Principled and Loving Support: The Greatest Gift We Can Give 


Though this story is true and still unfolding the name of my friend, “Dakota,” or “D,”  is fictitious.

D called a few days ago and said “I am calling you because I sent you a letter and a package. I wanted to talk to you before you got them because by the time you get them I will be dead.” This was said in a calm but hesitatingly thoughtful voice. A voice that is certain of what needs to be said but is not easily spoken. I have known D for many years. And separate from that I am familiar with this tone and the emotion behind it. I hope everyone is familiar with that tone — that ask for help.

I asked what was going on. D had attempted suicide a few days ago and remained in the hospital due to medical complications from the suicide attempt. I listened. I told D how much I cared and was ready to come and get D if that was what D wanted and D could live in my guest bedroom for as long as D wanted. D would think about it.

It’s been a few days since I made that offer to D – an offer I have never before made to anyone. I have clarified for myself the intent of my offer. I will soon share my intent with D, and writing this now is my effort to clarify my intentions:

I am not so interested in putting a band-aid on your wound, although I do believe a band-aid can help you get to tomorrow — and maybe the week after or the month after. I have seen too much suffering in my life — Your suffering and the suffering of countless others. I am learning that suffering is a cycle that only ends when you decide to end it. Just to be crystal clear, I speak of ending suffering, not of ending your life.

I decided that I want to do what I can to end your suffering because I intend to live my life without regrets. That means I want to show you how much I care and love you, and want to know that you have the big life you want and deserve – and you need to fight or struggle a little bit more to “know” that you already have it. I want to help you see it.

What this means to me – and this is a negotiation, I am not dictating, I am clarifying as best I can what I think makes sense at this point in time — I want you to get your things in order so that you can move into my home for as long as you need. Our work will take – my guess – at least 2 months, maybe more.

I want us to practice meditation daily – the power of which is something we are both familiar with. Perhaps, more important than meditation is learning to see beyond the illusion that we are taught to think of as the life we are living. We are taught, from our earliest age, so many hard lessons. We are not the sum of the hurtful, oppressive lessons sprinkled with a little fun and some successes. We are, as an international women’s liberation leader once told a group of us at a workshop, “basket cases with some strengths.”  So you, the reader, don’t misunderstand I will translate that by saying – We (every human being) are deeply wounded but have tremendous capacity.

My inside work for the past 26 years has been to get underneath what I was taught and to see who I was born to be. My birthright is still being revealed to me and discovered by me. It’s an unfolding process. I was reminded of this process and what it means to me right now while walking on the beach this morning – just a couple hours ago. I was thinking of D and the work that lay before us if D agrees to come and live with me. I became aware that something else, deeper, was transpiring within my life. I listened more closely to my heart. I have learned that when I stop the chatter in my head (sometimes referred to as thinking) a deeper message is typically revealed.

My mind turned to today’s date: 7-3-16. The numbers added together equal 26. As silly as it may sound I have found that often when I have a deeper message trying to be realized and I look at the date – it is related to something profound from my past. I instantly knew what the 26th meant. The only regret I have in my almost 60 years of living is what I said to my father. On May 26,1971 I told my father who was in the deepest stage of a coma what the neurosurgeons said was the best we could hope for if he survived. I was 14 and had not yet learned the grace of holding hope for another. Two days later my father passed and the world as I knew it ended.

I don’t want any more regrets in my life and I don’t want D to continue suffering. And I don’t want to feel like I didn’t do enough, like I didn’t show my love and respect of D enough. The offer to D is to work equally with me and this work is not easy. It is, however, the most important work I have ever done. To explore and do emotional release work around these intentions:

  1. To reconnect with our birthright – however we uniquely define it. Who were you born to be?
  2. To understand and heal from the impact of the hurt, trauma and oppressive messages we were taught about ourselves and about our place in the world. What happened to you and how did you internalize those messages? How do those messages (or lessons learned) impact your relationships and your life today? How do you want your life to look? How can you get there? What practices support your healing, your liberation?
  3. To find liberation – freedom from ego and from the dramatizing of unhealed hurts that pervade the dense dimension of life on this planet (e.g., the violence, destruction of the environment, war, suffering, etc). What would your liberation look like? What would your liberation feel like? If you could be anyone you wanted and do anything you wanted – what would that be?
  4. To embody inner peace and co-create global peace. I know that is important work for you and it is for me. How sweet the journey is. Know that you are never alone and that separation is an illusion. We are all deeply connected whether we know it or not. What affects one affects all no matter how subtle.

The instant I sat down at my desk after my walk on the beach – and one minute before beginning to write this piece I decided to text D. I pushed 3 letters on my cell phone when a text from D arrived,  “Good Morning” and a few other medical pleasantries. While I wrote the piece, above, we exchanged some texts which with D’s permission I have copied below.

LS: I started texting you when your text popped up. I’ve been thinking a lot about you.

Please do not attempt to end your life until you’ve given life a complete chance to blossom.

I understand dark. I’ve been through plenty of them but I assure you the light at the end of the tunnel is more extraordinary than you imagine.

