I debated at length about writing this. Myself, and so many are still struggling to cope with the immense loss. However, what decided me, is the thought that maybe this could somehow help someone who stumbles upon it—be it someone in direct need, or someone who is trying to understand a loved one who is struggling.
It is still hard to say it in a public way. It is not something that we have hidden, or treated like a secret, and it is certainly not something any of us are ashamed of….. just, I think we do not say it directly because of how painful it is—the shock, and sadness that is so deeply felt from losing someone in that kind of way. We instinctively want to shield, and tip-toe around that which is so hard to understand, and which seems too fragile to touch. Even now, it is hard to type-out the word. I prefer to say that we lost her to depression. I feel that is the most accurate way to define it. It is the truth.
Pain. Pain is what causes it. They just want the pain to go away….and lose the ability to understand what else will end with it.
There are so many stigmas and mistaken beliefs that create obstacles in treatment and prevention. We have such a deep, long history of associating it with negative connotations– in large part ingrained from religious ostracization, and mistaken traditions in society that treat it as something that brings shame, or creates some kind of black mark on not only the person, but their family. These beliefs have created thousands of years of pain and struggle in the dark. In hindsight of how long these beliefs have been practiced, the shift to new ways of understanding and treatment is still relatively in a stage of infancy, and many still have old misconceptions ingrained. I think a good example to reference is the reaction to the death of Robin Williams. The Internet and media lit-up with debates between those declaring it an act of selfishness and cowardry, while others tried to combat it with explanations that it was depression, and thus something that debilitated his ability to think rationally. As tragic as it was to lose such a brilliant person who was loved world-wide, it was an event that both revealed how far we as a society still have to go in gaining understanding, as well as provided a way to bring more awareness and education to light. If only there were easier ways to create awareness. It is understandably something uncomfortable to address, all the more so due to lingering past stigmas….thus, it is crucial that we not be silent, and that we continue to educate and strive to break-down the invisible restrictions. It is why I am writing this, despite how hard it is. Every person who shares their story is another slice against those ancient bindings, and another light that is created to push back the darkness.
There are two common obstacles that create the largest challenges…. and the first is believing. It sounds like something so simple and basic, and yet it is one of the primary reasons why people are ignored, or fear that will be the result if they attempt to tell others. Something that I have learned, is that it is very common for us to try to twist scary uncomfortable things into being something else—be it child abuse, sexual assault, combat situations, mental illness, or anything else that is hard to face. We most especially do not like to think about those we care about as having been victim to, or suffering from terrible things—-so we seek other explanations. This is why so many people who are most in need are met with not only being ignored, but also being accused of lying in order to gain attention, or to excuse off negative behaviors and addictions. It seems far safer to tell ourselves that the situation is not real, and that the person is just creating some kind of fake ploy, stunt, or manipulation…. than it is to embrace a terrifying, and painful reality involving someone that we love. It is all the easier to do when the person is seen as having acted erratically or dramatically in some way—yet those often can be the very symptoms that display that something is truly wrong. At a time that people most feel alone, they are met with further isolation that can add to their pain, and to their beliefs that they are unwanted, unworthy, and do not belong. The rejection and denial can serve as a form of confirmation of the negative things that are being felt and thought. We need to always take it seriously, no matter how uncomfortable it is, and even if it seems like something that is just being said by someone to get what they want, or to gain attention. It is a risk that cannot be taken. We need to tell them that we believe them. We need to call for medical aid, even if we have fears or guilt that it could result in that person being held for a psychiatric evaluation—it may be exactly what they need. We need to not worry that the person could be mad at us for forcing them into care. It is far better to have their wrath and blame for a while, than to never be able to hug them again.
The second obstacle is the old stigma and belief that it is an act of selfishness, and weakness of character. In addition to the fear that people will not believe them, those who are suffering often do not say anything because they are afraid that it will result in being told that they are a bad, selfish person for feeling that way (or considering to do such a thing). No one wants to be told those kind of things, let alone someone who is struggling against inner voices that are already pushing in that direction. The guilt and fear keeps people trapped, isolated, and from getting the treatment that could help them. The thing is, when a person is deeply affected by a mental illness such as depression or PTSD…. the pain, despair, and negative thoughts can drown-out everything else, and make the person incapable of thinking clearly, or seeing things in any other way. They can truly believe that they have no worth, and that they do not belong—that they will never do anything right, have anything good, or be loved. While it may seem selfish for them to abandon loved ones, especially children—for them, they can completely believe that others will be better off if they are gone, and that they may somehow taint, or cause harm to those whom they love if they remain. They can literally believe that it is somehow an act of protection and love. The illness tells them that there is no other way to break free of their pain and suffering, and that they are not worthy of those that they love.
As a society we need to not only learn how to recognize that depression ( and all other mental conditions) is a legitimate illness that needs to be responded to with compassion and care, but to also get that message out in every way, and place possible. Imagine how many losses would be prevented if people did not have to fear negative responses, but instead could trust that they would receive kindness, understanding, and aid. What if education was so widely available that it might easily assist people to recognize warning signs not only for loved ones, but maybe even for their own selves? What would it be like if no one had to feel ashamed, or fearful of how others will respond? That is what we should be striving for. However, in order for that kind of change to happen, it is something we all need to take a part in.
I am writing all of this as someone who understands. I overcame C-PTSD…..and I lost my sister seven months ago today.
People who have meant well have tried to compare it to when they have lost their loved ones to natural means…..but the truth is, as heartbreaking as every loss can be, there are elements that are unique to losing someone to depression. To suicide. Those they leave behind not only grieve their absence, but are left in torment as they struggle to grasp for answers—they get slammed with immense guilt, and the constant mental churning on what they could have possibly done to have prevented it. We blame ourselves, even when logically there was nothing that we could have done. Self-blame is a natural response when we cannot find any other sense of control, or explanations for what happened ( it is also a natural reaction for victims of any kind of crime or abuse). We torture our own selves, and are left forever haunted with wondering if there was any shred of possibility that we could have done something. Logically, I know that there was nothing that I could do…..and yet, even with that knowledge…. I still sometimes find myself battling those whispers that say otherwise. I had frequently been speaking to her for hours at a time due to the difficult situation that she was facing. I know that I was there for her. I know that I told her that I loved her many times. I know that I offered to go stay with her….. and I know that had she revealed the true scope to me, that I would have instantly acted on it—and yet, my mind still sometimes twists around all of that with, “What if I had…”, due to that instinctive need to find answers and control. It will forever break my heart to think of how alone she must have felt. However, the truth is, so many people had been actively helping her, and showing their love and support—family, and friends alike. She just did not have the ability to hear, or believe us. That is what depression does.
That call was the most devastating moment of my life— as I am sure was true for everyone who received that same call seven months ago. I had been sleeping, and woke-up to the phone ringing in the living room. Even though it was not unusual to get a call in the middle of the day, I instantly knew that something was wrong… something was missing. I bolted-up out of bed, and ran for the phone. I did not have long to process anything, so my first panicked thoughts were fears that what I was feeling meant that something had happened to my father. I answered the phone, and instantly asked ( without saying hello), “What happened, what is wrong?” My step-mother stammered for a moment, caught-off guard by the instant questions. She said the words in a sudden rush. I made her say them a second time, hoping that I had heard wrong. I then screamed. And screamed. I don’t know how long that I screamed and paced back and forth across my living room. Everything inside of me instantly felt ripped-apart in shattering horror and disbelief. What brought me back was the sound of my father sobbing, and realizing that he could hear me through the phone. I spent that first afternoon and night alone. I know that was confusing to some people, and my sister especially pleaded to be with me ( we have different fathers, so she and my sister who died are not technically related.. just to explain that I was not pushing away someone who was also grieving). I simply was too emotionally raw to have anyone around me, and I could not bare to restrain my emotions (which is my usual habit to prevent upsetting others). I periodically broke-out into more screaming fits, vomited, sobbed, and prayed through the night as I struggled to grasp that it was real… that my baby sister was gone. The next day, I held my father as he sobbed for his baby. There are no words to even describe how that felt.
The days that followed are a fog of grief …struggling to keep water down, going through pictures with my father, hugging her babies, blurry faces and hug after hug at her service…..and battling the disbelief that wanted to scream that it was not real. She was so young, beautiful, intelligent…loved…. It could not be real. But it was. It is.
There is this massive hole where she is supposed to be. There is no way to fill it. Every holiday, every special moment for my family….. will always have a crucial face, and beautiful laugh that is missing. Her children will grow through life without their mother, and her youngest may struggle to retain memories of her. The loss has forever changed all of us. I will always ache to hug her.
Grief is what happens when a piece of our heart is missing. Our love pours out through that hole, desperate to wrap around that which is gone….only it can’t. That is the most accurate way that I think I can describe it.
I share this hoping that it will help others to understand. I want to make clear that my intent is not to make anyone feel guilty that they could potentially cause pain for others. I have shared my experience and emotions in an attempt to demonstrate how much love was felt for someone who believed that none existed for her. I am just one of so many who loved my sister deeply.
I hope that if someone who is considering suicide happens to reads this, that maybe it somehow will get through a crack to help you understand that people truly would be deeply affected by your loss—that they would be broken—due to how much you truly are loved. This is truth, even if the depression and dark thoughts are trying to make you believe otherwise( Yes, they truly do love you. Please try to not tell yourself that none of this would be true in your case.). Additionally, I hope that if someone reads this who has a friend or family member who is struggling, that it will help to sharpen your awareness and understanding of the situation and person. Lack of education is truly a leading cause to these kind of losses, and that is a fault on our society, more than we as individuals. We of course cannot always prevent it, however, we can at least improve the odds through education, and creating a society that nurtures and supports…. so that more may feel safe in breaking their silence—without fear of being ignored, accused of lying, or being shamed in any way. They should be treated the same as anyone else who reports a serious life-threatening illness.
If you are struggling, or suspect that some one is ( and need help with what to do), please call this hot line:
When you dial 1-800–273-TALK (8255), you are calling the crisis center in the Lifeline network closest to your location. After you call, you will hear a message saying you have reached the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Additionally, this is the website for the Lifeline Network, and it has a wealth of information for all ages and situations, as well as additional modes of contact and help. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. –Mathew 5:4