Thoughts Of Suicide Have Been On My Mind All Weekend

It started with an e-mail on a Yahoo! Groups forum I’m on. It was from the moderator who is probably the most networked person I know. The title was:

I removed the name out of respect for the person who wrote it. Needless to say, this is a person who I greatly admire, someone who has helped thousands of people, and a very, very active networker.

I thought the e-mail (suicide note) was another lesson-of-sorts. VW was always good about writing things that his Yahoo! Group community think about things… life, relationships, the bigger picture, etc. As I read through the note, however, I could see some things that were uncharacteristic.

The first yellow flag that jumped out at me was when he named names. He actually told us (a community of almost 9,000 people) the name of the guy who essentially ruined his career, back in the 80’s. This, he said, was something he never recovered from. The information he gave there was more detailed than I expected. Then he named a couple of other people who had really caused him grief. It just wasn’t VW’s nature to bring this up in this detail in a normal e-mail.

The next yellow flag was when he shared personal health issues, including the loss of most of his teeth and a numbness in one of his feet. I think of VW as a person who smiles constantly, an eternal optimist… and having lost most of his teeth just doesn’t work! And the foot thing? I would worry about my blood flow and other health problems… he was concerned that he would never be able to dance again (which was obviously something that brought him great joy).

My stomach sank, as I continued to read the suicide note. I couldn’t imagine this was really happening -it was surreal.

I’m sure many of you have had an experience like this, but this was the closest I have been to a suicide (so far).

As I was reading I tweeted this:

Immediately I got about 5 tweets that said I needed to act on it, that it wasn’t a joke, and to take it seriously. I was lonely, desperate, and feeling so helpless.

I was also concerned that I was too late. And can you believe it, I had the concern about meddling in VW’s affairs.

Regardless, I followed advice from one of my Twitter connections and called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

It didn’t help that I was on hold with them for 7 and a half minutes before I was automatically transferred to the Boys Town… for another 3 minutes. While a gazillion emotions passed through my mind, I was becoming infuriated that those services would have me sit on hold for so long. If *I* was suicidal I’m not sure how waiting on hold for 10 minutes would fare!!

It didn’t matter though, because what I should have done had already been done (by someone else). This was a learning experience for me, but thankfully another moderator had the wisdom/foresight/inspiration to call the local police department… and they were able to intervene.

VW is alive, safe, in a safe place, with loved-ones, and getting the help he needs.

But the emotions, for me and many others, are still pretty intense.

Since this post is long enough, I’ll share a few takeaway’s from what I’ve learned:

  1. Treat things like this seriously. The first thing to do is to find the person’s address (I found it within seconds on http://www.whitepages.com) and then call the local police department to report it. They will go do a “wellness check” to see if there really is a problem, and will intervene if they need to.
  2. Don’t second guess #1. I spent time going back and forth… wondering if I should get involved, wondering if it was too late, wondering if he would hate me for it, wondering wondering wondering. I even spent 10 minutes on hold waiting for the suicide experts, when I really should have called the local police department.
  3. Don’t think the guy who “has it all” is okay. When I communicated with, or though about, VW, I always thought he was doing just fine. He has the richest network I’ve ever seen, as he continually nurtures real relationships and helps people a ton. I always imagined him living in a nice house, with plenty of sunlight, and spending time regularly with friends. I thought he had a very healthy income, and radiated love and excitement and encouragement everywhere he went. I regularly pictured him listening to jazz and sipping some hot beverage with a smile on his face. Little did I know, he has been battling all kinds of demons, and he never let us in on it.

I’m not sure what I, or anyone else, could have done about this. But I do think about people around me (geographically or virtually). Who really is at the depths of despair? What about the people who have been commenting on my Depression Clouds Everything post… ? Depression is real, and it’s amazingly powerful (and debilitating). How can I, we, help these people?

I don’t know.

But how about this — for today, go find someone you can hug, or help, or uplift. Ask them “what can I do for you? Are you okay?” Maybe they’ll be too proud to let you in, or your relationship won’t be ready for that yet, but at least you can try.

