausted to continue. Why bother?

. . .I felt myself falling over the cliff and tree branches jutted from the rocks. If I grabbed one, I could stop my fall, but I would surely lose my grip again and start to fall. . .again. So why bother?. . .

I wrote my goodbye note, trying to justify what seems so unjustifiable. Yet everyone was still going to be disappointed in me. Why bother?. . .

I stopped doing the things that mattered and wanted to close my eyes and feel what the absence of pain truly felt like. I could decide to go on but I would forever be in some kind of pain. Go on? Why bother. . .

After turning my facebook account off in late March I set in motion a sense of isolation and purpose. I spent most days crying, if not on the outside, then certainly on the inside. Nothing made me smile. Nothing could make the pain go away.

I tried reaching out to my friends but I did not want them to be burdened. . . besides I had a plan and I didn’t want them to be a part of it. I would not be stopped.

I had contact with just a few people at the time and I am certain it was because they had thought to reach out to me and not the other way around. They saw the signs. One called my therapist and I was enraged, not for the caring effort that she made but because it might waylay my plans. I had to learn to be more careful lest someone fucks things up and I wind up having to survive. . .that would totally suck.

Sandy and I left the therapist’s office on April 9th. I had asked my therapist if she had ever lost a patient. She said no. I thought to myself “That’s about to change.” On the ride home I turned to my spouse and asked if she loved me. She told me she loved Tom and that she liked me. I was Tom. . .but not anymore. I was finished. My poor therapist: I was glad that I barely knew her. I tried to sleep that night but there was whispering on the porch. I had plans for that weekend and I reminded myself to write the check from my business account for its remaining balance. I went outside I was in a fog. My spouse said my eyes were expressionless. I just told her I was tired. After 1:00 am my daughter and ex-wife pulled up to our house. They live in Fredericksburg — two hours away. They were coming to take me away. They were coming to stop me. I was delusional. I had plans; I was exhausted. . .the free fall had begun.”

Constriction.

In my own case, last September 13, I learned from Lisa’s success and did my best to plan in secret. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone personally: I wrote them letters. And as each letter was completed, my world constricted a little more. The last letter I wrote wasn’t to my Wife or daughter, nor was it to my bestie Linda. No — it was to Sandy Empanada, Lisa’s widow. It was short, and written just before I set the timers for all of the letters and a blog entry to be sent. Sandy’s letter said only “I’m sorry. I’m going to join Lisa in the light.” I had spoken to Wife and daughter the night before — a tearful mess, but didn’t say “goodbye.” World constricted, then alone, I set the timers for the letters and went to bed. I woke up early the next morning and took Linda to work, then went to Valley Forge Park to die.

Obviously, I didn’t go through with it. (If you want to know why, I detail it in my blog entry HERE.)

In December 2013, I was going to attempt as well, but thoughts of my Daughter stopped me. I hadn’t completely “constricted.”

As stated above, the role of the psychologist, friend, caregiver, etc., is to reduce the Lethality — to work on the cause of the psychache. The issue is getting the person to open up just a little — to learn the issue at hand. Lisa’s was that she felt she was hurting her wife. There maybe was something else — we’ll never know. She always said she was “one bad day” away from doing it. In my case, it was a combination of factors, including the complete loss of Hope, as well as financial pressures, and total self-hatred.

In a Newsweek article, Dr. Thomas Joiner theorized that people who attempt suicide have three things in common, and that all three need to be present: “Thwarted belongingness” or feeling alone; “Perceived Burdensomeness” or feeling like a burden; and “Capability for Suicide” or I am not afraid to die. This theory dovetails nicely into Professor Schneidman’s. With the “constriction” comes all three of the above.

This book is NOT an easy read. The case studies of suicide survivors are horrific. I couldn’t help but to think that in their “current” post — attempt conditions, I’d seek death as well. (All three are now dead.) There is some jargon here that may send the reader to the dictionary. However, the knowledge is worth the work. Then again, knowledge always is.

So many of us have died. I don’t think there’s a transperson reading this who hasn’t been touched by suicide. This book doesn’t have all the answers — it doesn’t pretend to. But it’s a start. And maybe, just maybe, it will be enough.

The Suicidal Mind by Edwin S. Shneidman
9780195118018

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Category: Product Review

About Sophie Lynne: http://sophielynne1.blogspot.com/ : http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/storywall/transgender-today/stories/sophie-lynne : http://articles.philly.com/2016-06-29/news/74075409_1_transgender-students-gender-identity-transgender-people

Comments (2)

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  1. Sophie Lynne says:

    I’m so very sorry

  2. tammiesmith1369 says:

    Very timely and personal for me, Sophie. My father committed suicide two weeks ago at 81. He was tired of life. Suicide is not painless for the survivors.