Key voice miss­ing from sui­cide dis­cus­sion

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Jo­line Gu­tier­rez Krueger

The first time it got that bad was in sev­enth grade in the 1970s. She was 11, she thinks, an anx­ious girl and a per­fec­tion­ist and very, very smart.

No one, not even her, knew that she had de­pres­sion and a bud­ding case of bipo­lar disor­der and that they were driv­ing her to sui­cide.

“It was the last day of school and it was fi­nally warm, and I de­cided as I sat in class that I was go­ing to kill my­self af­ter school,” Kate Lynnes re­called. “I felt so re­lieved, like a huge weight was lift­ing.”

That evening, she joked and chat­ted with her par­ents at the din­ner ta­ble. And then she went out to the woods be­hind their home and washed down a lethal amount of her fa­ther’s pain med­i­ca­tion with vodka.

The toxic con­coc­tion forced her to vomit 20 min­utes later, too soon to cause ir­repara­ble harm, too soon to cause ir­repara­ble death.

She never told her fam­ily about that night un­til she was in her 40s.

But it wasn’t the last time she tried to take her life. Lynnes, 62 and the se­nior ad­viser for the U.S. Air Force’s Bulk Fu­els Fa­cil­ity Project, es­ti­mates that she has made seven sui­cide at­tempts over the years, al­ways with pills. Al­ways some­one found her be­fore death did, in­clud­ing once in the 1990s when a friend hun­dreds of miles away awoke with a start from an in­ex­pli­ca­ble pre­mo­ni­tion that some­thing was wrong and called Lynnes’ par­ents.

“I was told that a few min­utes later and I would be dead,” Lynnes said.

That she isn’t is a tes­ta­ment to those friends and the var­i­ous treat­ments she has tried over the years — med­i­ca­tions, ther­a­pies, psy­chi­a­trists, hos­pi­tal­iza­tions, even elec­tro­con­vul­sive ther­apy.

It’s also no guar­an­tee that one day those friends and treat­ments will come up short.

“It’s like hav­ing a brain tu­mor that re­turns ev­ery five years and you don’t know who or what will win,” she said.

Lynnes bravely shares her ex­pe­ri­ence now, as Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Aware­ness Month comes to a close, be­cause she is con­cerned that dis­cus­sions about sui­cide rarely in­clude peo­ple who have sur­vived sui­cide at­tempts.

“When I read sto­ries of loved ones left be­hind af­ter sui­cide, what is miss­ing is in­put from sui­cide at­tempt sur­vivors like my­self,” she said. “Pre­sen­ta­tions with or by peo­ple with rel­e­vant lived ex­pe­ri­ence can have a big­ger im­pact on re­duc­ing neg­a­tive stereo­types and stig­ma­tiz­ing at­ti­tudes than pre­sen­ta­tions that de­pend solely on shar­ing in­for­ma­tion.”

This, she said, is not to di­min­ish the per­spec­tive and the pain ex­pe­ri­enced by those left be­hind.

“I’ve seen the heartbreak on my fa­ther’s face,” she said.

Her per­spec­tive is es­pe­cially enlighten­ing be­cause she is also a good ex­am­ple of how peo­ple who strug­gle with de­pres­sion and sui­ci­dal ideation can and do have suc­cess­ful ca­reers, re­la­tion­ships and lives — and that peo­ple who strug­gle can look to all the world like happy suc­cesses. Think Robin Wil­liams and Anthony Bour­dain.

Lynnes grad­u­ated with hon­ors from Michi­gan Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in civil engi­neer­ing and a law de­gree from the Univer­sity of Ore­gon. For more than 40 years, she has worked as an en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant for pri­vate in­dus­try and gov­ern­ment, 16 of those years in New Mex­ico, the last five as a highly qual­i­fied ad­viser at Kirt­land Air Force Base.

She has friends and dogs and a nice home. Were it not for COVID-19, she’d be at­tend­ing ev­ery Al­bu­querque Iso­topes home base­ball game. She likes singing “Hamilton” at the top of her lungs.

All the while, she has whiteknuck­led the roller coaster of bipo­lar disor­der and post­trau­matic stress disor­der — that from what she calls a hor­rific ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing a hos­pi­tal­iza­tion.

“I’ve got a high-pow­ered gov­ern­ment job that I do well. I can put on a face at work,” she said. “But when I come home, some­times I have to curl up in a fe­tal po­si­tion and try to hang on.”

Still, she con­sid­ers her­self for­tu­nate be­cause of the friends and con­nec­tions who have, as she puts it, al­lowed her to “let it out, get it out into the light.”

But she knows that many strug­gling with sui­ci­dal thoughts are not as lucky — or the peo­ple who sur­round them are not as sure of how to help them.

For those peo­ple, she of­fers some ad­vice.

Tell your friend you care about them. Check on your friend if you have a sus­pi­cion that some­thing is off. That call, visit or email could be the thing that breaks the sui­cide “spell.”

Just lis­ten. You are not there as a ther­a­pist or to “fix” things but to be a way for your friend to re­lease pres­sure.

If pos­si­ble, help the friend get rid of po­ten­tial sui­cide meth­ods — med­i­ca­tions and weapons, for in­stance.

Un­less it’s a cri­sis, don’t do any­thing be­hind the friend’s back. Make that call for help to­gether, drive the per­son to a fa­cil­ity or an ap­point­ment.

If the friend is hos­pi­tal­ized, visit. It may be hard and awk­ward, but imag­ine how much harder it is for your friend be­ing there. Be an ad­vo­cate.

Once your friend is home from the hos­pi­tal, take a meal, watch a video, go for a walk to­gether, of­fer to do laun­dry or clean up. “Do the things you would do for some­one who has been sick,” she said. “Be­cause they are.”

Know that once they are re­leased, they are still frag­ile. Be their ally. Be pa­tient. Re­al­ize that med­i­ca­tions can take months to work, that the ex­pe­ri­ence can be trau­matic, that the shame of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion is real.

If de­spite your ef­forts the friend dies by sui­cide, do not blame your­self.

She hopes none of her friends ever will.

Last April, it got that bad again. She had emails ready, care for her dogs set. At the last minute, she re­ceived word that a friend had se­cured her ac­cep­tance into a bipo­lar disor­der re­search pro­gram in Seattle. For the next two months, she re­ceived treat­ment there, de­spite the pan­demic. She is still un­der the care of the Seattle psy­chi­a­trist and a lo­cal ther­a­pist. For now, it is work­ing, though Lynnes ad­mits she is still frag­ile.

“It’s a strug­gle. It’s a daily strug­gle,” she said. “My birth­day is a week and a half away. I never thought I would get to 60.”

In the mean­time, she wants her voice to be among those heard in the dis­cus­sion of sui­cide treat­ment, pro­grams and poli­cies.

“There should be no de­ci­sion about us with­out us,” she said. “We’re out there. You can find peo­ple like me.”

You can lis­ten to them, too.

ROBERTO E. ROS­ALES/JOUR­NAL

Kate Lynnes, 62, has at­tempted sui­cide about seven times over the years and be­lieves that peo­ple like her should be a part of the dis­cus­sion on sui­cide poli­cies and pro­grams.

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