I’m no expert in this area… I’d love to hear what you think, or what your experiences are with suicide.

27 thoughts on “Thoughts Of Suicide Have Been On My Mind All Weekend”

  1. I lost my best friend to suicide my senior year in High School. I didn’t read the handwriting on the wall. Ever since then, I have been more responsive to the issue. In my early 20’s I meet a young single mother that was having a lot of struggles. One night around 10:00PM, I heard a voice in my head tell me to call her. I did. I learned that she was at that very moment praying to God for a reason why she shouldn’t kill herself. My call was an answer that she shouldn’t.

  2. Thanks for the post. I’m glad everything worked out for the better.

    I had an interesting experience last Spring when my nephew posted a question on Myspace about who would miss him if he were gone. I did nothing because I had just been with him and everything was normal for a teenager. These kinds of questions are also very popular on social networks among the younger users as a way to gain sympathy.

    Anyhow, fast forward a year and guess what. Yep, 30 Xanax later he’s rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night for a stomach pump and counseling.

    He’s recovering and doing okay. I’m sure it will be a long recovery at only 15 years old but I believe he’ll ultimately pull through.

  3. I read most of the messages about VW (although I wasn’t on-line until many hours after his note). There is a secondary issue that has been bouncing around my brain as I try to find lessons in this that I can apply to my own life, and that’s the use of On-line networking as a substitute for real networking. I too imaged VW as being in a much better light than he was actually in and he presented himself in a very positive light (Chief Encouragement Officer). If he can’t make an online network of 9000 people who like, respect, and look up to him, what chance do I have?

    A danger of online networking is that it makes it too easy for your “friends” to NOT pick up on the signs that could help you. I think if those 9000 people had seen his physical deterioration, he would have received the help he needed long ago. Instead we sat at our computers and looked at the highly successful VW of our imaginations and wished we could network as well as him.

    To me, this is a very strong reminder that on-line networking is an adjunct to face-to-face networking, not a replacement for it.

    You can’t get all the support you need to be successful without going into the real world.

    So….go to a happy hour or a lunch…schedule a one-on-one meeting…get away from the computer.

  4. I too was horrified when I read VM post last week. I too had assumed that VM lived in a beautiful white house in Hartford. I also assumed he had a great recruiting career and cash flow. My heart sank when I read it. I was in utter disbelief.

    It’s definately a lesson for me that things are not always as they appear online- and it’s amazing what one can convey via social media – VM branded himself so well spoken and truly brilliant and put together – nothing like what VM’s note read. NOTHING. This is one weekness of social media networking that face to face offers us.

    The response that VM received after the original post by his MLPF supporters is truly incredible – amazing. None of us saw him with our eyes, we grew to know and love him by his writings, phone conversations and actions – incredible how much he helps others.

    I feel horrible that I never sent VM the Thank You note and gift that still sits on my desk – it will be a constant reminder that I let someone wonderful down. This has been a hard lesson on not putting things off with respect to showing people appreciation for all their hard work. VM is quite a teacher, and I think his work is only starting. I will be a life long supporter of VM’s.

    I appreciate what I have and all that I have a lot to be thankful for. No more taking for granted all the little things that life has to offer – this has been a wake up call to action for my life.

  5. Hi Jason,

    Reading through the whole thing again reminds me that this REALLY DID HAPPEN. It has been such a whirlwind since Friday morning that the severity of the actual events had actually already managed to lessen. The panic of those first few posts to the forum was so palpable (does anyone know where he lives….Where is his family…etc.) that, even a few time zones later, reading the whole thing caused me to spontaneously erupt into tears.

    The good part of the story is that VW is SO LOVED and ADMIRED from around the world, that the authorities were informed and got to his apartment in time. I, too, had thought he lived in a beautiful place and I, too, had always imagined that great, booming, baritone voice and laugh coming from a tremendous set of pearly whites. VW has one of those voices that once you’ve talked to him on the phone you hear anything he writes in THAT beautiful voice.

