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

Letter to Brian: November 8, 2014

Dear Brian,

I’ve held off on writing about something for a while now… but each time I see the story pop up on Facebook or in the news it triggers a reaction in me that I just feel the need to talk to you about.

The first time I saw the headline it read, “29-Year-Old Woman: Why I’m Taking My Own Life.”  I really didn’t know what to expect upon clicking on the story but it turned out she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and does not have long to live.  She chose to leave her home in California and relocate in Oregon where they support the “Die With Dignity” cause and it is legal to take your own life with medications in instances of terminal illnesses.

It was a little triggering for me to read the story but more so to read the comments from readers around the world. People had so many horribly judgmental and cruel things to say about this young woman’s choice. For as long as I can remember, and from as early an age as one can possibly understand what this choice means, I have supported it.  I know that if I were given a death-sentence such as this young woman that I too would want to choose how and when.  If I reach the point at which I can no longer move or care for myself and pain continues to grow and snuff out any quality of life I would want to be allowed the freedom to decide how much longer to prolong, or not prolong, the inevitable.

While it’s a completely different situation entirely, I have similar (and very controversial) feelings towards suicide.  The important difference being that I absolutely don’t advocate for suicide but yet I do understand why some people choose it.  I think that’s precisely the reason that I’m not angry at your choice, Brian; I truly understand it and while I would never have supported you in it or helped you with it… I understand.  The thing is, you were in so much pain.  Anyone that has been in the position of feeling like a “prisoner in your own body” due to a crippling depression that leaves you praying to the stars each night that you just don’t wake up in the morning will understand.  It’s not a matter of simply “having a bad day” or “losing your job” or “going through a breakup” anymore than it was just a “minor illness” for the woman who chose euthanasia for herself in the end.

In response to her story another woman posted, “My Mom has the same brain cancer diagnosis Brittany Maynard had.  She’s fighting to live as long as she can.” The thing is… she very well may have the same diagnosis but not everyone who has that same cancer will be the exactly same; some might respond better to treatments than others… some might be further along in their illness… some might have been diagnosed more quickly… some might have other factors contributing to their physiological deterioration; it’s not fair to judge another person for what they believe to be a “weakness” in giving up hope.  In my opinion the same applies to mental illness and suicides.  The are people out there who might believe someone is weak for taking their own life and would say, “I get depressed all the time and I don’t run out and kill myself… I keep trying.”  Or, “I’ve survived way worse than that guy has and look, I haven’t given up.”  There’s just no possible way to know absolutely what it is like to be in another person’s shoes so judgement in these situations… well, there just shouldn’t BE any judgement in these situations.

Brittany Maynard made her choice and on November 2, 2014 she left this world surrounded in peace and the love of her husband and family and I wouldn’t dream of judging her for making that choice.  I wish her family comfort and appreciate the difficult feelings that must have come up for them in supporting Brittany’s decision.

I’ve said it so many times before, Brian.  I understand why you couldn’t stay.  But I still wish you had.

Love Always,
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: October 13, 2013

brian vikings  image-14-for-chile-miners-rescue-gallery-126389526

Dear Brian,

Today marks 3 years since I got the call that changed my life– I was told you were found dead in your home after taking your own life.

There was something else happening that very same day. On October 13, 2010, the entire world watched with bated breath as 33 Chilean miners were being rescued and brought to the surface after spending nearly 70 days trapped 700 meters below the earth in a collapsed mine.  The symbolic parallel of that event was absolutely not lost on me.

Upon being freed, one of the miners was quoted as saying, “From the first moment, I thought they would rescue us.  I never lost hope… I never lost faith.”  I couldn’t help but recognize that while those 33 men were desperately clinging to hope and to life itself you were purposefully letting go of those very same things.  As they were reaching for the light at the surface, you were allowing yourself to slip into the darkness.  As their families were rejoicing in being reunited with their loved ones their horror came to an end… mine was just beginning.  For those 70 days, they knew their loved ones were in serious danger and prayed for their safe return.  During that same time, I also knew you were in danger– you were trapped in a very dangerous place of your own.  They made it out alive, but you did not.

That same miner also was also quoted as having said, “I’ve been married for 32 years and rarely told my wife I loved her.  I just wanted to tell her how much I loved her.”  While I’m so glad that he has been given a second chance to change that, I’m also quite envious of him. You and I were never very good about saying “I love you” to one another… that’s just not how our family was.  I so wish I had done things differently.  I’d have been more open with my feelings with you while you were still here.  I’d have done more to try and keep you safe from the world and from yourself.

There are days it feels as if these past 3 years have flown by because it still feels as fresh as though it just happened yesterday. But most days drag on because you still are on my mind literally ever moment of every single day.   I’m saddened by the fact that I’ll quite likely have to live more years without you than I was allowed to live with you.

I’m going to be honest, Brian.  Today is the first day in a very long time that I’d had the urge to cut again.  I haven’t… and I won’t because I’ve done a lot of hard work on myself over the past few years to get past those urges.  But I really want to.  There is so much pain inside me today as I remember every single, awful detail of the events of October 13, 2010.  It’s like a horror movie that keeps playing over and over and over in my head and I keep foolishly wishing for a different ending.  I’m spending the day alone today. Not by choice, really… just sort of worked out that way.  But truth be told… I can’t say I’d blame anyone for not wanting to spend a hard-earned Sunday off around a moping, sulking, sobbing, listless ragdoll of a human being.  Besides, I’m so good at not wanting to “put anyone out” by sharing my agony with them that I rarely have the gumption to just say, “Hey, I really don’t want to be alone today.  I want to talk about my brother and remember him and I don’t want to suffer through this by myself.”  I sometimes feel as though I’m just not worth the effort that others would need to put forth to spend a day like today with me… so I just don’t ask.  Besides, the compassion that was extended towards me when it was only 3 days… 3 weeks…. 3 months…. well, it just isn’t there anymore 3 years later.  I completely realize that the world feels my grieving time should have come and gone by now… I should be in a better, stronger place.  Well, I’m not.  I’m certainly better than I was 3 years ago… but have a very long, long way to go.

It rained here last night, dude.  Really, really hard.  I don’t think it has rained that hard since I moved here to Austin 4 years ago.  But I’m so grateful for it.  Not just because we needed the rain so badly… but because I was so desperately craving for the world around me to mirror what I’ve been feeling inside these past few days leading up to this heartbreaking anniversary.  (Yet another symbolic parallel of which I am achingly aware.)  I sat alone out on the porch in the dark, drinking way too much wine and I watched as the skies lit up with frequent bursts of lightning and leashed a torrent of water that was too much for the ground to handle so it overflowed into rivers spilling all over the yard.  It was so freeing and comforting; it was as though Mother Nature was showing me that it was OK to let out all the pain and tears I’ve been suppressing for a while now… even if it gets a little messy.  I’m grateful that she raged and cried right alongside me… made me feel a little less alone.

I love you and miss you more than ever, Brian.

Laura

Letter to Brian: April 10, 2013

Dear Brian,

I’m not sure what reminded me of this recently, but for the past few days I have been reliving a conversation I had with a friend only 5 months after you took your life.

We had a mutual friend who, at the time, was fighting cancer with every ounce of strength he had. She said to me in an e-mail, “you know, I realize you’re missing Brian but I wish you were here to see Tom’s passion for life and see how hard he is fighting for it… it is truly inspiring. I’m sorry, I’m on a tangent but I want his fight to inspire others to carry on even in the worst of circumstances.” While I had some strong feelings about those words in particular, I just simply asked her to pass on my love to him and let him know I was thinking of him.

But it really did hurt me. I know how hard he was fighting to live and yes, it was so great to hear of his continued zest for life and how appreciative he was for each and every day he was given. However, you had just died 5 months ago! I was in so much pain, Brian. No amount of will to live on the part of someone else was going to bring you back to me and it only served to remind me how badly you DIDN’T want to live and that hurt so much. In a sense, it seemed as though she were trying to rush me through my grief. Or maybe just guilt me out of the pity party in which she thought I was stuck. In my mind, there should have been no link made between the two situations as they weren’t connected at all and a small part of me felt like she was robbing me of my right to still be sad because someone else was struggling so fiercely to survive.

