Letter to Brian: June 21, 2015

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Always,
Laura

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

 

Letter to Brian: 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: June 5, 2013

Dear Brian,

I was reminded by Ryan tonight that 20 years ago yesterday you were picked up, along with him and Duane, to be taken to the Twin Cities in preparation to be sent off to boot camp as you had enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.  I remember that day so clearly.  A pair of Marines in full dress came to pick you up at our house and we said our painful goodbyes to you.  The three of you stayed in the same hotel room that night and the following day was your final physical and interviews before flying out to boot camp.  However, you’d never get on that plane… you were sent back home.

I will never forget how horribly devastated you were.  It hurt you terribly to lose something which you had felt so passionate and excited about and truly felt called to do.  I will admit that, selfishly, despite your obvious disappointment I was so glad to have you back home where you were safe.

What happened at the physical and interview was so heartbreaking and confusing to you.  While sitting in the exam room you were surrounded by posters and pictures and signs reinforcing the qualities they seek in all Marines– a few of which are honor, courage and commitment.  There were signs stressing the absolute importance of being 100% honest in your interview and physical.  Being honest was of great importance to you anyway because that’s just the kind of person you were.  Furthermore, the signs also indicated there could be dire consequences for being less than truthful and dishonesty would absolutely not be tolerated.  That being said, you told them you needed to wear special inserts in your shoes as a result of having been born with clubfoot– your feet were turned in and you required medical treatment.  As an infant you spent the first year of your life in casts which were changed every single week (because of how quickly you were growing) and once the casts were no longer needed you had to sleep in special shoes attached to a brace which uncomfortably forced your feet up and apart.  As of age 18, at that Marine Corps physical, you were more than capable of handling all the physical demands which would have been asked of you.  You’d been training so hard– easily running 10-13 miles at least 3-4 times a week, weight training, etc.  You could easily do all that was asked of you and more… the only caveat being you needed those inserts in your shoes.  However, that was reason to disqualify you… so they did.

I remember you telling me how those same two Marines who had picked you up then had the duty of bringing you back home and they were angry at you for telling the doctor you needed those inserts in your shoes to do the running and hiking.  They said to you, “Why didn’t you just lie?  It’s not a big deal.”  That made you feel so terrible!  You wanted to badly to join the Corps but you certainly didn’t want to lie to do so… and here were two Marines telling you that you should have.  It also upset you because the reason you chose the Marines over the other branches of the military was the core values they represented:

Honor:  Honor requires each Marine to exemplify the ultimate standard in ethical and moral conduct.  Honor is many things; honor requires many things.  A U.S. Marine must never lie, never cheat, never steal, but that is not enough.  Much more is required.  Each Marine must cling to an uncompromising code of personal integrity, accountable for his actions and holding others accountable for theirs.  And, above all, honor mandates that a Marine never sully the reputation of his Corps.

Courage:  Simply stated, courage is honor in action — and more.  Courage is moral strength, the will to heed the inner voice of conscience, the will to do what is right regardless of the conduct of others.  It is mental discipline, an adherence to a higher standard.  Courage means willingness to take a stand for what is right in spite of adverse consequences.  This courage, throughout the history of the Corps, has sustained Marines during the chaos, perils, and hardships of combat.  And each day, it enables each Marine to look in the mirror — and smile.

Though I know you battled depression for your entire life, that was the first time I remember seeing you so very visibly depressed.  You were so lost… you hadn’t applied to any colleges as you hadn’t planned on doing that until after your time in the Marines was complete.  It was so hard to see you suffering like that.  Obviously you did end up going to college that fall and did very well– but I know there was always a small piece of you missing from that day you were sent back.

That wasn’t the first time, nor was it the last time, that you were ridiculed for being honest.  I still say that is a wonderful, trustworthy quality to have and I’m glad you didn’t let that experience change that about you.

I’ve always thought the Marines missed out on an incredible person who would have served them well.

Semper Fi, dude!

Love,

Laura

Letter to Brian: April 30, 2013

Dear Brian,

Back in November of 2011,  shortly after the one year anniversary of your death, I was put in touch with a filmmaker who also lost a brother to suicide.  She was about to begin making a documentary about sibling survivors of suicide and she interviewd me to see if I might be a good fit for the project… she ended up coming to Austin in January of 2012 to film me.

You know how camera shy I’ve always been– getting me to sit still for a nice picture was never easy, but getting me on video camera was far more challenging.  It was definitely a stretch for me as sitting in front of a camera being interviewed was so far out of my comfort zone.  But a few things helped me through the process:  first of all, Caley also had lost her brother to suicide so the feelings we were talking about I knew she could understand first hand so it felt more like we were having a conversation rather than me being on “display.”   Secondly, she has such a calm, warm  and encouraging demeanor about her that I found myself thinking about the camera less and less.

