Letter to Brian: August 22, 2019

Dear Brian,

The summer is nearly over… I made it through another July.  There are a lot of “anniversaries” during the month of July that I just can’t seem to shake.  It begins with Mom’s birthday on the 1st.  Then there’s July 5th… the very last time I ever got to hug you and when I watched your car drive away after you dropped me off at the airport knowing full-well that I likely would never see you again.  And July 25th… that was the awful day that I received your suicide letter via an email that you unintentionally sent to me.  I guess it’s a PTSD of sorts; each time these dates roll around… my memory is utterly hijacked and I keep reliving all of those moments over and over and over again.  It’s fucking crippling, dude. I used to be able to share this part of my heart with Mom… she’s the only one who truly understood what each of those days meant because she experienced them, too. We shared that grief together.  But she’s been gone a few years now, and it’s been so hard not having anyone else that understands the gravity of each of those dates to share the pain with me.

And now, as of last July, there is another event to add to that list of dates I dread.  July 3rd marked one year since my suicide attempt. If you’d told me back then that I’d still be here a  year later, I’d never have believed you.  When I failed that night, I’d already had my “Plan B” in the works and came dangerously close to carrying it out 3 months later.  I’ve been seconds away from trying again about half a dozen more times since then.  I still think about it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  No joke.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t have to say to myself, “Ok… just get out of bed… get yourself together… just try and get through just one more day. If it’s unbearable… that noose will still be here waiting for you when you get home.” If I’m being completely honest… I still wish that I had succeeded in ending my life that night.  That’s not to say that I haven’t had some wonderful moments in the past year, because I absolutely have.  I have a fantastic group of friends and “chosen family” that have been a lifeline for me.  I’m surrounded by people who love me. But as wonderful as my support system is, when my heart and my head hurt as unbearably as they do, those few great “moments” don’t even begin to come close to outweighing the painful experiences that go on inside my mind all day long.  Everything just hits me WAY harder than it would if I were mentally healthy.  I think of it sort of like a bank account.  Let’s say you’re overdrawn (you know… much like I’m emotionally in the hole)… and you get a bill for a car repair… and another bill for the dentist… and a bill for a home repair… you’re feeling pretty overwhelmed as the bills start to pile up.  After doing laundry, you find a $20 bill you didn’t know you had in a jacket pocket.  Is finding that money a bad thing?  Absolutely not.  But does it make up for all the previous bills and fix everything and suddenly you’re not worried anymore?  Hell, no.  Much like my “happy moments.”  Are they unappreciated?  Of course they aren’t.  I love those moments.  But are they enough to undo the damage that the depression has done to my self-worth?  Not. Even. Close.

I just finished binge-watching all eight seasons of House, M.D.  Man, that guy could be such an asshole. He lived with immense physical pain as a result of a crippling leg-injury and became addicted to Vicodin.  He was constantly popping pills and lashing out at everyone… including those who loved him in spite of his behavior. But all throughout, I couldn’t help but identify with him.  I understood so well how pain, whether it be physical or emotional, can cause us to hurt those closest to us, even unintentionally.  I had a very close friend in college who I’ve since lost touch with; about 15 years ago, she stopped returning my phone calls and emails.  I finally reached out to her to ask what I had done to upset her.  She let me know that I hadn’t really “done” anything… she simply just grew tired of my depression and self harm.  She said, “I tried to fix you… but you weren’t getting any better. I knew that you weren’t ever going to get better so I just couldn’t be around you any longer.” I’ve long battled fear of abandonment by those I love… and that conversation certainly confirmed my worst fear: the fear that if my depression continues, people will eventually tire of me and leave. I miss her friendship greatly, but I also completely understand her act of self-preservation, too.  After all, if even I don’t want to be around me, why on earth would anyone else want to be? And honestly, I am well aware that my depression makes me an undesirable friend.  It causes me, at times, to distance myself from everyone around me.  It means canceling plans when I can’t stop crying or I begin to feel everything so deeply that I just can’t seem to be around anyone at all… it’s all just too overwhelming. And my depression tells me that people won’t care if I cancel because they likely will be relieved that I’m not coming… they surely only extended me an invite to be polite, anyway, right? I can become incredibly emotionally distant and withholding. I clam up and run from showing my emotions outwardly. I turn down social invitations because I’m in one of those moods where I feel every single thing with such intolerable intensity that it actually hurts to be out in the world. I just don’t know how to turn that off.  I’m very aware that it is quite difficult to be my friend at times

