Physicians Anonymous

Those left behind

TRIGGER WARNING. This blog post talks about suicide and may be triggering for some people. If you are at risk of self-harm, please note that Physicians Anonymous is not an emergency service. Please call 911 (US),  988 (US  Suicide & Crisis Line), 999 (UK) or your local emergency service. 

The phone call came from my mother-in-law, as we were at the department of education doing a last-minute enrollment of the kids into their new schools after our last-minute move to a new state. I was so excited about the kids’ new school, that as soon as I picked up the phone, I started blabbing:

“Guess where we are now? At the department of education, enrolling the kids to school. And work is going great. The baby is growing and nursing like a leach.” I was going on and on and on. Then finally I said “Ah, I am being so silly, just blabbing and blabbing, what is going on with you?”

He went missing

There was a short silence on the other end of the phone line and then she said “Paul has been missing for two days.”

I must have screamed very loud because all the people at the department of education turned their heads towards me. I screamed because I right away knew he had taken his own life.

He had had major depression for the past 30 years. Or maybe 40. I was his lifeline, his in-house psychotherapist, and human medication. But almost 20 years of doing that ate up our marriage and we separated.

The next days

The next day I got a call from the police, warning me he had a gun, and that I should tell them if he shows up. I said he won’t because his is dead. The following days I went to work as usual. I played with my kids as usual. I interacted with my second husband as usual. Smiling. Happy.

I still looked at every blue Toyota Camry, hoping that it was him driving it. But I knew it was not him. I knew I would never see him again. It took me years not to start crying whenever I saw a blue Toyota Camry. 

But the night came and as the baby was falling asleep nursing, I let the tears go unbridled. I was alone with my 6-month-old daughter behind closed doors, and I let the gates of my grief slam open. I cursed him for being so dumb.

Behind closed doors, I let the tears go unbridled, and I let the gates of my grief slam open. I cursed him for being so dumb.

I screamed at him without a sound. My mental pain turned into physical pain as I bit into my fingers to soothe myself. I was shaking and hyperventilating.

I wanted to scream out loud but I could not – three kids and my second husband were sleeping in the apartment. My second husband later told me I was like a rock – I did not shed a tear. Little did he know.

I am the mother, I had to be the rock. But I was all bubbling burning lava inside, for years. I still am a bit, even though it has been eight years now.

When my son learned about it

When my oldest son learned about his biological father’s death, he wailed. He became a total wreck. His grades suffered. His interpersonal skills became non-existent. He later got therapy, and has been seeing a therapist for a few years.

We did not tell him that his father had committed suicide. We said he had depression – which he knew – and he was taking a lot of medications – which he also knew – and he went hiking when he should not have. And so he died on the hiking trail – which he did. 

A few years later my oldest son asked his aunt, did Dad kill himself? And she said yes. I wanted to have that conversation with him, but it did not work out that way. And how exactly did Dad kill himself? Well, he shot himself in the head.

For the amount of money that all of us who were left behind have spent on psychotherapy, Paul could have started a new life. Doing something else. He might still be alive. And we would not be emotional wrecks. Still.

The warning signs

Nobody in the family knew he had quit his job. He kept it as a secret. Nobody in the family thought it was suspicious when he gave away his cherished guitar and his Wüsthof knife collection, among other things. When I learned about it later on, I screamed.

The red flags are: they quit their jobs and they start giving away their favorite things.

A hiker near a hiking trail was curious enough to read his note on the dashboard of his car saying that there is a dead body and a gun on the trail. The hiker called the police,  and the police found his body next to the trail, behind a bush. Apparently, his hand was reaching out from under the bush, as if he had tried to reach out even in the last fractions of a millisecond – please help me.

The COD on his death certificate says “self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head”.


So if you want to kill yourself, I am begging you, please please please don’t do it. You think you might be better off dead, at least that’s what Paul used to say. But even though you might not love yourself, trust me, there are people who love you. Even those people you think don’t love you, they do. I did.

And those people who love you will suffer beyond belief, for years. Your mother, your father, your brothers or sisters, your spouse or partner, your kids, your good friends. You will take a little bit of their soul with you, and that little bit of soul will be replaced with dark and sad grief. So please don’t do it.

Reach out to your loved ones, your physician, a friend, a colleague, a crisis line, anybody. And be honest. Trust me, they will help you. You are loved in more ways than you can imagine, because you are one unique lovable bright spot in this world. So stay with us and shine on us.

Thank you.

(Note: both Paul and Dr. Phoenix are pseudonyms to protect my children)

Get help!

If you think that a friend or loved one might be suicidal, you need to take action. Call 911 (US), 988 (US), 999 (UK) or your local emergency services.

Psychiatrists helping US physician colleagues and medical students. Free & Confidential | No appointment necessary

  • Open 7 days a week | 8:00AM – 1:00AM ET

or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255

or our living Global Physician Suicide Prevention and Well-being Resources page

Picture of DR PHOENIX


Just a geek with a Dr in front of her name. Been around the block a few times, and back.