Suicide, by any path

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I'm vacationing for a few days in Glendo, Wyoming, with family, and had a very interesting conversation with my sister-in-law. (How's that for a compelling lead? Just chomping to read more, aren'cha? But to my strong surprise, it was right on topic for this blog.)

Serena is a fascinating woman with more than a few demons who has tried suicide too many times. Worse, she's gotten better at it over the years, progressing from what some people might call "cries for help" to well-thought-out attempts that failed through flukes. It is serious frickin' business, and she comes to mind whenever the phone rings in the night. (Serena's not her real name, I have her permission to tell this story, and I asked her to review it before publishing.)

The good news is that she is in her second round of DBT therapy, which "combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness largely derived from Buddhist meditative practice," according to the Wikipedia entry. She'd been advised for quite some time to try it but she'd resisted, and for reasons I don't know, she relented recently. The first course went so well that with therapists' guidance, she re-upped, which I took as a good sign of willingness.

So anyway, she was telling me that one of the great things has been that it has given her a framework to rely on, and I told her I could relate. The combination of what I learned in rehab, and in therapy, and in 20-plus years of support groups has given me examples of discipline to follow and the aid to begin and stick with them.

Then she told me that by diligently attending her therapy group, she has heard the tales of many other participants and learned that her experiences are far from unique, sometimes not as bad and sometimes worse than what others encounter.

"Me, too," I said, and started to notice the trend.

Then she commented on the ages of the people she works with: some much older, some younger (she's in her mid-30s).

So I shared one of my favorite stories from early recovery: I was attending a support session when someone said something profound to me. It's funny: Even though I cherish the story, I don't recall what the person said. What I remember is feeling sad that I'd had to wait until I was in my 30s to hear it. But before it was my turn to share, the woman to my left got to speak: "That was just a wonderful thought," the woman said. "I just wish I didn't have to wait into my 60s to hear it." The point wasn't what I'd missed, but that I'd heard it while I could still benefit from it.

What I took away from today's discussion is that — surprise, surprise — no matter how long I've been in remission from harsh, self-abusive eating, I have a serious illness entirely comparable with my sister-in-law's.

Some might snicker, considering that the paramedics had been summoned to resuscitate Serena several times and I was just tubby. But there can be no doubt that people who surpass 350 pounds before they surpass their 30th birthday are headed for an early grave. But unlike Serena's pills or, in one case, her gasoline (!), I was buying suicide on the installment plan so that I could limp around in isolation and misery for decades — and then meet my early demise.

The question isn't, who's path was worse. (Better?) The point is that they were the same. Over the years, steeling myself for the inevitable call about Serena, I'd somehow lost sight of that.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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