So let’s talk when you feel ready. No urgency, no hurry. Life unfolds perfectly.

There is a deep reason why I invited you to come and live with me. And at the right time we will talk about that.
D: the last three nights have been hard.  making it through the dark night alone.  I am thankful you have remained in my life even when I have run away.
LS: I am always here for you. Please let that into your bones
D: I have, it’s just hard to accept and feel worthy.
LS: I believe a major part – Perhaps the most important lesson – you need to learn is that you matter, you are and always have been worthy. And you don’t have to do anything in particular in your life to be worthy and to matter.

You can drive a bus for the rest of your life and be just as worthy and matter just as much to me.

When I needed to clean toilets at the women’s homeless shelter which I ran it helped me to learn this lesson.

We have much work to do – you and I together and we have all the time we need to do it
D: Thank you.

I am preparing for discharge. Going home with a catheter.
LS: The instant your text came through the sky opened up. It is pouring!!!!

Happy Discharge

D: it thundered and lightening last night here!

LS: 🙂
I love thunder, lightening. Such enormous power being shared, demonstrated


D loved the blog. I told D I had one more point to add and that I would send it to D before sending the blog to be posted.

The point I want to add is:  Please let us know who the main support people are at this crisis point in time.

When you (anyone) survive a suicide attempt and you tell me (or anyone) – “This is confidential” please share at least one or two key names of those who know about the current crisis situation. This is vitally important, thoughtful and caring for those of us ‘in the trenches’ with you so we are able to share our experiences and put our best thinking together in order to both get support for ourselves and to optimize our thoughtfulness about how we might be a support to the suicide attempt survivor or to a person in crisis.

The following has nothing to do with D. It has to do with supporting the supporters by sharing the names (formally or informally) of the key support people around you at the time of crisis – before if possible –  and allowing support to happen by trusting those supporters to think well of you and to do the right thing. The right thing, in all instances is to include the person in distress to the full extent possible in all decision making. The intent is to optimize the ability of the person in distress to make the best decision at the time and to know he or she is fully supported, heard, seen and loved and that together we will get through this.

Next I share lessons learned with the help of support people and refer to the person in crisis as Nancy. Knowing the main supporters in Nancy’s life at the time of her crisis helped me and others survive Nancy’s altered state, which was an extremely stressful time for many of us. We supporters formed an informal network primarily for ourselves. It also allowed us to think well about how we could offer Nancy support during the infrequent occasions that she actually communicated with one of us. The details of how this unfolded were nothing less than extraordinary and I fear that conveying the lessons learned very briefly and not giving much detail will diminish the point I am trying to make and understate the profound impact it had on me and others. Nevertheless – here is the short scoop.

At first there was no support network but as the events of Nancy’s  suddenly tumultuous life unfolded we learned about each other and needed assistance to get through the  nightmare. I had many 1-2 hour late night phone calls with one supporter in particular whom I was not close to when the crisis began. Today I consider her one of my closest friends – because of what we shared on those late night calls and what we went through supporting someone we loved as best as we possible could.

The bottom line was that about 10 of us formed an informal support network including a few of Nancy’s family members. The family members had very different opinions of what was needed and what the problem was compared to the mental health advocates who made up slightly more than half of the support network. We all connected on an individual basis and as the crisis endured we connected as a group via email and eventually via teleconferences. We did a lot of listening to each other and supporting each other. The advocates shared our different – holistic and self-determination — perspectives, always in a respectful manner even when family members were not able to hear our point. I and at least one other supporter had private conversations individually with most of the family members. After listening to them vent their fears and frustrations and thoughts about what needed to be done in the name of “treatment” (forced) and validating their concerns, I shared with them lessons I have learned from my experience being in altered states. They had never heard such information and found it quite thought provoking. It contradicted everything they had ever heard and understood about “mental illness.” It seemed that the family members became more patient and understanding as they learned more about the peer/advocate perspective. And all — or almost all — of the advocates in the support network were persons the family members had heard about previously from Nancy.

The perfect ending occurred. As Nancy came out of the altered state and out of crisis she joined the emails and the teleconferences. Nancy expressed deep appreciation for the strong network that was formed around her. She delighted in having been the reason it was formed. I believe that without this network there was a very good chance that Nancy would not be alive today. I am proud of the love we cultivated and the enduring deep, healing connections that were made during that time, and that continue today.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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Lauren Spiro
Lauren’s vision of social justice and mental health liberation focuses on developing our capacity for feeling deeply connected, appreciating the vast creative intelligence of the human heart and mind, and inspiring compassionate action. Her life’s mission is to embody inner peace to co-create global peace, thus she curates transformative learning experiences. She co-founded two non-profit corporations and Emotional CPR ( a public health education program that teaches people how to support others through an emotional crisis. She is a multi-media artist, a 20+ year practitioner of yoga and meditation, the first Director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, has been featured on national media, and consulted on numerous federal projects. Her memoir paints a poetic picture of her journey into madness and her pathway home. She has an M.A. in clinical/community psychology. For more information see


