Warning: This post talks about depression, my brother’s suicide, my struggle to cope with it and all kinds of issues that are likely to be seriously triggering.
It’s been a rough couple of years in Shiloh land but for the past couple of months, I’ve been seeing more daybreak.
It’s been over two years since things with my brother D started to go downhill so fast.
This coming May will be two years since we lost him. Sometimes, it still catches me off guard and the pain hits me so fast, it’s like somebody swung a sledgehammer, straight at my heart.
The Long Dark Road Down
I don’t think I’ve ever gone into much detail about what happened and there’s a lot I won’t say because it’s personal and family, but there is so much stigma that surrounds mental health and addiction and these are things that need to be talked about. Maybe if society wasn’t so closed-minded about mental health, maybe if addiction was treated as the illness it is…who knows, maybe tens of thousands of lives would still be with us.
I don’t know if it would have stopped my brother from walking the path he walked, but if talking about things can make more people aware, and maybe affect even just one life in a positive way, then…hey. I’ll talk about it.
Mental health plays heavily into the suicide epidemic affecting the country, with nearly 45,000 lives lost annually in 2016, and well over that in 2017. Men are more likely to commit suicide than women (3.54x more often) despite that fact that more women attempt suicide than men. But a lot of people who commit suicide…the community, the friends, the family… a lot of them are surprised. Look at how hard Robin Williams’ death hit people. Kate Spade’s death’ caught a number of people off guard.
I never thought… I didn’t realize…
People wonder how you can be friends with somebody, or brothers, sisters, parents…how you can be so very close to these people and yet not know.
But it happens.
I’ve battled depression–and I win every damn day–since I was about fifteen or so. Even on the days when I’m feeling good, I know the depression isn’t gone, it’s just lying in wait. For me, I have no doubt there’s a family history of chemical imbalances in the brain and I suspect it’s on both sides of my family. I’ve learned to cope with my depression and for the most part, it’s always been relatively stable. Nobody in my family knew until things with my brother started getting rough and I tried to explain things from the view point of somebody who has been in that low, low, low point. And…surprise, surprise…nobody ever seemed to realize that depression was something I’d been quietly dealing with more than half my life.
I didn’t hide it. I wasn’t ashamed. It was just something I dealt with. When the rough patches came, I’d talk to my doctor and get on medication. It used to be I’d only need it for a year or two, but…well…the past five years or so, it’s like one thing after another has happened and as soon as things level off, something else sends me spiraling.
I’m not doing research on this, but it seems to me that creative types are more prone to having issues with depression and by and large, when we hear about somebody famous taking their own life, it’s almost always a musician, a talented comedian, a movie star…somebody who lives and breathes creativity. I’ve got my own personal theories on why this may be that I’m not going to get into because that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
I’d always had more in common with my brother D than with my other two. There were four of us and D and I were right in the middle. We were also the two creative ones. He was an artist and could draw the most amazing pictures. When I was younger, still a kid and ignorant about how the world worked, I’d tell him that if I ever became a famous author, I’d hire him to draw the artwork for my book covers.
Sometimes I miss being young and ignorant like that.
Maybe it’s because we’re both alike in some aspects… the creative thing, for one, but I suspected he had issues with depression long before he was diagnosed. That didn’t even happen until a few months before he died and he was also diagnosed as bi-polar. I also found out just much of a problem he had with substance abuse. He’d gotten injured on the job and pain likely played into it at some point, but realistically, I understand that he was doing what many people with depression and/or bi-polar and any number of mental health issues have done for ages. Self medicating with drugs or alcohol.
There have been times when my depression is hitting me damn hard and I’ve had more to drink than I should.
I know all too well how easy a trap that is to fall into.
The addiction and depression alone was going to be hard. But learning he had bi-polar disorder…the fear I felt was almost debilitating. If you know anything about bi-polar, then you might understand how much a struggle that can be. Too often, people with this diagnosis will take their meds until they ‘feel’ what they think is normal, then they stop and the merry-go-round starts all over again.
Compound that with the fact that he dealt with so many of the other things that you fight when you’re struggling with any one of these…the self-doubt, the guilt, the helplessness. Those utter feelings of aloneness that you can’t overcome and that nobody can talk you out of.
I saw the warning signs early on. I talked to him, told him I’d help as much as I could…in trying to help him, I did things that made him hate me. I thought, hoped he’d realize I was trying to help, but he didn’t. He lashed out, and he did it in an epic manner this time.I was so fed up and done, I decided it was time to just wall myself and my family off because I couldn’t take the hurt he was doling out upon me–it was starting to affect my mental health to the point that I felt shaky and I couldn’t risk that, not with my family and everything.
So I kept him at a distance. He made it clear that was what he wanted and I was happy to do it.
Then things started to change and when he tried to apologize, I wasn’t ready to hear it.
And I should have been. Because I’d seen the warning signs. I thought he was manipulating me–or trying to. He’d never been as good at it with me as he was with others, although it wasn’t him doing the manipulation as much as the addict, the bi-polar. When he was healthy, when he was whole…he was the sweetest guy, protective even if he was being a butt. But the chinks and wear from the battle he didn’t want to share with anybody had been eating away at him inside like a cancer. And he’d made a choice.
It was roughly two weeks from the time he tried to talk to me and I didn’t want to listen. He talked to my guy instead and my guy tells me he wasn’t mad at me. He says he didn’t hate me. Logically, I know this. But I still remember walking away from him that day. We talked one more time after that. I hugged him and I told him I loved him, but that didn’t mean things were okay between us yet.
The chance to make things okay died the end of May when he took his life.
Some people talk about how suicide is an act of cowardice, but something I’ve come to learn is that it’s not always as cut and dried as some make it out to be. Somebody with severe depression, struggling with bi-polar disorder…this isn’t something that developed overnight, or over a period of weeks, months, even a period of a couple of years.
These are lifetime struggles and they come with bone-aching weariness and soul-deep pain. Sometimes, it’s not an act of cowardice, so much as a need for peace.
No, I’m not advocating for suicide, but for understanding.
People who’ve lost a loved one to it do not.need to hear pithy comments about how cowardly an act it is. For some, it might be and people can feel it’s cowardly all they want…but tossing those comments out doesn’t help when it comes to confronting the problem, either. It also stifles the conversation because so many people who commit, or consider it, have had these thoughts repeatedly and they may consider reaching out…maybe to the person who just casually tossed out, only a coward takes their own life. How much of a lifeline will that person be to somebody who’s drowning in pain?
And it can feel like that. I’m 43 and for close to thirty years I’ve been dealing with the ups and downs of depression. The past two years have been the darkest, bleakest of my life, even with a beautiful family of my own…and I haven’t been the best person I could be during the past two years, either. But they are there. I know my guy loves me. I know my kids do, even as much as I mess up. They all know I love them. And yet there are times when I don’t feeI that because that’s what depression does. It lies and it tricks and it deceives and battling that day in and day out is so emotionally exhausting. It can be physically painful even, with body aches and headaches, aggravated by sleepless nights and so many other physical symptoms.
Depression is truly an emotional vampire, one that just sucks everything good out of the world. You might be able to see it, but you can’t feel it or experience it for yourself.
And it’s exhausting. I was already exhausted, emotionally, the day it happened, well before I knew what was coming. I was helping my sister-in-law, his wife with some matters and I got the call. I had to tell her. She collapsed on me at first. Then we were rushing over there. I barely remember calling my husband. He couldn’t even understand what I was saying, but he said, I’m coming. I held on to that and all but flew with my SIL to my brother’s house.
He was gone. My dad had found him. Mom and Dad had planned on trying one more time to get him help. He didn’t answer the door and Dad forced his way in.
The paramedics and law enforcement were on hand when my dad collapsed from a heart attack. His heart stopped. Just stopped. I’d lost my brother. And I almost lost my dad, too. While I was still reeling from losing D, I ended up at the hospital so I could stay on top of what was going on with Dad.
I threatened the doctor.
Yes, I literally threatened him and he tattled on me when my dad finally woke up days later. But I’d already lost my brother. I wasn’t losing my dad, too. Besides, I don’t think think it’s all that extreme to look a heart doc dead in the eyes right before surgery and tell him, My dad is NOT dying today. We’ve already lost enough and you will NOT let him die. I mean, threat-wise, that’s not much of anything.
Of course, I also threatened my dad. Right before they wheeled him into surgery, I told him he wasn’t allowed to die. I doubt he remembers, but he did respond. He squeezed my hand.
Dark jokes aside, the only reason Dad survived at all was because emergency medical personnel were already on scene. They brought him back and after a week in ICU, he went into rehab, then moved in with me for a few months. My SIL, nephew and niece…they were all living here, too for a time. Then it was my niece and my dad.
Things got…rough. Emotionally. Mentally. Financially. Personally. Writerly.
There wasn’t much time or energy to write.
Crying all the time? Routine.
People blamed the blame game.
My mom heard me talking about my issues with depression and it freaked her out. She thought that meant I had bi-polar disorder, too. I explained no, it was depression and I’d been dealing with it for years. I’d never told her because…well, there are some families where you just don’t talk about those things.
But some things can become poison if you keep them trapped inside, or worse…they make a ten pound weight that turns into a hundred, then a thousand, then you’re drowning and you can’t even figure out how you got wet to begin with.
One of the people I talk to the most about things in my life is my preacher. One time, years ago, it was about a fight between me and my husband and a woman overheard us and she said, to my face, I think marriage issues should stay between a man and his wife. And that happened in church.
No wonder this world, this country is so screwed up. Even the people we should see as completely safe to talk to? Somebody looks to chastise us.
It shouldn’t be that way. If you’re hurting inside, if you’re feeling alone…reaching out isn’t just okay. It’s brave, because so many fear doing it. They fear looking weak, but it takes strength to know when you need to reach for somebody else. Depression, bi-polar, addiction…all of these are hard crosses to bear and you don’t have to do it alone.
Seeing the end of the tunnel, and the light
I’ve never hidden the fact that I struggle with depression, although I don’t wear it like a badge either. For the most part, it’s always been stable and I’m lucky in that. Until this latest bout, it hadn’t ever affected me the way I know it impacts many, many others. I could almost write it off as part of being a ‘suffering artist’ except…well, I don’t produce very well when I’m down. The one other time it severely affected my life, and my writing, was after the guy and I lost our baby back in 2005. That was one of the lowest points in my life…at that time. But God works in weird ways and almost a year to the day that we lost her, we had bratlet and she’s a joy I wouldn’t give up for the world.
Because of that, and other lessons I’ve learned in life, I’ve always been able to just push on.
The only way out, sometimes, is through.
I kept telling myself that. I emptied my savings out that summer, fell behind on just about everything. Still haven’t caught up.
My agent dropped me, partly because I wasn’t having my luck selling to traditional publishes, partly because I was doing a lot of stuff independently and writing had become almost impossible anyway. How do you write when wake up every day and have to literally drag yourself out of bed, because sleep is just so much easier and you don’t have to think about all the lousy things?
Except you can’t sleep all the time, because you’ve got kids and family and you still have to produce work somehow. Still, losing an agent even at the best of times losing an agent sucks eggs and this wasn’t the best of times so it was just one more punch that set me reeling again. She didn’t know the things going on, but in the end, I wasn’t doing what I used to and that was the bottom line. My writing had to take a backseat because in order to even try to catch up on bills, I was doing more freelance work and for a time, I just had no interest in writing for me.
But…time goes on, doesn’t it? Even though time doesn’t heal all wounds, it makes it easier to remember other things. Like a goofy grin, or the way somebody used to laugh.
I had to get a new laptop because mine was evil and hated me. While transferring things over, I kept finding more and more pictures of D and I realized I could look at that goofy smile, even if I did tear up. Every memory of him doesn’t bring a stab of pain…and I know that’s how he’d want it. The sick, hurting guy he was didn’t change who he was inside
I’m still doing more freelance writing than my own, but I’ve been looking at a couple of smaller presses and pondering some ideas… (Yes, Kit is still high on my list. I’m a bit scared, because people are waiting and I don’t want to disappoint anybody, but fear’s never stopped me yet.)
And the other day, I was looking at an empty bottle of elderflower liqueor. It’s really pretty and I’ve always thought it would be fun to try and do either that glass-melting kind of crafty thing or bottle-etching crafts. And…okay, I lied, a little, because there is one time fear stops me. I’m horrendously clumsy and I can just see me blowing up a bottle or try to cut it and shattering it and slivering my fingers to shreds.
But, I’m thinking about crafty stuff, which I haven’t done in well over two years. I was even wishing I had the money to go out and buy stuff to work on the garden.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel and after two years in what feels like almost complete darkness, I so damn ready for some sun.