Halloween, Signs from the Other Side and an Exciting New Study, “Machine learning of neural representations of suicide and emotion concepts identifies suicidal youth”

Holidays really suck when you are a bereaved mother.  My ability to “buy in” and fully participate with the general public, let alone my own family, is differing levels of non-existent.

The year that Oscar died I was unable to carve pumpkins.  Halloween was our favorite holiday.  I remember when Oscar was really little how we would plan his costumes for weeks.  He was Spiderman, Frodo from the Lord of the Rings, he was Link from Zelda. Each costume with it’s own special story.  The last year he dressed up for Halloween he created the character “Sir Edward of Hoppington”, he was almost 13 at the time.

This year, the second year into life without Oscar, and the third Halloween since he died, I tried so hard to do little things for myself starting at the end of August to make this fall season less terrible.  I bought pumpkin spice soap and pumpkin spice lotion because aromatherapy is very helpful for me.  I didn’t pre-judge what I was going to feel.  I started with a new therapist.  I pushed myself to get out into the garden by planting a memorial garden with my family on Oscar’s deathday.  And even though last year I was able to buy pumpkins and carve them with my other children this year I could not even look at pumpkins.  No.  I pushed myself past them every time I was at the store.  Even now I feel the little swirl of grief inside my chest as I think about pumpkins.  Such is grief.  Of course, I apologized abundantly to my daughter, who is 9.  She understands, or she says she does.  “It is just too hard,” I tell her.  And she nods her head yes and rubs my arm and gives me her sweet little hugs.  She replies with, “It’s okay mama.”  Oh the life of a bereaved mother.

Oscar sends me little messages from the other side on a regular basis and yesterday morning, Halloween morning, he sent me a new study.  I woke up to find an alert on my twitter feed about a new study that was just published in Nature Human Behaviour. (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0234-y?platform=hootsuite) I took a glance at the article, “Machine learning of neural representations of suicide and emotion concepts identifies suicidal youth” and I immediately felt a rush of curiosity.  I could not wait to read more.  This study is so incredibly exciting because it uses functional MRI to actually look at and identify definitively the brains of youth with suicidal ideation!!!  Of course we need to recreate results using larger study groups, and do all the good things we do in science to prove things over and over in order to declare truth, but oh my goodness, what a huge leap forward!!  They even had a brief story covering this new study on NPR yesterday morning!

I started reading the study in full this morning, All Saints Day.  As I was taking it in the tears rolling down my cheeks, I felt not like a little glimmer of hope, but like a full ray of sunshiney, warm, bright hope was parting the clouds for all of us suicide loss survivors. Hope that with a test like this to determine suicidality biologically, instead of relying on self-report, that we can save more lives.  If only Oscar had been able to sit for an fMRI so we could know exactly his risk for suicide… he was such a brilliant mind, he knew how to play the system.  It was impossible to tell if he was teenage angsty or truly suicidal. With this, we would have known beyond a shadow of a doubt and we could have treated him differently, more aggressively, for his suicidality.  I am excited to see this diagnostic tool be studied more.  Deepest gratitude to the clinicians behind this ground breaking study who recognized the need for a biological indicator to identify suicidal youth.

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