Letter to Brian: June 21, 2015

Dear Brian,

This week is a little sad for me.  Today I should have arrived in Washington, DC to support the efforts of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at the Annual Advocacy Forum… but I backed out of the trip a few months ago.  I’m really having mixed feelings about that.

This year’s attendees were selected on an invite-only basis and I was absolutely honored that they thought enough of me to send me back to our nation’s capital to help promote the cause of suicide prevention.  Last year’s experience was so amazing and meaningful; I was thrilled at the chance to do it again.

But when the time arrived to book my travel, I was going through another fiercely deep depression and was experiencing thoughts of suicidality and wasn’t sure I’d be up to the task.  I decided that I wasn’t.  A week before the deadline for scheduling my trip I emailed the local chapter’s director to let her know I was relinquishing my place to someone else.  I was honest about my decision and let her know exactly what was going on with me because, after all, if you can’t be honest about it with the very organization trying to improve the state of mental health care and suicide prevention, who can you be?  She was very kind and understanding and respectful and I appreciated her compassion a great deal.

I told her I again found myself in the middle of a deep depression and didn’t feel I would be successful at representing them to the fullest of my ability.  I was struggling so hard to keep myself interested in any kind of future and I just needed to focus on taking care of myself for the time being.  What I didn’t tell her, but maybe should have is that I also felt that attending would have made me a complete hypocrite.  I was in a place where such a darkness had again come over me that I thought, why bother?  If someone else was feeling what I was feeling at that time, and what you were feeling the last few months of your life, I wouldn’t blame them for making that choice, you know?  Anyone who hasn’t been in that place just…. well, they just don’t know.  I felt so terribly alone, Brian… I just wanted to be with you again and was envious that your struggle was over while I’m still stuck battling my own illness and the ever-returning flare ups.  And yes, I’m well aware that I have a lot of people who care for me so much.  I know their feelings are genuine and they mean it when they say, “Call me ANYTIME.  I mean it.”  But the thing is… I just rarely do call when I need to talk.  I know that at times like that I am endlessly inconsolable and just an all-around drag on people’s energy so I don’t blame them for not answering when I call.  I wouldn’t want to talk to me at those times, either.  It’s got to be really exhausting being my friend at those times… so I get it.

I’m doing so much better now so I guess that’s where my mixed feelings about the Advocacy Forum are coming from– while part of me is regretting having let my spot go to someone else because I let a great opportunity slip through my hands, a much larger part of me knows that I made the right choice.

I’ve already begun to see pictures and status updates in my Facebook feed about the forum as they’ve all arrived and will begin their work on Capitol Hill tomorrow.  I’m envious of what they will be experiencing over the next few days but I know the person who replaced me will be a far better advocate for the cause than I am capable of being right now. Please send some positive energy to those who made the trip to DC to speak to our nation’s lawmakers on my behalf and on behalf of anyone who has ever lost a loved one to suicide.  I’m so grateful that they are able to advocate for those of us who aren’t strong enough to do so.

Anyhoooo.  I found a penny again today… thank you.  I love the little reminders that you’re still looking out for me.

Love Always,
Laura

Central Texas AFSP with Pete Gallego
Central Texas AFSP Advocates with Pete Gallego

 

Letter to Brian: August 25, 2014

hurtandhealer
Dear Brian,

I had a dream last night… and for the first time in a very long time you were in it.

I was at an event for suicide awareness and prevention and had been having a really nice, but emotional, time connecting with some of the lovely women I’ve met through the tragedy of your death. It was time for the guest speakers to present so the crowd shifted towards the stage. As a young woman stood at the podium and shared her story of losing her brother to suicide I began to cry. The last words she spoke were, “I wish you’d thought about how much you’d hurt me.”

Just as she said that, someone reached out and held onto my left hand and gave it a squeeze. As I turned to my left I saw that it was you. You continued to hold my hand and kissed me on the cheek and said, “Laura, I’m so sorry for what this has done to you.”

I like to think that was you checking in with me again… and I thank you for that.

Love always,
Laura

Letter to Brian: May 30, 2014

Dear Brian,

My friend Christine, a fellow AFSP Volunteer with whom I advocated in Washington, D.C. a few months back, is a suicide attempt survivor.  She was recently asked to write an article for CNN.com about her attempt and survival.  It was such a great article and I am so very proud of her and of what she is doing for suicide awareness. However, I made the mistake of scrolling down to read the comments that followed.  There was a lot of encouragement, which was so great to see.  But sadly, there were many disturbing comments made that reminded me just how far we have to go in educating people about suicide.  Comments such as these:

“Only wimps try to commit suicide, no sympathy from me.”

“Your 15 minutes of fame is over, come join the rest of humanity in our struggles while you are trying to profit from your own choices of death.”

“I disagree that anyone benefits from any of the sentiments you have expressed – you really are flat wrong in everything you have said. Fine, so go kill yourself. Even better, kill yourself to prove me wrong. You need one, maybe two more excuses, right? There are two more, easily. Off you go. When you come back desperate for more sympathy and attention and threatening to kill yourself if you don’t get it? Just call this # for all the attention that you need: 1-800-GIVAFUK”

“I can’t help you with this excuse-mongering. Everyone goes through periods of depression, overwork, anxiety, feelings of failure. You either work through it or you quit and try to kill yourself. It’s really that simple.”

“Mental illness is a frightening thing. Sadly there is no cure for crazy and your best bet is to avoid involving yourself in relationships with people with mental illness if possible.”

“Studies show that whenever the media does an article about suicide, in the months that follow, there is an increase in the number of suicides.”

“Enough with coin-phrasing yourself with ‘I am a blah blah blah’ , no you’re NOT. You’re just like everyone else who’s had to endure this neurotic self absorbed and heartless society.”

“”Hi! I was a miserable twat, and I decided to kill myself, now I’m making money off of it.”

“Suicidal people are also homicidal people. Very dangerous indeed.”

“This article is disrespectful. I’ve had many friends that went all the way. Shut up. I don’t care about your cry for help. How much were you paid for this crap? You are weak, just do it already.”

By surviving her attempt and going on to open up and share her story with others she’s letting it be known that she doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of and she is doing her part to create a society in which people are not afraid of seeking help when they need it most.  All of those hurtful comments do nothing but perpetuate the stigma surrounding depression and suicide! If that kind of response is what they can expect, why would someone seek help when they are hurting?  They are in genuine pain and to have it met with comments like, “you’re weak” or “if you can’t deal with the pressures of life that the rest of us have to deal with then just do the world a favor and just finish yourself off” would only serve to hurt them further.

But then I saw the TED Talk video above and was again more hopeful.  He was an officer that patrolled the Golden Gate Bridge for 20 years and prevented more than one suicide there. If only more people were as kind, understanding and respectful as he is!  I was struck by a few things he said, in particular.  When he talked about what to do if someone you know is suicidal:  “It’s not just the talking that you do but the listening. Listen to understand. Don’t argue, blame or tell the person you know how they feel because you probably don’t– by just being there you may just be the turning point that they need.” He also added: “For most suicidal folk (or those contemplating suicide) they wouldn’t think of hurting another person, they just want their own pain to end.  Typically this is accomplished in just 3 ways: sleep, drugs or alcohol or death.”

I don’t need to remind you that I’ve never been angry at you for your choice to end your life.  I know there are many in my position who are angry at their loved one for leaving that way… but as I’ve told you I know exactly how it feels to be in that mindset and to know that when you are in that dark place that there truly seems to be no way out.  To those who would say, “You simply need to change your thoughts– just think positive thoughts,” I would say this– exactly how do you change your way of thinking when the very organ in your body required to do that is what is failing you in the first place? Unless someone has experienced a depression like no other that leaves you feeling as though the only way to escape it is to die, they couldn’t possibly understand.  I’m not talking about just a bad day, or bad week, bad month or even bad year… but a soul-crushing darkness that weighs so heavily that you can’t possibly imagine it ever NOT being there.  I started having suicidal thoughts around the time I started self-injuring– at about age 5.  Would you tell a 5 year old, “Hey, buck up” or “pull yourself up by the boot straps” or “life’s hard, deal with it?”  There obviously was so much more at work there than just a “bad attitude” to cause someone so young to want to end their life.  There’s also the heredity factor, I’m well aware.  We have a robust family history of major depressive disorder and substance abuse on both sides of our family.  Suicidality is also very present in our family history as you well remember our father’s attempt in 1995 along with several attempts made by his mother, our grandmother, in earlier years.  I wasn’t aware until just yesterday that our aunt attempted twice to take her own life, as well.  Even among family, suicidal thoughts and attempts are kept a dark secret… so how can we expect people to seek help outside their family?

I look forward to the day when depression (or any mental illness, for that matter) is considered by the greater population to be a legitimate, treatable illness rather than a character flaw.  I am grateful that people like Christine who have lived through that horror are willing to step up and talk about it because people like her, who managed to survive an attempt on their own life, can provide invaluable an insight to suicide, mental illness and the hope that it can be treated.  And, hopefully, can keep spreading the word that it is OK to ask for help and create a world in which that help is readily and lovingly provided.

I really wish you had survived your attempt, Brian.  But sadly until a short 5 months before you succeeded in taking your life I was made aware that you’d already survived two previous attempts.  It isn’t lost on me that I was lucky to have had you around for another 10 years but selfishly I’d ask for another 60.  I miss you, dude.

Love,

Laura

 

Letter to Brian: November 5, 2013

Dear Brian,

In writing these letters to you over the past few years I have primarily focused on your act of suicide and the way it has changed the course of my life.  You and I only briefly spoke about my own long-running history with suicidality, depression and self-injury… and it was only in the last few months you were alive that I began to really share those details with you.  I’d like to share more about that with you now.

When you first admitted back in May of 2010 that you were suffering from a deep depression, you also told us of two previous suicide attempts of which we were not aware; one of those attempts was actually while you and I were living together as roommates in our 20’s.  Those years were particularly hard for me too; I was extremely suicidal myself at that time… seems neither of us had any idea just how hopeless the other was feeling and we were living under the very same roof.  Turns out you and I were quite good at protecting one another… even if the other wasn’t fully aware there was anything from which they were being protected.  I know for me, the reasons for keeping my desire to die to myself were plenty.  For starters, I was embarrassed.  I told myself that “normal” people didn’t wake up every morning wishing they had died in their sleep. I couldn’t share that thought with anyone. I felt so strongly about wanting to die but recognized that if I were to reveal that wish and/or intent they would try to stop me and I wasn’t looking for attention or help…I was looking for a way out.  I also wanted to protect you and our family from the feelings that would undoubtedly be stirred up by such a revelation from someone they loved: feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, sadness and the crippling fear that they would not be able to prevent the inevitable– the last of which I experienced in excess the last 5 months of your life.

I remember the summer before you died, shortly after you accidentally emailed me your suicide note.  After receiving it, I desperately tried to help you.  I began to open up to you about just how deep and dark my own depression went and told you about a file folder I had which contained about a dozen or so methods of suicide I had deemed feasible for myself after much research on the internet.  For several years that folder, ironically, was a lifeline for me.  Somehow, getting up in the morning was a little bit easier knowing I had those plans in place if that day ended up being the one that finally broke me once and for all.  I cried myself to sleep nearly every single night and while I’m not religious, my last thoughts each night were prayers to “whomever or whatever is out there”… begging with every ounce of my being that they grant me some mercy and let me not wake up in the morning.

I am jealous of all you were able to accomplish despite your depression– mine has significantly held me back my entire life.  From a young age (and even now) it was partly because of my sadness and crippling shyness that I failed to engage in a lot of activities that other kids enjoyed and I longed to do but of which I didn’t feel capable or deserving.  Depression contributed to my constant inability to focus and I was repeatedly told by teachers over the years that “I didn’t participate enough” and that “I wasn’t working up to my known potential.”  I knew that. Aside from the fact that I did not possess the ability to kick those depressive episodes out of the way long enough to do what everyone thought I was capable of doing, I also had sunk deep enough to not see the point of it all, anyway.  I figured if I didn’t think I’d be here long enough for any of that stuff to matter, why bother?

You were so very smart, Brian.  And so motivated and dedicated and focused!  You always did so much better in school.  In more recent years you managed to hold down a few jobs at a time while going back to school full-time and training for a bodybuilding competition… and you did so well at all of those thing all at once.  I really envied that– especially now that I know you were suffering just as much as I was but yet you excelled at everything in spite of it.  Grandpa Ralph used to compare me to you.  He made me feel like a failure for having dropped out of college after only a few years… he said, “You’re just like your Aunt, she never finished anything, either.”  It hurt my feelings a great deal; my depression and my increasing bouts of self-injury were the primary contributors to me prematurely leaving school.  I feel pretty certain that he wouldn’t have understood that had I tried to explain it.

I still have not felt a shred of anger at you for choosing to end your own life.  I have felt that inescapable despair and truthfully I still have moments where I envy your choice.  I know that won’t sit well with a lot of people, but it’s the truth.  I’m here in this new way of life without you and  3 years later there are still moments the pain literally takes my breath away and I can’t imagine feeling this kind of pain for another 40 years.  I promised myself when I decided to share my letters to you on this blog that I wouldn’t “sugar coat” things to make them easier for others to read.  I don’t want there to be so much shame and stigma surrounding this stuff– depression, self-injury, suicide.  Keeping that stuff hidden only serves to give the illness more power than it deserves.  I find that with each word I share about my struggles I’m taking a little of that power back.

Thanks for listening, dude.

Love,
Laura

Letter To Brian: November 17, 2012

Dear Brian,

Today I attended a conference for International Survivors of Suicide Awareness Day. It was the second one I’ve attended– the first being in November of 2010 only a few short weeks after your death. I thought that this one may be different for me being two full years since you orchestrated your untimely exit… but that really wasn’t the case. I was just as affected by the stories and tears of others today as I was two years ago.

It is always so rewarding and reassuring to hear the words and stories coming out of the other survivors’ mouths– for those few hours I don’t feel quite so crazy. In those meetings I can share things about your death that my friends would find all but impossible to endure and not feel ashamed or as though I’m imposing upon them an irrational need to talk about the gruesome details. They reminded me today, more than once, that not only am I OK, but I’m extremely normal in where I find myself these days.

The first year was in no way easy to get through but the second year proved to be far more difficult; it felt like had just run a painful marathon only to reach the “finish line” and find it wasn’t a stopping point at all but another starting line and I had to repeat the whole thing over again and again and again. Another survivor said they think the subsequent years are more difficult because the shock and numbness you experience that first year have begun to wear off and you’re left with the reality of what’s happened and have to deal with it and learn how to live in your “new normal.”

I continue to be surprised at when and where and just how often I’m struck with a crippling grief. Another sibling survivor mentioned today how even 4 years after the suicide of her brother she can be going about her day and she’ll hear a song, see a place she used to visit with him or see a face that resembled his and be immediately transported back to the day he died and find herself in the middle of a gut-wrenching pain complicated with feelings of guilt, and devastating sadness. We all acknowledge that the memories are always there just barely below the surface and some days it takes merely a split-second to bring them to life again.

One thing I’ve struggled with lately is the grief of alienation by what little family I have left. It is virtually only Mom and Dad now. I have begun to appreciate more and more each day the presence of the amazing friends I have in my life– aside from our parents they are my family now. They are the ones who are there to hug me, to listen to me and to check in with me from time to time to see how I am doing. Those moments mean more to me than they could ever imagine. There are days I mourn not just your death but my future with you; when our parents are gone I won’t have you there to lean on and share stories about our lives when we grew old. You took that future away from me.

Then there is the guilt… few suicide survivors are spared the feelings of guilt. I told the group today that I feel that because I saw it coming I had played a part in your death as I wasn’t able to prevent it from happening. I realize there would have been guilt even if it had come as a complete shock– I likely would have then blamed myself for missing the possible signs. But somehow the fact that I knew it was coming makes me feel as though I failed you in the worst way. I struggle so when going over our last several conversations in my mind. We spoke about my own history of depression and how I battled my own thoughts of suicide for the overwhelming majority of my life. I feel that because I knew what it was truly like to be in that deep darkness I didn’t have the right words for you… and I myself was having trouble coming up with reasons why life was worth it other than my own selfish reasons for wanting you to stay alive if only for me. And that reason turned out to be not quite enough for you to overcome your pain.

Not a day goes by that I don’t go to sleep at night and wake in the morning thinking of you. You’re on my mind nearly every moment of every single day; I’m learning to incorporate you into my new life knowing you are still with me. Watching over me, protecting me, loving me. I want those around me who never got to meet you to know you as you are still such a huge part of me. My true friends are those who allow room for you in my life and are not uncomfortable with me sharing stories about you to ensure that you live on inside of me.

I miss you so much, Brian.

Love,
Laura