Q1: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My whole professional and personal life, it seems as I reflect on it, has always been about discovering, understanding, and sharing our stories of being human. To me, it is our stories that make us uniquely human and sharing them with truth and authenticity that connects us most profoundly to one another. As a psychotherapist, I often feel it's my work to help someone discover their truth and express who they are, coping with the past, but also building the future. As a coach and public speaking trainer, I help people to have confidence in their voices, and as a writer, I'm all about finding that essential truth—which can be told in fiction and in memoir—that is the unique vantage that each of us holds on living, loving, and thriving.
Now that I'm no longer in my striving, driving years, I'm freed from the need to impress others. It's a perk of being in my fifties, I suppose. This freedom is empowering me and developing my writing voice in amazing ways. I'm very excited about this phase of my life and my writing.
Q2: When were you first open about your depression (anxiety, suicide attempt, etc)?
I'm fortunate in many ways. I've somehow been spared both addiction and suicidal feelings. Many of my family members have not.
As of September of this year, I've lost three members of my family to suicide, a brother and two nephews. Each of these has been devastating. Though I have a happy life, a beautiful marriage, deep friendships, and two grown sons whom I adore, I have been forever changed by the suicides of my loved ones. I still regard myself as an optimist and I believe in the capacity in each of us to grow and thrive. But I can no longer deny that these losses have also changed me. When my brother died, I truly thought the pain might break me apart.
I now tell people that when someone leaves this earth by suicide, I utterly understand their need to end their pain and I hold a deep compassion for anyone who is in such a state of anguish. Of course, when someone has a terminal disease and is in great physical pain, many of us can understand and even endorse suicide as an option. But when it comes to emotional or psychological pain, it's harder for us to cope with suicide as the choice someone makes. As a survivor, I can also say that when someone leaves this world by suicide, it's as if they throw grenades over their shoulders on the way out. Their pain stops, but those of us behind feel torn apart and mangled. We bear wounds and scars that likely last a lifetime.
I realized only last year that I was in a sort of suicide survivor's closet. When my younger brother took his life four years ago, I never lied about it. Those closest to me knew about his suicide and if anyone asked, I told the truth. But I realized that to colleagues (even some quite dear to me), acquaintances, and in public forums like Facebook, I was oblique in my references to my brother's death. I said he "passed away", or we "lost my brother." When I needed to take time off of work after his death, I wrote an email to my manager saying that he had died "suddenly and tragically." Those words served as my personal "don't ask, don't tell" program; and it worked. Most people didn't ask, and I didn't tell. For more than three years, only those closest to me knew the nature of my brother's death.
That's changing…a lot. I'm now making talking about this a personal campaign. I'm building the infrastructure now for what I'm calling The Morning Glory Project. Morning glories are beautiful, but more than that, they are the most tenacious, life-seeking plants I know. They climb over, under, through, and around any obstacles in their path toward life, determined to bloom. I like the inspiration of that and am determined myself to continue to live and thrive and "bloom" despite the enormous losses I've sustained. I know that it's isolation and lost hope that adds to our human despondency, that often those who take their own lives are doing so because they fear that no one can possibly understand their pain or that there's no hope. I know that survivors feel alone in an exquisite kind of suffering after losing someone they love to suicide. So my purpose with The Morning Glory Project is to break down the conspiracy of silence and shame. I talk about it. I talk about the loss. I talk about the fear. I also talk about the tenacity of life and the blooms that can come after pain, loss, disappointment, and heartbreak.
Q3: How has your writing helped your recovery?
When I saw the call for submissions for Shades of Blue I felt a physical draw to send my story. Simultaneously, I felt a physical revulsion for doing the same. Though I've always regarded myself as a truthful person, I realized that I wasn't really telling the whole truth about who I am. I had been hiding the suicides in my family. I told myself that it was a "private" matter. I told myself that the topic was too dark and made people uncomfortable. I told myself that the topic would overwhelm people. The reality was that I was protecting myself. Talking about my loved ones dying at their own hands is hard. It's revealing those scars and letting the world see what's left behind.
Writing has always been a source of healing, comfort, expression, and joy for me. I write many pieces that I wrote never intending to share them. My piece in Shades of Blue was one of those. But I've experienced great healing and freedom in sharing this story, not just in the writing of it. I've been able to connect to others in a mutually beneficial way. It helps me to write the story as a healing process. It helps me to know the stories of others and to discover how each of us has experienced our losses.
Q4: What do you hope readers of Shades of Blue learn from reading the essays contained in the book?
I'm hoping that the stories in Shades of Blue add to the conversation about depression, sadness, grief, and suicide. I'm hoping that the book finds its way into the hands of those who need to know they are not alone. There are pieces in there for those suffering depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. There are stories for those who've struggled with addiction. And there are stories, like mine, for those who have survived the agony of losing someone they love to suicide.
My belief is that talking about this will break down the walls of isolation and inspire people not to feel so alone. Talking about this, bringing suicide and depression out of the closet, may not prevent every suicide; it can't. But it may help to provide comfort to some and inspiration for others to look past their pain, and find the hope of future blooms to come.
Q5: Where can people find you on social media?
My website is www.betsygrazianifasbinder.com. You can find a story there called "Pressing Send," about the process of submitting the story for Shades of Blue.
My personal FB page is https://www.facebook.com/BetsyG.Fasbinder