Hope after Suicide: One Woman’s Journey from Darkness to Light is a novel by Wendy Parmley about her mother’s traumatic suicide when Parmley was just 12. After a bicycle accident prevented her from returning to work, Parmley spent nearly three and a half years writing this story of hope and readying herself to share it with readers.
The Medium sat down with Parmley to further discuss her novel and her journey to the light at the end of the tunnel.
TM: What were some of the techniques you used in writing this novel?
WP: Before my bike accident I had begun a journey of discovery and discovering my mom, and I actually sought out some therapy to help me. I visited with [my therapist] for about a year and we worked on the death of my mum. I had this anger that I was kind of able to control, but it would come out when I was stressed, mostly on my children and my family. But I didn’t want to feel that anymore. I was going through a particularly difficult time with my family. The therapist just said, “Oh, gosh. Four or five visits, we’ll nip this in the bud and you can be on your way,” and on the fourth or fifth visit I realized that, underneath all that, was the death of my mom. And I hadn’t properly looked at that or processed that trauma that had happened when I was such a young girl. I wrote about all of the experiences through therapy and that became the platform for me to go back to as I started writing this story down. And my childhood experiences I was very fortunate to have written in a little diary when I was 12 because I didn’t have a ton of memories. Of course, that day and those few weeks surrounding that event were very seared in my memory and I was able to go back to that little diary and fill in those little pieces. Writing was my therapy as a kid when I didn’t have the access to mental healthcare at that time. I was able to look back and forth from those journals and the experience I had interviewing my mom’s sister and church leader and my dad.
TM: Do you still consider writing a tool of therapy for you now?
WP: Oh, absolutely. I need to write more and write daily to capture our day, whether good or bad. And then to be able to look back and leave that legacy for children or for friends. And those things that we learned along the way—our memories are tricky things and it’s nice to fill in the things with writing.
TM: Where did you find the courage to write something so personal?
WP: The first thing that pops into my head is really from God. When I wasn’t able to return to work, I knew what my new work was and it was to write the story of my angel[ic] mom. I felt her right next to me. My mom as well, I gained that courage from her. I had these wonderful, magnificent experiences where I felt her near me, saying, “It’s time to share the story.” And certainly you’re exposing your inner heart and the healing process as an individual and I hope others can gain courage, too, from the courage of my own story and they can share their paths.
TM: How does it feel to try to bring people out of a place that’s hard to escape from?
WP: It’s the best thing that I can do. I feel so blessed to be able to play a teeny little role in the whole big puzzle of suicide prevention and healing after tragedy. There’s so many voices that are needed but it’s that one-on-one interaction that I find so meaningful. For example, in December I had a book signing about an hour from my home. It was a few weeks before Christmas and I wasn’t really looking forward to it because there’s so much to do before Christmas. A gentleman walked into the store, just stared at the banner for my book, and when nobody was around, said, “You know? I just came from picking a headstone for my son who took his life.” And I knew right then in my heart this is why I was supposed to be there. He had the opportunity to share from his heart that he hadn’t known why he would be there in that bookstore. It wasn’t in his path that day but he knew right then that that was why he was supposed to be there.
If we’re not afraid to say the word “suicide”, we can save a life. If we’re not afraid to ask our friend who might be very depressed, “Are you thinking of ending your life?”, that question alone gives them the opportunity to say yes. It’s not an easy conversation to have but it allows them that freedom to say yes and then the next step is to get them help and refer them to some help. This is my calling right now. It’s very fulfilling.
TM: Why do you think there’s such a stigma on mental illness, particularly suicide?
WP: I think because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of what it means and there’s a lot of shame involved. I know when my mom ended her life, my dad didn’t talk about it for 10 years. I think that there’s the guilt and the shame and the fear all surrounding that. We can’t see inside a brain and so we sometimes have this notion of, “Go put some positive quotes on your mirror and look at those every day and you’ll get better.” That could help to a certain extent for everyday life, but someone with a mental illness needs appropriate care. It’s crucial that we take mental illness every bit as seriously and we break down that stigma.
We need to treat people with mental illness with respect and compassion, just like we would someone with cancer. I remember hearing from a friend that she had read how cancer was viewed with such stigma a century ago and over the course of this past century and talking about it and being able to dedicate research to prevention, it no longer has that stigma and we reach out with compassion and love and we see these patients with no hair who are going through chemotherapy as heroes. I think, as we continue to research and reach out, we will see these folks battling mental illness every single day of their lives with that same level of compassion and being treated with respect rather than judgement.
TM: Do you see yourself focusing more on volunteering or do you have another book?
WP: All of the above. I feel like I have more stories to share related to my past, related to my experiences as a child, related to the whole healing journey, and so I’m trying to home in on what that message will be. For now my work is focused on sharing this story and giving courage to others to share their story so I have the opportunity a couple times a month to share that message of hope. I’m just following the path wherever it leads. I don’t have a big grand vision but one step at a time I’m sharing that story.
I do have a blog and I try to post a couple times a month on that blog—information that hopefully is helpful for those who are looking for a positive direction for their own mental health struggles.
TM: What is the one thing you want to say to anyone that’s suffering who may not have the chance to read your book?
WP: It’s okay to reach out. It’s okay to call a suicide prevention hotline. It’s okay to seek help and please do and know that there is light beyond the darkness. Whether that takes one week or one year, there is light. Seek that and hope for that and pray for that. You’ll be glad and you’ll be guided.
For those of us who have the opportunity to reach out and help someone, reach out and love. Open your heart without judgement and love and embrace people who are struggling without judgement.
Wendy Parmley’s novel is available on Amazon and her website is wendyparmley.com.
—-Why do you think there’s such a stigma on mental illness
Actually you elicited your answer with your question.
Why you did so is an interesting question to ask yourself. I have an answer if you would like to communicate.
Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor