From the moment I sat on railroad tracks, preparing to end my life at the age of 15, I’ve understood the debilitating impact of depression. Thirty-five years later, the unique memoir/novella Suicide Escape tells the story of that struggle. More importantly, it shares what I’ve learned since about winning the battle for mental health, while providing hope to those facing their darkest battles today that it is worth fighting for a future.
The book is aimed at teenagers, pre-teens and others anxious to find they are not alone, and to discover that the future offers hope. It also helps those who care about anyone who is depressed discuss these issues openly and helpfully. With at least 50 percent of author profits from the 99 cent Kindle version and paperback at less than 8 U.S. dollars being contributed to mental health organizations, you’ll also be helping others. For a free, condensed, two-page version of my recommendations for parents, educators and clinicians on how to help those challenged by depression, send an email to email@example.com, contact me on Twitter @m_bushman or let me know through Facebook.com/AuthorMike Bushman.
“If you want an unflinchingly honest account of the agony of being a teen without hope, or the difficult process of recovery, then know that you’ve found it.”
– Joanna Weston, Life Coach
“Brings to life the misunderstood, complex struggle faced by victims of depression. . . . Opens minds to the value and purpose of each life.”
– Tanner Snider, Teen Depression/Suicide Awareness Advocate
” . . .easy-to-read, beautiful messages delivered with twists that keep the reader engaged. . . . The emotions, fears and struggles are spot on.”
– Jennifer Brundige, former Crisis Hotline staff.
Questions and Answers
You use the phrase “mental health challenges” in some cases, but most experts talk about mental illness or mental health diseases. Are you belittling the issues when you call these challenges?
I would never underplay the seriousness of mental health. Instead, I believe there is an added layer of lifelong attention required to properly address mental health. It’s important for people battling mental illness to recognize that achieving mental health isn’t a goal, once reached, to be ignored. Mental illnesses or diseases can originate in our physical construct, requiring at least the same range and intensity of care and treatment as other physical diseases. Unlike many illnesses or diseases that can be cured, mental health almost always requires an ongoing component of physical treatment and attention to thoughts and behaviors.
Do you intend to deal with suicide and depression issues in future stories?
Depression issues are important to me and this story is far from comprehensive. Suicide Escape focuses on the challenges with teen depression, while acknowledging the crisis of senior depression. I left the story mentioning that Clarissa’s mother struggles with her own depression challenges. In a future book, I intend to delve more deeply into the challenges adults face dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. A two-time attempt survivor has agreed to be the subject of my next story, though this one will take on more biographical form.
Why did you set the book in the year 2041 when teen depression and suicide are clearly issues today?
When I thought about how to tell the story, I considered the importance of having male and female characters so that young adults dealing with these issues could see elements of themselves in the characters. That meant the teenager in the story had to be female. Once I decided this, I wanted to make my character much older to minimize the creep factor in a story where a teenage girl is alone with an older male stranger. I’m 50 now. By the time Suicide Escape takes place, I would be 76. Once I made those decisions, the character Clarissa Coleman from Secession 2041 jumped out at me as the obvious character through which to tell the story. I saw her as sharing an ability I had as a teenager of putting on a display of confidence that masked my internal struggle.
Are you the character Mike?
Certainly, for events occurring prior to publication of the book, I am Mike. I would be thrilled to live long enough to see the year 2041. I also hope I would handle any encounter with someone dealing with suicidal thoughts and serious depression with the grace, dignity and intellect Mike displays in the story.
Is The Daily Illini column referenced in Suicide Escape real?
Yes. It’s part of why I decided to write the book. I received several notes and pictures after the column was published that let me know that my column touched some people. After reading those notes, I realized I should have shared my story earlier and done more to draw attention to depression and suicide issues.
Why, then, did you wait until 28 years later to produce a book on the topic?
It’s a question without a simple or even particularly honorable answer. My work hours had typically been fairly extreme throughout my government and corporate career. I focused any spare time and mental energy I had left after work on my family. I also was reluctant to share my story in work settings because of the stigma attached and didn’t want to create unnecessary high school trauma for my kids by writing and sharing the story before they finished high school. In hindsight, all of these are obstacles I could have overcome.
You use foul language in a book clearly designed in part for a teen audience. Why didn’t you edit this out?
During intense situations, we edit our speech to a far lesser extent than most of us would under normal circumstances. I would have preferred to have found a clever way to rewrite Clarissa’s dialogue without so much cursing, but every attempt left these passages feeling artificial. Harsher language fit with the desperate Clarissa that ruminates in my mind, particularly with her coming out of a series of intense difficulties. I was able to avoid cursing in my other novels and certainly don’t intend to make it standard in my writing.
Clarissa is affected by many significant events that aren’t covered in detail in Suicide Escape. Why didn’t you go into more detail on her background?
I tried not to lose focus on the elements of the story that would matter in the battle Clarissa was engaged in against her depression or the relationship between Mike and Clarissa. My goal was to provide enough background that her struggle would make sense, without getting readers too distracted by the traumas foretold in my other novels. Anyone interested in reading more about Clarissa and the national background at the time of Suicide Escape can read Secession 2041.
Have you ever felt depressed since your teenage years?
I’ve had difficult times since sitting on the railroad tracks, but have better understood since that time that my devastation did not have to be permanent. I’ve also become far better at recognizing when behavioral changes were needed to help improve my mental health. I last wrote about battling depression in the context of discussing my wife moving to New York City for work and what it feels like to live apart from the woman I love and have been married to for more than a quarter century. That story appeared in the Huffington Post.
Do you provide counseling to people dealing with depression?
Anyone interested in discussing depression can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Twitter @m_bushman. Please recognize that I am not a trained mental health professional and cannot provide professional guidance. I strongly recommend that anyone in the midst of a struggle find personal, local help, whether through mental health agencies, religious institutions, guidance counselors or your doctor. In many cases, depression has a brain chemistry component that requires physical treatment just as if you had diabetes or another disease in addition to counseling support and ongoing attention.
Is the arboretum you talk about in the book real?
When weather permits, I do a substantial amount of my writing on the grounds of Morton Arboretum. Morton is a world leader in tree science and conservation in addition to having extraordinarily beautiful grounds on 1,700 acres west of Chicago. For more information, go to www.mortonarb.org. If you’re visiting the Arboretum and see someone writing in the woods or by a lake on a purple-covered MacBook computer, please come introduce yourself.
Are you open to speaking about your experience?
I’m a firm believer that our experiences, even the worst of them, have value to us or to others. That means my suffering as a teen has to have a purpose and that purpose is to share my story and offer hope. I’ve engaged in thoughtful discussions on mental health on One Life Radio, the Changing Behavior Network, Lady Talk Live and many other forums. I also have spoken to high school groups, clinicians and other interested in learning about depression from a sufferer’s perspective. If you are interested in having me speak to your group or on your show, let me know. I’ll do my very best to make it work. Contact links are above.
If you have other questions you would like to see answered here, contact me through the web site or by email at email@example.com. I welcome your comments and questions.