    Thanks for writing this, we absolutely cannot forget that it happened and all of the lessons we’ve all learned from it. It has started to make me laugh (a little) that this very desperate act by VW has – as is his typical form – taught all of us several very important lessons.

    Valerie

  6. Jason,

    I am still numb and out of sorts today. Yesterday, I had the meltdown that comes after great stress. It almost feels like we don’t have the right to all these feelings since we are steps away from the situation, but we do.

    It is possible to be so close to someone, even though you have never met them in person. I am so glad that you have offered us a another avenue to read your thoughts and to share ours. I am happy to be in the company of you, Heather, and Valerie to express our thoughts and reactions days later to such a horrible day.

    Jason – you are special. It is wonderful that you can share your feelings and be so eloquent. You are also quite humble, which is endearing.

    Thanks again,

    Sally

  7. First Jason, thank you for taking it seriously. People die every year because somebody failed to act on information – just like this – because they were afraid to embarrass the recipient or themselves. {Unfortunately most people know someone who was killed by a drunk driver- because someone else let them drive home drunk — and everyone lost on that gamble.] So good on you. I’m sure our friend will thank you for it privately.

  8. Jason, thanks for the post. I learned of this on Sunday from The National Networker. One thing to keep in mind, and I hope this message is brought forward to VW (whom was recently recommended as someone I needed to connect with):

    Having been in similar situations – trusted adversaries seeking to ruin carreers, being in a financial hole, and I’m still missing two teeth I’ve yet to get replaced – I would be lying if I said I had never contemplated a final exit.

    I will suggest that ALL things can be to our benefit, if used in the correct light. I started looking for people like Drew Carey and others who talk openly about their depression. I notice others who take their battles with alcohol or drug abuse and use them to serve others who face such demons. Me, I’ve taken my financial ups & downs and turned the experiences into a blog to serve both myself and others. There are MANY who have taken their challenges and the lessons learned in overcoming them and use them as a very powerful asset.

    It is my hope that VW will take some time to get the assistance he needs and once again know that his experience is NOT uncommon; that he can use this as an asset in his life for the rest of his life. His long, prosperous life.

    Thanks for the post, Jason. Please forward this message.

    -DC

  9. Jason,

    I want to thank you for writing about this and for your previous post on job search and depression.

    Our jobs and careers are to a great extent the center piece of who we are as people. It “validates” who we are.

    Yes, it should start with our loved ones, families, friends, and sprituality but for most people without a job or not a good one income is the biggest piece of our daily lives.

    When I made my presentation on doing a job search two weeks ago I was very sad to hear some of the stories attendees told me after about their situations. Some need help with their job search activity. Others are being discriminated against based on age or their ethnicity. And frankly some are not as trained as they need to be. The emotions and stress they feel are very intense and are validated. These are tough situations to be in.

    I am a lurker on VW’s group and see the posts in digest form so by the time I read them, and it being a weekend, my instincts to act were already done by you and others.

    To your post above, today, tomorrow, and next week I challenge everyone to take a moment while we think about our own issues we are facing (because we ALL have something) to reach out to one person who may also need a hand. We might find answers to our own problems while helping someone with theirs.

  10. Hi, Jason, this is timely for me because this morning I had a not to dramatic, but somewhat parallel experience. I tried to email a colleague, and his mailbox was “full” for the second time in a month. NOT LIKE HIM. Then I tried to call his cell and that was full as well. This was not adding up. And I guess what got triggered for me is the question that lurks in the back of my mind in this virtual world we inhabit: How do we KNOW if something happens to someone we know virtually and what do we do about it, if anything?
    Being who I am, I called a non-emergency number for his local police department. They actually were not able to help, short of going to his condo and “checking on him” which I asked them not to do, because I did not think he was there. The good news is that he had noticed the call coming in on his cell even though I had not been able to leave a ms. and he called me back! Yay! Alive and well. Just overwhelmed at the moment. It is a tricky world, this virtual one we are creating. I say err on the side of caution, and particularly if the “s” word comes up, never think twice. ACT. Better to feel awkward than devastatingly guilty. (And my friend was touched I’d cared…)

  11. Jason,

    VW & all the responses about tragedies in the families reminds us of how lucky we are to live the life that, we have.

