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‘It totally rocked my world’

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This week’s post begins below. First:

A new and fascinating conversation: How to talk to a rising generation through social media about suicide? How to spot trouble in what someone is posting online? And how can we use the voices of people who’ve been suicidal? The suicide prevention and awareness world has started working through these issues on Twitter (#SPSM) and in blog form, with chats every Sunday evening. A common agreement is, the mental health world is far behind in social media. An encouraging comment from the latest chat: “perhaps inviting suicide attempt survivors to add their thoughts to this conversation is needed – is this a safe place to disclose?” And “Agreed – survivors are the ones whose words carry a great deal of weight – sharing their stories.”

A media request: A Los Angeles-based documentary maker and attempt survivor is looking for artists, writers, musicians, performers of all kinds who’ve had a serious attempt and would be interested in sharing their story. “Our overall goal is to examine the correlation between suicide and the creative mind and shed light on the subject of depression and suicide and hopefully create a dialogue about this subject, since it is so often shrouded in shame,” Travis says. You can reach him at artistsandsurvival (at) gmail (dot) com. (The originally posted address was incorrect.)

New resources, video: The International Association for Suicide Prevention now has a resources page for attempt survivors. And the UK-based Grassroots Suicide Prevention has this new video. “Maybe they’re afraid of talking about it because they know someone that’s been through it,” an attempt survivor says. “They’ve got their own memories and their own thoughts. But what they don’t realize is that by not talking about it, those that suffer in silence, those that think about it, it gives them the sense that they don’t matter. It heightens the anxiety and the belief that suicide is the better option because nobody really cares enough to talk about it and their own fears.”

_____

The two lives behind this week’s post came together with the cry of a child.

Randy Tucker was in trouble. Tom Cruz was working with Battles in Distress, a new effort to save suicidal veterans and service members from themselves. It was formed in January after a soldier, in a Facebook post, threatened to kill himself, and people online worked together to track him down in time. The thinking behind BID was this: Many thousands of veterans and service members are online. If we can work together to help one person, why can’t we help more?

The volunteers who formed BID reached out to military groups on Facebook for help in spotting and reporting signs of distress. They came up with ways to contact veterans and service members when someone in crisis was located nearby. So remote help was available for stressful issues like unemployment, while real people _ peers _ could reach out and talk in person.

And that’s how Cruz came to be talking one day by phone to Tucker, who had slid to the point where he was homeless and sleeping beside the veterans memorial in his Florida town. Tucker had little patience with the local Veterans Administration and a lot of intent to harm himself. Then he heard the cry of Cruz’s child in the background.

“Is that your baby?” Tucker asked.

Cruz hesitated. He was a private man with his own experience of suicidal thinking, and he didn’t mean to bring his family into the call. “That’s my son,” he said.

And that’s what struck Tucker about the possibility of recovery. If Cruz could come to the brink of suicide himself, and survive and thrive …

BID wants to cut through the bureaucracy of finding help. “There are tons of resources. Tons and tons of crisis hotlines,” Cruz says. “The problem is, with veterans there are a bunch of cultural barriers. They don’t trust outsiders. There’s pride, self-isolation. Loyalty to the team. If someone’s really in distress, are they really going to go online, look for a number, press 1 here, wait 10 minutes, talk to somebody who’s just doing their job, getting paid to sit on a hotline and didn’t have same the experiences you did?”

We spoke with Cruz, Tucker and BID president Dan Caddy a few months ago. In a recent email, Caddy said BID continues to pursue its goal of becoming a national rapid response network for those in crisis. They’re working on funding and a legal review.

Caddy put personal crisis in military terms. “Is anyone going to expect you to fend off 30 enemies by yourself in battle?” he said. “No. It’s your fellow troops who respond to the immediate call for assistance. To help repel the onslaught of crap coming toward you. Once security is established, then you can bring on the trained professionals.”

