There are certain moments in life for which no amount of preparation can ready you. Moments that leave a nuclear shadow on your memory. Some of those moments are wonderful. Others haunt you, coating every future decision you will ever make with fear. One of those moments is another person attempting suicide right in front of you. No amount of time will erode the scars left by such a memory.
The event is seared into my mind as if by a branding iron. There is a photo montage that I cannot rid myself of no matter how I try. I see a river of tears threading their way down from the outside corner of her right eye. I see the relief of finality written upon her face. I can see the empty bottle in the wastebasket. And I can clearly hear the words she spoke through light sobs, “When you wake up you won’t have to worry about me anymore.”
When you imagine yourself in a situation like that you always think that you’ll know just what to do. That you won’t break under the pressure. Even now I feel confident that I’ll react appropriately in an emergency situation. I was just a kid, though. Twenty years of age is legally an adult, but, to be perfectly honest, I probably wasn’t ready for adulthood until I was 30 and by that time I had eight-year-old twins and another ten years of experience under my belt.
At 20 years old the shock of what had happened paralyzed me. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I don’t even know if I was breathing. I could only stare at her, dumbfounded and numb.
There are a million things that I know, in retrospect, I should have done. I should have called 911. I should have called her mom. Her sister. Her aunt. I should have urged them to have her committed. Or, at the very least, to encourage her to seek help. I could go on and on about all the things I should have done, but I could manage none of them. I just laid there watching her through tear-filled eyes, wondering if she’d be alive when I woke the next morning. Eventually, I cried myself to sleep.
Suicide has impacted my life as no other thing has. Everything that has happened to me in the last 25 years has resulted directly from that night. I began the night intending to end a relationship in which I was unhappy. I ended the night enslaved by the threat of suicide. I became fearful. I was afraid of telling her no. I was afraid any misstep might send her into another abyss. I walked on eggshells for years. I became a proficient liar for fear the truth would trigger another attempt. Fits of rage turned to wild accusations, throwing random objects (sometimes at me), and her in a shower with the water as hot as it could possibly be because the pain calmed her.
Despite my misery, I did get two amazing sons for whom I would happily shed every tear and endure every abuse again.
Just after I escaped that marriage, I began dating a young woman who, after our first date, was leveled by the death of her brother, who had taken his own life.
Words cannot describe the torment she suffered. That her family suffered. The what-ifs. The what-could-I-have-done-to-prevent-its. The anger for hurting them. The grief for losing him. The drugs and alcohol consumed to numb it all.
I did the best I could to help her through it. Throughout our years together, she never really got past it. I mean, how could she? Her brother died. Not due to an accident or natural causes, but by choice. All she wanted was the one thing she’ll never, ever have. An answer.
Years ago, I began supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I initially joined to be supportive of the young woman whose brother was lost to her, but since then I’ve come to terms with my own issues. I was diagnosed with bipolar when I was 13. I’m not sure that man was the most competent psychiatrist ever to have a couch to lie on because I’m not bipolar and that same doctor is the one who gave my mom the meds that led to her arrest. But that’s neither here nor there. I do suffer from depression and anxiety. I have had some extremely low moments in the last ten years. I have never felt a compulsion to end my life, but from rock bottom, I can see how some would think that death is the only way out. The fear of what that would do to my children keeps me grounded.
Most people who commit suicide have a diagnosable and treatable mental illness. Yet mental illness is this thing we’re supposed to discuss in the shadows and publicly disavow. Like if we ignore it, it will just go away. I don’t know about yours, but my demons thrive in the darkness.
I walk at the Cincinnati Out of the Darkness event every October. I donate and try to raise funds. I’m not an extremely motivated person, and I’m definitely not a person to join causes, but this foundation is that important to me. I walk with my children because I want them to know that they can talk to me if they begin to feel the void inside that depression carves out. I walk with others so they know they are not alone in their grief or their fight. I donate to help fund psychiatric research. I donate to get treatment for those affected by suicide. I support AFSP for me. For my children. For anyone who hears the whispers of demons or the echoes they leave in a tormented head.
If you’re so inclined, please consider donating to AFSP. This organization is doing as much as it can to normalize acknowledging, discussing, and treating mental health.
out of the darkness
and into the light
demons will vanish when
dragged from the night