Disclaimer that this blog posts talks about death and suicide and may be uncomfortable for some.
Do you remember the last time you thought about dying? Or about someone you love dying? For me, it was this morning. Every single time I kiss my husband or my children goodbye I think it could be the last time we ever see one another. It used to paralyze me.
If my husband didn’t answer my call or text immediately I would jump to awful conclusions. And while Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helped me manage this anxiety, it’s never gone away. I’m fairly certain it never will. Just like my other anxieties, I have learned to live with it. Now if he doesn’t answer his phone I’m usually able to arrive at a logical reasoning, and even better, not call him repeatedly until he answers.
Death is inevitable, sure. What’s that awful quote? “There is nothing certain in life but death and taxes.” I hate that saying. It’s also my biggest trigger. I really wasn’t conscious of dying until my Nonna died unexpectedly from a heart attack in her home. That was 10 years ago and every night since it happened the thought crosses my mind that I might not wake up. That the darkness I see when I close my eyes is finite.
Every time someone I know (and sometimes even someone I don’t) dies, I regress into this state of darkness. One where I look at everyone around me differently, as though I could lose them at any given moment. My heart aches, my head swirls with fear and I start to drown. But then it passes. It always passes. Like a violent storm, it clears up almost as quickly as it begins.
The past 75 days have been dark. I’ve been drowning. Unlike past storms, this one hasn’t cleared.
75 days ago an old friend of mine took his life. Though we were estranged at the time of his death for valid reasons, it wasn’t any less painful. In some ways, it was more painful. Suicide has always hit particularly close to home for me. Both in high school and again during my battle with postpartum depression, I thought about taking my own life. I never went through with it, I don’t think I really wanted to die, though sometimes my mind convinced me I did. But for some people close to me, it did come close. Those people survived. This friend was not so lucky.
Despite countless resources and movements helping to educate people on mental illness, suicide remains vastly misunderstood. It always surprises me the things people say when someone ends their life. Specifically placing blame –
What a selfish act.
Why didn’t they get help?
They gave up.
That word, selfish, stings the most. Selfishness implies people who die by suicide have a choice, that they consciously choose this, knowing how it will impact those they leave behind. It’s hard to imagine that anyone with a clear mind would willingly choose to die.
People don’t end their life to burden or punish anyone else. They feel they are the burden. Their mind, so far gone, their pain so grave and in the case of my friend, an addiction so heavy, that the only option is death. Removing themselves in hopes that those around them could in fact be better off. I heard something once from a a suicide survivor that really resonated with me. Suicide, mental illness and addiction are the only diseases for which we blame the person for perpetually. But people die from these illnesses the same they die from any other disease. We have to start looking at mental health the same way we look at other diseases. Mental health does not discriminate. We’re losing children, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers. Often the people you’d never expect, are taking their own lives. And we continue to hush it away like it’s not happening. We refuse to talk about it because it’s too hard. If only everyone could understand how hard it truly is for someone living it.
Most days it’s hard to believe he is gone. It’s hard to look back at the decade of friendship we shared prior to the estrangement. It’s hard not to feel guilty. Guilty about what, I’m not really sure. It’s hard to look at the child he left behind, knowing that one day she will grow up with so many questions, many of which she will never find an answer for. Surely not one that voids that place in her life.
Suicide in particular leaves the heaviest of destruction in its wake. It’s often unexpected. It’s survivors plagued with guilt. And with all deaths, there’s no roadmap for those left behind. There’s no correct or incorrect way to grieve or to survive. And even worse, life does go on without them, just as they hoped it would. One thing is for certain though – my friend will never be forgotten, nor will the impact he had on so many people. And though he was so far gone at the time of his passing, I choose to remember the good. I choose to believe his life stood for something and I see that in the little girl he left behind. The great qualities she surely inherited from him.
75 days ago I started drowning. And though I know the sun will reemerge, and at times it
definitely has, there are just some storms that last longer than others. And thanks to those around me, my boat will make it to shore.
For those who don’t know what my semicolon tattoo on my left wrist means, please check out Project Semicolon.
Title song – “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova