There’s this moment where you feel as if you’re the only one that has ever gone through this. And that moment lasts for days, weeks, maybe months. No one ever talks about it. Maybe because you feel it’s not your story to tell. Maybe because you feel embarrassed. Maybe because you’re afraid you’ll be judged. But those thoughts couldn’t be further from the truth. So here I am, ready to break this stigma wide open, because it needs to be done. Particularly in the Christian community. And I share it with the full support of Peyton.
On March 6th of this year, my sweet Peyton tried to kill herself. Even writing it now makes me cry. I never thought I’d be the parent who wrote those words. But my daughter was so overwhelmed that she felt like the best option was to go to sleep and never wake up. So she filled her small hand with pills, downed them with a glass of water and laid down.
She has absolutely zero recollection of waking up about an hour later. She has no memory of trying to go to the bathroom and talking to us…or attempting to. She doesn’t recall the next hour of her dad and I trying to talk to her, putting her in the shower to see if she would be coherent, and us searching her room for the alcohol or drugs we were sure we would find.
We thought she was drunk or high. She’d sleep it off. While I was going through her phone to see how she’d gotten the stuff, I made the single biggest mistake I think I’ll ever make in my life. I opened her phone’s internet browser and I saw her search history, “How much amitriptyline do I take to overdose.” And I thought, “WHAT A RANDOM THING TO LOOK UP. NOT MY KID.” If it had been a neon sign, it would’ve blinded me and I still don’t think I would’ve acknowledged it. Instead, I just kept looking for where she got the alcohol or drugs.
She laid in the living room on the couch asleep while I laid down on the love seat beside her, checking her throughout the night.
When she woke up the next morning, she was completely disoriented and didn’t understand why she was in the living room. I looked at her and asked if she felt ok. She said yes and just sat there for a moment before she looked up at me with tears in her eyes.
“Can I tell you something without you getting mad?”
I said, “Tell me.”
“I tried to kill myself last night.” And she started to cry.
What we had witnessed was my daughter’s body reacting to an overdose. Miraculously, despite my willful ignorance to her Google search, she survived.
When you’re going through a tremendously painful time like an attempted suicide, you’re not really sure who to call or talk to. Which one of your friends will understand? Who is going to judge you or your kid? Who’s going to pray, and not just pray in passing but pray the host of heaven down on your child to heal her physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? Who’s going to treat your child differently? Who’s going to treat YOU differently?
There’s such a stigma attached to mental health and it can feel embarrassing. But as Chris and I walked through the next 6 days of a trip to the ER followed by some inpatient time for Peyton on an adolescent psychiatric unit, we found out we weren’t the only ones. We knew a surprising number of people who did or were going through the exact thing we were.
It’s been two months since her attempt, and it’s been a process to work through healing for her as well as for us. We find that the more candid we are with Peyton about what happened and what her feelings are currently, the more she feels ok to open up when she struggles. We can’t put her in a protective bubble (which, believe me, I’d love to do) but we can ensure that we’re walking WITH her during this. She now knows that she’s not alone in this fight because her entire family is here to fight with her. In turn, this has allowed her to be very open about her mental health and attempted suicide with others. She wants to know that her miraculous gift of failure in that attempt will help someone reach out before their attempt is a permanent consequence.
My walk with God is even more important than just walking with Peyton. As a Christian mother, I know that God is bigger than trauma, than hurts, than depression. He is bigger than the lies the devil tells her.
These two verses are ones that I’ve held strong to since March.
“When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.” –Isaiah 43:2
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33
I know that God is with us. He sees her and He loves her. And though there is a fight going on in her head and in her heart, He has not left her to fight this alone. In fact, He wishes to fight on her behalf. He wants to fight on my behalf. I praise God that even though the world is often too invested in ‘self,’ He is invested in US.
If you are struggling with this in your home, please, I beg you, know that you are not alone. Not only do you have a Heavenly Father who is 100% for you, you have friends here at the Iron Porch who understand and have walked in this valley, as well. There is no judgment here. There is no stigma here. There is the love of a Savior and friends who stand with you.
**If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.**
4 thoughts on “11 Pills”
So thankful you have each other. I did the same thing as a youth. It wasn’t that I wanted to die, but just didn’t want to hurt that way anymore. My mom was not safe to talk to. Years ago there wasn’t help for teens. Praise the Lord, I’m here today and He walked me through years of ups & downs, to healing. Continuing to pray for you, Peyton and your family.🙏
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Just to let you know you are not alone and if you need to talk I am here for you. God is always there for you and Peyton. She is so precious and I hope she knows I am there for her and love y’all so much. Praying for y’all
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Till Death Do Us Part
One of the happiest days of my life was captured in this photo in Maxwell AFB’s Chapel #2. It was July 6, 1974 and Melvin G. Cooper, Jr. and I had no idea what kinds of things life would throw at us as young married college students from Prattville. My first date with my beloved was graduation night from high school. It was in May of 1972. There wasn’t much of an opportunity to grow up in school together, with the exception of that instance in 6th grade. He and I were named church Sweetheart Banquet “King and Queen” on Valentine’s Day by our respective Sunday School Classes at First Baptist. We didn’t even know each other. His dad was military and they were stationed at Maxwell twice, once in the sixties and once in the seventies. For some reason my mom saved the Prattville Progress clipping about this big city Valentine banquet news and kept it in her Bible for six years. When we had our first date, she remembered the auspicious occasion we had forgotten and retrieved the old yellowed article. It gave us all a good giggle.
I noticed when I dated Jerry, and later after marriage, he was prone to bouts of depression and cloudy days. I took it upon myself to uplift him when I could and be his “rock” when he needed a wife to lean on. Yes, we both grew up in the church. We both knew the Lord and took on many church responsibilities during our 38 year marriage, but that did not take away the fact that Jerry suffered from mental illness. Jesus was a known entity, but somehow, we had nowhere to turn for help and the community still doesn’t for many. It was not until he was 55 years of age and I found him in the floor gulping down wine and salvaged antidepressants that I understood he was attempting suicide. He had become unable to handle the private hellish struggle of his depression and was ready to end it all. I learned many things once I got him to the hospital. I learned there were no psychiatric beds and no one could evaluate him for three weeks, until after January 4. For some reason, his birthday, December 14, was the target date he wanted to end everything. He also wanted to end it on his 63rd birthday, just eight years later. No one could help us because of the holidays on that first attempt. That meant I had to make up reasons why we would not be joining his family or mine for Christmas. The flu was the blame because we couldn’t bare to tell anyone it was a suicide attempt. Not us. The stigma was too much for us both and we knew his parents would never understand. It would embarrass the family. It was more about them than him. I became an excellent “cover up” agent as his enabler. So Jerry had the flu that Christmas.
After careful evaluation that next year, Jerry was diagnosed Bipolar I. Anyone who knows much about this disorder knows it is also called bipolar depression. Individuals who suffer with it have a hereditary brain chemistry imbalance which leaves them with depression and sometimes manic episodes when personalities can change completely within a matter of hours or minutes. These Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality changes are called rapid cycling. All our married life I found it easier to blame myself for doing things to change his mood instead of trying to dig deeper and find real causes. In Jerry’s case, the doctor told us he needed five types of medications plus weekly cognitive therapy to address the mental illness that plagued him most of his life, yet had gone undiagnosed. There was one big problem, in Jerry’s world, one could never admit to such a shortcoming. Mental illness didn’t happen in his family. His family members convinced themselves they could pray this away and all would be well. Problem number 2: Let’s deny this exists and it will go away on its own. Neither Jerry nor I needed emotional support to address this head on if it didn’t exist, right?