    Paul,

    I read the responses, after the week end, the only thing, I could do was send an email to my class fellows saying “I am here for you, if you need me”.

  12. Jason, my wife had to call the National Suicide Hotline when she was younger for a friend and she too was put on hold for awhile. Her friend tried to commit suicide and fortunately was unsuccessful. I’d like to see some statistics on how successful that hotline is and how it could improve.

  13. Hi Jason,

    I am still numb from all of this. Like others, I pictured VW living in a beautiful home with lush surroundings. I foolishly thought he was so well off his business took care of itself and that is why he had the time to help all of us so much.

    I also learned not to postpone a phone call. I felt compelled to call him all last week, I didn’t know why I just knew I needed to call him. But I kept putting it off because I didn’t have a real reason to call other than a feeling I should. I thought VW that might be wasting his time. What a fool I am.

    The thing about depression is that it consumes us, but it does so very slowly and in gradual stages and pretty soon the person doesn’t even recognize themselves as being depressed. Instead they simply see themselves as failures. That is one reason we need to take the small signs early on far more seriously. We have to be their eyes in a sense.

    It is very difficult for some people to ask for help. Some of us were taught never to ask for help. Some were taught it was a sign of weakness. And some have tried to ask and been let down so many times they stop asking. That is one reason why we do need to stop and ask if there is anything we can do to help and when we ask be sincere.

    There is a registry set up for donations if any of you reading this would like to donate items. There is also a donate button to send money directly to VW. If you want the name of the person handling the registry, the shipping address or the location of the donate link please contact me through email at sme@gci.net

    Sheilah

  14. Hi Jason

    I’m a member on the forum where most of this happened, and while I have no direct experience with suicide this did drive home some key issues regarding depression, job seeking and the internet.

    Depression does consume you, and once caught in it, it can pull you under like a whirlpool. Eventually you can’t see your way out and you are lost.

    Job Seekers need to be open with themselves, friends, family and even acquaintances. I think many thought VW was in a much different place then he actually was. Maybe VW thought no one would listen to an unemployed person so he never let on. But given the outpouring of support I think he may have saved himself months and maybe years of turmoil if he had just opened up.

    Finally the internet allows for interactions that seem real, but sometimes aren’t at all. This is a good example. Everyone felt VW was successful and on the move, but things couldn’t have been more different. I think we all need to push aside the keyboard and pick up the phone or get in a car and go out and see the world not experience it through a cable.

    Regards
    Ken

  15. Thanks for sharing Jason, .
    It is true how fragile we are as humans. How normal it is for us to hang onto hurt, guilt, resentments, etc… and how deeply it affects us to do so…and the impact we have on others.
    I often think of a story I was told long ago of how we are like pebbles, and when you toss a pebble into a pond and watch the ripples move outward, those ripples are like our words and actions, touching and moving outward having an impact on all living beings.
    ~Cheryl

  16. Wow, Jason! And, a similar thing is happening in one of the most recent comments to your “Depression Clouds Everything” posting from last October.

    God bless you for what you did, and for the excellent advice you gave us all. If that ever happens, I will do as you suggested (all the while worrying about meddling, too).

    Don’t know VW, but I wish him very, very well. You are a good friend!

    Bless you!

  17. I was beginning to have some thoughts about VW’s life – how could he spend so much time online for it not to affect his work? I used to push those thoughts to the back of my mind and just figured he was a very busy man who had it all together. I should have let my thoughts come through and perhaps questioned him off the lists – who knows whether that would have made a difference?

