Disclaimer: The following episode contains conversations touching on suicide and/or references other mental health disorders that may act as triggers. Continue at your own discretion.
My next guest was plunged into grief when her husband died by suicide. The sudden loss of the love of her life left her reeling with unanswered questions. The aftermath of suicide leaves loved ones at a mess of emotions. The Suicide Club shows a way forward through any anger, blame or judgment towards acceptance and peace.
Welcomed back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty and my next guest is Alexandra Wyman, who is here to share about her book, The Suicide Club. Let’s dive in.
All right Alexandra, thank you so much for joining me today to have this conversation, which I believe as well, well-needed in our communities, in the public because it is a deep topic in which sometimes, you know, when we hear about suicide, whether it be our family or our friends or people that we don’t know such as celebrities or people in the past or in the current times that we’re in, you have done something incredible and courageous by bringing your story into a book and sharing it with the world because you have a unique message. So Alexandra, thank you for joining me today. I really appreciate your time.
Alexandra Wyman: Well, thank you so much for having me.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. I really want to give our listeners just a little bit of a personal background of just who you are, where’d you grow up perhaps, and a little bit of a background story of just who you are, get to know you a little bit.
Alexandra Wyman: Sure, of course. Well, I’m currently in Colorado but I have moved around quite a bit, including spending some time outside of the US. I’ve always had a little bit of that travel bug but I am originally from California and all my adventures brought me to eventually working in pediatric occupational therapy.
So I worked with children zero to 18 years old on just being able to function throughout their life and their daily schedule and a few years ago, I had a son. He’s three, so I’m also managing, having this toddler who is adorable but also very rambunctious.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: He’s going to test your abilities, of course.
Alexandra Wyman: A little bit, a little bit and he’s very much—his mind is very much like his dad. So I also am handling that going I don’t even know. He’s very mechanically minded, which is awesome to see.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that. Well, thank you for sharing that. So you obviously wrote a very, like I said, a very unique book. Getting into the book world and publishing and all these things, what I found to be fascinating is that there’s the how to book, especially in the nonfiction, right?
There’s a how-to book, there’s the business books, entrepreneur but then, there’s the memoir, right? And it’s kind of its own world but not only a memoir, especially when it’s a deep experience, like the one you vividly describe throughout your book, which is around suicide.
And I think you know, like I was telling you just before our interview, I think this is good for me because I, at first, I was like, “Wow, you know, how do I set this conversation up?” But then I realized like, let’s be honest, I don’t have these conversations on a regular basis and this is a good opportunity for me and the listeners to kind of hear your perspective.
Because like you said, in a way and I know it sounds kind of funky, but to normalize these conversations, so that we can have a healthy understanding of not only suicide but what happens when people go through it, the loved ones around them and the extended, the future, what that could look like.
So I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to speak to someone, to someone like you because I feel like I need a frame around all of this. I mean, I came from a very traumatic experience, it’s very different. I was a refugee after the first Gulf War, just a little bit about me and then I grew up in America.
I got to come here after four years of living in the desert. However, I know for a fact, there was tons of people that committed suicide in that refugee camp—but it was not talked about. My dad did his absolute best to protect me from that. Honestly, not the best thing he could have done but in the moment in time, it’s the best thing he tried to do, right? But here we are, you know, it’s 2022, I’m much older and I can understand and recognize these things.
So how did you approach writing the book and thinking about it? Who did you really want to help? I know you said, this is the book you wish you would have had after this incident. What is it about your book that maybe was cathartic in writing or an emotional, I guess, in a way, closure to that incident? Can you tell us a little bit about the writing process?
Healing Through Writing
Alexandra Wyman: Sure and first, I just want to say that thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your experience because we are all—I feel like we all have events that happen in our lives that can impact us negatively and positively and being able to just recognize that and understand that life isn’t this linear checklist that we get and we all have experiences in how we get through them.
So I just wanted to say thank you for being vulnerable and being able to share that because I think even of itself that will empower other people to share their story too.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Absolutely. I feel like it’s the least I could do in speaking with you, so we can go on the same baseline at least.
Alexandra Wyman: Yeah, far as writing, yes. So after my husband, Shawn, passed, I was given some really beautiful widow’s journals and very prayerful books and there was some additional trauma and drama, I guess, that occurred and there wasn’t anything tangible that I could flip through or go through to say, “What do I do now?” or “How do I start this business process?” and I’ll say, agencies try.
