What suicide left behind is grief confused by cognitive distortions, which is a $5,000 term for wrong beliefs. Of course, I learned a great deal about cognitive distortions in grad school. I know how to recognize them and challenge them, but knowing both of those things also means I know how to talk myself right back into thinking those faulty beliefs. A person without my education, when their cognitive distortions are challenged, may say, "Oh wow, I've never thought about that!" For me, I have thought of it, and I've also thought of 10 more reasons the challenge could be challenged.
So today, this happened:
I felt guilty. I read my brother's poetry years ago and saw the suicidal themes, but when I saw him, he was smiling and telling jokes so I let the language in the poems go. I was once asked by a family member, "Aren't you in school for this?" and that is what repeated itself today: Wasn't I in school for this? How on earth did I miss the signs? (Rereading his poetry is like a huge neon sign.) And I am paranoid other people are thinking it as well: How does someone with mental health training and education miss the suicide waiting to happen in her own family? And how does that bode for the future practitioner in me?
As I regurgitated these and other cognitive distortions to the amazing Megan, she text back the following:
It is unwarranted guilt and a major distortion. Also, the lack of guilt from others compared to you possibly stems from the fact that you are your family's confidant, you know each of your siblings on a very deep level, and feeling like you missed it makes you feel like you failed them. Also, you nailed it on the head with those last texts. You feel inadequate as a mental health provider that you couldn't prevent this from happening. Holly, they are not going to blame you, but you have to find a way to accept what happened, because chances are, with the population you want to work with you will lose a patient to suicide, even though you did EVERYTHING you could, EVERYTHING right, you may still lose someone. You have to remind yourself 1) you are human you may not catch everything, especially if someone didn't want you to see that. 2) recognize the steps you did take, and given the
history there wasn't a risk, he was going to bed. 3) it's okay to hurt, it's okay to feel a little guilty, but it CANNOT consume you--grieve yes, but don't let guilt get in your head, that doubt, that voice saying you could have done something--fact is, Chad had that same voice I am sure, he did have a choice in this, and he made his decision and it has destroyed you, but my question to you is do you want that guilt to have that much power over you?
I don't know exactly why I'm sharing this. I have been keeping a private journal for much of this mess that I will likely not share with anyone, but there is something in this, perhaps Megan's words, that need to be published for all to see. Because even if you, my reader, aren't grieving a suicide, you are probably grieving something. You are experiencing cognitive distortions about yourself and your family members. Just know that there is hope, and if you can find "your Megan" in a friendship, or a therapist that is half as good as Megan, reach out and be honest, even if it is the hardest thing you to today.