She walked calmly out of the bathroom as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. Her cheeks were puffy and red; a trail of tears meandering from either eye. She laid down on the floor next to the bed, cupped my face in the palm of her hand, and said, “In the morning, you’ll never have to worry about me again.”
In the waste basket lay an empty pill bottle which, the day before, had been brand new.
I knew what suicide was, of course. We all know what it is. We all think that it’s something that happens to someone else. It’s just something you hear about. Something you read in the paper. Or perhaps see in the news. You know someone who knows someone who committed suicide.
Until that moment, though, I’d never felt what suicide was. I didn’t know how completely it could shatter me. I didn’t know how saturated with guilt it could leave me. I didn’t know my body could produce so many tears. I didn’t know that it could turn me completely submissive, and suck all joy from my life for years to come.
I had never before been, and have never been since, so stricken that I could not move. My mind could comprehend what had happened but could not react to it. I was in shock. Paralyzed. It never occurred to me to do what any competent reader is now thinking I should have done. I didn’t call 911. I didn’t call her parents. I didn’t look for help. I curled up into a fucking ball and sobbed profusely and shamefully on the bed until I fell asleep.
I knew what suicide was, of course. We all know what it is. But do we know what to do when it happens right in front of us? As a mere 20-year-old lad, a child, I was ignorant to the myriad of tools at my disposal. There were many, many avenues I could have pursued to get her help, but I didn’t know any. I was afraid to tell her family because I felt guilty. I was afraid they’d blame me instead of helping her. I didn’t tell my family because I was ashamed. Basically, I let fear dictate my actions and, in the end, we both suffered for it.
What if there wasn’t such a shitty stigma attached to mental illness? What if people were as well-educated about mental health as they are about physical health? Would I have known what to do? Would I have been unafraid to seek help for her? Would I have seen some sign of what was to come and prevented this episode entirely? Would others have seen signs and encouraged her to seek treatment? Would she have had the courage to seek help for herself?
90% of those who commit suicide have a treatable mental illness. Most of those folks don’t seek treatment. As a sufferer of mental illness, I am ashamed to admit that it took me almost 35 years to finally admit that I needed help. I didn’t seek help for any other reason than I was broken. I was in pieces, shattered by my refusal to seek help. Because I’m independent I hate it if/when I ever need help. Because I’m stubborn I scoffed when told by others I might have depression. Because I feared the judgement of others, I didn’t tell anyone that I was diagnosed as manic when I was 13. I can’t speak for the 90% who never sought treatment, but if I had a guess, I would think most of them probably felt the same way.
Luckily we both woke up the next morning and I silently promised myself I’d do nothing to upset her ever again. I was not going to be the reason she killed herself. I couldn’t live with that sort of skeleton in my closet. I couldn’t cope with a burden of guilt so gargantuan. So I became someone else. I became someone who loved her. I became someone who gave in to her every whim. I became someone who never disagreed with her. I became someone who was not me. I lost myself in my attempt to save her.
For 9 years I lived a life that was never truly mine. Eventually, though, I couldn’t do it any more. I was tired of hiding who I was. I was tired of not having a life I wanted. I was tired of pretending to love someone I had nothing in common with and whose conservative personality squashed my spontaneity and inappropriate sense of humor. I was tired of being controlled.
In the end, I became someone who didn’t care if she killed herself if I left, and that is a horrible thing to have to admit. The day finally came when I walked out the door and, thankfully, she didn’t attempt anything. She actually finally sought treatment, which was long overdue.
Though I suffer from depression and a mild mood disorder, I’ve never been in so dark a place that I felt death was the only way out. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. My brother-in-law committed suicide just weeks before I began dating his sister. I’ve befriended several bloggers who have attempted suicide.
For those reasons, and those people, I support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. AFSP is a non-profit that raises money for survivors of suicide and for research into mental illness, the leading cause of suicide. AFSP holds a walk locally every October. We walk to raise awareness. We walk to raise money. We walk to remember.
I walk for the woman who held me captive with the threat of suicide for almost a decade. I walk for the brother-in-law I never had the privilege to meet. I walk my friends who’ve attempted suicide. I walk for the friends who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. I walk for my children, who I fear may have inherited the mental illness that runs rampant through my family. I walk for me.
I will be walking, again, on October 18 and I ask, again, that you all donate what you can. If you are not able to donate, please help spread the word about this amazing organization.