Happy New Year dear friends. I love you. Truly. Your love and support are helping me heal from Johnny’s suicide. Thanks to you, along with my darling husband John and my children and family, there was no possible way I could be alone. I actually feel the spirit of thousands of people comforting me, praying for me, and writing to me. I have felt your love many times – literally lifting me up when I couldn’t get off the ground or out of bed. I can’t explain it other than that.
I’ve come to a few realizations I’d love to share, in case you’re struggling with a difficult situation or grieving, too. Perhaps they might be helpful for you.
First, there’s nothing I can do to change what happened. After the questions, the guilt, the why’s, the obsessive reading of Johnny’s devices and journals, the what-should-I-have-done agonizing, Johnny is still gone. Once I can let go of this, I will be ready to move on and forge a new path. I’m working on it. We attended a monthly Parents of Children of Suicide group that we found extremely helpful. There’s a new GriefShare 8-week group we’re starting in February at a church nearby. We’re finding grief counselors to help us individually (that’s a process in itself). Caring friends have sent me a stack of books that I’m working through, and I’m journaling as I go. I am writing Johnny’s story, which will be published online as a free PDF download. My lesson: I am changing what I CAN change.
Second, God knew this was going to happen, but He didn’t cause it nor allow it. It just happened. Johnny’s death is no one’s fault or responsibility. He was tormented by his mental demons, and in the end, he was exhausted by the struggle. It must have been awful, and I have a great sense of compassion for him. But no one forced Johnny to take illicit drugs, nor withheld needed medications, nor caused his death. God is in control, and someday we will understand His plan for the good that will come from it. My lesson: I must let go of my anger at my inability to control what happened.
Third, it’s my responsibility to help others understand why Johnny died. Why? Because I am convicted to keep it from happening to someone else, insofar as I have the power to increase awareness. No parent should ever feel this way. If a single precious life can be saved, that will be a potentially positive outcome to this horrible event. More importantly, saving someone else would be Johnny’s gift to the world, as he always sought to practice altruism and help others. My lesson: helping people in someone else’s name, based on what he or she stood for, gives you peace.
Fourth, no one is immune—not one of you reading this. Really crappy things happen to good people all the time. People look at my life and think it’s just perfect. How could this happen to Laura? Well, why not me? I’m not exempt from tragedy, and neither are you. Do you have any young adults in your life, under 25 years old, whose brains are still developing? It could happen to your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, or you loved ones. My lesson: err on the side of being an annoying adult by warning the young people in your life.
Here’s the story you tell them: Johnny Stack struggled with social anxiety and panic attacks in high school, which were successfully managed with support, prescription medications, and therapy. He could have been fine. Then at about 17 years old, Johnny discovered marijuana and believed it helped his anxiety. (Yes, we live in Colorado. Yes, it is everywhere. Yes, your kids can get it too unless you chain them to their beds.) He started “dabbing” high-THC marijuana (they smoke a very potent wax or shatter form), which triggered bizarre episodes of psychosis and delusional thinking (the FBI was after him, the world “knew about him,” the mob had it in for him, we were “in on it,” etc.). We would disenroll him from his current university, admit him to mental hospitals, and they would stabilize him with medications, and he’d recover…until he did the drugs again. Eventually, even when he stopped doing the drugs, the psychosis did not go away, and he developed full-blown schizophrenia. He was put on anti-psychotics to control the delusion, but he didn’t like how “stupid” they made him feel, because he was extremely intelligent. So, he would stop taking them without telling us (a common problem with the disorder). When he died, he had given up smoking, he wasn’t on drugs, and he wasn’t depressed. But because he wouldn’t take the medications he now needed, the paranoid delusions told him to stop the pain, and he jumped.
I’m not making judgments about your right to use marijuana where it’s legal if you’re over 21, and I am not arguing that it helps you with chronic pain, etc. I’m sharing my direct experience of my 19-year-old son using high-potency marijuana, which triggered psychosis, which led to suicide. Can this be proven medically? Yes.
If you would be willing to help by having conversations with a young adult about the effects of THC on the developing brain, here is a portion of a BREAKPOINT podcast that I would ask you to read/listen and share: “A just-published study in the Lancet involving, among others, researchers at King’s College London, compared 900 people who had been treated for psychosis with 1,200 people who had not. Sample participants were drawn from across Europe and Brazil. Both groups were surveyed on a host of factors, including their use of marijuana and other drugs. The study’s authors concluded that “people who smoked marijuana on a daily basis were three times more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis compared with people who never used the drug. For those who used high-potency marijuana daily, the risk jumped to nearly FIVE TIMES” (capitals added by me).
In another article, doctors in Colorado, California and Massachusetts, where marijuana is legal for recreational use, say the facts are irrefutable: “Excessive use of high-THC pot and concentrated oil is linked to psychotic episodes that in some cases develop into full-blown schizophrenia.” FIVE PERCENT of 18- to 25-year old’s smoking high-THC pot develop Marijuana Use Disorder.
Johnny was fiercely loved and constantly cared for…and is desperately missed. His heart was in the right place, but his brain turned on him. Please help me make sure this doesn’t happen to the young adults in your life. People blow off marijuana as no big deal, or it’s not going to happen to me. Well, it doesn’t always happen the 1st or the 2nd or 50th time they do it…marijuana is a sneaky, insidious beast waiting to take the life of our young ones. Talk to them! How do you know if they won’t be one of those 5%?