Bi-Polar Brains, Panicky Feelings & Suicide

Beautiful, strong and colourful

My life, like other people’s, has been peppered with its fair share of human tragedies. I don’t go to school reunions but I notice the student lists from my scholastic years are ones of diminishing returns. I never know what has happened to the names that are marked ‘deceased’ or, euphemistically, ‘no longer with us’ or ‘passed away’. There are always the accidents, the terminal diseases and illnesses, deaths due to unexplained causes and then there are the suicides.

It doesn’t matter that people gloss over suicides, there is always the niggledy question as to why did they do it? The how matters only because of the shock that attends suicides and is mentioned in hushed terms and then again in legal terminology at the Inquest held after the post mortem.

The why is the question in everyone’s mind, usually the first thing to be voiced and it is said in wringing tones of bafflement, non-understanding and distress.  Except for those who know what despair can be and how unanswerable that question of ‘why’ actually is.

While this may be a blog post about suicide, there is another dimension to it. It is an acknowledgement of the life of my hairdresser who killed herself last week.

She was a terrific woman, younger than I am, single with a gorgeous little daughter. She also had the sort of oomph that I appreciated and was drawn to. She had her own business and, with it, a strong personality. She and I were just starting to reveal ourselves to each other and I was so looking forward to watching her laugh about my life’s disclosures and being able to laugh with her about her own. Wry, self-deprecating humour is so binding. As I say, she was good.

I saw her once a little contemplative and she told me she was concerned that she wasn’t thinking positively or helpfully. I lent her a book called A Mind of Its Own : How your brain distorts and deceives by one Cordelia Fine (what a fine name!). It is a well written and researched book with a quirky style about the way we use and abuse our minds and how we are used and abused in turn by our minds. What we think and why; how we deceive ourselves and why and how that 3lb bulk of tissue between our ears can let us down.

The next time I saw her she was happy and beckoned me into her salon. She introduced me to her daughter and her daughter’s dad; told me she loved my blog and its irreverence; that she was half way through Fine’s book and thoroughly enjoying it. She had a good bounce to her. She gave me a quick hug before we parted and I would not see her again.

A week later, I phoned her to make an appointment so the hunter gatherer could have his locks trimmed and tidied. She was fine with that – told me to give her half an hour to get organised; something was wrong with the salon phones. Not a problem. The appointment was kept, his hair was cut and jokes were made. That night she was unable to continue.

I have been here before. My husband of four years suicided in 1966 leaving me with the enormous problem of trying to make the sort of sense of this tragedy that would allow me to live and look after our 2½ year old son without descending into guilt and drug dependence. It is a very big ask.

Now my hairdresser’s family has this same enormity to deal with. It is still a very big ask.

It used to be called manic depression and is now called bipolar disorder. The problem with renaming medical symptoms is that current naming tends to smooth over the unadulterated horror of what can happen. I have known a couple of manic depressives. I was utterly out of my depth. The manic phase was so uncontrollable that I had nothing of substance to offer and the same happened when the depression took hold. I have watched, pretty helplessly, while a couple of my friends have terminated their lives. There is one still alive and married to a good woman. I hope he survives. I hope she does!

I am the sort of person who likes to build my knowledge through research and peer reviewed data. It is of little help though when confronted with human problems of interaction and having to cope on a minute by minute basis. While neuroscience and fMRI research is detailing the way our brains work, there will always be the problem of what do you do now when time is of the essence.

Meanwhile there are people whose brains tell them that they are worth nothing and that everyone would be better off if they were dead. That because they are useless and feel they can do no good whatsoever; that no one can talk them out of this awful neurological state and feel the world would be better off without them. And so they die.

What else can I say? I, like all of us, feel helpless in the face of such determined destruction. I wish I could stop this senseless waste. But I know I can’t.

So, farewell my dear as I fare welled my husband and others in my life. You live on because my and others’ memories keep you alive; for the rest of the short time of our lives at least.

Another glorious colourful flower

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5 comments on “Bi-Polar Brains, Panicky Feelings & Suicide

  1. Sean Tyrer says:

    This is a devastating article, beautifully and sensitively written, and it deserves a wider audience. We often think of the sociopathic and psychopathic brain – the one that demands that we place a space between its holder and ourselves – but we rarely get to hear of the counter-point to that analysis, as you’ve delivered here. What are we to make of the brain that is desperately seeking the inverse of the socio-psychopathic, requiring beyond the usual norms of interaction a special place? What are we to make of the brain that cannot find contentment within its own confined but rather encourages itself to self-destruct? Veronique, I had no idea, of course, of your history with suicide, but that experience at least places you in the position of being able to talk cogently and delicately on an issue that seemsto me to have gone unexplored for far too long.

    • Veronique says:

      Thanks Sean. It is a condition to which I have had so much personal exposure. Nothing makes it easier to deal with.

      I am relatively intelligent and stable. None of that helps and my heart goes out to those families who have to accept, bury and move on from the more vulnerable members in their family who just couldn’t cope.

      Poor darlings and there is not much else anyone can say.

  2. Sean Tyrer says:

    In Goethe’s novella, The Sorrows of Young Werther, Werther, a young man stricken with a passion for a woman beyond his capacity to deal with, showing signs of what we would now recognise surely as a bi-polar affliction, offers the idea that we’re normally quite ok with the idea of a human mammal reaching the limit of endurance of physical pain, so wanting life to end, but not so ok when faced with a human who is suffering mentally or emotionally to such a degree that commands the same wish for death. It’s an argument which I think is valid. What is inspiring about the development of science and medicine, in the face overwhelmingly of constant opposition from the religious to its beneficial dissemination amongst our species, is that they now recognise this fact, when over two hundred years before when this novella was written they never had a chance to do so, and can now assist and prolong the lives of sufferers from both the physical and the emotional attacks that sadly come our way. There is now a great deal to hope for in seeing this horrible affliction go the same way as smallpox and polio, if we can keep our eye on the medical ball.

  3. Dod says:

    She had just become my hairdresser also. I remember the day she cut my hair and I thought her a confident, happy and bouncy person – next day she terminated her life.

    I was left with feeling I’d never experienced before, not like the tragedy I experienced with my daughter’s death but a strange sense of how fragile life can be and not being able to understand why some people find life unbearable under what most of us would call “normal” circumstances.

    What is in the mind of a young healthy woman that can make her leave a small child behind?

    Unfathomable.

    • Veronique says:

      I can say that in all probability she thought her daughter would be better off without her. It is easy to think you can ride out the negativity in your brain when the dopamine and serotonin are working properly.

      But it is obvious that bipolar suicides are not thinking in any way that non bipolar people can really, seriously comprehend. If you are there, you can try to hold them in this life, but even that is often unsuccessful.

      I cannot imagine what goes on in the brains of people who contemplate and then commit suicide. If I did I would be able to help. I have so far been unable to help.

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