The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t

December 26, 2018. Yesterday could have been a very different Christmas.

21 days ago, I tried to take my own life.

I’m writing about it for several reasons.

First, it has become exhausting trying to keep track of who “knows” and “doesn’t know” what happened, thus creating multiple opportunities for awkward questions and conversations. For example, I was released from the hospital on Saturday, December 22 and decided (despite some trepidation) to attend church on Sunday morning and again on Christmas Eve. For the most part, people were just glad to see me, but eventually tactless fishing expeditions into “what happened” and even a puzzling “Congratulations!” drove me to the car before everyone else. So, with this entry, I’m officially putting everyone in the “know” category. Feel free to spread the word to those who may not see this blog entry. I’m ok with it. Really.

Second, writing always helps me process and assimilate an event or a series of events, and this is certainly something which needs processing and assimilation. Thus, by informing you, I am helping myself. Bonus!

Finally, and probably most importantly (as of this sitting, anyway), I don’t want to add to the stigma already associated with mental illness and suicide. I feel avoiding it encourages the belief that discussions around mental illness and suicide are taboo, forcing those who struggle with it to hide and pretend everything is “OK”. I can already hear my friends and family reading this saying, “Ben, you’re not mentally ill!” Yes. I am. And it’s ok. I believe more firmly than ever that no one who attempts or succeeds in suicide does so in his or her right mind. If we can’t talk about this, it drives people who struggle even further into themselves, fearing that a reach out for help will stigmatize and ostracize.

What happened? It’s ok, I know you want to ask. I think we all have a slightly morbid sense of curiosity about things of this sort. So here goes…

As I mentioned, I’m still processing. In the weeks leading up to December 5, I can tell you that my anxiety and depression had increased markedly. I was having difficulty concentrating and functioning effectively at work (and all my co-workers said, “Yup”). A variety of otherwise manageable events at home had begun to pile up. An unfinished basement remodeling project languished into into its fifth month, leaving most of the basement space unusable and thus cramming us closer and closer into the other floors of the house. You’ve probably heard about how an overcrowded lab mouse population eventually turns on itself. Yep. My daughter, Emily, started at a new school the first week of December. I can already tell you I know we’ve made the right decision. I’ve seen more smiles and self-confidence from her in the last three weeks than I’ve seen in the last two years, and that’s not much of an exaggeration. Still, the logistics of leaving one school, starting another school, and navigating the interim was intensely stress-inducing for me, not to mention the price tag on a private school education.

So yeah, I was stressed. I would not say, however, that I felt in danger of harming myself. Having struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, I’m familiar with suicidal ideation, and I would not rank this episode at the top of the most intrusive I had experienced. Yes, I had Googled lethal doses of my prescription medications, but I had done that before, so I didn’t find it overly alarming. Again, I can hear inside your heads: “Ben, dude, that’s ALARMING.” Try living inside my head for a while. It’s all relative.

Anyway, I got up on the morning of December 5, showered and dressed like usual, fully intending to go to work. I dropped my son off at school, but instead of heading to work from there, I drove home and calmly, quietly, set into motion an attempt to end my own life. I can only describe it as surreal, as if I were outside of myself and watching what I was doing. I didn’t write letters to my wife and children, I didn’t call in to work, I just did it. Had I been successful, there would have been nothing to give insight into my state of mind when I finally acted on the impulse. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t believe I nor anyone else who comes to this point is in his or her right mind. I had convinced that version of myself that I needed to be free of pain and that everyone would be better off without me. Don’t ask me to explain it. I can’t.

Six days later, I found myself in the inpatient psychological program at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. After finding me unresponsive on Wednesday afternoon, my wife called 911 and began CPR. I was in a coma for nearly 4 days followed by 2 days in a “step down” room while waiting for an opening on the psych floor. I have very little memory of this time, and what memories I do have are in no particular order resembling reality. Even my memories of the first night and day up on 9 Central (that’s what I’ll call it rather than continually referring to “the psych ward”) are a little fuzzy and disjointed. After 10 days of rehab on that floor, I was discharged, three days before Christmas. Tomorrow, I will start with an outpatient psych program to continue my healing.

I had intended at this point to include some “lessons learned” from my time on 9 Central, but I think I will save those for another entry. This, at least, gets “what happened” into the realm of “out there”, and we can continue on as I’m ready. Sounds like progress, yes? This is probably sufficient information for most of you, anyway, though some of you may ask (and some have already asked), “Do you feel like you’ve been given a second chance?” Unfortunately, the answer will probably underwhelm you. I’m not sure yet. I certainly have not had a euphoric revelation filling me with remorse for my actions and limitless hope for the future. I know that’s what all of you want to hear. I’d like to hear it myself. Instead, I will tell you I am still in process. I believe with the help of my doctors (and with that, medications), therapists, family and friends, I can move into the next chapter of my life with a sense of peace and wholeness.