I should include another key piece to this story. This person was someone with whom you had become acquainted over the years of our friendship. You had begun to confide in her now and then; she would periodically relay things to me that you had shared with her and I admit that resented the relationship you two had developed. She was someone with whom you had opened up to about things you had not even shared with me. What hurt more than that was I often picked up on feelings of what seemed to be superiority on her part when relaying your conversations to me. It was if she had a bloated sense of pride about being able to say, “Brian told me this in confidence, so please don’t tell him I told you…” blah, blah, blah. She’d always had a tendency to enjoy being the “fix-it” person, the one people went to for help or advice. It hurt so much having to learn those things from someone else but it was exacerbated by the fact it was coming to me from a person who I sensed was getting some pleasure out of you choosing to confide in her rather than me.

But I am grateful for one thing she passed on to me after you died. She told me how you’d said that I’d always meant everything to you. She also said that you were so terribly worried about my decision to move to Austin with Mark. You were so concerned about how I’d fare starting over somewhere new. With no job prospects lined up at that time you wanted to know I’d be OK finding a good job, getting health insurance, making new friends… and truthfully you were worried about my own depression and how that might affect my ability to succeed in a brand-new place so far away from home and all the stability I’d ever known. You didn’t want me to know you two had talked about it because you didn’t want me to know how worried you were or that you were questioning my decision to move. But it felt good to know that, so I’m glad she shared that with me. And, while it did hurt a great deal at times, deep down I was grateful you had someone to talk to when there were things you couldn’t quite bring yourself to share with me. The pain was coming more from my feelings about the messenger than from the message itself. Besides, our family (myself included) has always been more likely to share our feelings with others before sharing them with each other. For instance…. this blog.  🙂

I still miss you every single day.

I love you.

Laura

Letter To Brian: March 28, 2013

Dear Brian,

I think you’d be surprised at how many people have approached me for help and/or advice regarding a friend or loved one’s suicidal feelings because they know I lost you to suicide and must be an “expert” of sorts. I feel like saying… seriously?

Let me explain… while I obviously can empathize with the situation they find themselves in I find it perplexing that I would seemingly be someone who they think could help? I knew you were struggling and we talked about it so often those last 5 months… and regardless of what I did or said to try and help, the end result was the same– I was unable to save you and you killed yourself. I’m pretty sure that isn’t anything to throw on my “human experience resume” as a bragging right. If I wanted advice on… let’s say passing the bar exam– would I approach someone who had failed the exam or someone who had actually passed?

You and I were both cursed with an affliction of extremely intense emotions; we both feel things so strongly and so passionately and are so easily affected by the pain of others and desperately want to help. However, I find myself immobilized. I’m caught in a place where my heart so badly wants to help but my mind is telling me that I am in no position to do so. By the time I realize this, not only do I feel unable to help but I’ve become involved to a degree where I have emotions invested but yet I feel powerless to do anything about them. Hearing their stories often triggers me and I find I am transported right back to where I was in 2010 when I worried about you every single day– I could talk to you, I could listen to you, I could tell you I loved you and how badly I wanted you to stay; but each time we hung up the phone I’d worry about you every moment until I heard your voice again.

What complicates things for me with regards to being asked for advice is my own history with feelings of suicidality. I will be brutally honest and say that when I was at my absolute lowest there was NOTHING anyone could have done or said to have helped me; the desire to get better had to come from within. Everything was so distorted for me. If someone had said to me, “I love you and want you to be happy and I don’t want you to leave” what I heard was, “It would be better for me if you would just continue to live your miserable existence– it would inconvenience me greatly if you were to end your life.” I kept thinking if they truly knew how much agony I was in every single day they wouldn’t ask me to promise them that I would stay. And yet I asked you to promise me that very same thing. And truthfully… I absolutely regret having said that to you. I don’t regret letting you know how I felt about you but I wish I hadn’t imparted any additional feelings of guilt upon you.

Now here’s where I get really confusing! Remember how I said there wasn’t anything anyone could have done or said to have made a difference when I wanted out? And how I knew that the change had to come from within me? Well, apparently I refuse to listen to my own words when I think of how horribly I let you down. Someday perhaps I will not feel the guilt that I do today… but for now there is still a huge part of me that blames myself for not being able to save you. For that reason alone I feel completely unqualified for providing anything to anyone beyond a whole lot of empathy and maybe a few hugs.

Love Always,
Laura

Letter To Brian: February 19, 2013

Dear Brian,

I’m feeling extra lonely and your absence is hurting far more than usual these days. I have attempted to be out in the “dating world” again for a brief period here recently and quickly determined that it is not the easiest place for me to be right now.

While your death was not the reason for my divorce, it was definitely a contributing factor. We’d been having trouble for several years which was why I had such a difficult time with our plan to move from Minnesota to Texas– I was feeling as though we had been on such shaky ground for a long time. My fear was if we didn’t work out, I’d be in a place 22 hours away from all of my family and friends and all I’d ever known yet he’d be in a place where he already had a support system of friends and family in place. But after you died I just was in such a bad place and was virtually inconsolable. While I had no feelings of anger towards you whatsoever, he was quite angry at you. And I don’t blame him for that– it’s quite a natural emotion given the circumstances and everyone is entitled to their own emotions. But it did create another wedge between us to some degree– if I expressed my grief it only heightened his anger towards you and your final act and I didn’t want him to be angry with you. So I retreated within myself to protect you from his anger and to protect him from his feelings of helplessness when I could not be comforted. The more I retreated the further apart we grew and it couldn’t be ignored. And I honestly think I became a different person altogether. Really what your death did for our marriage was to bring all the issues to the forefront where they could no longer be brushed over– they had to be dealt with at last. And quite honestly I was quickly learning that life was too short to spend it where neither of us was feeling happy nor the slightest bit fulfilled. We owed it to each other to part ways and let each other find the happiness we both deserve.

After my divorce I was in one relationship for a year and it started out beautifully. He was aware of what happened to you right from the start– in fact, we began dating very close to the one year anniversary of your death. He was so supportive and caring and wanted to know all he could about you and encouraged me to work through my grief through the support group meetings, my writing and my art. I was so grateful for that because I was so extremely fragile and it would take a very special person to open their heart to not just me, but to you as well.

But what began to happen is what has happened in many of my other relationships whether it be with friends, family or close acquaintances with whom I have daily contact. There comes a point when the support seems to wear off and the caring seems to turn to more of a “discomfort” at the sound of your name. What started out as encouragement turned to frustration that I was still “hung up” on my grief and you were too much of a part of my life yet. That was so unbelievably painful to hear– I’d only lost you a year and a half ago. Of course you are a big part of my life! You always will be. The person with whom I eventually spend my life will need to make room in their heart for you too.

It is hard to know whom to trust– there are people who once were very close friends (or even family members) who seem to now pretend as though we don’t exist. Emails, calls and letters go unanswered. While I do understand that people are uncomfortable with our grief, or possibly their own, but losing people very close to us simply because we lost you is an additional pain that is so hard to accept at times. So how do I find the strength to reach out and try to begin new relationships? It’s always been hard enough for me to truly open up to someone new but the added pressure of being rejected for where I am at in my grief journey makes it so frightening to try.

I’m hopeful that there is someone, somewhere who will accept me with all my quirks and faults and will realize that while you are no longer part of the physical world, you are a massive part of my spiritual world and are still my brother. The question I’ll ultimately need to ask them is, “Do you have room in your heart for both of us?”

Please continue to watch over me– I need it.

Love Always,
Laura

Letter To Brian: February 13, 2013

Dear Brian,

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the last 5 months of your life. Specifically about how much we talked about how hard it is to get accessible and affordable help when you are struggling with depression and suicidality. I’ve run into this issue the majority of my life. By the time I’d reach a point low enough to realize I had no option but to reach out for help it would be a 12-16 week wait to see someone. I recall one occasion where I was feeling low enough to nearly beg the person on the phone, “Are you SURE there isn’t anything sooner?” Her response was, “Well, are you going to kill yourself TODAY? If so, just take yourself to the emergency room. If not, then you need to wait 12 weeks to see Dr. So-and-So.” Great bedside manner. It made me feel so embarrassed and ashamed of myself and I didn’t try calling anyone else for help for another few months as a result.

Getting the appointment wasn’t always the most difficult part– it was PAYING for it. For a year in the early 2000’s I was seeing a fabulous therapist. I had insurance, but they only: (1) allowed 30 visits per calendar year and (2) only had about four therapists from which I could choose that were in my network. I’d been to two of them already and had a bad experience with them both. When I found a therapist that really treated me with respect and said she could help me she turned out to be out of my network. Since she did not accept my insurance her typical policy was to request payment in full ($160 per visit) the day of the appointment and the patient in turn would submit the visits to their insurance company for the allowed reimbursement amount. However, she was very accommodating of my financial situation and allowed me to pay her $114 up front ($45 out of network copay plus 60% of the remaining balance of $115) and she would submit the remaining $46 to the insurance company to pay. This worked fine for the first few months until she had to have the uncomfortable conversation with me that my insurance company was not responding to her claims– at all. She would fax them 3, 4, even 5 times with no response. Each time she’d call they’d inform her they hadn’t received them and they’d require her to resubmit them. This went on for the rest of the year until I finally had to quit seeing her altogether– she couldn’t afford to keep seeing me and not get paid the full amount upfront. When speaking with my HR representative I was advised that they were aware that the insurance company was regularly not holding up their part of the deal where mental health visits (whether in or out of network) were concerned. I was so exasperated– the financial struggle involved with getting the help I so badly needed only accelerated my feelings of hopelessness.

For a number of recent years, once on successful dosages of a cocktail of anti-depressants I had been able to simply obtain refills of my prescriptions at my annual physical from my general practitioner. However, after you died she became concerned that she did not possess the expertise which she felt was required to play around with the meds to get me to a better place. So, she referred me to a psychiatrist for my future visits. I found one I liked, that was in network, and would require a $75 copay per visit and insurance would cover the rest. I could deal with that! However, after a few months I got a bill for $900 stating my insurance company would not cover a diagnosis of “Recurring Major Depressive Disorder” as it was classified as a “major mental illness” which, of course, they do not cover. My only option was to switch to their self-pay option of $130 per visit– and of course, she would need to see me every 4 weeks in order to continue to refill my prescription. With the cost of my prescriptions I was paying about $190 per month– just for medication maintenance– not including any of the sessions with my psychotherapist.

I also need to tell you that I have an important letter to write to someone in your defense. You didn’t want me to write this letter while you were alive and, quite frankly, it has been in the intended recipient’s favor that I have chosen to wait a few years to cool off after your death before writing it. A few short months before you took your life you confided in me that the one and only time you had ever sought help for your depression (despite several previous suicide attempts) was about 1-1/2 years before your suicide. You contacted the Employee Assistance Help Line offered by your employer.  I used the help line at my company years ago which put me in touch with that amazing therapist I saw for a year. It’s a wonderful program and completely free of charge. They refer you to someone who can help, and pay for the first six visits. These therapists are enrolled in the program knowing that the first six visits are free to the patient– they are paid directly by the referral service. I was apalled to find out that the man to whom you were referred was completely unethical in how he handled your situation. After opening up to him and sharing things with him which had never been shared before, his response was, “well, your troubles are pretty complex and will take a lot of time and effort to work them out. The referral service you used only pays me $60 an hour to see you for these sessions but my office rates are actually $170 per visit so I’d recommend that you contact my office directly for any future sessions.” Nice. Way to tell someone who is suicidal that they aren’t worth helping out for a measly 60 bucks an hour. Clearly he did not enter the profession for its altruism! You never did go back to see him and I can’t say that I blame you for it. I’d have done the same. All of these issues I mentioned above were contributing factors in me making all those calls on your behalf to try and find you a good therapist. It’s hard enough to get the runaround and hear the tone of condescension in the voice on the other end of the line when you’re in a good place let alone when you’re mustering up shreds of strength every morning just to get out of bed and attempt to live through one more excruciating day.

Each time I go through these same issues with getting help for myself I feel the pain so much more deeply now as it only reminds me of how trapped you must have felt those last few months before you finally gave up altogether.

