Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Signs One Does Not See

I really debated about posting this photo. It's shocking and dramatic and disturbing, but in the end, I decided that's why I should post it. I was thinking once again about how we all look back and try to see the signs we might have missed, the ones that might have alerted us to the danger a loved one was in, that he was thinking of suicide. We could find small clues, very small ones, but they weren't things that would have alerted us at the time. I came across this article online, "How to Help Someone Who Is Thinking About Committing Suicide," on Wikihow, and it brought things into a different focus.

The article talks about hints someone contemplating suicide might give. I only remember one email that Leif sent to me in the same month he took this photo of himself, and it did alert me and make me very worried, but when I tried to engage him about his depression and loss of purpose, he insisted he was all right. I think this is a common reaction of men, and this article, helpful as it is, doesn't give you anything to go on if the person denies depression, denies suicidal thinking, and you have no other direct evidence. You certainly don't want to take precipitative steps if someone ISN'T contemplating suicide.

Had I seen the photos Leif took of himself using the PhotoBook program on his computer at the time he took them, I would have been even more worried and confronted him about then, but he would most assuredly have insisted that he was just playing with the program and his guns and it was all just a fun experiment . . . though it doesn't look like that to me. All of the photos look like an angry, depressed, sick man either giving the "camera" the finger or pointing a gun at it, or making nasty grimaces. There are no smiles, nothing "fun," nothing he would ever want to show the world. There is a series of photos using the various effects that PhotoBooth offers, sepia, negative (like this one), and others, but the poses are all in the same vein.

The thing that makes it all the more disturbing was that they were taken in the wee hours of the morning of Thanksgiving, November 22, 2007, less than five months before he died, and he had Thanksgiving dinner with us that night, seeming a little detached and depressed but mostly himself, conversational, pretty normal.

He started out taking some pictures at about 1:38 that morning. those were serious, thoughtful and maybe slightly sad. Then there was a break of about 4 hours and he took the rest between 5:48 and 6:08 a.m., and those were the ones I'm writing about. I think he may have used some of them to help model the face of one of his Mass Effect characters to look like him (I've posted photos of that character), but most of what he was doing was what appears to me to be a sort of documentation of how he was feeling, and that feeling was terrible, angry, hurt, sad, lonely, depressed.

None of the photos had him pointing the gun at himself. He sighted it toward the camera several times, held it sideways in front of his face, but not at himself. There were two different pistols in the photos, and neither was the one he used to kill himself. That one he had purchased only the day before he shot himself.

It's hard to imagine that only 12 hours after taking these photos, during which he probably spent a good part of the day sleeping, he drove to our house and acted normal for Thanksgiving dinner, and probably felt he had very little to be thankful for.

How does one help someone who is thinking about suicide if you can't tell, or they won't admit it, or insists they are handling things all right? And even if you try, will it help? It might. It's worth trying. There are many stories of people who have been saved or stopped from suicide and gone on to live a happier life and been grateful for the chance. We tried with Leif but we weren't able to help him. We cannot get inside the mind of someone in this condition. And we can only help as much as they will allow.

Leif did not call for help, didn't call a suicide hotline, didn't reach out, didn't tell his friends or his family. I still wonder how long the decision had been coming, whether he planned it or decided on the spur of the moment. Surely he had enough depression and disappointments and problems in his life to bring him to that.

However, now I am also beginning to wonder if there was yet another influence that might have tipped the scales. I knew that I'd seen things about the asthma medication Singulair causing depression and suicide. I even remember asking him about that in the fall of 2007. He said that was interesting because he had used Singulair at one time but wasn't on it then and hadn't been in quite awhile. I didn't think to examine further, but due to some other research I was doing online, it occurred to me to find out whether other asthma medications possibly caused depression, and I found that they do. It is a well-known side effect of the steroid inhalers and other medications. Leif's asthma was getting worse and he was using them more often. We will never know, but now I wonder whether that might have been the thing that put him over the edge.

If you have someone in your family who is depressed or despondent, consider their medications as possibly contributing to that state of mind.

On April 10th, it will be three years since we found Leif's body, and we are no closer to knowing why than before, but I think I am more able to take a balanced view. I'm more able to smile at the photos of him that I treasure. I will never smile at this one, but it's part of the truth of who he was and how he felt before he died, and maybe someone seeing this might see signs in someone they love that look like this and find it possible to talk with them and help them. I did not see these photos until months after Leif died.

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