I’d take that over euphoria anyway.

10 Comments

  1. Ben – From a selfish point of view, I’m glad you remain with us. Your friendship and view point bring joy and happiness to my day, and those days would be considerably darker without you. All I can offer you in a somewhat less selfish way is prayers for healing. You are in my thoughts and in my heart. Peace.

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  2. Ben, thank you so much for your honesty. I’m praying for God’s guidance and direction at this time. I am working with women’s behavioral health right now, so this was very helpful to me. Thank you for saving someone else’s life with your testimony. It really does make a big difference in so many people’s lives.

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  3. Ben, I love you & your family. And you know that I understand what you’re going through probably more than most people being a 3 time survivor. I applaud your courage, your candor, and your strength! The stigma we face needs to be addressed because we are not alone, and I want you to know that I’m always here for you. You can’t ‘shock’ me having been there a thousand times in my head, too. You’ve made a huge impact on my life, my relationship with God, and you’ve helped me through some tough times. Thank you for that. But you don’t have to always be the strong one, the pastor, the therapist – it’s okay to just vent to me, get angry, cry, or scream. I’m not going anywhere. Neither are you, my friend. Not yet.
    Be at peace. I’ll be praying!

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  4. Hey Ben,
    The older I get, the more I appreciate transparency and my friends that are willing to be transparent. I also appreciate wisdom and my friends that have wisdom. This post demonstrates both. It must have been very liberating to post this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ben, I’m Chad’s mom and I saw you down in Arizona. Always enjoy chatting with you. So glad you weren’t successful. I had a very close friend and relative who succeeded in her suicide. She left her young adult children reeling. They were from 23 to 33. Some with young kids. I felt most sorry for her youngest. She is now 40 and for the last couple of years feels she has at last figured her life out. Please next time call Chad or me. You know he is a counselor and thinks very highly of you. You have led such a brave and upstanding life. I also have a friend who struggles with mental health problems. The Lord is always ready to listen. I admire your honesty and forthrightness! For those of us who pompously boast this could never happen to us! Not true! Just think of all who would miss you most. So glad you were rescued by the Lord and your wife. My dad loved the Lord sooooo much! And I know the Lord has carried me a loooonnnnngggggg way since my darling Ed died. I know I loved having you there in Arizona. But mental illness is a difficult illness! And I have watched my good friend Sharon struggle with it for years. May the Lord Bless and Keep you here for many years for all who love you to enjoy your wonderful self in our lives! Nancy Fisher.

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  6. Hi, Ben from an old friend (as in the past, not as in elderly)
    Thank you for sharing with those of us who would not have known, but who cars about you. I will be praying for you & your family, and where words fail or specific needs aren’t known, I will trust the Holy Spirit to intercede.

    I also appreciate you sharing for another reason … my 17 year old daughter struggles with anxiety & depression and suicidal thoughts. Perhaps I can understand her better after reading your honest thoughts & processing.

    I’m glad you are still on the journey toward wholeness & peace, Ben.

    Jay

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  7. you don’t know me..we have never met. But I have known your brother Jon for a number of years dating back to his time in Massachusetts. In 1988, on the evening of April 18, I too attempted to take my own life. By the Grace of God, I was unsuccessful… for 3 decades I have told people (sadly i have been at one funeral of someone who was successful, and presided at the funeral of another who was also successful) that trying to figure out the “how could they” and “What were they thinking” is useless. The person at that moment was not of sound mind. You have captured this quite excellently in what you have written.
    for me, this was one of the greatest defining moments in my life. I got saved by Jesus christ that night, in every possible sense of the words. I don’t know if you are a christian or not. If not, I encourage you to talk to Jon (or me if you like). If you are, then my experience was that from that moment forward, Christ began to rebuild me into a new creation. I eventually was freed from the depression and related issues that lead me to my moment of insanity. I pray the same for you in this.
    God Bless you Ben.
    Scott Boren

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  8. Ben,
    I’m so glad you are still here! Thank you for your courage and vulnerability. You certainly didn’t need to explain anything to any of us, but I’m so glad you did. I’m certain your story will help someone else who is struggling or has a loved one who struggles with mental illness. I understand about life being overwhelming and hard. It breaks my heart that you feel the way you do. I’m praying that through your therapy you will find joy and peace someday. You are loved dear friend.

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  9. I love you, Ben. I’m glad you’re here. I appreciate your honest and thoughtful approach to processing what happened. You don’t owe me any explanation, but I’m glad you’re willing to share.

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