They try to be available and so I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to sit down and start working through my feelings through writing.” I kind of have always done that with journals and telling other stories and so I just started. It was kind of my way of, in a way of in a way like word vomiting I guess and just getting everything on to a page.
Three weeks after Shawn passed, I was contacted by someone who said, “Hey, I know someone else who just lost her husband to suicide, is there any way you’d be willing to reach out?” and I said, “Of course” and I realized, I started creating this network of people who were losing their loved ones to suicide who had started going to a support group.
But I was realizing that there was this common theme of we don’t even know how to navigate through this, we just don’t have the resource yet or the tools and I thought, “Okay, I don’t know how to make sense of what I’m going through other than maybe I can make sense and create my own resource into a box and then potentially share that with other people as an example” and that’s kind of how it started. So we’ll see where it goes from here.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah and what’s really profound about that is that, you’re almost, you know, someone tapped your shoulder so close to when your husband passed that it was almost you switched into this, like, “Okay. How can I use experience to help whoever?” because you realized there are so many people going through this.
I feel like it’s something that when you go through it, at least for me, like, I didn’t process going through that refugee camp and until I wrote my book, to be honest with you. I have talked about it, I’ve shared with people, I’ve told the story but you’re a hundred percent right.
It wasn’t until I started writing, I joined Scribe and all that stuff, that I committed to writing my story that I realized, “Wow, like, this is therapy.” This is a form of therapy I didn’t even know it existed. I’ve always been an artist my whole life so I’ve been painting and drawing and you know, I went to architecture school.
But I didn’t realize how writing this story and just processing those memories and just getting them out of my mind has helped me define those things differently. So would you say that you know, in that writing process, I’m sure it enriched that experience in a way that it brought forth all the memories, I’m sure.
How did you then decide to take those memories, write them out and then process them in a way? Did you realize that through writing, you were in a way, perhaps maybe healing yourself and is that something you suggested to others?
Alexandra Wyman: Yeah, it’s such a good question. I will say, I don’t feel that I wrote this book on my own. So not to get super spiritual or woo-woo on all of you.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Please do. I could go there, trust me.
Alexandra Wyman: But I really felt that some of the messages I was getting were from my angels or from Shawn or…and so I would start writing and I definitely find it healing. I can say this because there are times even through the editing process where I went back and I was like, “Oh, did I write that? Oh, that’s a really good…” or “Oh, I could use that right now” and then had to sit and kind of take my own advice, if you will, but I have encouraged other people.
A big thing, especially with suicide is to be able to say verbally what has happened and to be able to say like, “I lost my husband to suicide on this date.” So what I have encouraged other people to do is to write letters to their loved one or write it down if they can’t feel that they can say it because a lot of people are struck at first without being able to actually verbalize.
I’ve known people who knew Shawn and it wasn’t until a year or even two years after he passed that they were able to say his name and so I think it’s absolutely a way because I think also it can be very toxic for us to hold all of those feelings and it’s an emotional rollercoaster and to keep that all inside, it can wreak havoc on us mentally.
It can wreak havoc on us physically and there are statistics about individuals who are impacted by suicide who have a higher rate of dying that way as well. So I’m all about, how can we switch and change our viewpoint right now in society around suicide from that anger and that judgment and be able to see more compassion in it.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I’m so glad you’re taking us there because here’s my thing: How does one reach out, how does one show love and support and, how does one come around people who have just experienced this very tragic loss, right, but to be there for their loved ones.
How can we, I guess, community of people who are I guess in a way, like my perspective. Like, how am I on the outside looking in, how do I reach out to that person and show them that you know, I care, that I love them and that I want to be there for them?
Here’s my thing, right? Is it too much, like, can it be too much that someone would come in and try to help or is it welcomed? I mean obviously for every single person, those tragedies are different but I know, there’s strength in community, there’s strength in that kind of love. How did you experience that and how would you teach us to reach out to the ones that have experienced this kind of loss?
Alexandra Wyman: Yeah.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: That was kind of a loaded question.
Strength in Community
Alexandra Wyman: It is. I’m like, which direction to take this in. There’s so many different ways to look at it. One, in this kind of way, I think with any loss, right? You have people bring food, they reach out and say, “You let me know what you need” and in the midst of this, it’s like what I needed was my husband back and I couldn’t get that.
