Sometimes we deal with heavy emotion by focusing on one rational thing.


That's a natural defense. For instance, some people deal with their hysterical or overly-anxious parents by adopting a lawyerly style to all subjects. They counteract that unbridled emotion with logic.


And, some people overcome their own drug or alcohol addictions by directing their sprawling energy onto something just as taxing but less destructive, like building model airplanes from found materials, or discovering and detailing new varieties of marine life. Call it a useful neurotic fixation.


Such was the case, I think, of Nicholas Hughes, the son of Sylvia Plath who recently committed suicide. Plath was famous poet who explored depression in her famously evocative prose. She also killed herself by asphyxiations in her gas stove, with two young children in the home, at age 30.


Her son Nicholas survived her--but of course he sensed her shadow. Nicholas must have lived through an onslaught of emotion, without its proper taxonomy, as an adolescent. (In fact, both of his parents were famous poets; both were depressed; and Nick suffered biologically based depression himself.) He probably needed to counterbalance that heavy history and emotion.


In turn, he quickly attached to the study of marine biology, with a special focus on fish in the northernmost regions of our waters--i.e. special species that dwell in the frigid and nearly unreachable waters of Alaska. He moved to a wooden hut in Fairbanks and--according to his friends and a recent The New York Times article--was more comfortable debating the small points of ice fishing than literature or his parents. Most of his colleagues at the University of Alaska didn't even know that he was the son of two famous 20th Century poets. If they broached the subject, he cut them off. He didn't want to "go there," as we say.


It's likely that Nicholas defended against complex emotion by simplifying and amplifying his academic focus. He had an active mind--but handled it by zeroing in on one pocket of life, reducing possible irritants. His parents had over-emphasized emotion; why shouldn't he de-emphasize it?  But Nicholas killed himself by hanging on March 16, 2009.  The emotion overflowed the frame.


Perhaps you know someone like this. This type is, by all accounts, intellectual and complex, but she maintains a narrow range. She is intricate in her "science"--whether that means researching fish in Alaska, doing 3,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, or putting the dishes into the dishwasher with an intricate protocol.


This is the mind that defends against emotion through a poetry of "reason" that's containable, and all her own.


Do you relate to, or know, someone of this type?

by on ‎04-16-2009 10:25 AM

The six degrees of suicidal aura that surrounds Ted Hughes -- Sylvia, Assia Wevill, and now Nicholas -- is almost unimaginable; a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare.



by debbook on ‎04-16-2009 11:44 AM
And daughter Frieda followed into those poetry footsteps. I wonder how her mental health is these days
by saltydog on ‎04-16-2009 02:00 PM

Hmmm!  I build model airplanes, build furniture, collect stamps, join book clubs, etc.  Seems I'm involved in enough "rational" activities to ward suicide off for a good long time!


Isn't it possible the decision to commit suicide is a rational one?  Were Virginia Woolf's bouts of depresion so severe and painful that suicide was a "rational" alternative.  Ditto Hemingway.


In Nicholas Hughe's case I suspect the cold, dark bleakness of a Fairbanks winter was a contributing factor.


I think there is a emotional-intellectual dichotomy in the human psyche that is manifested in many ways.  Is the emotionally inclined individual more prone to suicide - I'm not sure.



by Jon_B on ‎04-16-2009 02:06 PM

saltydog - you may be on to something there.  There's certainly a relationship between cold, dark climates and depression/suicide, as evidenced in syndromes like SAD and the high suicide rates of Scandinavian countroes.



by on ‎04-16-2009 02:41 PM

Ben Hoyle | March 24, 2009 [edited]

Article from:  The Australian

THE son of the poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath has taken his own life, 46 years after his mother gassed herself while he slept.


Sylvia Plath and her children Frieda and Nicholas

Nicholas Hughes hanged himself at his home in Alaska after battling against depression for some time, his sister Frieda said yesterday.

He was 47, unmarried with no children of his own and had until recently been a professor of fisheries and ocean sciences at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Dr Hughes's death adds a further tragic chapter to a family history that has been raked over with morbid fascination for two generations.

He was only a baby when his mother died, but she had already sketched out what he meant to her in one of her late poems.

In "Nick and the Candlestick", published in her posthumous collection Ariel, she wrote: "You are the one/ Solid the spaces lean on, envious./ You are the baby in the barn."