  1. I don’t believe in forcing a person to live if they truly don’t want to. For some reason though, I am the person that people, even strangers, turn to in crisis. I will not tell someone how to successfully end their life, but I will point out all the holes in their current plans. I do not contact authorities or emergency services, and I cannot give someone a reason to live. They have to find that for themselves. I do a lot of listening. I do a lot of relating, and when things finally quiet, I point out that they would not have contacted me if they didn’t already know they had something to live for.. if they didn’t question their current decision. Sometimes this only buys some time before the inevitable outcome plays out, and while I compartmentalize disturbingly well, the last one rocked me to my very core. I felt guilty. I had to check and recheck the internet to make sure they were truly dead, looking up their obituary. At the urging of a professor and friend, I wrote a dialogue between him and myself turning the problem over with the sort of cruel honesty that I can’t use in real conversations, and I finally came to terms with what guilt I truly owned. My own repeated suicide attempts have made me uniquely qualified to listen. However, it also means I have been in a lot of horrible situations, and I have lost people… People who were far more talented and promising than myself…

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    • thank you for writing Deena. I would love to have a conversation with you someday to get to know you better. I would like to better understand how and why you put yourself in these – as you say “horrible” situation. I admire your courage, your passion.

      My cell 703-862-6512.
      One thing I will write here is that my understanding is that guilt is not a feeling, it is a judgement. Perhaps you think differently. I any case, I would like to connect.
      be well

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      • Some people have to die a little I think to really feel alive. After a while, you know it’s not a question of if.. it’s a question of when, and you just don’t want to do it alone. Like calls to like. I survived. I spent twenty years slowly killing myself with notable moments of deliberation. It wasn’t courage though or passion. It’s a roll of the dice. Broken people aren’t something that can be fixed. They have to rebuild… And I think that other broken people, they still see the cracks, and they are drawn to you, some people I wanted to save, and sometimes it’s just you and poor timing and ambulances take too long.
        I think guilt is subjective. I made decisions that I honestly thought were in the person’s best interest. Doubt and regret followed. There was also a selfish aspect, and a understanding of just how much pain he had to be in to take his life in that specific situation.
        The plus side to surviving years of traumatic, horrible experiences is that you have to become strong to survive. He had never been strong and hard like I became. That’s a good thing.

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        • I too, am a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. I think of myself (and many other survivors of the wounds of living today) as tenacious. strong, tolerant, compassionate, having a thirst for life, for truth for meaning and purpose.

          I had to walk through the fire to begins finding what I am. What is being revealed is far beyond my imagination.

          I am a student of the Universe. I have many teachers. 12-step says when the student is ready to learn the teacher arrives. OH They have arrived and I am grateful. Thank you for writing again Deena. I look forward to connecting.

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  2. I read this with hesitation, as I expect you know why. The pain of others and experience of despair is difficult to ingest and for some of us, doubly or tripled with problematic maintaining distance energetically, but this is good. Thanks Lauren. I have written privately and publically on the Right To Die In Dignity, as I follow Stephen Jenkinson’s (DIE WISELY) death work. Often, what passes through me today when I sit with another person walking this path purposefully is impatience until I remember that to truly live, once must face death reverently, and constantly.

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    • Thanks for writing Jen. We are all going to die one day – at least our physical body dies. I contemplate the notion of – What lives on? I think we all live on, our energy, our essence, our spirit – what ever you want to call it or whatever you believe. I respect whatever you believe. We get to choose, right? The older and wiser I get the more I find myself believing that life is a lot more than we were taught it was. On a dense level it is physical, what I do concretely day to day. Is that what I am? No.

      I, and I propose that every human being, is much more than what we do and how we act/behave day to day. Are we the observer? If I separate myself from ego and the theatre of day-to-day life (fear-driven, dualistic) then deeper levels of consciousness and awareness are revealed. THAT is where I find meaning and purpose. Who was I born to be? Why I am here? Why take up space & oxygen? I am finding DEEP meaning and purpose as I explore embodying inner peace to create global peace. What would that look like for you? Can you imagine it? I needed to go to Auschwitz and study the death camps of WWII and release rage, terror, fear – with other people doing the same inner work – to find my calling.

      Yesterday I sat eye to eye with a sea turtle that had just laid her eggs and buried them on the beach. Exhausted, she headed back to the water. I sat on the beach with her. We exchanged glances – eye to eye, me and this beautiful creature. At that moment, nothing existed for me but pure bliss, energy, love. I was not in my head. I was on another level – I dont even know what to call it. I have no words to describe it. My experience was so much deeper than words – a peak experience, sacred, Divine…. when she disappeared into the Gulf I stood there and said Thank you, Thank you, Thank you and I cried. I was so deeply moved to be a witness and a participant.

      I am glad I have lived long enough to OPEN to my heart to love, to life, to what is beyond beyond. Life is a series of endless miracles. The fact that I have survived and become what I am is sufficient proof of that for me. How we all survive is nothing short of a miracle!!!!

      insert smile here!!!!

      Imagine a world of peace, of cooperation, of inclusion and live your life that way.

      I hope my words make sense. They came more from my heart than my head.

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