Depression and Suicide

This post is on a difficult subject that many people don’t want to think about or talk about, and that is suicide. Suicide is not easy to talk about, but it affects us all. Maybe someone you know has taken their own life, or maybe you admired someone famous who chose to end their life. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but it happens because people are in so much pain that they think ending their lives is the only solution. Depression is a lying bastard! When people are at that place where they are in so much pain that suicide seems like the answer, their own minds give them a very distorted view of reality. Depression is an illness, and it causes people’s own minds to lie to them about their worth as a human being, their value to their family and friends, and their value to this world. People who are depressed often feel worthless and like their family and friends would be better off if they were dead. They feel like the world would be a better place without them. But none of this is true! If you are depressed and you are reading this, please know that you have infinite value as a human being, and you have family and friends who love you. Suicide is such a tragedy! It devastates those left behind, and it leaves family and friends wishing that they could have done something to make a difference.

My friend Donny committed suicide in 1985. I was 19 years old at the time, and I really didn’t understand depression. I just knew that my friend was gone. Donny worked as a machinist, and I was great friends with him and his girlfriend Lisa. We did a lot of fun things together, and I loved hanging out with both of them. After Donny’s suicide, Lisa disappeared from our lives. It’s been 31 years, but I still think of them sometimes. I wonder how Lisa is doing, and I wonder what Donny might have accomplished with his life had he survived.

I am a survivor of several suicide attempts. In 1998, shortly after my bipolar diagnosis, I tried to kill myself twice by overdosing on my medication. I was taking Depakote at the time, which in large doses is very toxic to the liver. I almost died both times. In 2001, I tried to commit suicide by running the car in the closed garage. In 2011, I again tried to kill myself by running the car in the closed garage. I tried it again in 2013. Fortunately, all of those times, I realized that I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted the horrendous pain to STOP. I drove myself to the hospital and got the help I needed, and I am so glad that I am still alive and well! If I had ended my life in 1998, I would never have had the awesome life I have enjoyed in Alaska since 2004. I would have never met the friends I’ve made here or the awesome doctors I know here. I would never have hiked in the Alaskan wilderness. I would have never had so many awesome experiences that have occurred since 1998. Or 2001. Or 2011. Or 2013. I have bipolar disorder and I still struggle with depression. Sometimes when I’m depressed I get TIRED and I don’t feel like fighting it anymore. But I know from experience that if I just hang on, I will feel better again and life can and will be good again.

One of my favorite Rock bands is Boston. Brad Delp was their lead singer for many years, but in 2007, he was suffering from deep depression and he chose to take his own life. When I listen to Boston’s music and hear Brad sing, I think of how terribly sad it is that he didn’t get the help he needed, and I think about how tragic his death was. Brad left his family, his friends, and his band mates and fans devastated and wishing that they could have done something to help him and to make a difference. That’s what the survivors of suicide are left with — shock, deep sadness, guilt, and a desperate wish that they could have helped their loved one.

If you are reading this and you are depressed, and you are in so much pain that you are considering suicide, PLEASE reach out and get some help! I know you feel like there is no hope and that you can never feel good again, but please believe me, you CAN recover and you CAN feel good again! Life can and will get better and it can and will feel like it is worth living again if you get help! PLEASE pick up the phone and call 1 (800) 273-8255. That is the national suicide hotline, and it is available 24/7 in America. If you are in another country, look up the hotline number where you live. Or go to your nearest emergency room and ask for help. Picking up that phone might feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but PLEASE reach out and talk to a trained professional who understands where you are and what you are feeling and get the help you need. You CAN recover and life CAN be good again.

As a tribute to Brad Delp, I’ll end this post with some of his music.

Bipolar Mania

I have had bipolar disorder since I was a teenager, and while I have had serious issues with depression, I have also had serious issues with bipolar mania as well. When I was a teenager, the bipolar mania would be so bad that I would have to drink to be able to get to sleep. I was underage at the time, so I would sneak out of the house late at night and go to a couple of convenience stores that I knew would sell me beer. It was actually a manic episode that finally got me properly diagnosed in 1998, at the age of 32. I was working at Dell Computer Corp. at the time, and I sold all of my Dell stock. When the check came in, which was about $2000, I cashed it and went on a spending spree and bought a lot of computer stuff I wanted that I hadn’t been able to afford. After the spending spree was over, I spiraled down into deep depression and wound up in the hospital. I have had quite a few episodes of bipolar mania or hypomania over the years, but the worst episode ever occurred in 2012. I got very little sleep for about a week, and I ran up a $16,000 credit card bill in a matter of days. I got sucked in to the credit card spending by the promise of low monthly payments. I didn’t realize it while I was running the bill up online, but there was no easy way for me to get out from under all of that debt. My father was able to do so at the time, and he paid the credit card debt off. But I’m sure he had plenty of other plans for that money.

I made this video while hiking in the wilderness near Eagle River, Alaska. I hope it helps bring some understanding to the issue of bipolar mania.

Bipolar Depression

bipolar depressionBipolar depression is not just a case of the blues caused by some bad circumstances. Bipolar depression is mind-numbing, spirit-crushing misery that can be severe enough to make you want to end your life so the pain will stop.

I have survived several suicide attempts over the years. In 1998, shortly after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I overdosed on Depakote twice. Both times I almost died. One of those times I asked the ER doctor if I was going to die, and said it was a distinct possibility because I had overdosed on a drug that was very hard on my liver. In 2001, I ran the car in the garage and tried to kill myself that way. I realized that I didn’t really want to die, so I drove myself to the hospital and got help. In 2011, I got hit with the worst bout of bipolar depression I had endured in years, and I again ran the car in the garage and again I found enough of a will to live to get myself to the hospital. While I was in the hospital, I wrote this:





As you can see, I was in a tremendous amount of emotional pain.

