Talking About Suicide

Talking with Laura Carbonell


I didn’t expect to come across someone’s story of their suicide attempt on a blog dedicated to Latina moms, but there it was. Laura Carbonell was moved to write about her teenage attempt, one she had nearly forgotten, after a friend from high school recently reached out for help on Facebook. “It all came back,” Laura says. “I understood how she must feel. Abandoned, alone and helpless. I believe it was a call for help, but I too understand people wanting out.”

Laura offered to answer questions by e-mail:

Who are you? Please introduce yourself.

I’m 47 years old. I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. My father, who is Spanish,
was teaching philosophy at Duquesne University, where he met my mother,
who is American. Two years after I was born, my mom decided to leave my dad
and take us with her and her new boyfriend, but my dad resisted the idea. My
mom was 22 and very irresponsible and an alcoholic. My dad took us to Spain to
start over, my sister and I. My sister is two years older. We landed in Madrid,
Spain, where we were raised by my grandmother, who was going through her own
breakup and depression.

I barely recall my mother. I never missed her, I think, but I am sure many of my
problems are rooted in the abandonment and rejection I constantly felt. At the age
of 5, I already felt like an outcast and had difficulty making friends. I already
had questions about life, what it was about and why we were here. This I felt I
couldn’t communicate to other 5- or 6-year-olds.

I had a rough time at school because, as I now know, I have ADHD and was also
very shy. By 13, I was already drinking. I drank my way out of my shyness and felt I could
relate to other people, be fun and forget my self-consciousness.

I practiced all the self-hatred possible for years. Drinking, burning my hands with
cigarettes, and I believe all of this was to control what I felt and to numb my
feeling. I just couldn’t seem to be able to be normal or carefree. Whatever that
means! However, nobody had a clue, or would have a clue, because I am a very joyful
person when I am with people. I am a Spanish teacher, and I love what I do.
Nobody would think I have had social phobia, which now I am overcoming, at long
last! Outside the class and when I was/am alone, all the demons, insecurities and
fears seem/ed to come back.

I finally went to a psychiatrist when I was 24. My family didn’t know how to
help me and my destructive nature. I went happily on my own but kept drinking.
This man suggested I go to a hospital to get sober, and I did. But I didn’t like
the place. I did know I had a drinking problem, but I just couldn’t relate to these
people at the mental institution. Plus, they had me on megadoses of Valium. I lasted a week and a half, when the program was a month. I left and tried going it
alone. This was the first time since 13 that I had nothing to drink and had to face
life without the crutches of a drink. Oh boy! All my fears, insecurities were there,
every minute. A black cloud seemed to cover everything. One day I came back
home absolutely depressed. It wasn’t planned, I just walked into my room and got
three bottles of Valium (I was in Spain, and I could get most of what I wanted) and
had them all. I was in a daze and don’t remember very well what happened. I just
have images. It seems I called a lady friend of my dad’s who had recommended
the psychiatrist, and they rushed me to the hospital, where I had the Valium pumped
out. I do recall asking the nurse if I was going to make it and she said, “We don’t

The next thing that I recall was getting up at 6 a.m. and heading to teach my classes.
I taught at companies and worked for my dad at his language school. I wanted
to get back to life. Many of my friends agree my job kept me alive. Because
that was a confident me, not the me after the classes were over. Everyone, even
my psychiatrist, was amazed I went to work the next day. And I did go back to
drinking. I couldn’t face life without my crutches.

I never talked about it with my dad, or any family member. We didn’t discuss
anything personal. I know my dad has always lived in fear that I would pull it again. But it has never been discussed.

Eventually, at 27, I quit drinking with the help of NA. This helped me in so many
ways, building confidence and finding out that I wasn’t alone. Drinking, smoking and overeating, I believe, are also smaller forms of slow suicide. This should be emphasized.

How did you decide to talk and write openly about your experience?

I had almost forgotten about it until I started writing for VOXXI and Mamiverse.
A high school friend posted on Facebook that she wanted out with her kid. Her
parents had also committed suicide years ago. We alerted Facebook and the cops, and it
seems we got her help.

Throughout the process, I got discouraged because many people who actually
lived near her were not responding. I live in San Francisco, I haven’t seen her for years, and nobody close was responding! I finally wrote to my friends, and it all came back.
I understood how she must feel. Abandoned, alone and helpless. I believe it was a
call for help, but I too understand people wanting out.

I came across the video I linked to the [Mamiverse] blog and found it so honest. I understood the guy so well. I also read and wrote about Bob Bergeron. A happy man
who killed himself. Sometimes I believe there are no clues. Our rivers run so deep.
Even having it all doesn’t mean we are doing so well.

It is true I am attracted to suicide. I find it interesting and something people should
be more open about, with discretion, of course. We don’t want to say it’s OK, but
we do have to acknowledge that it happens. What scares me the most is that, as with myself, it wasn’t planned, it seemed like the thing to do. There is depression and sadness, but clinical depression can drive you to do things without much thought.

What kinds of responses have you received to the blog?

It has come as a surprise to many, because I am a very happy-looking person. I
genuinely am. Again, only when I am alone do the demons try to pry their way in.
A student-friend of mine did thank me for my story and honesty.
Some have come to me with their own stories or other personal stories. They felt
they could confide in me, and I could understand were they were coming from.

How can more people be encouraged to speak out, or to not freak out when
someone mentions a suicide attempt or suicidal thinking? Or are there benefits to
keeping all of this quiet?

I believe that it is trickling out. Slowly it is being more talked about, as with
the bullying which has driven teens to commit suicide. I think parents should
encourage more openness with their kids, more conversations, even if they might
feel it uncomfortable. Kids need to feel comfortable about communicating their
feelings. And only parents can encourage this.

Once it has happened, I think people should reach out and get the conversation out
of the way. Once out, people can understand and forget about it and see it as an
anecdote. When people have all the information, they feel more at ease. No more
big elephant in the room kind of thing.

Ignoring it might work for some, though. I haven’t talked about it. Ever. Just now,
because I now feel strong enough to do so.

Is it easier to get past a suicide attempt if it happened earlier in life, for teens or
young adults as opposed to older people?

Yes, maybe it is easier when you are younger. Time heals most wounds, as they
say. And you learn from experience. However, adults may have a harder time.
More baggage, more fears of being accepted and seeming loony. There is too
much pressure as an adult to keep appearances.

If a person has had a suicide attempt and would like to be open about it, how
should they balance that with the possibility of negative reactions in their career,
social life, etc.?

Being an alcoholic, even a recovering alcoholic, years ago was seen as a weakness,
an embarrassment, etc. However, now people look up to some of these people and
praise their strength. There is more understanding. Same would go with suicide if it
were more openly talked about.

I now have this belief _ finally! _ that the people who can’t handle how or who you are
need not be in your life. Being you, accepting yourself, will make you stronger.
Fear of what people think will hold you back.

I often include a question about assisted suicide. Is that a completely different
issue, or should there be a different approach for people near the end of their lives who say they want control over it?

Death is a taboo, when actually it is as natural as being born. I believe people should
have a choice of how and when to die. I must say that I joke about it and always tell my family and friends to unplug me ASAP! For one, I want a dignified exit for myself and others. On the other hand, I don’t want my relatives or friends to go broke to give me a couple of more suffering-filled days!

If you wanted to add another angle or approach to suicide prevention to reach out
to attempt survivors, what would you do?

As I said before, we should get closer to people. I am a teacher,
and I get real close to my students. They tell me things they wouldn’t tell other
people. I bond because I ask personal questions. I used to think that people didn’t
want to talk about their losses, as in the death of a loved one. Now I understand
that people do, want to and need to. Same as in suicide attempts or any other real-life matters.

The problem is that I understand too well wanting to exit. Life is hard, and we live
two lives, our inner lives and outer lives. We all have our demons, and some are
harder to overcome.

Oh! And last year, when I felt depression start to come over me, I immediately
sought help. I was afraid of falling into that deep hole again. I am sincerely doing
very well, and that is why I can talk about who I am.

Who else are you?

I am a language teacher who has found a home in San Francisco. The city of outcasts, where I feel normal because they are not afraid to blurt out their most
personal stories. Because here, there is real acceptance.

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