Here are the stories of Tucker and Cruz, in their own words:

Tom Cruz:

For Randy, our first real big case, he was a suicidal case. He was actually on the move in his car. We had the police on him. He only wanted to text me, but I have, like, a 2005 phone. It gets only so many texts at a time. I said, “You need to call me, or I’ll continue to have the cops on you.” He said no. Finally he called me and said, “Take the cops off me.” In his mind, if the cops are gonna be called, he’ll do something that ends up badly for everyone. He pulled over.I gave him the spiel: I’ve been deployed to Iraq three times, the job I’ve done is stressful, I’ve seen a lot of stuff. As I was going through my story, he heard my five-month-old in the background. He said, “So everything you went through, you have a wife and a son?”
And that was the turning point for him. That what I had gone through, I was able to recover and continue with my career, get married and have a son and recover. If I could do it, he knew he could do it also. The breaking point was not me talking to him, my skill set, it was that he heard my son in the background crying.For me, that was the turning point. I could encourage him, say, “Yeah, you can have the same thing.”I was in the military 18 years in May. I love my job, everything I’ve done. I’ve never had issues with deployments. I enjoy being downrange, doing my job.

A lot of other outside factors due to family, divorce, all that stuff, were the main stressors in my life, if you will.
So it was 3 November 2010, I was picking up my fiancee from work around midnight. We came home, we just had a normal argument, and somehow during the argument, I snapped. Literally even to this day, I don’t recollect all the situation.I totally blanked out, left the house, drove somewhere. I wrote a suicide letter, sent out about 25 texts to family, friends, coworkers, basically saying, “I’m done. That’s it.” I sent the texts, then ended up back home. By the way, I had taken my gun with me.
I just remember being in the bedroom in the third floor. My wife says we met on the second floor and discussed what we were arguing about. She said, “We’ll just sleep it off.” That’s where I remember telling her to get up. I chambered a round and told her, “This is not a joke.” I proceeded to bunker ourselves in the bedroom, covering the windows with mattresses, saying, “I’m going to kill us both. If I leave this world, I’ll take her with me.”This was one or two in the morning, and people were starting to get my texts. I was starting to get texts and calls. The only ones I remember were ones who fueled my rage even more. With all my training now in suicide prevention, it’s things you’d never, ever mention to people. I had family members telling me, you know, my father calling and saying why are you doing this to him, my ex-wife saying why was I doing this to her right now, how much it was a burden for her. One of my brothers called again and tried talking bad against my fiancee. All these negative things. All these conversations were not helping. Obviously, I was burdening everyone’s life. Which you don’t do to someone in that situation. Don’t ever make it about yourself or encourage them.Then all of a sudden, the police were notified. Then it escalated to a SWAT team around the house, because somebody had told the police that I was special forces, I had high explosives in the house, multi-caliber weapons, which obviously would escalate things. All I had in the house was a pistol.

They were telling me, “We’re going to storm your house, we’re coming in for you, you’d better come out.” Again, things you should never tell somebody in a situation like that.

Through all of this, my wife was sitting there trying to calm me down, telling all these people to shut up. I said, “I need to talk to these two people.” They said, “No, we’ll talk to them and tell you what they say.” Again, when you’re asking, you get those people. These two people were the ones I trusted to talk some sense into me.

Finally, after four or five hours, I started to come out of it. My wife kept reassuring me she loved me, we could do this together. Once I really did come to, I realized what was going on. I went into, “Now I put myself in a situation where it’s not going to be good for me. I might as well do what I need to do.” I had the gun to my head. She was sitting right in front of me, saying, “No, no, no, no.” I told her just go, and she still wouldn’t leave the room. She knew better. As soon as she would have walked out, it would be another person who left my life, and I would have shot myself, or it would have been death by cop.

She finally was able to convince me to take the gun apart, to put the gun away. And she was the one who worked with the negotiators: “We’re going to come out, but we’re going to the hospital together. I want to be with him.” She took me out of the house by holding my hand. She went over to the police. I was handcuffed. Then they handcuffed and zip-tied her and took us in separate cars to separate hospitals. We had psych evaluations for eight hours because they thought she was crazy. Of course, she passed with flying colors. She did it because she loved me.

So I’m in another hospital. There were no drugs or alcohol in our systems. Neither one of us was filing charges against each other. We came out peacefully. At that point, the police let me go. I was like, “I don’t know what just happened here.” I sat in the psych ward, and they couldn’t tell me anything, either. Once they found out I was military, I wound up in the Walter Reed psych ward. They really couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

I was fine, like I am right now. I had never contemplated suicide before. I didn’t have a plan. I was sitting there with the doctors, trying to analyze it myself. I had a bunch of little stressors leading up to that day. Maybe the stressors built up. So I did the mandatory time in the psych ward, and there were really no answers still.