In 2014, I again had a serious depressive episode that required hospitalization.

I’ve had several really bad bouts of depression over the years, but I also frequently have to deal with less severe episodes of depression that make it difficult for me to function and enjoy life. Sometimes I will go days without shaving or showering. It can be hard just to get out of bed. On depressed days, I usually do my best to fight through it and find something fun to do that will help lift me out of the depression. I might go to the mall or to one of the antique shops in town. Or I might watch a funny movie. Anything to help me feel better.

I made this video today while I was hiking in the wilderness near Eagle River, Alaska. I hope you enjoy it and I hope that what I have to say brings some understanding to the issue of bipolar depression.

Self Harm: A Serious Mental Health Issue

self harm cutSelf harm is a serious mental health issue. People who suffer from mental health issues sometimes use various forms of self-harm to deal with difficult emotions. I have bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, and I have engaged in various forms of self harm. Back in 1998, when I was hospitalized for bipolar depression, I used a plastic fork to cut my arm. In 2011, I cut my arm again and made a sore on my bicep. I kept picking at the sore so it wouldn’t heal, and after it scabbed over, I would rip the scab off. After the tremendous pain passed, there was an endorphin release that made me feel really good. Pulling that scab off provided an emotional release.

self harm on handI have also engaged in other forms of self harm. I have a habit of bending my fingers back to stretch the skin on my palms. You can see how callused that skin is. When I pull my fingers back and then let go, it hurts really bad. But after that pain comes the endorphin release, which feels really good. I’ve been doing this for years, but it just occurred to me recently that it is a form of self harm. I have tried to give up doing this to my hand, but when I don’t do it, I miss the pain as well as the endorphin release.

I have also engaged in other forms of self harm. I have a long-standing sugar addiction, and when I’m not doing well, I will sometimes binge on sugary crap. The sugar tastes good, and at least temporarily, it boosts my mood and helps me feel better for a while. Of course, excess sugar consumption has some serious downsides, and everyone knows that consuming too much sugar is not a healthy thing to do.

I live in Anchorage, Alaska, and I made a video on the issue of self harm while walking the Campbell Creek Trail near Taku Lake, and I hope that sharing my experiences with it will help you and those you love understand this behavior and find healthier ways to deal with difficult emotions. I do have one suggestion, and that is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT. It is the treatment of choice for borderline personality disorder, and mindfulness helps as well. If you can mentally step back from the emotions and look at things more objectively, then you might be able to use that mental space you have created to find a better, healthier way to deal with the emotions.

Bipolar Anger and Rage

anger and bipolar disorderIn this talk, made while I was walking the Campbell Creek Trail in Anchorage, Alaska, I talk about my experiences with bipolar anger and rage. These emotions, exaggerated by my illnesses, have been huge issues over the years. There have been many times over the years that my emotions have gotten out of control. In one instance, I was so angry and so filled with rage, that I actually wished harm to come to another human being. This woman is a very bad person, but that’s really no excuse for wishing harm to come to her, and the angry fantasies I had about her don’t make me proud. I’m healthier now, but for a long time, I responded to life situations that I didn’t like with inappropriate anger and rage. I routinely sent angry emails to anyone who was willing to listen to me, and I also routinely yelled at people who pissed me off. I remember one instance, which I didn’t mention in the video, of yelling at the power company over the phone because I was getting outrageous bills due to an electrical problem in the apartment I was living in. And I couldn’t get them to believe that there was a problem so they would troubleshoot it and fix it. It was extremely frustrating, but I chose anger over other more constructive ways to deal with the issue.

Anyway… I hope this video helps you to understand bipolar anger and rage. It’s not a pleasant subject to address, but it needs to be discussed.

Bipolar Religiosity

This is my first wilderness mental health talk! 🙂 It is on the topic of bipolar religiosity. Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness marked by swings in mood between manic highs and depressive lows. I spent fifteen years of my life alternating between bouts of extreme fundamentalist Christian religious belief and periods of doubt and unbelief marked by severe alcoholism and drug abuse. I understand now that those swings in belief and behavior were strongly tied to the bipolar disorder that I didn’t know I had at the time. When I was manic, I was extremely religious. When I was depressed or on a more even emotional keel, I was out of church and I was drinking and using drugs.

I know that the religious feelings I get when I’m manic aren’t actually real, but it’s still difficult not to get caught up in it all. I would swear that I feel the presence of God, but the reality is that it’s not for real. When the mania dies down, so will the religious beliefs. Bipolar mania can range from extremes such as believing that you are God or Jesus or some famous prophet to just having strong religious feelings. That’s what it is for me. Just very strong religious feelings. But that’s probably because I have the less severe Type 2 form of the illness. While the manic religious feelings have often manifested as Christian fundamentalism, I have also had bouts of manic religiosity that showed up as a strong interest in Eastern religion. A few years ago, I was so involved in Eastern religious beliefs that I considered converting to Hinduism. I made a meditation room out of one of my closets, covered the walls with Hindu art, and meditated and chanted in that room. I even attended a Hindu temple a couple of times. But, of course, once the bipolar mania died down, so did the religious beliefs.

I made this video while I was hiking out in the wilderness close to Eagle River, Alaska, on April 8, 2016.

A few years ago, I wrote a book about bipolar religiosity and my experiences with it. You can find it here: