Two things really rocked me today. One is the suicide letter from Bill Zeller. The other is the shooting in Arizona.

First, Bill Zeller. I am not going to reprint the suicide letter here. He killed himself, and he left a 4000 —line note. He asked that people do not reprint excerpts, but he would like a wide range of people to read the letter. So, here is a link to the letter in full. I really recommend reading it.

Zeller wrote a lucid account of what happens to one's insides after sexual abuse. It's the best account I've ever read, actually. And, having my own history of sexual abuse , I can say that his feelings are very familiar to me.

Though I know the feelings are not normal, what I'm telling you is that there are a lot of people walking around with feelings like Zeller. I'm sure of it. One reason I know is that I just read research that the more children a woman has, the less likely she is to kill herself. Which means that people who kill themselves think they are not worthwhile and are not doing anything good for the world. And I completely understand that.

This is why I want to write. Because I've been in therapy for 35 years. Some days suicide seems so obviously the right choice that it's amazing to me that more people don't do it. I don't really understand why more people don't do it.

I read Zeller’s note and I think it's incredibly sad that he couldn't turn to someone for help. There is someone reading this post, right now, who feels hopeless. It's so hard to see our own lives clearly. Resumes are like that—each line is distorted because we distort our vision of ourselves. And just as professional can help us see our work history more clearly, a professional can help us see our personal history more clearly as well.

When things are going terribly, and you haven't been able to fix things, you need help. Everyone who cannot get a job should get career counseling. Because if you haven't gotten a job in a year, you probably need someone to help you change how you see yourself. And everyone who has been sad—depressed and can't fix it—should get help.

It is not reasonable to think that if you have been sad for more than a year that you can fix it yourself. It is not a shortcoming of yours. It's a part of being human that we are complicated and sometimes we get stuck.

People need help. Look at yourself. Ask yourself if you need help. Believe me. You are not a uniquely, an unsolvable problem. Most of us are not complicated to a therapist in the same way that most of us are not complicated to a professional resume writer. We are complicated only to ourselves. The more impossible your problems feel, the more you need someone to talk with about them.

Something I love about this blog is that you reflect me back to me in a more clear way. You call me names, you tell me when I'm too hard on myself, you tell me the obvious solution, and then you echo the obvious solution in the comments until I give in.

I am lucky. And I still need to go to therapy.

Andrew Sullivan is live-blogging the unfolding of the Arizona shooting and he notes, at one point, that psychologists who are watching videos of the gunman are fairly certain that he was having a psychotic episode. (Which means, of course, that this was not political. And, while I'm writing in parenthesis, Sullivan also notes that the intern who saved Congresswoman Giffords was Hispanic and gay and, until a week ago, could have been stopped randomly in Arizona and asked to prove his citizenship.)

The mental health system is broken. Few people have enough money to get good mental health care. And few dollars are spent to encourage people to use those expensive benefits. But we can help change that by spreading the word that going to therapy is a hard first-step, but it's life-saving.

So, I was thinking that in honor of Bill Zeller, and the killings in Arizona, everyone today could each post some encouragement to the person who feels stuck but is hesitant to get help.

The world gets darker and darker if you don't ask for help. Can you write, in the comments section, how you forced yourself to ask for help? Can you help someone else today?

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152 replies
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  1. Dana
    Dana says:

    It takes a lot of courage to want to change, and I think what turned the leaf for me was after much hemming and hawing, realizing that nothing was going to change unless I made a decision to actually change it. That’s scary, for everyone. Even when you know what you want. But people don’t know from the outside, and if you want help and you want things to be different, you have to ask people to help you, and you have to be proactive with yourself to take the action to make those changes come to life. Great article – thanks!

  2. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    P: Great article. Too many peoplensuffer from some sort of mental health to not seek treatment and our system needs to be reset to reach a broader spectrum. Whether it’s post partum, career concealing, weight loss, the “blues” or even financial help, wouldn’t we all be happier with a plan or even a helping hand and sympathetic ear?if I cant do my own taxes (and I can’t!) I find a professional. Please, please talk to someone of you need help.

  3. Ellen Nielsen
    Ellen Nielsen says:

    Please, please reach out to someone. Please, please listen carefully. Connecting and understanding can help. Be present. Be available. Listen. Ask. Courage shines brighter than fear.

  4. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I’m bawling my eyes out right now. I had absolutely no idea that being sexual abused as a child can have these lasting psychological repercussions. Really!

    P, if you can, I would love for you to do a blog post on the affects of sexual abuse on a child – to help clueless people like me better understand. I wonder how many people abuse victims I’ve encountered throughout my years and just passed them off as “weird” or “whatever”. If I understood, or knew what to look for – perhaps I’d be more sympathetic, understanding, and helpful. Perhaps my understanding may help them in some way.

    Regarding Congresswoman Gifford’s shooting – I respectfully disagree with you. It was certainly politically motivated. The Tea Party has been on the rampage since March 2009 with some very “targeted” rhetoric. Just google “Health Care Reform” and “Giffords” and you can see what she’s been putting up with since she gave her vote for the Health Care Reform Act. It’s been a tremendous amount of violence. The New York Times has many articles both today and yesterday linking the two, by the way, and you can read them all for free online. Just because this deranged chap may/may not have been a member of the Tea Party doesn’t mean he wasn’t affected by their rhetoric. Being bombarded every day/all day with the “Kill Gifford” campaign has dramatic affect on everyone, especially mentally unstable people.

    Big hugs to you, P.

  5. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Thank you, Penelope, for speaking out (again and again and again). I don’t want to post a link and have your program think I am sending spam, but let me say that my friend, Sallie Culbreth, heads a nonprofit organization called Committed to Freedom that is changing the lives of childhood sexual abuse survivors. I immediately emailed her about your post and Bill’s note, and her response was: “He nails it exactly. EXACTLY! It’s what we struggle with everyday – the fight gets easier – but then there are those days. The fact that he told no one is why it festered to this point. The secret holds the power. I had moments in my early days of facing this when I knew – not symbolically or metaphorically – I KNEW I was going to die if I told anything. That’s a big lie with BIG power. I wish he had spoken to someone and let the loose end of that lie be pulled so the lie could unravel.”
    Whether or not you find my friend’s organization (it ends in dot-org), which does seminars and classes and retreats all over the United States, there are others WHO CAN HELP. I sincerely hope that the depth of responses here will encourage someone feeling this pain to let go of the secret.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I checked out the URL Jamie is referring to — it’s Christian. Which, given the content of Bill’s note, is sort of scary. But of course there is good religion and bad religion. Here’s the link:

      http://www.committedtofreedom.org/home.html

      And I know that for me, the more I know about the resources that are available, the more I trust that I’ll find one right for me.

      Penelope

  6. Not Ruined
    Not Ruined says:

    I was getting physical during arguments with my boyfriend. I thought that since I was a woman, it wasn’t the same as a man hitting a woman. In some way, I thought that since I needed him so much, if he said something terrible, throwing something at him or hitting him was not off limits as a way of expressing my pain and defending my honor.

    I was also drinking a lot, and between getting arrested for a DUI and getting arrested after a fight with my boyfriend, I felt like a lowly criminal who could never expect to be worthy of a functional relationship or a good job again. I felt like almost every dream I had for my life was ruined, because I didn’t deserve to attain them.

    I got therapy. I found out I wasn’t beyond repair. I started feeling like I was maybe worthy of asking for those things again, and that I could trust myself to preserve them.

  7. Phil R
    Phil R says:

    I found no problem or stigma when I first started for help. After all, by eldest brother was a psychologist. But it all turned ugly and hopeless when he was the first to attack me as not needing help and to stop whining like a cry baby and just grow up and shut up. A mental health professional, telling me to go home and stop whining! But I kept going anyway to others, but after 23 years I am now near the point of total hopelessness, worse than I’ve ever been. One after another therapist threw up their hands saying “I can’t help you, there’s nothing really wrong with you!” Then why do I feel suicidal 80% of the time, have attempted suicide 5 times, and have various addictions that I self diagnosed? Why is it so hard to get a therapist to BELIEVE what I say? So far they’ve all thrown their own spin on my depression and woes and basically told me to buck up, and pull myself up by my bootstraps – and I think it’s all because I’m male. In the various waiting rooms I’ve been in I’ve been the only guy. There seems to be a prejudice out there that guys should be able to fix themselves and not have to go and ask for help. Asking for help is viewed as a sign of weakness, which is not allowed in men. Until this society acknowledges that guys, too, get really depressed, we’re going to see rising rates suicide of men in the military and civil life. So I don’t talk to anyone now. I’m tired of being told to stop whining and that there’s nothing wrong with me. If that’s true, why can’t I laugh or smile and dwell on suicide a lot? I just go to bed nightly and pray I won’t wake up again. I’m exploring avenues on my own, but as far as therapists go, phooey! They see a guy walk in and think “another cry-baby”, and I don’t need to be treated like that. I’m still going to try to get better, but it looks like I’ll have to do it all on my own.

    • rachel
      rachel says:

      Phil,

      Do not give up. Just like many people don’t get along with certain personalities, others are not going to hit it off with a therapist. Additionally, family can be our hardest critics and our most important allies.
      Both my father and brother suffer from depression/anger issues. Women usually are more in tune with their emotions and are able to express themselves more openly. There is a stigma out there, but fear shouldn’t hinder you from seeking help. Who cares what others think, this is about you. You owe it to yourself to not give up, you will get better. It will require doing a lot soul searching and you will have to fight some inner demons. It is an ongoing battle, but it is worth it. You finally be able to sit back and say this is what I am supposed to feel like, this is the real me, I am happy, I can deal with whatever comes my way and I am not alone in this fight.

      Just because a door is a little squeaky doesn’t mean I am going to replace the whole thing. I just need to apply some WD-40 or tighten the screw. Similarly, you aren’t flawed. You just need someone to take a second and apply the remedy. And it has to be the right person. A 5 year old isn’t the right person to go to fix the squeaking door. Clearly these therapists don’t have the right tools to help you so keep searching. Thankfully for you, you aren’t an inanimate object, so don’t be afraid to SPEAK UP!

      • ROFLCatDown
        ROFLCatDown says:

        If you’re applying WD-40 to your door hinges, you’re likely going to end up replacing that door. It’s a solvent/water displacer. Not a lubricant.

        I’m also not aware of any screw that I could tighten to keep a door from squeaking.

        Part of figuring out how to fix something is finding out what the proper tools are to get the job done, and then going and getting them. Using just whatever the hell you have lying around and attempting to adapt it to a use it isn’t intended is how you end up making things worse.

  8. Erika
    Erika says:

    Thank you for posting Penelope. Bill’s letter is heartbreaking. I already got in touch with my friend who hasn’t been doing well.

  9. Kim
    Kim says:

    Unfortunately there is still a “stigma” attached to mental illness and this prevents many people from getting treatment I’m sure. Society views mentally ill people as “crazy”, “unstable”, “emotional”, “damaged”, “fragile”, etc, and generally they are felt sorry for, which isn’t exactly empowering. Mental illness is still not talked about openly enough and it’s implied (esp in our North American self-actualizing/individualistic/driven culture) that it should be swept under the carpet; suck it up and move on. It’s no wonder people don’t seek help – they are made to feel that there is something inherently “wrong” with them (that they have poor “coping” skills or they are just too “pessimistic”) and that’s so wrong. It’s a shame there are so many people suffering in silence because they feel they have nowhere to turn

  10. Maureen Sharib
    Maureen Sharib says:

    Sexual abuse is rampant in our society and nobody wants to talk about it.
    I’d just about put money on the fact that one out of 3-5 girls has been sexually molested and one out of 5-7 boys.
    Yes.
    3-5.
    5-7.
    Many people deny it ever happened to them when they know FULL WELL it did.
    They’re ashamed.
    Shame leads to guilt.
    Guilt leads to all sorts of wrongs we do to ourselves.
    Our promiscuous culture is partially to blame but so are we ourselves.
    When you turn a blind eye – when you think it can’t/won’t happen to your own children – watch out.
    There are monsters among us.
    Monsters.

  11. Erin H
    Erin H says:

    Penelope, this is the best post of yours yet. There is something about reaching out to people and telling them that they are not alone that is so empowering. Thank you so much for your willingness to share your life so openly so that others can see they are not alone. I hope that this blog has also helped to heal you in a way. I know that with what you have revealed from your past, the people that should have been the best role models and the most loving supporters were just the opposite, and I am so sorry that they did not give you the kind of love that you deserved. I know, for a fact though, that you are a good mom and give your children the love that they need in their lives to feel secure.
    I feel so badly for Bill Zeller that he did not have that kind of love either and that his childhood haunted him so deeply that it affected all aspects of his life, I truly wish that people didn’t have this kind of pain in their life or at least could find a healthy way to cope. I know that for him, he probably felt so tormented from his past that he could not separate himself from it and he thought because these things happened to him they were who he is… and I wish he would have talked to someone about it so they could tell him that it was not his fault. He needed an apology from the person that did this to him. He needed that empathy and trust from someone that would listen and not judge. He needed someone to tell him that he was a good person and that they cared about him for everything that he is, no matter how dark his past, especially because what was done to him was wrong but made him no less of a person.

    I think everyone carries their own struggles. I went to therapy when I was a child and teenager for anxiety and depression. I think therapy only helped me grow as a person and helped cope effectively with situations that would trigger the anxiety. I think it has also helped me have more empathy for people. I know that as a helping professional and caregiver, it’s good for you to go to therapy because you need to be able to have your own outlets of support and take care of yourself before taking care of others.
    I now work at a Children’s Hospital and my job is to help children and their families cope with being in the hospital. I do this by normalizing the environment through play or preparing/distracting them for procedures so they feel they have more control over a situation or just developing a trusting relationship so they feel more comfortable there. I think when you are able to help other people, it helps you feel better about yourself too. I do this job because I truly care about people and especially children. They are so innocent and sometimes their lives around them aren’t. They need that trusting adult in their lives who can nurture them in the most positive way, and for those 2 or 3 days that they are at the hospital.. they have that.
    I hope that for everyone that has trouble in their life and they don’t feel that they can talk about it to anyone… I hope you know that you are not alone and that there is someone out there who listens and truly cares about you and your life. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
    Thanks again Penelope for this post.

  12. Jacque
    Jacque says:

    One of your best posts, and a great call to action. I actually did force myself to ask for help recently, and I certainly don’t like admitting it, but you make me realize just how important that is. You inspire me today to write my first blog post in over a month.

  13. Vicki
    Vicki says:

    My big thing in my life has always been my career; I don’t know why, but what I’m *doing* has always been my big focus. Sometimes I think I’m missing some genes or some hormones or something; I just don’t have any big maternal yearnings. Whatever.

    Anyway, from the time I was a little kid, I got almost all of my sense of self from the story that “Vicki is smart.” Vicki makes the best grades. Vicki is going to do great things. So, of course, I went off to college and studied physics, because that’s what smart people do, right? Heh.

    And it wasn’t all *bad*, you know, I made friends and learned cool stuff and *did* cool stuff (I worked in the defense industry and for NASA) and had adventures and experiences that not many people get to have. (She who dies with the most good stories, wins, man.)

    But I wasn’t happy. I always felt like an imposter, and the deeper I got into it, the more scared I was, and the more desperate I was to get out, until finally I started being physically ill from the stress. In a way, I think it had to get that bad — I had to be doing physical damage to myself to give myself permission to do the thing I’d known for years that I needed to do. The moment came when I was sitting on the exam table, and the doctor said to me, “Does your insurance cover presciption drugs?” and I said yes, and he said, “Okay, I’m going to give you these pills; they’re great, I’ve been taking them for four years.”

    And I had this mental image of myself taking pills for four years, for a *lifetime*, even, and I realized that I was in immediate danger of doing lasting, physical damage to myself. It was that moment when I knew that no matter how scared I was, no matter how little idea of what I could do to fix it, that I had to do *something*.

    So, I asked a friend for a referral, and I went to the shrink for help in dealing, and I started planning my way out of the hole. It was a long road, lots of ups and downs, a few dead ends and switchbacks — but I’ve been baby-stepping my way down it now for almost 20 years, and man, I’ve come a long way. I have a new life in a new place, and I’m stupidly, ridiculously happy.

    Ask for help when you need it. That’s what it’s there for, honest.

  14. Jimmy Dugan
    Jimmy Dugan says:

    Your comments hit home today. And I believe you are right to try and get people to seek help when stuck, along with us to do the same. However, I have experienced my wife having mental health issues and I can tell you, like mentioned here, not all mental help doctors are close to being qualified.

    At this time in our lives I read a lot about how many menatl help providers do not continue their education, as should be the law. Many have not kept up with the science as I read in a documentary.

    After going through three mental help providers, I finally found someone to that was a true professional. Someone reaching out for help, and having to go through this process of incompetance, does not promote faith in the system. It becomes even more depressing to the depressed.

    We have laws for everything. But mental health providers have multiple designation of which many do not understand. But they are not directed by law to continue their education, although we depend on them for our sanity.

    So like another poster said, they finally left their therapist. My heart goes out to those who are reaching out for a hand up, as a good one is hard to find.

    I eneded up traveling hundreds of miles to find a mental health center that were truly professionals. Sometimes, help is not right around the corner.

    • Lee Ann Lambert
      Lee Ann Lambert says:

      I know someone who went to see a therapist for help with dealing with bipolar mood disorder, and general life stressors. This “professional” advised him to “pray on it”. That was this mental health professional’s answer! She had a Master of Arts in Counseling, and supposedly dealt with people with mental disorders! I was completely flabergasted when I heard this. The key is to keep seeking a knowledgeable and well-trained professional–a sometimes discouraging task. We just need to keep looking.

  15. Maureen
    Maureen says:

    I've been struggling with – €˜sadness' for over a year now. I recognized that I wasn't myself and I've been in therapy for several months. I am reading every self help book and doing everything that a Type A, overachiever could possibly do to make myself better but I'm not very successful. I can't tell what exactly is wrong with me. On paper, my life is fantastic. I have so much for which to be grateful – but despite my endless gratitude journaling, sometimes I just don't feel it. I just feel empty and alone and that nothing I do matters.

    I'm terrified to take medication. My mother is on antidepressants and is fine but my father took them for a few years and was literally a crazy man. Additionally, no one can tell me that I do or do not need them. They just seem to suggest it as an easy solution. I don't really believe anything about medication is easy and I'm worried to do it. How do I know if I really need medication? I am willing to do anything I can to heal myself.

    The thing is I'm not like this all the time, so when it does happen, it's even more terrifying. I’m getting help. How do I know if it’s enough?

    • MJ
      MJ says:

      Maureen – I’m a Type A overachiever and I think that is what is making me miserable. At some point it switched from “I have to succeed” to “I’m a horrible, dirty failure” even though I have a fine job (some would say successful professional career but since I don’t enjoy it I just say “fine job” because it pays me) and nothing else to complain about. Don’t know what to do about this other than learn self-compassion and self-forgiveness when we aren’t achieving or working 24/7.

      • MJ
        MJ says:

        Also, re unhappy achievers – I (and a few overachiever friends who admit to this too) always pushed myself to work nonstop and achieve nonstop because I apparently felt for years like I was defective, or something bad/wrong, and the work and achievements would fix or save me. It helps when we realize how we harm ourselves so we can stop it in the future and be compassionate to ourselves now. I so wish I’d seen this and corrected it in myself in my teens or 20s rather than early 40s but there you go…

  16. Phil R
    Phil R says:

    An addendum to my earlier comment – KEEP LOOKING FOR HELP! I’ve run across a lot of losers, but if it weren’t for the 3 helpful ones I found, I would have killed myself 20 years ago. I just told my story as a cautionary tale that not ALL therapists are going to be helpful. SHOP AROUND. If someone feels bad, makes you feel worse, or just doesn’t seem to be a good fit, LOOK ELSEWHERE. There ARE good therapists out there, but you have to be determined to get better in order to find that special one (mine was from West Africa) that makes all the difference. DON’T GIVE UP! Just take a deep breath and keep looking. There’s someone out there somewhere who will make the difference in your life.

  17. anonymous
    anonymous says:

    I too read Bill’s letter this morning and it broke my heart. I am sorry that he could not bear the pain of that darkness – a pain I know intimately and fight every day.
    Bill’s letter is all over the web now – and I believe he knew that its dissemination would save lives.
    Bill, you’ve earned your rest. Be at peace. Rest now.

  18. psevetson
    psevetson says:

    Thank you, very much, for writing about this violent and horrifying topic, and telling your readers about getting help if they need it.

    Every such letter, every personal testimony, every time this topic is raised in a thoughtful way, is one more opportunity for the people still in the dark with their pain and fear and anger. It’s one more chance for them to realize that they _CAN_ ask for help, that it _isn’t their fault_, that something can be done to break down the walls of their personal hell and let them out.

    I think, given all the victims of sexual abuse I know of, that everyone must know someone who’s been thus abused; a family member, a close friend, a coworker. And we may also, by that reasoning, know someone who _is currently_ being abused. And maybe someone who’s doing the abusing, as well, even though we all like to think we have better judgement than to befriend such a monster.

    Phil S.

  19. Erin
    Erin says:

    I have been in therapy before, and I’m starting again today, after about a year and a half off. I think counseling would be beneficial to almost everybody. There’s no shame in it. We all need someone to bounce ideas and thoughts and feelings off of, and if that person can be someone who’s professionally trained to make sense of everything that’s whirling around in our heads, all the better! It’s a service that we pay for, just like getting a haircut or an oil change. Our heads need maintenance and service too. We are the most complicated things on this planet. We wouldn’t expect our cars to just keep running for 80 years with no break-downs and no tune-ups – how can we expect that of ourselves??

  20. Beckie
    Beckie says:

    Penelope, thank you for posting this. I’m amazed and grateful at your ability to make sense of seemingly disconnected events and human behavior. I truly believe that at my lowest points of depression the only reason that kept me from further contemplating suicide was the effect it would have on my kids. I wish that Bill would have had that one thing to pull him back from the brink. And yet I cannot judge him or think that I’m right for wishing he didn’t kill himself.

    Why does telling the truth seem so painful? What are we scared of?

    Thanks Penelope

  21. Q
    Q says:

    I am still trying to figure it all out. I have good days and bad days. At work, I’ve had some bad experiences. Even though I have been with the same business for the past five years, I’ve worked in fear that I will be fired or let go for any mistake I make. During an annual review last spring, I finally had the courage to ask for professional coaching to overcome these fears, build on my strengths, and overcome my weaknesses. I began the coaching last month and it’s off to a good start. My career is not a matter of life and death, but coaching is giving me hope that things will change. It is giving me confidence that I do have control over my life and my career.

  22. Casey
    Casey says:

    My husband died this last Thanksgiving at the age of 38. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t suicide, but I’ll never know for sure. My biggest regret and source of sadness is that he couldn’t have been happier while he was alive. He finally chose to go to therapy several years ago, which helped a lot. An accurate diagnosis and medication for ADHD helped even more. But the accompanying depression and anxiety for someone who lived their whole life feeling like a failure was still very difficult for him. We had money and access to mental health resources, but it still wasn’t enough. I wish I (and he) had been more persistent in terms of getting even more help. His psychiatrist was great for medication, but not so great at “talk therapy” and my husband needed that.

    But my husband’s life and experiences taught me so much. I have three young children (one of whom is exactly like his dad) and I get them all the care they need and am teaching them to feel comfortable reaching out for help whenever things are not going well. And I’m going to schedule an appointment right now for myself with a grief counselor.

    No one feels shame about getting cancer, but they sure do about mental illness. Thanks for making this part of the public conversation. There is far too much shame around this topic.

  23. Lynne Von
    Lynne Von says:

    I had read the entire letter a few days ago and was very affected by it as well. If you read the letter two things are clear – Bill Zeller DID go to therapists, but none of them were any good. They did not earn his trust enough for him to reveal what happened to him. If that had not been the case and he had been able to tell what happened to him, a therapist would have most likely put him in a group with other people who had similar experiences, and that could have changed everything.
    The other thing is that he went into detail about his parents’ religious extremism, how they beat him, etc. and how as a child he knew they would never believe him about the sexual abuse. A child being raped to the point of physical damage is a pretty hard thing to ignore. In fact, the physical trauma was so severe that he continued to suffer the effects in adulthood. How do you not notice that in a child who’s under your care, living under your roof? Only a drug addict/insane person could not see this. For these people their crazy ideas about God were their crack pipe. He mentions that the person who perpetrated his abuse would have be ‘forgiven’ because they repented and found God. It seems pretty certain that his molester was involved in his parents’ church. So while Catholic priests have a high profile history of child rape, they are not the only clergy rape children.

  24. Dysfunction Junction
    Dysfunction Junction says:

    I got help because my mother threatened to toss me in the loony bin.

    I’d always thought that somehow I got the wrong life. That somehow I’d gotten someone else’s terrible luck. I wasn’t ever certain I wanted to commit suicide, but I knew I didn’t want to be living my life anymore.

    I went back to therapy and realized that the version I thought I should be living wasn’t really an authentic version of who I actually am.

  25. Esther
    Esther says:

    What I’ve learned through a decade of suicidal bouts: I don’t want to die. I want to run away.

    It’s not always possible to run away. Bill tried and was unable to run from his darkness. I have mental and physical problems that I can’t run from. However, even in severely suicidal periods, I would choose life if I could live it without my burdens.

    If you are considering suicide, please ask yourself whether you would run away if you could. And then even if you don’t believe it, tell yourself that nothing has to remain the way it is. There is always a way forward. There’s a way for each of us to integrate our burdens into our lives and minds so that we can find peace and live.

    If you find yourself incapable of asking for help now, wait until you can ask. Make waiting your practice. If you’ve asked and still haven’t received the help you need, remember that there is no damnation in this world. Just because some people don’t seem to care, don’t seem receptive, don’t seem to understand, doesn’t mean the entire world is damning you to a life of torment.

    For example, even though I am not suicidal now, just reading about others’ experiences with suicidal thoughts has relieved me in some way. Oh, you too? No kidding! Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts and helping me feel understood.

  26. Sherold Barr
    Sherold Barr says:

    I had a rough time 5.5 years ago when my youngest brother was murdered, body found three years later and now a cold case. I started my own personal growth journey to deal with the darkness of what my family was experiencing. I came back up to the light in the last year. One thing that really helped me and continues to help (besides therapy) is The Work of Byron Katie -it’s four questions and a turnaround to question any thought that causes you to suffer. If you are suffering, you are believing something that most likely is not true. Check it out http://thework.com

  27. Yancie
    Yancie says:

    Hello to anyone (specifically a woman in an abusive relationship),

    Eleven years ago, on New Year's Eve, my boyfriend of three+ years beat me up for like the 100 th time. I broke up with him for about the 10 th time, which left me alone on NYE. It was, what I thought at the time, the worst night of my life. Unfortunately, I took him back for the 11 th time and less than 2 months later, he put me in the hospital. I had 57 x-rays and, luckily, only 3 broken bones. I drove myself to the hospital out of shame, but I had to be put on pain killers and have my mom come pick me up and drive me home. I had cut off all friends and literally she was the only person in the world I could call.

    I did not reconcile with him for the 11 th time. The day I made that decision was probably the worst and best day of my life.

    Now, this was not my first abusive relationship. My first was 4 years earlier when a man stabbed me from trying to go out with friends. Him, I dumped immediately, with the help of the local sheriff's office, as he went to jail for assault. Notice, the timeline, I went from one bad relationship to another.

    I am white, raised in a very wealthy family, hold a Master's degree, and work in senior management in healthcare. I am not what I considered at that time to be a stereotypical "battered woman." But, I found myself joining in a weekly group at a women's shelter to discuss the events that lead us to meet in that room. I did not live there, I owned a home. But, it was through those women that I rediscovered my life. Some of those women are still my friends today.

    Through that group therapy, I learned more about myself than any college class could ever have taught me. I learned to love myself and take care of myself. I spent a year alone. It was hard. I cried a lot. I spent a lot of time wishing I had a companion, anyone, to break the suffocating silence. I never felt suicidal, but had cheated death twice. However, I thought I would never find anyone and would die alone.

    I waited until I loved myself enough to be alone with myself before meeting the incredible man, almost a year after I landed in a hospital at the hands of another man.

    We have been together 12 years and will be married for 10 this summer. My life has become a series of wonderful and amazing events. I am happy, really happy. (and amazingly enough, my life is interesting too – €“ but that's another topic). Now, its not all roses every day. I still do a lot of work on myself. I still see a therapist when I suffer a setback. And, I take antidepressants. I likely will do both the rest of my life.

    If anyone had told me I would look back at that moment in the hospital, when I was so alone and ashamed and had to call my mom to tell her what happened, and consider it a blessing, I would not have believed them. But, I do now.

    If you are in an abusive situation, the worst thing you can do is stay. Get out and get help. There is a much, much, MUCH better life waiting for you when you escape.

  28. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    I read your post. I read Bill’s farewell letter. Incredibly poignant and sad. I don’t have time today to leave and in depth comment, which this post deserves. So I’ll just add that I thank you again for bringing to light the issues of our nature and the pain we endure.