    I lost my best friend at the age of 21, nearly 30 years ago. I never did find out why she did it and for the longest time I experienced a deep sense of guilt for not being there for her when she had the need. I was in my home, pregnant with my first child, and wrapped up in my own life to notice that another life was spiraling out of control.

    I think it’s really important we take notice of that still small voice that speaks within and brings someone else to our minds – we should explore more why that is.

  18. Jason,

    Your post definitely brings up some mixed emotions. As you know, I have been a moderator on that forum for several years. I did not know either that VW did not live in a beautiful home, was financially well-off or anything else. He was always so positive and “put-together!” I marvelled at his compassion for others, at his willingness to help EVERYONE, whether he truly knew them or not! One lesson we all have learned is that is is very easy to “hide” online!

    Don’t beat yourself up for what you did on Friday morning. The main thing is that you did SOMETHING – you REACTED – a lot of others would not have done anything! You did the right thing by assuming that he would carry through on what he planned. When someone is suicidal, you cannot count on them thinking clearly and in the end, doing the right thing.

    Jason, you should be commended – for having the courage to step forward to do something and then the courage to come here to write your post and worry if you did the right thing.

    You are indeed, a true friend, a divine connection! Thank you, my friend!

    Carol Deckert

  19. One of the most sobering and thoughtful moments of my life occured in World of Warcraft. Someone who controlled the avatar who was a friend of my avatar came home and found her mother dead in her home (in real life). She had nowhere else to turn, so we sat down in the marshes of the Wetlands and worked through some very difficult and challenging moments. Although I have never met this person in real life, we have developed an incredible friendship that exists only in Azeroth. You are right, and you can make a difference in someone’s life, even from a distance.

  20. January 19, 2008

    Listen.

    Please listen to me carefully – for just a moment, ok?

    Something GOOD IS going to happen to you, today.

    Think about it, carefully: No matter what day, under what circumstances you may find yourself in on a given day, it’s virtually IMPOSSIBLE to get through a day, any day without something good happening to you. In addition to anything which may put a drag on you, something good is going to happen, too.

    It’s often a matter of our poor arithmetic skills that allow the bad things to be counted so heavily that we just don’t take time, don’t give time to count the greater quantity of good things that happen to us.

    How ever normal it may appear that we’re justified in accentuating the negative, logic also dictates that we’re equally justified in accentuating the positive, the good, too.

    So, join me and other persistent optimists who say, “Something GOOD is going to happen to you.”

    This is the message of encouragement from VW to the forum that I ‘just happened to notice’ when I was in my Facebook inbox just now.

    Not a cotton candy type of optimism of the shallow… rather the stop and think and grow kind of optimism.

    It is the core of the community that reacted last Friday… and on through the weekend… and continues to explore and grow and discuss and offer and console and reach out… that have helped me get through the emotions of all of this.

    & the claming words of several community members (including the humble Mr. Alba) who tacked the conversations toward the light of day when the thoughts turned dark in the middle of the night.

    There are some tough thoughts that have come up along the way… some members who have been caught up in the mortgage crisis that have been crying out for help… that can not find work… that are getting doors slammed in thier face from the first line on the resume… they have encountered the ‘currently unemployed are not welcome here’ attitude… and other generalizations along thier path that have left them confused and battling and feeling alone.

    Did VW fight that same fight, but with the words of his industry rather? Does it matter?

    Part of the lesson for me is to be kind to those who ask for help in subtle & not so subtle ways…

    I don’t have answers for the people who have posted in the community about battling thier unemployment battle… I don’t have answers for people who posted on the ‘Depression Clouds Everything’ column…

    I just hope that those that do can find a way to reach out to those that need so that person by person the fear of exposure of weakness fades in the light of acceptance.

    & along the way people make and pay for services rendered when they can and have services available when they can’t.

  21. Jason, thank you for all you do in building community and awareness — and being so transparanet – – so “yourself.”

    The ripple effect of this post (and the “depression” post) on your readers — the knowledge gained, the awareness raised — may save a life. And you’ll never know it was because of you. But it will be.