I had to give my whole history, and they said, “You have PTSD.” For me, even to this day, I still argue that. One of the first things is denial. They said, “No you have clear symptoms.” So I went through the training for Wounded Warriors. I had a Navy lieutenant come in and give the master resilience course, and I was like, “Wow, this makes sense. It’s something everyone does every day and doesn’t know it.” It was an awesome course for building myself back up.

So once I got out of there, I became a master resilience trainer. For me, it was therapeutic to be able to help other people. I’ve gone through ASIST, QPR. I’ve been through crisis intervention training. I’m still trying to figure out how to make sure it won’t happen again, how to identify it in somebody else. I use a lot of resilience training to keep from having a bad day get worse.

I have a saying: “There’s only one person who saved my life.” Ninety-nine percent of what I do is because of my wife. She could have said, “This is way too much. I’m done.” We weren’t even married. But she showed up the very next night to Walter Reed to see me. In her mind it was, “I’m gonna go and see him, and I’ll know when I look at him whether I’ll be with him still.” When she saw how broken down I was, she came every day to Walter Reed. We have our rough patches, but we work through them. She’s literally the reason why I’m alive. We got married, we have our son, we worked through stuff. We manage a lot better. We want to be able to give back now.

I want to be that “one” for someone else. Battles in Distress gives me that opportunity to be that one for someone out there who doesn’t have it. And a lot don’t know they have someone who cares.

So that’s kind of my story in a nutshell. I finally told my soldiers a year after them knowing me. Obviously, it’s a touchy topic. Some were receptive, some not. I try to have my wife there whenever I give it, so they see the impact.

I’ve had to work my ass off. It’s not like, “You’re going to talk to me tonight, and tomorrow you’re gonna hit the lottery, your wife’s coming back to you, your financial woes will be gone.” If you think it will be handed to you, you’re wrong. You need to pull your pants up, go back into the world, fight another day. Over time, you will achieve what you need to achieve. Look at me, it’s taken me three years, almost. Nothing’s ever been handed to me. I’ve had to prove myself. I’ve been through trainings, research, done work on my own.

I’ve had to deal with guys who literally have flashbacks on the phone. It’s scary as crap. It’s about talking to people in their languages. I’ve built a team of people who get it. It’s not about them, it’s about helping others. We do everything we can resource-wise to make sure these people succeed, but they’re going to have to put in 90 percent of the work. It’s not our job to run their life. We’re here to put the jumper cables on them and restart.

My wife and I actually wrote our story out. Mine was more like a police report, fact fact fact. That’s just the way we write. My wife wrote from her point of view. Being a female, her situation, hers was more emotional. When I get to page two of hers, I always start to cry. She’s now crisis intervention qualified. She helps out the spouses who don’t know what to do. We’re like a tag team now.

When I was speaking with Randy, I was at home, pacing around, like usual. I talk to a lot of high-risk ones because I’ve been on both sides. I usually give them my story to give them the personal level. With Randy, it was hearing Holden’s voice. I was kind of leery when he asked, “Is that your baby?” I try not to use a lot of personal stuff. I said, “That’s my son.” And it made him want to talk to me more.

We started, “OK, what do we do to make this work?” I’ve been following him ever since on Facebook, and every time he posts something, I like it. I send him a post every once in a while, so no matter what he does, someone’s watching him, pushing him forward. If he slips, we’re here to catch him. It’s not what we do for everybody because it’s not what everyone needs. But he’s ongoing. He has his moments, but I’ll text him and we’ll talk. But he’s hugely turned around. He’s amazing. He’s progressing awesomely.

For example, he asked for a job, and we sent him a list of about 20 in his area. Instead of giving up, he said, “These didn’t work for me, didn’t fit my needs.” I said, “Hang on, give me a day.” And we gave him another list. We tell them, “Hey, just because we’ve helped you, it doesn’t mean we’re done talking now.”

