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What An Encinitas Writer Learned From His Father’s Suicide

June 11, 2018 1:44 p.m.

What An Encinitas Writer Learned From His Father’s Suicide

GUEST:

Sebastian Slovin, author, "Ashes in the Ocean"

Related Story: What An Encinitas Writer Learned From His Father’s Suicide

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Suicide has become a leading cause of death in America. Fashion icon, Kate Spade and celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain each took their own lives last week, leading the nation shocked and saddened and leaving behind teenage children. Our guest has a story to tell from the perspective of those left behind. Sebastian Sloman of Encinitas has written a memoir describing how his father suicide affected him and how he worked the tragedy. The act is call -- the book is called Ashes in the Ocean. Thank you for joining us.
>> Thank you for having me.
>> Reporter: --
>> You were just 6 years old. Tell us about that.
>> He was a legend in every sense of the word. He grew up in South Africa. He was a gifted swimmer from a young age. He was on the South African international team. He found his way to the U.S. on a swimming scholarship and was a swimming All-Star. Then he found his way into business and he excelled in whatever he did.
>> During your childhood, there was any -- was there any sense that what happens could happen? Did he so -- show signs ask Mac I did not see anything. He was a superhero. That is how I always saw him. I never saw him vulnerable. Even when he was struggling toward the end of his life, I never saw him in a vulnerable place.
>> Talk a little bit about how his death affected your family and yourself.
>> For me, he was this larger-than-life character. It was like losing my hero. I felt like my life was turned upside down. I did not want to do. He was everything to me. My survival mechanism was -- there were so many painful emotions that I did not know what else to do but to kind of suppress or just not go there. I did my best to not talk about him, not talk about his death and I spent a lot more time by myself. In terms of our family dynamic, a change things quite a bit, as you can imagine. We will left in a bad financial situation. My mother worked incredibly hard to provide for my sister and I. She was an absolute hero but she was gone a because of that. She worked multiple jobs. I was thrust into a role of caretaker to my sister rather than a sibling that was the end of my childhood in a lot of ways. I was stuck into the man of the house role.
>> You write in your book about how you did not talk about this hardly at all even with family let alone two other people. What is it that changed that? It was very difficult to talk about. I hardly ever talked about it. A lot of that was due to the stigma and shame around it. There was something wrong with me, I felt, by association. And I was 17, I had the opportunity to travel to Australia. My dad died in Australia. It was a trip for me to visit Australia, visit family and friends and connect with -- I was introduced to body boarding. What I was in Australia, I had a life-changing conversation. I met with one of my dad's best friends. He grew up with John David. He shared with me that his father had taken his own life when he was a boy. Up until this point, I have not talked about it at all. I felt destined to follow in my father's footsteps, playing the victim in many regards. This conversation was incredibly transformational for me. It gave me courage to talk about it myself. He shared with me his experience of not talking about it for a long time and working through it. He had come out the other side as a successful person. He gave me help that I am not destined to do identity.
>> Did you ever feel any guilt that you could have done something? Is that something a child my film the situation?
>> Reporter: I felt more general like we as a family could have done something better. Maybe if I was a better son, in conversations, talking with my mom, it was difficult. There has been a lot of that in her case which breaks my heart.
>> What would you say to people who might be in this situation? What would you say that you learned from this whole journey you have been
>> I would say to other survivors or people in the situation, for me, the first step was facing it. And feeling what was coming up. After the conversation with John David, I set out on this quest to learn more about my dad. That I got involved talking to a lot of people who knew my dad and having these conversations. Sometimes, just crying for an entire conversation. It was my process of learning how to feel again. Step 1, as difficult as it is to feel what is coming up, it is okay to be sad and angry. Then you need to process it in some way. It can be different for different people. Talking about it, fighting a mental health professional, a support group, writing about it, processing and it -- processing it in some way. One thing that was very important for me and I would like to pass along is the important of self-care and compassion. -- Lama process. It is a challenging thing take care of yourself along the way.
>> You think the media sometimes focuses too much on the person who died and not enough on the people?
>> Yes, I think so. That is a big part of my focus with the book, connecting with survivors. It is such a challenging thing because there are conflicting emotions, there is sadness, anger of my dad leaving us in that situation. It is a challenging thing to work.
>> How would you say it has changed you as a person? How are you different? It has changed me dramatically. I feel like I have learned a tremendous amount and have been able to find some of the joy and free will that I may have lost in childhood. It is bringing that back as an adult. It changed me completely.
>> Is an ongoing experience anyway and defining moment in your life?
>> For sure. Absolutely. It is not that I had 1 conversation it was done. It is an ongoing process for sure.
>> We are hearing in the news that suicide is a rising this country. What do you think needs to be done to address this?
>> We need to and the stigma -- end the stigma. That is a powerful place to begin. That is going to happen through more people sharing their stories. I think more people having the courage to lease and -- listen deeply -- I think there is a lot of misunderstanding or lack of understanding about mental health, depression, anxiety and hours -- society in general. I think it is more difficult to men who feel like they have to have it together all of the time and not be week. That was my dad to a multi-. It did not work out for him. It is not always possible to have it all together. It is not realistic to talk about it, to listen, be there for each other and for ourselves.
>> Sebastian, thank you so much.
>> Thank you for having me.
>> That is best was read a book called, Ashes in the Ocean.