To those the mentally ill have left behind…

A family member experienced the suicide of his son in the last few weeks. Sam was bright and energetic and accomplished.

And he was bipolar.



It made me think of all the loved ones left behind after such a devastating tragedy, trying to make sense of the insensible. Sometimes they wonder what was going through the mind of the mentally ill that would lead to such a drastic and irreversible action, yet feeling they may never know.


Maybe I can help bridge that chasm a bit with what has gone, and continues to go, through my mind.

I’ll try and speak up for Sam.

Dear friend,

There really aren’t appropriate words in moments like these. When my mother died I can only remember one man who came through the line at the viewing.

He simply reached out, took both of my hands in his, and said “I’m so sorry.”holding hands

If we were meeting in person, this is what I would offer to you.

Sam was bipolar, and so am I. I also have some intense OCD, and I struggle with psychoses. It’s kind of a crazy little combination of, well, crazy. One of the many things I have learned is that the experience is different and unique for each individual. My experience is most probably vastly different than what Sam dealt with. But there may also be some things that sound familiar to you.

First, may I say that I’m not sure it will do much good to try to put some sort of logic to all of this pain? The whole thing simply doesn’t make sense; it goes against everything each of us is innately born with – and that is the light of Christ.

Yet it happens anyway.

It happened to Sam.

Last summer I spent some time in the psychiatric ward. It was kind of an emergent admittance and knocked both me and my wife, Ann, off balance. Within a few minutes of entering the ward, Ann was whisked away and I was left wondering what was really happening. The reason they admitted me was my suicidal ideations had become too strong for me to safely handle on my own.


Please understand that I have never felt hopeless or ungrateful or in deep despair. I am a deeply happy person, overwhelmed with gratitude, and am at peace of not only hope in the future, but in the present. Yet in my doctor’s office that afternoon I found myself sobbing and just shouting over and over “I don’t know what to do.”

And I didn’t.

Part of my bipolar has manifested itself in self-harm and, at times, homicidal tendencies. My particular problem has been in hitting my head with my fists or banging it against the wall over and over. I have dented our fridge in several places with my head.

Sound familiar at all with Sam?

But I promised Ann and our children that I would NEVER hurt them or put them in a bad situation with me out of control. They deserve to have a peaceful and safe home life.

The tough thing about this is that the biologic wiring impulses don’t disappear; they just go somewhere else. I call mine “screamers.”


Sam may have had his own accurate descriptor. Whatever we call them, they can get pretty rough.

For me, my body on the outside is fidgety and I pace a lot, or exercise, or bounce up and down – you get the idea. But on the inside I am screaming a constant cry of not understanding how to clear the confusion, how to understand what is real and what isn’t, and how to just make things STOP for a moment.

Hence, I pound on my head trying to jar something up there into a position that makes some sort of sense to me.

But it just doesn’t make any sense.

For me, thoughts of suicide have never been about escaping the pain, or despairing that there was nowhere else to go, or feeling that no one loved me or understood me. It’s never been about emptiness.

Rather, it’s about “I’m just so incredibly tired, and I need to simply get out of my body and mind for a bit to rest.” I literally feel like I am crawling out of my skin, but can never quite make it all the way out. It’s like having already left where I currently am, but unable to reach where I need to go. I’m really neither here nor there.

fatherhood7And if I were to succeed, I would have every intention of coming back. I would simply be seeking a respite to regroup, and then come back to continue the fight for another day.

I would imagine that Sam would want to come back after finally having a clear head to talk with you, to share with you, to express his love for you.

Yet suicide is infinitely final.

I wonder if for some of us we don’t quite grasp that finality while we are drowning in the middle of the need to just have the screaming in our heads stop. That requires long term vision, and we are myopically focused on surviving the immediate.

Please know the love in our hearts never stops, the comprehension that we ourselves are loved beyond description stays ever strong underneath it all in the back of our souls, and our understanding of the reality of the gospel is, if anything, stronger as a result of our dependence on the Atonement to simply make it to the end of the day still alive.

Sometimes it’s just from the sheer exhaustion of the constant spinning, zooming tornado in our minds that we seek but a moment of peace and quiet.tornado

That’s when the completely illogical seems to not be so crazy after all.

Or, so potentially devastating to you.

Remember, when we get it cleared up we’d like to come back to talk and share and laugh and love.

I have never met Sam and am not familiar at all with his situation. But one thing I do understand is that rather than only mourning over a life cut way too short, it may also be appropriate to honor a life lived as long as it was while fighting invisible demons that never sleep.

I guess from where I am I can clearly see all the times that the demons didn’t win. All the times that Sam made it to the next day.

That is triumphant.warrior

Sam is a champion in that regard.

With the death and loss so fresh in your aching soul, this is a time when you need to be allowed to scream “this is pretty crappy”, because it is. It’s okay to be hurt, it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to acknowledge that things really don’t get much harder than this.

Then slowly and quietly move forward and let that pain lessen. It doesn’t seem possible now, but it will. I speak with authority when I say that there can be happiness even though things hurt more than we can bear.

We all mourn with love and respect those who fight courageously but eventually lose their battle with cancer. I would submit that we look at Sam and his never-ending fight the same way: an incredible, valiant warrior who won more times than any of us realize or can count.


It’s not about only focusing on all the lost “might have beens”; it’s about also seeing all the good that actually was.

Even though eventually Sam lost, I think in so many other ways he had already won.

Someday he’ll be able to tell you that.


6 thoughts on “To those the mentally ill have left behind…”

  1. Love your insight. It helps me understand something I haven’t seen interpreted so well before. I need to read this again & again to remember it. Surprising how much suicide there is around us.

    1. Thanks Jo Ellen. I think that by seeing inside those who are struggling we may actually be able to stop some from going all the way through with it.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I have struggled to find the words myself to describe to those around me what goes on in my head. You put this beautifully and in a way I have tried to explain for years. I have read this over and over again the last several days and am grateful to know I don’t fight the fight alone.

    Thank you.

    1. Thank you for letting me know that others may also see validity in this hard to explain mental process we have. Hopefully as others understand more, we can come together and stop more from going all the way.

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