So I did have people and we feel, in general as a society, we feel better when we could help, right? No one could bring him back but it’s a very helpless feeling and so the thing is, “What can I do, what is a physical thing I can do?” and what you were saying is exactly what I think is helpful as just to reach out and say, “I’m thinking about you.”
“I just want to see how you’re doing” because in the midst, people would say, “What can I do? Do you need this or that?” and I was like, “I don’t.” I’m just functioning at this point in time. I’m just trying to get my son, you know, make sure he’s safe, he’s going to where he needs to and then I’m just getting through each day.
So I think just letting people know is a really great way to do it and I had let people know in my community of I may not reach back out to you right away but I will and I’m grateful I told people for a year and a half, “Just keep reaching out to me, just keep reaching out to me.”
So I think that’s one way to do it. I think another way to show that support is, so often, with suicide, I think, when we make the death about our loss, then it’s an opportunity for us to keep that anger and blame or that shame, right?
We have that, “Why couldn’t I save him, why couldn’t I—what should I have done differently, so that the outcome would have been different?” and we carry that shame and we carry that guilt and especially with suicide. There’s also, I think people like to create space between themselves and in an event like suicide.
We’ll go “Oh, well, I’m not depressed. So that sort of thing wouldn’t happen to me” or “My life looks different because I do A, B and C, so that won’t happen.” So we like to create that space and I think that’s when we were talking at the beginning of this about that normalizing of suicide as a type of death and when we can understand or come to a place of seeing that it’s a type of pain, people are in a type of pain that isn’t always tangible or you can’t always see it but it’s no less important or debilitating than physical pain or disease.
It’s just different and I think when we can take ourselves out of the picture and have a better understanding of what our person must have been going through or someone else’s person must have been going through to get to a point that the only choice that they saw was to end their life, to end their pain, I think that’s where some of that love and compassion kind of comes in more naturally.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, you walk us through grief in those three phases throughout your book. With our audience, can you share? I mean, I know you talk about the shock and awe, which is the incident, right? You move us on to sort of like, “Now what?” you know, that question.
I think that question kind of also develops not only in the minds of the person but the minds of obviously, the ones around them and I think for me, I’ve always thought of myself as like, a fixer, like, that’s one thing I’ve had to really learn to kind of pull back in myself because of my traumatic experiences and what they led me to I just wanted to heal everyone around me.
I wanted to hug and love on my mom and dad and make them laugh and like, always wanted to be in front of them and joke around. That was protecting me, right? From seeing them suffer. That was like, my sort of way to protect myself as well and so growing up, you know, sometimes my wife and I will talk about something or whatever and I immediately would want to jump to wanting to fix something, you know what I mean?
It’s like, sometimes you don’t need to fix anything, you just need to listen and hear what this is about and kind of find your way through it but then you talk about finding that collateral beauty. Can you talk to me a little bit about that last phase? You kind of touched on it here but how did you find, you know, this idea of collateral beauty? Can you define that a little bit for us and walk us through what you mean?
Final Phase of Grief and Moving Forward
Alexandra Wyman: Sure and full disclosure, I did get inspiration from the actual movie, Collateral Beauty. It was this idea of being able to still see the beauty of a life that is left even without your person and it tends to look like it’s on a periphery at first because you are staring at your life that’s kind of still a hot mess and I tell people often, I’m like, “I’m still trying to get my footing” and they’re like, “But there’s not life. It’s not life still trying to get your footing.”
Even with all of that, just understanding that I can hear my son giggle and it just brings joy. I can see that it is sunny outside and rains, which it does here quite often in Colorado but it will be sunny and raining and there is just something that I go, “Oh okay, there is that piece of beauty. Here is something I can look forward to” and when we can start looking outside of the immediacy of what we have, then what I post it is when you can start to really see that the life for me personally, that the life I have left still holds a lot of joy.
It is a choice for me to go and find that joy and to see that it’s this beauty that exists even when I feel like I am in the midst of the worst time of my life.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: That is so powerful on so many levels, you know, your ability, it’s a gift. I feel like what you carry around is a gift because I can feel you here. Honestly, I got goose bumps you talking about that because you exude this energy that is trying to define like you say, the joy in your life. The remainder of your husband’s life but then in your life and obviously your son’s life as well because there is so much reason for you to obviously look at the dark because you’re surrounded in it.
There’s this exceptional purpose within you that’s seeking this light in almost, for me, how I feel it right now is like you’re exuding this light, you know? Just looking at it, I just appreciate that so much. I think, you know, my parents did such a beautiful thing by doing poetry or painting or whatever it was in the midst of that refugee camp, there was like glimpses of hope, right?