  22. Yeah, I am still not sure what to think about all of this. I have genuinely mixed emotions. I had a high school friend commit suicide our senior year, and I saw a lot of what he went through on a dialy basis. I never would have been able to read all the signs though, which I think is impossible anyways since we cannot see inside the deepest parts of each other. On the other hand, suicide is an extremely selfish act. VW has a son I believe (not sure), and that needs to be taken into account. And family members. Even when you feel alone and that you have nothing left, there are people out there who care for you. VW has over 9,000 virtual friends who care for him. There are things that must be remembered when it comes to someone threatening to take their own life. Again, I care enough to have compassion, but I am also somewhat upset because of the selfishness displayed.

    Robert Stanke
    http://www.robertstanke.com

  23. It is easy for us to speculate about what resources others have and to assume that because we have those resources, so does everyone else. Often times it is difficult to understand that not all families support one another. But I assure you they don’t.

    I have known quite a few people in my time that have attempted suicide, some were successful and thankfully others weren’t. It is also easy to see it as a selfish act and the people left behind often do feel exactly that. But in the person’s mind that is contemplating suicide it is usually not an act of selfishness but an act of desperation.

    Most people are not “wanting” to die when they commit suicide, they simply do not see there is another choice. Even when there may be another choice they may not be strong enough to face the potential of yet another rejection.

    We cannot make assumption about what others are facing or have been through. If we know in time, we can help them see there is another choice and we need to try to do that. But what seems obvious to one is not always realistic to another.

    I wish all people had a family they could turn to, but far more than you would suspect do not. They have a family, but that often times is not a family that cares.

    Sheilah

  24. Jason,

    Once again you have shown me your heart and your sensitivity to a very painful subject. I think you, and many of those on the forum thank you, for your willingness to attempt to do SOMETHING. For too many, something is not ever even considered.

    I am a great fan of VW, and thanks to you have had the opportunity to meet him and many of the others who commented on this blog. I also a ma great fan of yours, for you are comfortable enough in your own skin to show your vulnerability, as well as your compassion.

    Many time we can’t do the right thing, even though we may think we are, or may not even be able to think of the right thing. You, my friend, did the right thing, regardless of what you now are thinking. for you the first step needed to be calling someone more in the know, and that was right. For others, the first step was to act differently. For all actions that were taken, the right thing was done.

    The good news continues to be played out in this scenario. VW is doing better, is in the hands of loved ones, and his friends, the community that gave him purpose, is reaching out in their care and compassion. We can be thankful that VW did not become a statistic, but rather is a victor in a struggle that affects to many people and lives each day.

    I have had my own battles, and they have helped me to become a much better and more focused person. I also have found a better sense of life, love, and relationship than I could have evr believed possible. I know this will also happen for VW, and that it can happen to those who will loook to the future as an opportunity. It truly is there for the taking, and available to us all.

    Keep up the good work, Jason. You are making a difference, filling a need, and gathering a following because of your candor and openness. May your star shine more brightly as you reach out in human kindness and support to many who are hurting on this and each day.

    Barry

  25. Something has happened in my life recently that led me to re-read this post. I know when I was un/under-employed some years ago, I was certainly tempted. I’m glad I talked about it with others, but I think that and the things mentioned in this post are what led to the How I Got My Job project to encourage job-seekers with stories of the successes of others.

  26. My brother took his life 26 years ago. It tore my family apart, and it hasn’t been the same since. It’s a subject we still can’t talk about to this day because the pain is still so overwhelming. Depression is an equal opportunity disease and a silent killer, just as many other diseases are. The stigma is still alive, but with people such as Carrie Fisher and others, depression is coming out of the closet.

    Calling social orgs during a crisis is thoughtful, but not realistic, as they are understaffed and underfunded. What you did do, which was a great alternative (and the police had been called), was to talk about it in a venue that gives others the opportunity to witness and to comment on the helplessness, empathy and fear that occur for those who are in the crossfire of another’s breakdown.

    Thanks for the post.

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