    Take care,
    Irv

  29. hannah
    hannah says:

    There have been many suicides in my family. An ex of mine took his life last november. His birthday is in three days. My life has gotten so much better when I just admitted it was a mess, and got some help. I can’t even begin to say. For me, its 12-step meetings (there’s one for everything under the sun just search for your problem + the word anonymous and see what pops up – no charge or charismatic leaders) where I get out of isolation and realize I’m not so specially uniquely messed up after all, there’s lots of us folks (the entire human race perhaps?). In fact, it seems that the more I experience and develop, the less secure life feels, and the more vulnerable and open things are. I trust those people who can be honest about it and let down the facade, and find dignity in that honesty. I have not read the letter.

  30. Sasha
    Sasha says:

    No one should ever feel like there is no one they can talk to. There is someone who will understand, someone who will listen, someone who can be trusted not to hurt you or betray your confidence. There really is someone. Just keep looking.

    A year ago, I sat alone in my house, sometimes numb and sometimes terrified, day after day, paralyzed and unable to do anything, and obviously not healing very well on my own. Finally I called a hotline, and I could barely speak to the guy, my voice was shaking so hard and not because I was thinking of my problems but because I was so terrified of calling the hotline and maybe asking for help and maybe even getting help. It was scary to take that step. But he just talked and listened and was non-threatening and sincere and anonymous. And he set me up with an appointment at a local community mental health center with sliding fees. I was terrified when I showed up for that appointment too, and tried to talk around my problems instead of talking about them. But eventually I started talking, and I started feeling better. A lot better.

    Some counselors are wonderful. If yours isn’t, don’t give up. Just change counselors. There is someone whose style will work well with you, and you can find them if you try. It’s okay to switch around. If you tried therapy years ago and didn’t like it, don’t assume the whole concept doesn’t work on you. You just never found the right person. Maybe you didn’t become best friends with your first ever roommate either, that doesn’t mean you decide friendship isn’t right for you. People are different. Try again.

    And also, a note in response to Bill Zeller’s analysis of his personal relationships. I get that it’s hard when you feel like you’re tainted, and anyone who comes in contact with you becomes tainted too, and telling anyone about your problems would just sully their world. I get that. But the thing that I just recently learned is how satisfying and hopeful it can be when two broken people get together. The world isn’t made up of only pure clean untainted people and then you. There are people just as broken as you and just as much in need of love and intimacy and sharing.

    I thought I could maybe never have a healthy relationship again because I was afraid of men and afraid of displaying that fear, and afraid of people’s reactions to my messed-up-ness, and afraid of tainting everything I came in contact with. And for me, the way I got around these feelings was to start a relationship with someone as human as I am. People get broken sometimes. It doesn’t mean they can’t be in relationships anymore. Whatever your problem is, there are people who feel the same way you do, I promise. And there are people who feel something different but can empathize with your feelings, and who might benefit from your empathy as well. You can help each other. And no one is tainting anyone — you’re both already broken. But if you do it right, if you find the right person, your respective darknesses start to cancel each other out.

    Asking for help is hard to make yourself do. But helping someone else is something we are much more willing to do. So make it mutual. Helping them makes receiving their help feel okay. For me, this is the strongest relationship I’ve ever had. We both feel useful, and we are both getting help.

  31. kentropic
    kentropic says:

    I asked for help when I was about to make a huge, irreversable decision, and wanted to make sure that I wasn’t missing (repressing) crucial info about where I’d been and where I was at that moment — to figure out where I might be headed.

    Started with a smug self-assurance that I had things pretty well figured out: finished with a humble gratitude toward the guide who’d gently dismantled my carefully-built emotional armor and helped me navigate through some unresolved issues that I’d kept buried under a mountain of rationalized bullshit. Then had some hard, overdue conversations with a handful of people close to me and made some changes that — in retrospect — were among the very best and bravest things I’ve ever done (although they seemed natural and obvious at the time).

    The point is: if you want to explore something powerful & dangerous, you need an experienced guide to show you a path and good equipment to help you along the journey. Our inner selves are the most powerful & (potentially) dangerous things we’ll ever know: a compassionate counselor is the guide; wise questions are the equipment. You never have to face those big issues alone, and the issues you can’t see — the questions you don’t know how to ask — are often huge and terrifying. I can’t overemphasize how healthy and liberating it is to acknowledge and face them openly, and it can all start with a simple request for help.

  32. Kusandra
    Kusandra says:

    I just sold the car my sister gave me in 2005. I planned to drive it off the cliffs of Big Sur when drove it home from So Cal to the bay area. I don’t know what stopped me that day and I can’t count how many times I wished I had done so. I was dealing with lifelong depression and on a variety of prescribed drugs because of a diagnosis of bipolar. I had a child in early 2008. I still battle with my demons but having my son was like total cleansing of body and mind. I don’t take any more drugs and am doing ok.

    I know I cannot kill myself because by having a child, I made a commitment to someone I will not betray. Bill said he wished he could have children and I wish he had done so. You don’t have to be the monster a molester is attempting to create. It hurts like hell but as time passes and you age, not as much. You can make your own family and it won’t be perfect but it can be full of love.

  33. Concepció
    Concepció says:

    Great post, Penelope. And great comments too… so much suffering. I was (still am) in a dark hole too, and in denial -which took a toll on my family, specially on my son. It’s for him that I went into therapy and a month ago, started with EMDR. I haven’t read all comments in depth but scrolling down, I didn’t see anyone talking about this. It really works. I started a month ago and already begin to feel a difference. Here is a link http://www.insightcounselors.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/EMDR.Home
    My therapist in Barcelona (Spain) is collaborating with them. I hope it can help someone.

  34. pfjssj
    pfjssj says:

    Bill Zeller was a REALLY SMART and really capable, creative guy.

    Someone like that would need a really exceptional therapist. There are not so many of those.

    There are plenty of average or below-average folks who have standard responses and are really no help. How else could someone be in therapy for 35 years and still not be any better (apparently)?