I think when you focus on those aspects of life, you tend to become more resilient. Really for me, become better at bouncing back and this idea of hope starts to, I don’t know, in a way uncirculated like the things that you find true meaning in. Like you said, I mean, it’s raining and it’s sunny, there’s beauty in that and you’re a 100% right, life in and of itself is beautiful. However, our circumstances like you are beautifully talking about here, they don’t have to determine every moment of our day.
We can feel the pain, we can feel the sorrow, we can feel these things, they shouldn’t define every millisecond of our time, which can obviously, we can succumb to that that can lead to a trajectory we don’t want but it sounds like you’re gathering these pieces and you’re bringing them close enough to you so that you can lead in a more beautiful path. That’s so powerful considering the timeframe in which all of this has happened.
It sounds like you have this intense passion to move forward in a way that, you know again, just writing your book is a sign for me that you are very intentional about how you’re trying to approach, the rest of your life. There is no question there, I’m just kind of noting what I am hearing and it’s just beautiful. I just have to note that.
Alexandra Wyman: Well, thank you and I think you touched on something exactly in that these experiences that we have that are traumatic or impact us, they don’t have to dictate our life. They contribute to who we become and then we get to choose what to do with it. I love that you said moving forward because I say we don’t really move on from this but we do move forward. You carry your grieving journey with you.
It just morphs and changes as you go because there are always going to be milestones that my son is hitting and my husband is not here. There are going to be holidays, there are going to be questions about it but through people who knew him, I know, for my son, he’s going to get to know his dad very well and so it just kind of changes but you are exactly right and that we can take those experiences and they enrich who we are.
Then it’s how do we relate to other people in order to make the most out of this life that we do have left versus letting it dictate and get us stuck in those painful memories and painful emotions.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that so much. So you talk about, you know, moving towards acceptance and peace and that sort of evolution throughout these phases. Would you say you’re in that phase now, sort of this in a way acceptance and like a sense of peace as you move towards that?
Alexandra Wyman: I think it’s fluid. So I have moments, I definitely feel that I am more than that third phase because that second phase is definitely still dealing with the intensity of the event while also having to kind of do the business and figure out how to put one foot in front of the other but as far as that third phase, I do feel like I am there and also I still have days that are harder and days where I feel that I miss Shawn more or I am really longing just to be able to talk to him about something.
Then I have other days where I feel like just stepping foot out my door I am seeing all of that collateral beauty. So I think what’s so remarkable about this process and what I am grateful for is so clearly early on having someone tell me I could get to the other side of it and my initial reaction was not a pleasant one but being able to see how you really can get to the other side and still navigate the ups and downs while still recognizing that beauty.
Still recognizing that there is more to do and then in a way, it’s making this process mean something to me by being able to guide or help other people navigate their own process.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah and I just love your intention behind helping other people. I mean, you have mentioned it quite a few times and, you became part of these sort of clubs and helping other people through your own story, what would you say like two people who are out there that are struggling with this very issue, who perhaps haven’t written a book, you know, who have perhaps, you know, don’t necessarily see the lights.
Because like you said even in your book, like every death, tragedy, every life that passes on, it’s processed differently by the people around them. Yeah, I know for me like when my father passed in 2016, he was getting ready for prayer back in Iraq where he was visiting and none of us are around like he was just there with my uncle and when we got word, I was just like, “Wait man, I still…you need to meet my girlfriend. I am about to ask her to marry me.”
Like there is so many conversations that we still need to have and it was more about me, right? In my mind I’m like, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, I have so much more to talk to you about” but you know, as the days and months and sort of years went by, I knew I needed to write my book because I needed to tell his story in a way, woven with mine, especially around his art and how it literally saved our lives.
You know for me, I started really fine-tuning myself to get back to that place of canvass painting is like healing for me but when I go there especially today, it’s like I get to hang out with him. I get to because growing up when I was painting, I would hear him like tap my shoulder, “Oh work on this a little bit more” or “Go there, enrich your colors” he was my coach. To me, like I talk about in my book, he was like my Picasso.
So there’s this moment every time I go to the painting or every time I go to canvas, there is a sense of healing and a sense of a conversing with my father in a way. Would you say that, you know, obviously writing is very powerful for you and we talk about this a little bit but would you say that like for other people who are going through these really difficult times, you know, to pick something up, to exercise a creative, you know, whether it be writing, painting, drawing.
