'Subtle Suicide' Destroys Lives of Millions; Often Misdiagnosed

"After the second suicide attempt, a women psychiatrist at the hospital said she couldn't believe how many meds he had thrown at me," she said. "She basically said, 'No wonder you are in such a pit.' They didn't help and I had to get out of the zombie state so the therapy could work."

She changed psychiatrists and began with Church the hard work of finding out why she had been living so much of her life in the suicide zone.

"I wasn't very good to myself," Pontosky said. "He linked a lot to my childhood and the emotional deprivation I felt."

Suicide Notes Reflect Victims' Pain

Gregory Eells, director of counseling services at Cornell University, which had a string of student suicides this year, agrees subtle suicide needs more attention.

"We see it in through their [suicide] notes, comments about not finding meaning in life, having pain, but not knowing how to escape it," he said. But those with subtle feelings of unexplained loss of pleasure and meaning in life are the people we are often the most worried about."

"He, too, cautions against over-medicating when behavioral therapy may help.

"Therapy does work," he said. "The hard part is, it's not the narrative we want to hear. We think, give a pill and you'll be cured. The reality is nothing is that simple. Our experience tells us that a pill doesn't fix everything, it doesn't give life meaning or make sense of things."

He also emphasized that traumatic upbringing is not always an obstacle to emotional self-acceptance.

"To some extent we're all shaped by our past, but I have worked with people who have overcome amazing difficulties," he said. "Childhood is a determinant and it clearly sets us on a path, but we have an amazing potential to change and not be a prisoner of our past."

Luckily, Pontosky was able to surmount her painful past. After much therapy, she confronted her husband about her emotional needs.

"I was submissive," she said. "No independent person deserves to be unhappy. I need to be happy as well."

The couple separated, but they continued to work on the marriage and she eventually grew more confident of her self-worth.

In both suicide attempts, her husband had found his wife unconscious, and he needed therapy, too.

"He'd been through a heck of a lot," she said. "We just held strong and realized we could lean on each and accept each other's faults."

"It's hard to imagine what he and I were like then," she said. "We made a huge transformation. Though all of this we have held together and our marriage has flourished."

Today, they have a two-year-old adoptive son. "He is the light of our lives," said Pontosky, who has gone back to her work as neonatal care nurse. "For me, he was the missing piece which kind of brought everything full circle."

And Pontosky, who is now on a single medication and continues her therapy, is finally happy enough to be afraid of death -- "very much so," she said.

"A lot of the work is mine," she said. "But I thank Dr. Church for showing me what created these feelings and why I dealt with them the way I did. He gave me the tools to make it different."

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