We went to see a comedy show last night. It was a comedian that I have known about and loved for years… but there was a good 5-10 minute section in the middle of the act about suicide. The thing is, I know this comedian is very open about her own struggles with mental illness so I guess if anyone can joke about it like that it would be someone who “gets it.” But man, it just hurt so badly. There is something so surreal about sitting in a room hearing the word “suicide” over and over amidst a few thousand people laughing at it when all I could think about was you and the insurmountable amount of pain that led to you taking your life… and the last thing I felt like doing is laughing.
It never ceases to surprise me as to how often suicide is joked about. I don’t know if it’s being joked about more often these days or if I just notice it more now that I’ve lost someone so close to me at their own hand; I’d venture to say it’s the latter. I totally understand that part of the whole deal with comedy is laughing about things that happen to us in life and our ability to share our stories and relate to one another in a lighthearted way; but this is just something that I am not, nor do I think I’ll ever be, ready to laugh at… ever.
It was so strange– I was in a room full of so many people but as soon as that bit came into play I instantly felt all alone in there. Things became so distorted and foggy. I could barely hear her anymore and the sounds of laughter faded into white noise in the background of my daydream. I was transported to the last few minutes I ever spent with you– those minutes as we pulled up to the Minneapolis airport on July 5, 2010. I will never forget the look of… well, there was an immense sadness in your eyes but also a look of complete emptiness; it makes sense to me now as I think your spirit had long departed and the brother I’d known just didn’t exist anymore. I was suddenly trapped between that dream world existing in my head and the tangible world around me that consisted of strangers effortlessly laughing at something that brought me so much pain. I desperately wanted to squeeze my sweetie’s hand hard enough as if to say to him, without words, “Please help me, please hold me, this is just too much for me to take right now.” But that, again, is admitting to a weakness which I’m not always open to showing; particularly when I know it would take away from someone else’s enjoyment of a moment. So I sat there, frozen, feeling alone in a crowded room, taking long, deep breaths and fighting the urge to burst out of my seat and run for the door in search of fresh air and the absence of laughter; I forced back the tears– painfully waiting for it all to go away.
I don’t know if this hypersensitivity will ever completely go away but I’m looking forward to a time when it doesn’t paralyze me like it does yet these days.
As always, thanks for listening dude.
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!
There is a 3 block stretch of William Cannon Drive that I avoid when at all possible. That neighborhood contains a number of places that continue to haunt me even 3 years after your death. It contains the bus stop where I got off the bus after work on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 and ran all the way home to check my email; you still hadn’t responded to any of my calls or texts… I needed to see if you had responded to any of my emails to you. (If you hadn’t, that meant we needed to send the police to your house for a wellness check.) It is also the location of the apartment in which I was living at that time; and if I look towards that building as I drive by, I have a clear view of the window that looks into the very room I was in when I got the call from Mom later that evening telling me the police had found you dead in your home. And it also is home to the bus stop bench where, 4 months later, I sat one morning talking to Mom while I waited for the bus– she was revealing to me the long-awaited details she’d received from the Medical Examiner about the findings resulting from your autopsy. There are so many uncomfortable things that happen to me when I’m near these places. I know well that the feeling of my heart racing, feeling short of breath, reliving the events, the overwhelming urge to vomit and the all over “fight or flight” panic are all classic symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, better known as “PTSD.”
It causes an understandable yet unnecessary worry in my daily life. When I can’t reach someone because for whatever reason they aren’t answering their phone I still have a feeling of dread and panic that washes over me. I know it isn’t a rational fear because in my heart I know that there are many reasons someone isn’t picking up– every time I can’t reach someone I begin to fear that something terrible has happened. It seems on a daily basis something happens from which I have to “talk myself down.” Sometimes it is my feelings of survivor’s guilt. Sometimes it is my fear of abandonment and general anxiety over those closest to me leaving–either by way of their untimely demise or a conscious choice to leave me. Other times it means planning my driving routes so as to avoid any places that will remind me of October 13, 2010. Some nights it means recurring nightmares about the entire last 5 months of your life and my not being able to stop you from taking your own life. Sometimes it is reliving our last phone conversation– every single thing I suggested to try and help you was shot down and I was growing so frustrated because I so desperately wanted to help but it was becoming more and more obvious that I just couldn’t. I rolled my eyes at you as we spoke on the phone that night, Brian. You would not believe how I’ve tortured myself over that fact these past 3 years. I remember lying on my bed talking with you for an hour listening to everything and trying so hard to help and when you couldn’t seem to really “hear” me I grew frustrated… and I ROLLED MY EYES. I have been punishing myself for that and (until now) have told very few people about it because I’m horribly ashamed that the very last time we talked I actually rolled my eyes at you! I know you couldn’t have known that I was doing that but I sure knew and haven’t let myself forget it. I’ve had a very hard time letting go of that night.
I have been getting more involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and am struggling greatly with one thing the past month or two. That “thing” is that there is still a part of me that truly believes that, no matter how hard we try, suicide may never be completely preventable. I know that will upset a lot of people… it upsets me too and makes me feel like a complete hypocrite for trying to help spread the word about suicide prevention. But I heard something recently that made me feel less angry at myself for feeling that way. Someone said she felt her brother’s depression was like a cancer; he sought treatment, was on medication, was seeing a therapist and was really, really trying to get better… but it just didn’t go away. She said just as with cancer, there are all kinds of wonderful treatments out there and while they work for some people, for some people it just isn’t enough and we lose them despite the efforts of the sick and of those in the medical profession trying their very best to save them.
I will still continue do my part to keep working hard to educate people about depression and suicide in the hopes that we can greatly reduce the number of suicides occurring each year. It is absolutely unacceptable that 38,000 people are dying each year at their own hands. One of the ways I can help is to help the AFSP focus on laws surrounding mental health care issues and I intend to do just that because more people need to at least have ACCESS to mental health care to give it a shot. And we really need to increase awareness and understanding because they shouldn’t be ashamed to seek that help.
I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you, Brian. I hope you’re proud of what I’m trying to do now in your absence.
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.