It could be anything, right? Bowling, walking, running, I don’t know, whatever it is to indulge in something like that to further connect with that person who’s past again, yet another loaded question, I have so many questions but they’re all kind of entrenched in like how I feel because you bring something out in me that makes me feel like it’s okay to talk about these things. We don’t talk about these things enough and when you talk to other people, what do you encourage them to do to process these things?
Working with Other People
Alexandra Wyman: Yeah, so that is a loaded question but a very good one. I’m so grateful that our conversation is giving you an opportunity to share your story. I find two things; one, I think absolutely finding something where you still feel connected to your person. If it is going to a place you used to go, which I’ll admit that one’s hard for me. I find other ways that if it is exercising, if it is that creativity, I think every person has some sort of creativity.
Not in the sense of necessarily arts but we all have something creative in us and I think tapping into that when we feel really connected is a way to connect with our people. The other thing I will say is often our culture sometimes will encourage us to bypass some of those harder feelings and when doing that, we just stuff them down or we put them to this side or we just need to remember to be positive and grateful for what this life gives us.
So I actually try and encourage people to sink into those feelings and whatever you’ve got to do, if you need to go to a rage room and smash some furniture and if you need to go ax throwing or punch a bag, you know, whatever you need to do to really work, if you need to cry or scream. I know like people have gone on rollercoasters to do their scream therapy and to really help expel that and then match it with something like what you are talking about that really lights us up.
So that you’re releasing some of those emotions or energy that maybe is holding us back and then embracing something that is lifting us up.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: That is so powerful, thank you. Thank you because you’re out there while you’re still experiencing all of these things. You are also helping others in sort of coaching them in a way. So tell me about that, you know, this is kind of a part of your work now alongside what you do on a regular job, your regular work. I think it is still incredible and amazing. You’re kind of, you are toping yourself off with this other work I guess in a way.
Do you work directly with these groups, these places, where people can gather and talk about these experiences? How do you do this work?
Alexandra Wyman: There are a couple of opportunities. I do have support groups in my area that I participate in. I don’t necessarily lead those but I am able to participate in those and we do share ideas like these. In addition, I am also starting — So in my area, I have started a grief and movement group, which is exactly what you’ve been talking about is giving people an opportunity to really try and get unstuck from their grief and then use movement.
Specifically yoga to kind of bring their nervous system out of that fight or flight or that survival mode that we get into with anything traumatic or hard and so I have that going on, which is really exciting and then also I am starting to work with individuals on really reflecting on their own messages and stigmas and ideas around grief or life to be able to weed through those and to really get to a sense of who they are.
So that they can be more entrenched in their journey with mourning or their journey in life to find that collateral beauty, to find that joy that is still here. So it’s kind of a few different things going on, trying to bring them all together.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that so much. Alexandra, I want to say just congratulations on your book. It is so needed right now especially in our mental health world. I love that the mental health world is very much on the table now. I feel like more and more people are talking about these issues, you know, whether it be trauma of all types of course and of course, suicide and suicide prevention and I am grateful that you are a part of this solution or solutions moving forward and helping people sort of deal with these things.
Your book is coming out real soon and I am just excited for you, excited for this opportunity to just gotten to spend time with you and learn about sort of how I can manage my emotions around my friends and people who have experienced this. If there is one thing that you would want people to take away from your book, what would that be?
Alexandra Wyman: Oh like the loaded question of this one.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Out of all of them, yeah but you have done so good with my loaded questions. I feel like you listed it so well.
Alexandra Wyman: Oh, I would say if there is one thing that I would want people to get out of this book is just to keep going, to keep going and put one foot in front of the other and it’s kind of well, okay, kind of one and a half and I’d say, you know, fill your toolbox with whatever resources you need so that on those hard days when you want to give up or you want to just stop or that you can keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, Alexandra you embody that. Let me tell you just from where I’m at right now looking at you, what you just said, you truly embody the just put your foot in front of the other, move forward with as many tools as you can pick up but the key thing is to keep moving forward. I appreciate that. I am moved and inspired by your courage to bring this topic out and of course, help others with your work.
Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences with us today. The Suicide Club: What to Do When Someone You Love Chooses Death, is out now. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Beautiful. Thank you so much for joining me today. I appreciate you.
Alexandra Wyman: Thank you so much for your time. I just really appreciate this opportunity, it’s been great.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Absolutely.