Later his father wrote of how, after Plath's death, their son's eyes "Became wet jewels,/ The hardest substance of the purest pain/ As I fed him in his high white chair". Neither he, nor his sister nor their poet laureate father could ever fully escape the shadow cast by Plath's suicide in 1963 and the personality cult that then sprang up around her memory.

Ted Hughes was hounded for the rest of his life by feminists and Plath devotees who accused him of driving her to her death with his infidelity.

In 1969, he suffered another terrible loss when his mistress gassed herself and their daughter in an apparent copycat suicide.

Plath's friend, the poet and critic Al Alvarez, once said: "I would love to think that the culture's fascination is because Plath is a great and major poet, which she is. But it wouldn't be true. It is because people are wildly interested in scandal and gossip."

Her turbulent marriage to Hughes became a modern myth, from their first meeting at Cambridge where he kissed the young American Fulbright scholar "bang smash on the mouth" and she bit his cheek so hard that it bled, through the secret wedding all the way to its catastrophic ending.

Plath's suicide in effect froze her children in time so that in the public memory they remained a one-year-old and a two-year-old lying in their cots, carefully sealed off from the gas leaking over their mother in the room next door.

Hughes did everything he could to shield them from the increasingly lurid interest in their mother and did not tell them until they were teenagers that she had killed herself.

Frieda Hughes re-emerged into the public gaze in her 20s when her first children's book was published. She has also been a successful artist, poet and newspaper columnist and has spoken and written about her parents and her own own struggles with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and anorexia.

Of Nick, a family friend said last night: "Nick wasn't just the baby son of Plath and Hughes and it would be wrong to think of him as some kind of inevitably tragic figure. He was a man who reached his mid-40s, an adventurous marine biologist with a distinguished academic career behind him and a host of friends and achievements in his own right. That is the man who is mourned by those who knew him."

Frieda Hughes was travelling to Alaska, but said in a statement: "It is with profound sorrow that I must announce the death of my brother, Nicholas Hughes, who died by his own hand on Monday 16th March 2009 at his home in Alaska.

"He had been battling depression for some time."

Nick was an evolutionary ecologist who specialised in the study of stream fish and travelled thousands of miles across Alaska on research trips.

"His lifelong fascination with fish and fishing was a strong and shared bond with our father (many of whose poems were about the natural world)" Frieda Hughes said.

"He was a loving brother, a loyal friend to those who knew him and, despite the vagaries that life threw at him, he maintained an almost childlike innocence and enthusiasm for the next project or plan."

Shortly before his death, he left his post at the university to set up a pottery at home and "advance his not inconsiderable talent at making pots and creatures in clay".

by eadieburke on ‎04-17-2009 09:40 AM

I had a friend who recently committed suicide (February 18, 2009). I had breakfast with her 3 times a week and never realized that she could possibly do this. I found out afterwards that she lost her job. She told me that she had a meeting at work the day before but never told me that it was possible she would lose her job. Her husband called the day after and told me she would not be at breakfast that morning and he proceeded to tell me what happened. I do recall her telling me that her father was a police officer and had committed suicide because of a terminal illness. After I heard about Nick Hughes' suicide I decide to search for a gene connection. Check out this link:


I found this very interesting. It's almost like she probably couldn't stop herself. In fact, she left a note to her husband saying: "I'm sorry but I have to do this." I guess when you have these genes and receive bad news, you get so depressed that you are almost driven to suicide. I started to feel right afterwards that maybe I could have stopped her but later found out that the people who cannot carry through with it usually ask for help but those who are determined to carry it out never do ask for help and hide their depression very well.

by Author ConnieAnnKirk on ‎04-18-2009 12:10 PM

I've written a young adult biography of Sylvia Plath, so hearing about her son's death came as a strange blend of both shock and no surprise.  I'm not an expert, but I do think there has to be a biological factor to the mental illness that drives many of these acts.  The biological factor creates a "trend," in families, and then it becomes difficult to separate the biology from the social factors of living with suicide in one's family.  "Suicide runs in families" seems all too true.


It's interesting to me to note that Nicholas did not do this until after his father had passed. (poet Ted Hughes died in 1998 from cancer).  Hughes lost his first wife, Plath; his mistress, Assia Weevil; and his daughter with Weevil, all to suicide (or murder, if Weevil's act with the daughter could be seen that way).  Now, his son also died that way.  Many over the years who have not looked kindly at Hughes in terms of his relationship with Plath have pondered what it was about this man that seemed to either attract, or enable, this destructive behavior in people he loved.


Do I fear for Frieda, the remaining daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes?  Yes, and I hope she's surrounded by people who can help keep her healthy.   I also think, though, that  even such dire odds in one's family don't necessarily have to mean a death sentence.  Each person does have a choice to make for him/herself. 


I wish Frieda and her loved ones well-being and better days ahead.

by saltydog on ‎04-18-2009 01:32 PM

There is certainly abundant evidence of a familial connection in the incidence of suicide, both in the professional and popular literatureWhen I ended my formal training as a psychologist in the 1980"s behaviorism, Skinner, et al., was thought to be the tool to ferret out why we are what we are


Since then as a practitioner I have become convinced that genetics plays a much larger role in in determining who and what we areSo can a one's genetic makup actually "drive" one to suicide?


If so this raises a number of issuesA couple that come to mind -


     If we are treating an individual with suicidal tendencies should we include a genetic study as part of the diagnostic work upAnd should the results become part of a national (or worldwide) data base?


     Should a therapist strive to prevent suicide "at all costs" or would it be more humane to help the individual weather the agonies of  arriving at the decision to either give in to the suicidal "urges" or continue to resist them?


We are in deed a complex animalHmmm - I wonder if there is evidence of suicide in the non-human animal kingdomThe lemmings come to mind.







by on ‎04-18-2009 05:09 PM


     If we are treating an individual with suicidal tendencies should we include a geneticstudy as part of the diagnostic work upAnd should the results become part of anational (or worldwide) data base?


Do any of us believe in the safety of ANY national genetic database?  Talk about the ultimate violation of privacy.


Taking the genetic aspect beyond a tendency for depression is going too far.

Suicide is a choice. Heard it once described, as a doorway that never closes. Because once you have considered it  a valid option, it will always be a valid option. Knowledge of his mothers suicide opened that door for him.


He lived in the colder climbs. Less sun = less Vitamin D = less serotonin. 

He lived alone with little daily contact to anyone else.

He had recently given up his career and switched to activities that he considered himself less than capable off.

He considered suicide a valid option.


It's unfortunate, but not surprising.



by on ‎04-18-2009 08:55 PM


No, suicide for some [sadly to say], is not a choice.  For some MD cases, treatment is an option, but not all affected [people] can realize the need for that treatment.  You speak as a rational individual.  The mindset of the depressive state is not rational.  You have to live it, to know it.  Or understand it thoroughly before attempting to make banket statements.

by on ‎04-19-2009 12:29 AM
No, suicide for some [sadly to say], is not a choiceFor some MD casestreatment is an option, but not all affected [people] can realize the need for that treatmentYou speak as a rational individualThe mindset of the depressive state is not rationalYou have to live it, to know itOr understand it thoroughly before attempting to make banket statements.


Actually I am speaking from experience. From both sides in fact.

I have experienced depression. I have been suicidal and attempted it 8 times. I got past it. Not through any method of ANY medication I was prescribed (and there were several) or any therapy (too much to count). What got me out of it finally was a 360 environmental life change


I have also lived with and taken care of depressed love ones, season affected loved onesmentally chalenged loved ones, and suicidal loved ones


Saying a depressed person can not be rational is terribly generalizingI know that to not always be true. Saying a suicidal person isn't rational is also false.


Suicide is a choice. Every decision you ever make is.

Just because you might change your mind later when circumstances change, does not mean at the time it wasn't the best decision for oneself.


A harsh fact, the reason there are more male suicides to more female attempts. Males in general use more violent methods. Less chance to change your mind.


by on ‎04-19-2009 09:30 AM

TiggerBear, I apologize to you if my answer sounded generalized.  Keeping these "discussions", in this forum, short, prompted it from me.  I appreciate your saying what you have, here, and I do understand what it means to make choices. 


I think it's great that you were able to eventually make the right ones.  We all, in a perfect world, should be able to make the right choices, at the right time.  I would advocate and strive for this realization.  But, in this realization, the ones who made their choice to end their life, did not live to tell about it.  I don't need, obviously, to tell you the degrees of depression.  As there are so many degrees in everything we, as individuals, experience.


Stay well !



by on ‎04-20-2009 03:24 AM



Ok a little devils advocate. If anyone takes offense, sorry but this is only for the sake of discussion.


Who are you or anyone to say that death is a wrong decision?  Is it wrong for the chronically impained with out hope of succor to take their own life? The terminally ill?

Do you see only evil in self immolation protests?


Back on the subject of Mr. Hughes. How comprehensive was the autopsy? Does anyone know his physical health prior? He may very well of had chronic pain of some kind.


by utopian on ‎04-20-2009 06:20 AM
I understand what you're saying TB.  But doesn't this entire discussion demonstrate what's wrong with suicide?  When one does it, the next one does.  Unintended consequences.   It does seem to run in families and while there may definitely be a genetic link,  even genes need a trigger to be brought out.  Parents are powerful examples for their children.  
by on ‎04-20-2009 07:30 AM

 When one does it, the next one does.  Unintended consequences.   It does seem to run in families and while there may definitely be a genetic link,  even genes need a trigger to be brought out.  Parents are powerful examples for their children. 


So to take that (which I disagree with) idea further. A parent who murders, their child will also murder. Rapest breed other rapists. Thieves beget future thieves.


Be just a bit more rational.

Just because your parent did something doesn't mean you will too. You might be more aware of it. But the decision is still a new one with each individual. 


A shorter temper may be genetic, but that doesn't imply violence.

A inherited dark personality doesn't guarantee you'll off yourself later on.


by debbook on ‎04-20-2009 10:38 AM

For some people suicide may be the only answer when nothing else has worked. There have been times when I have been so depressed that I wished suicide was an option. But it never has been for me. I can imagine the  relief a person with MD might feel, knowing they have that option.

But one thing I do know is that my way of thinking is different when I'm depressed, so that might be considered not rational.

Depression has a genetic component but I agree that the suicide of one parent does not necessarily mean the child will follow suit. There are other factors to consider, Ted Hughes wasn't the best example for his children either. After Sylvia killed herself, he allowed his children to be around his unbalanced mistress. There are too many facors to say that A+B=C

by utopian on ‎04-20-2009 11:37 AM
Of course a + b does not = c.  That was not my meaning.  
by on ‎04-20-2009 01:32 PM

If there is anyone interested in this topic, MD/bio polar,  I highly recommend these books by this author.  I'd mentioned them once before, on L&L..


Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, is an excellent writer, and her memoir is like none other I've ever read.  She speaks from her heart -  from her own experiences, and knowledge.

An Unquiet Mind:  A Memoir of Moods and Madness


Touched with Fire:  Manic-Depressive Illness and The Artistic Temperament

This book was on recommendation to me.  When you find it hard to live in your own mind, this explains why.


She has also written two other books, which I have not read.  The first one, I found it too emotionally difficult  to read, but I do intend to read the second one.


Night Falls Fast:  Understanding Suicide

Exuberance:  The Passion For Life






by on ‎04-20-2009 01:46 PM
P.S. -  Another reason I dislike there  a way to correct typos, once you've posted?!
by on ‎04-20-2009 01:55 PM

I think you can edit your own comments under Options, Kathy?

by on ‎04-20-2009 06:10 PM
Paul, I looked at options.  It doesn't list edit as an option.  Unless it's in code.  Maybe Dan can figure it out? :smileyhappy:
by debbook on ‎04-20-2009 08:32 PM
I don't think so Paul
by debbook on ‎04-20-2009 08:37 PM

Whoops, I didn't see your post Kathy-Do we both have something to proclaim in Com Rm???

I hate this format- whoever said that they didn't say A+B=C, I wasn't addressing a specific person. Chillax as the kids say

by on ‎04-20-2009 08:46 PM
Must just be an Admin option. I'll try to have that fixed in the future. Sorry for the inconvenience.
by utopian on ‎04-20-2009 10:01 PM

I've heard it called a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  

I knew someone who had a severe clinical depression.  Absolutely hopeless.  And to see it is to be absolutely helpless.  A few weeks on meds and one day he woke up and he said it was as though a veil had lifted.  It was gone.  It's hard to believe that it's physical until you see something like that happen.  


I don't know if anyone here has ever read "Listening to Prozac".  It was a great book.  Made me wonder about exactly what a person is, who they are.   

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