    Bill Zeller would have needed super-therapist. Hard to find. Impossible to find, if it’s necessary to go and have (and PAY FOR) a few sessions with 15 or 20 of the wrong people, in order to find the right one.

    Sometimes we wonder why a certain person isn’t married. Well, it’s that same thing — the more capable, creative, competent the person in question, the harder it is to find the right ‘fit.’ Someonen smart enough to ‘get it.’ Someone capable enough to shut up most of the time, and talk when it will do some good.

    In my own case, I’ve found that there is always a power struggle going on. It’s obviously something that I trigger, but they should be better than that. They’re not.

    Saying that Bill Keller ‘should have gotten help’ is really trivialing even the part about how-does-one-find-competent-help.

    I haven’t been able to read every comment, so apologies if several other people have said this, but . . .

  35. sm
    sm says:

    Last year my sister scheduled an appointment with the psychiatrist. My life was in a downward spiral at the time and I kept thinking that if one good thing happened to me, or if my career took one positive turn, then everything would be all right. I was waiting for a miracle to happen because my mental state was so out of whack that I couldn’t take any action by myself. I knew that I was depressed but only after medication and therapy, did I realize how screwed up my mind had become. I had forgotten how it felt to be normal, be optimistic, have hope and feel like I was worth something.

    Now I tell everybody about my depression and how much getting help from a professional made a difference in my life. Admitting to a mental disorder is considered taboo by some people and i hope that by telling people my shortcomings will give them courage to seek help if they are keeping it buried inside.

  36. me
    me says:

    My father’s death saved my life.

    I’d hit rock bottom: for nearly three years, I felt nothing but the darkest despair. I wanted to kill myself.

    When my dad unexpectedly/suddenly died – and I’d scream when my mother described finding my father dead – I knew I had to do something.

    So, I called my ob-gyn: the only doctor I knew. I asked him for a prescription for an anti-depressant. I believe that my asking for medical help – in reaction to my father’s death – helped me slowly get back on my feet and out of the darkest pit.

    Sometimes all it takes to save your own life is one phone call: even to a ‘gyno ….

  37. Angela DuBois
    Angela DuBois says:

    My daughter said to me “Mom, if it’s OK to ask for help, why aren’t you asking for help?”

  38. C
    C says:

    Thank you for this post. More light needs to be cast on mental illness!

    I attempted suicide six years ago, when I was 17. I was depressed, then medicated, then given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Drugs and drugs and more drugs didn’t help, and they told me I’d be bipolar forever, and I thought I would feel like THAT forever. I survived, and got a lot of help. I still see a therapist, but I now believe I was misdiagnosed and over-prescribed. My life is incredibly rich, and if I’m not happy every moment of every day, I’m infinitely happier than I ever knew I could be. The difficult, brave, courageous decision is to live.

  39. HER
    HER says:

    I am so grateful that you wrote these lines, “Some days suicide seems so obviously the right choice that it's amazing to me that more people don't do it. I don't really understand why more people don't do it.” I have felt them so many times myself, but have been afraid to say them. I am afraid of how people will think of me if I do say them. Thank you.

  40. Laura
    Laura says:

    I agree with so much of what has been expressed so far.

    My add – I found it hard to find the help I needed. Family and friends weren’t always prepared or skilled or comfortable to even touch on the subject. Therapists are different and human too. When I needed help, I really didn’t have the wherewithal to go therapist shopping.

    An idea is brewing in my mind to have some way to gently and visually signal to others that there are people out there – strangers – who will give you an ear if you approach them and ask. It’s possible this could help someone take their next step.

    There are many details to work out and this is Not intended to be a substitute for “therapy”. And in the end there may not be a good way to do this after all. But I can’t help feeling this has possibilities. I might have taken advantage of this during my dark days. Just seeing the symbol (I’m imagining people wearing something) signifying the wearer’s willingness to listen would’ve impacted me. Well, this would even impact me today just to see this expression and I’m not feeling quite so dark now.

    If anyone is interested in discussing this, you can email me at offerAnEar at gmail dot com.

  41. QuinnCreative
    QuinnCreative says:

    Right before my 30th birthday, in the same week, my divorce came through, my father died and I lost my job because I spent an extra day for the funeral. I felt hopeless. I got help. My first therapist was a nitwit. My second therapist wasn’t a good fit. My third therapist was insightful, and called me on my avoidance. He gave me tools that I use to this day. As long as we believe that someone else can heal us, we won’t heal. We didn’t write the beginning of our lives, but we can write the ending our way. Keeping secrets makes you have to get harder and harder to hold in the pressure and guilt. Spewing it all out helps you look at the mess and decide what you want to take along with you. I’m sorry that Zeller felt he had exhausted his choices. All that effort to prove how wrong his abuser had been when no proof was ever needed.

    I live in Arizona. As long as power is based on fear, as it has been in the U.S. since 9/11, power will produce anger and more fear. What was it Jimi Hendrix said? “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, we will have peace.” I’m sorry Zeller never achieved peace. You can, Penelope. You can.

  42. Agnese
    Agnese says:

    Thank you for this post, and for all the comments!

    Today, I sent a text message to a friend. We met in fifth grade, and while I know that her life has been tough since before then, we did not talk about it much as kids, and now (we’re 26), we’re not that close. But I would be there for her if she asked for something. So I sent a casual message. In case she needed someone to talk to, today, I opened a conversation. It’s not much, but maybe it’s a start. Thank you for the push!

  43. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I’m so glad you wrote about this, especially after your post last week about the lamp, your few days of silence afterward, and a person in my community’s suicide last week.
    I realized though conversations in the last week, though I am an atheist, that do have a belief that operates like faith: that it is hubris to take your own life. That even a day in severe pain is a day alive. And yes, I have experienced those kinds of days too. I believe that it is wrong to commit suicide or make choices that have an end result of being self-destructive.
    Thank you for writing, Penelope. Keep putting one word after another, and one foot in front of another. Or be quiet and stand still. But do not cease. Do not go gently into that dark night.