I am often haunted by a line in your suicide letter where you said to me, “I’m very sorry for those who tried to help me—I shouldn’t have brought anybody into this because I’m not sure that I really ever wanted any help.” I think about that a lot.  I find myself reaching out at times… but then I feel enormous guilt over reaching out because I truly don’t believe that anyone can actually help me, anyway.  I’m 45 years old, for christ’s sake… if therapy and medication haven’t helped by now, I don’t believe that they ever will; which is why I made the decision to stop taking medication.  I’ve been completely off both of my antidepressants for about 7 months now.  I was experiencing just as many serious depressive episodes on medication as I do without them so I’d rather not spend my money on them any longer. And with regards to seeking any help– honestly, sometimes the suggestions I receive from other people can just agitate me further.  Like the old, “Just tell yourself something different and you’ll believe something different” adage fucking pisses me off.  It probably shouldn’t, but it does; that kind of remark makes it feel like my lifelong depression and suicidality can be reduced to “Just snap out of it, you silly goose!”  I also have great difficulty taking feedback from anyone who has not experienced chronic, life-threatening depression themselves.  This isn’t a “Boo hoo, my car won’t start and I had a bad day at work” kind of sadness.  It’s a “my mind is literally taking over, it’s telling me that I’m absolutely worthless,  that I don’t fit in anywhere and no one actually REALLY cares for me and that the world would not be remotely affected by my absence” kind of sadness. I heard a great quote on a show I was watching tonight.  A father was trying to explain to his young daughter why she wasn’t ever going to see her mother again because of her mental illness; he said to her, “Do you know how sometimes when people get sick, no matter how hard they try to get better and no matter how many doctors try to help that they just don’t get any better?  That happened to your Mom.”  It hit me like a ton of bricks… that’s exactly how I feel about my own illness.

I heard the best podcast recently.  It’s a mental health podcast called “So Called Normal” and it is facilitated by Mark Henick, a suicide attempt survivor who is very active in promoting issues relating to suicide and mental illness. In episode #30, he was interviewing a guest who vehemently opposes forced hospitalization and openly supports the “right to die” movement; he believes that if someone has suffered long enough from an illness with no relief, they have a right to end their own suffering. I also share that belief which is why I chose to end my activity in suicide awareness and prevention efforts. I felt like a traitor having the thought that some suicides simply cannot be prevented.  In the podcast, the guest recounted how therapists and friends would say to him, “You’re incredibly smart, you’re capable of soooo much more and you have so much potential.”   But none of it ever truly connected with him… he said there was absolutely NOTHING they could say to him that would convince him that there was something greater waiting out there for him… he didn’t believe it.  He said, “I KNOW I SUCK.  I don’t deserve to be loved, I’m a loser, I can’t even love myself.”  That prompted the host to respond with, “Do you love yourself now?”  To which he replied, “NO, I don’t. Why? I don’t know. I want to…Maybe I will get to that to that point someday.” It was incredibly refreshing to hear someone speak so honestly about those feelings.  It was reassuring to hear those words come out of someone else’s mouth for a change; it was a reminder that while I may feel terribly alone in experiencing these emotions, I’m NOT.  But this kind of self-hatred makes even the most common of adversities that most people face unbearable in my mind.

I recently put myself back out in the world, musically speaking.  I’d really been missing playing piano and singing… so I tried out a few open mic nights.  I seemed to get decent feedback so I reached out to a few people in hopes that someone might like to get together and collaborate– just for fun and practice, really.  I got the cold shoulder from each of them.  What my mind turned that rejection into was, “You really suck at this… you’re not even good enough to goof around with so you ought to just quit trying.”  I get so down on myself that when I put myself out there I secretly hope that it’ll be well-received and I might even get a few compliments to boost my self-esteem a bit.  But putting yourself out there also means risking rejection– and I don’t handle that very well.  When I’m rejected, it enforces the raging feelings of complete inadequacy already running rampant in my head and it spins completely out of control.  After the most recent open mic night, I outwardly took the rejection like a big, strong girl but started crying as soon as I got into my car.  I went home and self-harmed that night because I was so ashamed of myself. Like I said… I don’t handle rejection well.  At all.  A stronger person surely would be able to let those kinds of things just roll off their back.

I’ve been feeling extra lonely lately. Every once in a while, for a very brief second, I think it would be nice to someday find someone to share my life with… but then I remember how dating sucks ASS.  It’s far too traumatic putting myself out there for someone to just knock me back down and reject me.  Besides, lately I’ve been told multiple times by several of my married friends that my life is much better now that it would ever be with a partner.  I’ve been told that any seemingly happy and meaningful relationships I see around me aren’t real… that “true love” doesn’t exist.  If any couples outwardly seem to really be in love with one another, it isn’t real. It’s so oddly optimistic of me; as terribly jaded and cynical as I am about life in general, there is still a part of me that has always wanted to believe that there’s someone out there for me that I could share my life with; but then when I hear, “Don’t bother… it’s a waste of  your time… real love doesn’t even exist… you’re better off alone” then it gives me one less thing to look forward to in the future.  Don’t get me wrong– I know that the “fairytale love” isn’t real… because life is difficult and messy; perfection just isn’t possible.  I had been hanging on to the hope that the couples I see out there that have been making it work for 40 years have done so because they truly love the other person enough to work through all the hard stuff that gets tossed in their path along the way… not simply because it’s easier to stay and endure rather than make the effort to start fresh on their own.  I’ve always been a “romantic” at heart and had hoped that someday I’d find that one person who I could grow old with and who’d be there to share life’s speed bumps with me.  Apparently, it’s all a big lie.

Well… I  guess I’ve babbled at you long enough for today.  I really need to stop letting so much time pass before releasing some of this built-up shenanigans.

Thanks for listening, dude.  I really miss you.

Love,
Laura

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: January 27, 2015

Dear Brian,

Well, I did it. I finished watching the entire “Six Feet Under Series” this weekend. I miss it already.  There is something so comforting, to me, about a show that so openly talks about death and the shit that happens to those left behind.

I watched as a sister, fresh in her grief, stared blankly up at the sky as though her brother’s death literally had taken her soul away from her and left her empty inside.  She said, “He was my only brother.  He’s gone. I’ll never have another brother.” I remember those days so clearly, Brian.  Moving about but feeling disconnected to the places and faces I came across.  Going to sleep crying.  Waking up crying.  Lying on my bed staring out the window in bone-weary silence when the tears simply ran out… staring into the sky but not really seeing anything.  Not connecting to anyone or anything.  Nothing mattered anymore… nothing at all.  I’ll never have another sibling; you were it for me and with one painful phone call that lifetime of being a sister to you was just… over.

The show showed the self-destruction that often occurs following a traumatic death. Nearly all of my days were all the same at the beginning: I’d wake up in a fog, believing it had just been a bad dream and then begin sobbing when I realized it wasn’t a dream at all. I’d leave the house in whatever clothes were closest to me, making no real effort to put myself together. I’d go to work and fight tears all day. I’d leave work for my lunch break spent crying in my car.  I’d cry all the way home when the work day was over. I’d drink at least 6-7 glasses of wine, smoke some pot, take a few sleeping pills and pass out before 8:00 and the next morning I’d wake up and do it all over again. It was so exhausting missing you and I really didn’t want to feel anything at all.  I had very little desire to answer the phone or reply to emails or texts and I was just so fucking depressed.  I was so angry, though not at you… just at what my life had become. I was just barely getting by; I’ve come a long, long way since then.

I felt so at home watching “Six Feet Under” because it so beautifully showed all the stages of grief that people go through… and reinforced that those stages very often don’t go in any particular order… and that you can relive any and all of those stages at different times in your life– grieving the loss of someone so close to you is a lifelong process.  I can say that after 4 years it does get easier… but it’s ALWAYS there.  You are still on my mind– every. single. day.  In the beginning I was bombarded with all of the sad memories and all the ways I hurt your feelings or upset you over the years and wished so badly that I could get a do-over.  But these days it is far easier to come up with happy memories… there sure are a lot of them.

Another thing that I found so comforting about the show was the continued “presence” of those  who had passed. They often “saw” and spoke to those who had died; whether it was real or imagined (though I believe that to be real) isn’t the point… it was that even after death we still want to incorporate our loved ones into our daily lives.  You’re on my mind so much that with each decision I make or when things happen to me that I want to share I imagine that your spirit is with me sharing in the news or comforting me when I need it.  Though your body is gone, you still very much inspire me.  I can’t let you go completely and I’m fine with that, actually; you’re always going to be a part of my life, though in a different form than before.

And the show was just so honest!  I wish our society didn’t tiptoe around the subject of death so much… and the topic of a suicide death is far more taboo and people just don’t want to talk about it.  I’ve eased up a lot over the past 4 years.  In the beginning I wanted to talk about it all the time– to anyone who would listen. It was always on my mind and was such a distraction that I often thought I shouldn’t have been allowed to drive a vehicle.  If someone honked and zipped around me while flashing their middle finger at me for failing to see that the light had turned green a part of me wanted to chase them down and jump out of the car and scream, “I’m sorry I made your life so difficult at that stoplight… my brother just killed himself!  If a few seconds longer at a stoplight is the worst thing to happen to you today then you’re in great fucking shape!!”  That anger was always just barely concealed beneath my expressionless surface.

I’m grateful that through talk therapy, art, setting appropriate boundaries with people whom I do not feel safe, medication and simply the passing of time that I have come to a place where I can remember you without breaking down.  Don’t get me wrong, I still fall apart a lot… but not all day every day like I used to.

And if I’m being completely honest, I can foresee myself watching the entire “Six Feet Under” series again in the future.  It’s good for my soul.

On a side note, I just turned 41 on Saturday… I did always love the birthday cards you used to get for me.  I really miss that and I really missed not talking to you on my birthday.  But you were still there with me, dude.  I miss you.

Love,
Laura

I want to hear about YOU!

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Hey Everyone!

Today’s entry is a bit different.  I’d like to open up a discussion about YOUR grief and how it has affected your life and particularly how it has affected how you relate to others.  For example, as a result of your loss:

  • Do you experience any fear of abandonment or have attachment issues?
  • Has it changed your personality?
  • Has it made relationships more difficult?
  • Has it changed what you look for and/or need from your relationships?
  • How has it changed your outlook on life?
  • Do you experience any irrational fears as a result of a sudden or traumatic loss?

Feel free to comment and share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you!  If you’d prefer, you can share your thoughts anonymously.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to sharing a dialogue with you!

Laura

Letter to Brian: July 11, 2013

Dear Brian,

I need to begin this letter to you by reiterating, yet again, that I’m not angry at you for taking your life as I know you didn’t do it TO me… you did it in spite of how much you loved me and I know you tried to hang in there longer because of me as well as the rest of our family.  OK, that having been said… you need to know that what I AM angry at is the unsettling side effects your death has created in my life and within my relationships with others.  Because of your death, which was a conscious choice to leave, a few things regularly happen that I need to tell you about.

One of those things is this– when I can’t reach someone after multiple attempts I often have panic attacks.  I wasn’t hearing back from you after emailing you and texting you and leaving you voicemails over the course of a whole day and it turned out you didn’t reply to me because you were dead.  It creates such an intense sense of panic in me now when I can’t reach those that I care about.  My logical mind realizes that the likelihood of the same thing happening again is not exactly high; but the fear is there because there’s always that chance… it happened with you.  I panic nearly every time that my phone rings and I see that it is Mom calling me.  Each and every time since your death when I’ve looked down at the screen to see her name pop up as an incoming call, my heart stops and my stomach drops and I hold my breath– the tension remains until I actually hear her voice and am able to deduce from her tone whether the purpose of the call is a pleasant one or if it is another call to deliver devastating news to me like she did about 9:30pm on Wednesday, October 13th, 2010.

Secondly, it’s not just a fear of someone I love dying, but also an unfounded fear that they’ll just leave me… period.  I now have this unsettling need to hold tightly to things and to people whom I do not want to lose– whether that loss is by death or by them simply choosing to leave for personal reasons.  While very different situations, the underlying fear is the same. My love for you was not enough to help you overcome your desire to die.  As a result I now have an irrational fear of people choosing to walk away because my love, or their love for me, is not enough to give them reason to stay.  It now takes longer than it ever did before for me to settle in to a relationship (whether a with a new friend or with a romantic partner) as I’m afraid of allowing myself to get close to someone who has the potential to leave.  And of course, they ALL have the potential to leave– after all, no relationship is ever a guarantee; it would be completely naïve to think otherwise.  But the fear of experiencing that rejection again instills a hesitation within me that I do not appreciate nor is it fair to the person with whom I am hesitating to take that chance. When I begin to have a feeling that there is any potential threat to the relationship (regardless of whether or not that threat truly exists or was completely fabricated within my own imagination) I begin to tell myself if I wasn’t enough for even my own brother to stay, how could I ever possibly be enough for someone else?  This fear that causes me to be so cautious is not fair to myself nor is it fair to those closest to me.

I am very aware that it is not the responsibility of anyone else to cater to my need to be reassured.  I know that the reassurance I seek needs to originate from within me, not them– I need to work through these feelings on my own.  But I’m not going to lie– a little reassurance from the outside is equally as important now and then.  I realize that I am a work in progress!  But I do also realize that I’m a kind, caring, loving and decent person who is worth the extra reassurance and TLC while I work through all this shit you left behind. Coversely, I am very aware that it absolutely needs to go both ways– and there are some pretty amazing people out there for whom I am willing to work extra hard to get through this stuff to get to the really good stuff… which is what life is really all about.  I’m more self-aware than I’ve ever been (thanks to ongoing therapy) and I think that is crucial to making ANY relationship work– for each person to really know themselves, to know their own boundaries and limitations and to not be afraid to be vulnerable and ask for a little help now and then. You should know that I’ve found me one such kind and gentle soul whom I feel is very worthy of me taking that chance so… wish me luck.  🙂

It felt good getting that out. As always, thanks for letting me vent, dude.

Love,
Laura