Uploaded: Tuesday, October 9, 2012, 3:20 PM
Moving on: survivors' stories
Third in a 4-part series on suicide, a growing concern in the San Ramon Valley
|While the bulk of people who attempt suicide are suffering from depression or another treatable mental illness -- 90 percent, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness -- that's not always the case.
Caitlin Coblentz, now 22, attempted suicide in 2004 during her freshman year at Amador Valley High School. She was 14.
"I took pills, a handful," she said. "The pills that I took, they were my antidepressants. They were supposed to make me feel better. They weren't."
Coblentz compared her feelings leading up to her suicide attempt to the feeling of sinking in a pit.
"People keep walking by and walking by and walking by. Or sometimes they throw down a rope and it's not long enough. Or they say they'll get help and they never come back. I had to have someone climb down in the pit and tie a rope around me and help me climb out," she said.
She said doctors couldn't diagnose what led her to make the attempt.
"At first we thought it was depression, then we thought it was bipolar disease. It turned out it was anxiety gone horribly wrong," Coblentz said. "My freshman year of high school I had such bad anxiety that I basically cracked."
While she said she couldn't remember about the time leading up to her attempt, Coblentz said no one, including her parents, recognized her as a risk for suicide.
"From what I found out later, it came out of the blue for them. They did not see it coming," she said. "I was really good at lying to myself, so they couldn't know because I didn't know until that moment."
Coblentz can't tie any specific thing to turning her life around, although she points to her family saying they love her, encouraging her to "stay here," and a return to faith.
"There are thousands of things that people said and did that helped me along the path. I can't point to any definitive thing. A little bit of it was realizing my support system and a lot of it was just learning what was going on," she said.
"Some of it was a change in my school system. When I was in the main school system, I was fluctuating between all grade levels, mostly I was around the C range, but once I got to Village (High School, the district's alternative school) I was an A student, I was basically the valedictorian."
Coblentz graduated in 2007 and is currently attending St. Mary's College in Moraga to earn a teaching credential.
She also said she had to learn that feeling suicidal didn't mean she was a bad person.
"It's not a choice, feeling that way is not a choice. No one wants to feel that way," Coblentz said. "It's not something that you can consciously do, you can't turn that frown upside down."
She added that the best piece of advice came from her father.
"He told me when you hit rock bottom, the only place to go is up. Whether you crawl, whether you climb, whether someone pulls you up, whether you sprout wings and fly, keep looking up," she said. "It has made me stronger as a person."
Coblentz encouraged others to watch out for those around them.
"Ask, 'Are you OK?' Provide a safe place. If someone comes to you, offer them help," she said. "Some people are really good at making themselves invisible. That's part of the tragedy of suicide."
For those who find themselves thinking about suicide, she said, "Find professional help. There is always someone willing to listen, there is always someone who wants to help you, to hold out their hand and get out of that pit. There will be somebody left behind. There will be somebody who will be hurt by that loss. There will be somebody that misses them."
Kevin Hines could easily be described as a miracle man. He's one of a handful of people who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and lived to talk about the experience.
Hines was 17 when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
"I didn't know what that meant and it was very scary and I didn't want to have a mental illness and I was in denial," he said. "I was so ill with the symptoms of bipolar disorder: mania, paranoia, hallucinations, both auditory and visual, and severe depression. All those things were going on and I was just losing my mind, for lack of a better term. I would pretend to follow my treatment plan and taking my pills, but I wouldn't be."
That came to a head Sept. 24, 2000. At 19, after months of pretending he was OK and hiding his symptoms from his friends, Hines spent the night contemplating killing himself.
"I didn't know how to cope," he said. "I didn't want to die, but because of my psychosis I believed that I had to die. I thought that everybody hated me, they were just pretending to be nice to me."
After a night of pacing the room, Hines wrote a note to his family and his girlfriend, telling them he loved them. Having made his decision, he said he was at peace.
"Part of my story is when the 25th came, when my Dad came into my room, I was completely calm," he said, adding his father thought, "'I can go to work and he'll be OK.' I was euphoric, a peace had come over me that my brain would stop attacking me, and I would be free."
While not often discussed, Hines said many people who decide to commit suicide seem to be at peace once their decision is made: They're convinced that their pain will be over.
Part of Hines' story is that he hoped someone would reach out to him and tell him not to jump. He took a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge and arrived at about 10 a.m., surrounded by tourists.
"I said to myself, 'If just one person, just one, comes up to me and asks me if I need help, I'll tell everything,'" Hines said. Instead, a tourist asked him to take her picture.
Convinced no one cared, Hines climbed over the rail, let go and realized immediately he wanted to live.
"The millisecond I hit freefall, when my hands and feet left the rail, I said, 'What have I just done? I don't want to die. God, please save me,'" he said. "People get shocked into reality and they realize immediately they've made a mistake and I knew I made a mistake."
Hines survived the fall with two shattered vertebrae. Now, he's a public speaker, talking about suicide prevention and mental illness.
"If you're considering suicide right now, if you've ever thought about suicide and it haunts you -- suicide is never the solution for any problem. But when you feel that way, you have to know you're not alone, there are millions of people who have thought about suicide," Hines said. "Hope exists, and a future, while living with a mental health issue or a suicidal thought, exists. It's not easy. You have to work hard."
For Hines, that means sticking to a rigorous routine that includes taking his medications on time every day, exercising, eating healthy and sleeping seven to eight hours a night.
"If I slip on one thing of that routine, I slip mentally," he said. "I've made the active decision to do all these things all the time so I can feel better."
Publisher's note: Sometimes our stories hit too close to home. The package of stories written by Glenn Wohltmann on suicide running this week was slated to run on Sept. 14. However, when our friend and Pleasanton Weekly colleague Kathy Martin reported her daughter Tricia missing, we decided to hold the stories until Tricia was safely back home. We lost Tricia on Sept. 14 to what is being investigated as a murder-suicide or double suicide. It hurts to run these stories. It hurts more to watch Kathy and Tricia's friends grieving over their loss. We pray running these stories will cause anyone contemplating this act to reconsider and spare his or her loved ones from the excruciating pain felt by those left behind.
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