  44. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    This post profoundly touched my bleeding heart in many ways. I follow your blog Penelope for the last year, love it and developed sort of addiction . Never commented though. But this time it's different. Everybody pours sorrow for the brave young guy, it's a tremendous loss compared to nothing, it's loss of LIFE!

    People openly share their near-suicidal experiences and how they beat the depression and struggle in this world. Everybody speaks for himself quite often blaming parents for awful things indeed. But I have another perspective. I'm a caring and loving mother of such a struggling child, crossed out of his life unable to help, HELPLESS and at this point hopeless.

    Does anybody know how unbearable painful to be a mother of an OCD teenager, how to watch your bright child to be eaten alive with this Obsessive Compulsive Disorder , ruin his body, his mind, his life?

    I can't breath thinking that my son who will be 19 in a couple of weeks is living miserably somewhere lonely and fighting his darkness and OCD demons alone.

    I risked my life to have him. It was the happiest day in my life when he was born. He was a wonderful child. At age of 4 he seamlessly integrated into new life and language as we came to Canada from Europe. Was identified as gifted and placed in special program for gifted children. He had all extracurricular programs he wanted: art studio, soccer, French, karate, tech design, anything he wanted you name it. All his interests were met with sincere and utmost attention no matter how difficult it was financially. We traveled together, were friends with him and had this special family bonding. I was tackling my career around him. I enjoyed every moment of being together. When he was 9 we welcomed his little brother. And there it started first slowly and then faster and faster falling apart.

    I was a second child myself. My mom didn't probably really wanted me at that moment, maybe hoped to have a son and had me instead, disappointment . She always loved my sister much more. This sense of unwantedness is within me for life. We never ever were close with my sister. Though I'm very lucky to have had a loving and caring grandma and still have devoted father who is my unconditional closest friend. So I always knew that I will and I do love both of my so different boys dearly.

    Back to my elder son. First came his nightmares and sleeping problems, then extensive hand washing and obsession with germs – €“ diagnosis typical OCD. By the time he was 12 we were in therapy sessions weekly for the next 4 years. I read everything I could reach trying to help. Followed the books and therapist instructions, was vigorously searching for ways to save him from his inner demons. Tried hard to save my boy, to keep his trust. Tried to keep sanity to put up with his ever changing irrational behavior. He almost stopped eating, developed osteoporosis by 14 and wasn't growing at all for two years. He went to high school wearing size 12 clothes.

    Withdrew from all programs. But teachers were unanimous how brilliant he was at everything. Intelligent and talented in many ways.

    He never developed a brotherly love to his younger brother who worshiped him and now writing unanswered e-mails. Always tried to upset him and even humiliate. He became extremely egocentric, nothing pleased him anymore. The doctor advised me to stop trying make him happy, it's mission impossible. But I kept trying to my full exhaustion and he started to hate me more and more.
    The problem with OCD is the more you give in to irrational and weird rituals the more they take, never stop.
    Exposure, resistance, not complying with – €“ is the only way to cope with the disaster problem. I tried and encouraged him and I have to admit I lost the battle.

    He crossed us out, all of us: little brother so easy to love, loving and caring father, loving grandpa and me most of all –

    By 16 doctors strongly suggested medication as it was a severe case of OCD. He took once half pill. It worked! He smiled for the first time in 5 years, gave me a hug, asked what for breakfast. I sensed the hope. It was my lost SON BACK!
    He refused " to be stupidly friendly to everybody" and to take medication (as nothing should ever interfere with his intelligence) , signed the forms and off he went on his very own, alone – into nowhere. Refused to see other therapist, or try alternative medicine, herbal, whatever – nothing at all. His hatred filled the once warm home. He acted like we all didn’t exist around him.The family was almost falling apart. (It's another story, we with my husband made it work and saved us as a couple and family which wasn't easy under the sicumstances.)

    Legally I could do nothing unless he "presents immediate and direct danger to himself or to someone". I like this direct thing. No, he is not so to speak. He is just harmful for himself. It's his personal problem. And my beloved bright son hated me and didn't listen to my subtle voice of reason.

    I can't tell how desperate I was and am . My husband was traveling a lot for work and most of the time it was my battle. My son was drifting away. I was so depressed myself that I couldn't work anymore, I couldn't stand meeting clients, I was ether crying or looking so sad and low.

    – He was eating only solid food from paper towel without using his hands, like an animal. Hi didn't change his cloths for months literally. He started to do what people do in toilet right on the floor! I couldn't take it any more. (My personal battle took it's toll on my health and I have a younger one to raise).

    Fortunately he graduated with great marks. It was his double life: at school – €“ the winner of Debate Club tournaments, the vice-president of the club. Accepted to the great university in some prestigious program for selected few. Insisted to live alone and we thought it might be good for him to face the world, to adapt. Nobody cut him out financially but he lied so many times covering his absurd behavior, we couldn't possibly afford throwing things away just using once. We supported as much as we could. He never spoke to us, never called or skyped, my motherly e-mails left unanswered. No contacts whatsoever.

    Dropped from university ( we got the Letter, he didn’t tell), moved away to other city.
    What is he doing with his life? How support himself? We don't know his whereabouts. He bites the helping hand. Hates us . No friends, attached to nothing and nobody.
    Nobody can even remotely imagine my pain of being helpless.

    What if he struggles like Bill with his darkness and I know he is, I feel his pain, and I'm all there for him absolutely unable to reach him in his remote galactic, what if he won't be able to take it any more – and I am His mother –

    • S
      S says:

      Natalie, I’ve been your son and I have a child who is just like your son. It’s time to intervene and have him admitted by force for a 72 hour evaluation. You can try to talk him into going to the ER himself, or you can push the issue and tell them he assaulted you. Since he’s not a minor those are your only options. He sounds like he’s in danger.

  45. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    I agree this is more about the lack of mental health care than about the shooter’s political leanings. I doubt the shooter had health insurance. Interesting, that because of the murders the vote on the repeal health care bill put forth by the new Congress was postponed.

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