Randy Tucker:

I came back from my last deployment to Iraq in 2005. I got out of the military for bit, couldn’t hack it, went back into defense contracting. I put myself in harm’s way several times. I knew in the back of my mind I eventually would have to come back home and deal with the things I had done. It actually depressed me.
I’m 34 years old. Soldiering is really all I know. Trying to get into the job market is really challenging. I came home last year, in April. I was depending on my GI bill check. I flunked out of the semester. I could not relate to the young men and women around me. I went back to my hometown because my son was there. I quickly ran out of money.
I could not relate to any friends or family back home. I was going to the VA, getting bogged down in the system, having numerous doors slammed in my face. Having a resume that anyone would kill for, that I had to kill for, I would sit at the VA and talk to someone who had never even been in a fistfight, let alone a combat situation. How do you tell a vet to relate to PTSD if you haven’t been in that situation? I liken it to me sitting behind a desk and talking to a woman about being traumatized sexually. I don’t see how I would be able to make her feel any better. It was so depressing that literally, I was ready to kill myself. In the psych evaluation session, they were steadily scribbling down things and asking, “How does this make you feel?”I had a brown bag full of meds that I refused to take because they made me ill and were not really what I needed. I could walk in there and say I had a headache and a dream where someone was trying to kill me, and I could walk out with a bottle of pills. That’s not what we want. We want someone to sit by our side. Not sitting on the phone listening to music that makes you even more suicidal.I had pretty much given up. I was so ashamed of the position I was in. I was sleeping in my hometown park. Nobody came up and said, “Hey, Sgt. Tucker, are you hungry? Why are you sleeping next to the ‘killed in action’ names from the war you were in?”

As a soldier, I had a fix-myself mentality, but I wasn’t doing good at fixing myself. I got on Facebook one day, made apologies to some people, had laid out plans to put any suffering I was causing to my family and my 15-year-old son to an end. My commander in Iraq saw the comment. I wasn’t looking for attention. I wasn’t reaching out. He got ahold of Tom through the site, and Tom called me. When he called me, I was very angry, belligerent. I didn’t want any help from anybody, especially because I didn’t know these people were soldiers like me. I thought it was some VA outreach program.

After hanging up on Tom, I took it on myself to get online and see the site. I couldn’t believe that people who didn’t even know me were offering me a bed, a job, financial support. In my state. It totally rocked my world, changed my life.When I talked to Tom Cruz, I was checking him out on Facebook, this person who kept calling me, saying, “You’ve got to tell us where you’re at.” When I saw him sitting holding his baby, and after he shared his story, after he went down the same road I’d almost went down, I had a whole new perspective. This man obviously, definitely knew where I was coming from.I asked him what it felt like to hold a precious newborn baby, because I was having a hard time talking to my 15-year-old son. To him, I was a war hero, but when I go to hug him, it’s like hugging a stranger.

I’m doing well now, am in the VA system, trying to be patient with them. And even when it lets me down, I know I have BID behind me. If I’m hungry, someone will make sure I’m eating. If I’m homeless, someone will make sure I have a roof over my head. They put me in touch with people who got me employment.When you get 40 to 50 people calling you every few minutes, trying to figure out who you are and what you need, it kind of rocks your world. When this organization reached out to me, it started me thinking, “Maybe everyone doesn’t hate me.”

This wasn’t very long ago, from November to January. Pretty much the darkest time in my life. No one’s more proud of me than my son. I’ve been able to talk to him about what’s going on. My son thinks I’m more of a hero to him now for not taking that road. I can’t thank anybody more than Tom and my track commander.
I’m strong enough now that I feel I could be of assistance to other veterans. I have a story to tell. I can’t wait to do my part. I wish I could meet these guys.
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5 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Thank you so very much for – yet another – fantastic and heartbreaking and inspiring interview. Your work is so, so important and will ultimately save lives. Thank you for that.

    I did try to contact Travis @artistsforsurvival and the email bounced back…do you have another address for him?

    Many thanks! Jessica

    Reply

  2. Thanks for pointing that out! The address is actually artistsandsurvival (at) gmail (dot) com, and it’s been fixed on the site.

    Reply

  3. Great stories…such good information, too. Keep up the good work. With all of us out there doing our best to support others, it’s going to make a difference.
    Thank you!

    Reply

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