If there is anything good to come out of losing you in such a horrific way it will be that I will do my part to see that mental health is given the same consideration as physical health! And there needs to be less “hey, suck-it-up-and-pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” going around out there. Unless someone has been in the deep depths of true despair, they know not of what they speak.

Wish me luck writing the letter to that small, small man. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Love Always,
Laura

Letter To Brian: January 28, 2013

Dear Brian,

I haven’t written you in a while. Certainly not for a lack of things to say, I assure you. I know need to write more often; these letters seem to help me put together my thoughts more easily than just talking out loud to you when I’m alone.

My birthday was last week and I experienced so many mixed emotions about it. The most prominent thought being I should feel guilty for ‘celebrating’ another birthday without you. You won’t have any more birthdays so I just can’t shake the lack of desire to acknowledge my own.

I also find myself, at age 39, comparing myself to others and where they are at in life and am seeing my own accomplishments—or lack thereof—as supremely inferior. I didn’t finish college. I’m divorced. No children to brag about. Barely make enough money to sustain myself let alone provide any excitement. I’m merely in a survival mode—fighting each and every day to not succumb to the same fate as you. We were so similar that I feel even if I were to achieve the same academic success you had… where would it land me? All that knowledge and experience didn’t bring you any more hope for your future so would it be any different for me?

My biggest hurdle is finding my way out of the depression. I had it before I lost you, as you knew very well. However it has only grown in the past 2 years. It makes seeking out new relationships so very hard! On one hand I very much would like to find a special person with whom I can share my life, but on the other hand I feel as though I don’t deserve that happiness until I “fix” myself first. I explained it to my therapist this way. If you’ve ever been to an animal shelter you know there are pets of all shapes, sizes and ages. The dog whose description reads: “still not housebroken, some behavioral issues, health issues, history of biting, etc.” will likely have less luck finding a home than the perfect-looking pet in the next cage who has already learned to pee outside and has yet to bite anyone. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t believe they won’t find a home; in fact, they would be the kind of dog I would be most likely to take home myself. But I do recognize that it takes an extremely special kind of person to open their home and their heart to a special needs animal. I feel like the 3-legged, diabetic 12-year old black lab who requires insulin and much patience while he learns to trust people enough to not bite. I’m sure my “person” is out there somewhere… but I am questioning whether or not I deserve them yet? Do I need to wait until I have fewer days where I can’t stop thinking about losing you and cry myself to sleep? Do I need to first get to a place where I’m less of an emotional burden? Every time I meet someone new, whether a new friend or potential date, I immediately begin to dread the time when some important things will be revealed: the smattering of scars on my arms, legs and chest are from decades of a crippling depression that resulted in (and sometimes continues to result in) self-inflicted wounds, I see a therapist every week and am on a cocktail of antidepressants oh, and by the way—I’m still mourning the loss of my brother who killed himself 2 years ago. Not a ringing endorsement of me I fear some would say.

If there is one thing I’ve learned since your death it is that people are not comfortable with grief, sadness or depression. All of which I have experienced in spades since you left us. That leaves me with a few options: I can hide away by myself where I am free to express my feelings as openly (and as often) as I want. Or I can try and force myself into the company of others where I am painfully aware of myself and filter what I do or say so as to not make anyone uncomfortable. I talk about you often—about YOU, not your death. I very much need you to continue to be a part of my daily life in this new form you have taken but I can see the look of discomfort appear in others’ eyes when I mention your name. It’s a look that seems to say, “Wow, still talking about this, huh? Isn’t it about time you moved on to something new?” Those looks are the reason it is far easier to stay home some days.

I will continue to go to my weekly therapy sessions and I always diligently take my medications and I am becoming better about expressing myself and about setting healthy social boundaries for myself as well. So while reading this might give the impression I am about to fall apart, I would like to clarify that it is a testament to my continued efforts to hold myself together.

I miss you, Brian.

Love,
Laura

p.s. this song from the TV show “smash’ keeps sticking with me.  most days, i feel just like the piano in this story– i might be “missing a few keys” and often be a little “out of tune” but i am looking for that one special person who sees past that and will take the time to find out that i still have something beautiful to give.

🙂

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