Through the years of denial and self deprivation, Jerry became more and more ill. By the 38th year of marriage he was someone I did not know. He became violent and emotionally and physically abusive. By refusing medications and therapy, he sealed his doom for another suicide attempt. This time, three years after our divorce, he succeeded. The gun he purchased from the local gun store, ( that’s right a mentally ill person purchased a gun), was used to end the suffering. He had planned everything. All his belongings went into the rolling trash can out by the road. All his clothes, his personal belongings and daily life tools made the pile. He had tried to give away his cat, but had no takers. Poor Cookie had to be taken to the shelter by a family member in the aftermath. That is after she had clawed her way into the bottom of the mattress trying to get away from the police swat team that kicked down the lead glass door to the house. They thought we were still married and that he had killed me, then walked to the fire station for a murder/suicide. I was long gone from his life. None of this mattered now. Jerry calmly walked to the Thorington Trace fire station, rang the emergency bell, placed the huge calibre handgun into his mouth and then pulled the trigger before paramedics could get the side door open to stop him. I had divorced him three years earlier because I feared for my life. I had been physically hurt several times and even dreamed he would kill me. All the while I was in receipt of books from the church bookstores telling me how to be a good subservient Christian wife. The family lived in complete denial of even the possibility of mental illness. How could they now deny his potential for violence? Yet, they did.
The day it happened, the day of the fire station visit, he called his sister that morning and very calmly spoke to her about coming to live with her in Virginia for a while, until he could get his feet back on the ground. He was in desperate need of psychiatric evaluation, medication and therapy, but no one really knew the extent because no one listened to me beg, call and write about such matters three years before. I knew the divorce would leave him alone without support. Unfortunately in the 38 years, I had become his enabler, picking up the pieces of broken community relationships from his mood swings. Bipolar family spouses or partners deal with issues much like spouses or partners of alcoholics. As an enabler, my job was to cover up what I could of the depression and emotional public outbursts and try to clean up any debris. That had been my job in the marriage and it became our “normal” way to live. In the end, the pastor he sought counseling from had no training in mental illness and did not recognize the potential for the destruction that raised its ugly head during their private “counseling sessions.” It was the perfect storm of inefficiency and denial.
What we all learned from this: Bipolar Disorder is a jealous mistress and she wasn’t about to share Jerry with anyone, not me or his family.
May is Mental Health Month. It is a time for me to recall the emotional roller coaster ride my beloved must have ridden day in and day out, and in the end which took his life. He was loved and will continue to be loved. There is not a day that passes that I don’t think of him and the choices he felt forced to make about ending it instead of treating it.
I pray anyone reading this personal story does not have to llive with the suicide of a loved one. There is a tremendous amount of blame to go around and as a former spouse, I was and continue to be on the receiving end of blame for his choices. Jerry’s suffering is over. For the rest of us here, family and friends, we have to choose how we want to remember his legacy. As a former wife I can choose to focus on the happy days and let go of the overwhelming tendency to play the “what if” game. “What if” I had done this, that or the other thing. In the end it was Jerry who chose to end the mental chaos instead of accepting his illness, seeking treatment and working with me to try to find help. That is the reality all who loved him must live with now. At the time of his funeral, the family was so embarrassed about the suicide, they had no public funeral. They cremated Jerry, never telling me, his spouse of 38 years, where he was buried. Those were their choices in the end. This is how it was dealt with and handled by his family. These days, I visit Memory Gardens in Prattville quarterly. I take flowers to my family, now gone to be with the Saints, and I speak to Jerry, my beloved partner, as I pass his grave, the one I discovered at the top of the hill. Oh, and that commitment I took back on July 7, 1972 “until death do us part,” I still honor it. Legally I was divorced, but in my heart, I am still his widow. Working through the grief has not been easy, but I am giving it my best. Talking about what happened helps to heal the wounds.
Mental illness is still in the top five basic social service needs of the River Region. Many people, like Jerry, continue to fall through the social services cracks. I pray no one in your life will fall victim to such and that you will be able to get the help you need to save a life and a lifetime of anguish for those left behind wondering the how and why of the suicide choice.
With great humility and love, I remain–sincerely,
Ann Surles Cooper
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Thank you for sharing your story with us. It’s important to know that we are not alone in this walk. -Erin