She spent about 3 hours filming at my home one evening and we covered a lot of territory!  We spoke so much about you, what it was like growing up together and what my life has been like since your suicide.  While being on camera was hard, it meant so much to me to have someone sitting there asking me about you and genuinely wanting to hear what I had to say, no matter how difficult some of it was.  A year had already passed since you died so the caring thoughts and sympathies had long dwindled away… the rest of the world had moved on but I still had so much to work through yet.  Furthermore, the topic of suicide is so taboo that when people learn how you died the conversation stops.  People are afraid of it and don’t know what to say, so… they just stop talking.  Can’t say I blame them… it’s an uncomfortable place to be– and they have a choice of whether or not to be around the subject; I however, do not.  She also walked with me to my special tree to film me placing some of your ashes beneath it.  Since you were cremated, I don’t have a gravesite to visit.  And home is so far away that I can’t go visit places or people that remind me of you when I need it.  That tree has become very special to me.  Though I’ve loved it since I first saw it (a year before you died) I somehow feel your presence more intensely there now.  I remember so clearly the first time I went to see the tree after you died.  It’s strange… before your death I didn’t make any connection between you and that tree.  But on the one year anniversary of losing you I decided to go visit the tree.  As I got closer and closer to it I found myself walking faster and faster… by the time it nearly came into view I was almost running.  I could feel my heart rising up into my throat and the moment I saw it, I buckled.  I fell at the foot of the tree and just started sobbing.  The last time I’d seen that tree you were still alive… and I wanted to go back to that time so badly.  But there was something so powerful about that day– it felt like you were right there with me; and as if maybe, in some way, you were part of that tree now and were there again in physical form sheltering me as I sat there and sobbed at your feet.

Caley emailed me a few days ago to let me know the project is coming along and that the trailer should be released within the next few weeks.  She has set up a website and a Facebook page for the documentary and wanted the subjects of the film to be the first to view it.  It hit me really hard, for some reason.  One obvious trigger is the pressure of seeing myself on film… it makes me very uncomfortable.  But I think the larger part of my apprehension is watching it and being transported right back to where I was a year and a half ago.  While I’m still a bit of a walking disaster, I’ve managed to work through a lot of feelings and am far more put together than I was back then.  But I’m afraid to be triggered by the intensity of the emotions and the depth of the despair I was feeling… and now it will be out there for the world to see.  Don’t get me wrong… I’m so glad I participated because I think her work will help a lot of people.  Siblings tend to be so overlooked in the wake of a suicide; Caley and I spoke of how few resources there are out there for siblings and she’s going to help change that.  It still baffles me to this day how someone could look me in the eye and say, “Oh, I heard about your brother.  Please tell your Mom and Dad how sorry I am.”  Part of me wanted to jump up and down and scream, “I’m here too!  He was my brother and I’m hurting, too!!” And it happened many times.  I’m so glad she’s given a few of us the opportunity to share our stories and let the world know about our brothers and how their deaths have affected us and changed our lives… I feel very lucky that she chose me!

I hope you’re proud of what I’m doing… It is so mportant to me to continue to find ways to keep your memory alive!

Love Always,

Laura

p.s. for those reading… the documentary’s websites are here:  http://foursistersdoc.com/  and  https://www.facebook.com/foursistersdoc  please spread the word if you can!

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 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

In Dreams

I’m sharing this note I wrote to myself at 3:00 in the morning on December 1, 2010 just 6 short weeks after Brian died. I had the most amazing dream but to describe it as just a dream feels so inadequate as I am unequivocally certain it was a visit from Brian. While to this day it has been the most beautiful experience of my life, it has left me achingly sad nearly every morning since as I continue to wish for another visit each time my head hits the pillow at night. Here is what I wrote immediately upon waking up that night:

I just woke up from a dream I had about Brian.

Mom and I were somewhere… I believe it was supposed to be his place although everything looked different. I heard his voice– very groggy, as though he was just waking up– he was calling my name saying, “Laura…. Laura…. it’s Brian.” I was frantically looking around thinking there is no way I could have just heard what I thought I heard.

I ran down the stairs and as I approached the last few steps I saw him coming towards me– he had some tubes hooked up to him, like an breathing tube going to his nose. I sat on the bottom few steps with Mom sitting next to me a step above as he stood on the floor next to the staircase and took both of my hands in his– again, I thought there is no way this is happening– could he really be here with us now?

I glanced at Mom and cried as I asked her, “Mommy, what is happening?” I needed to see if she was hearing and seeing what I was– and she assured me that she was; however, I sensed from her that it didn’t mean he was alive. I looked at Brian again– he looked really good. He looked so peaceful and rested and happy; he had that pink glow in his cheeks and his eyes told me he was OK. I asked him how he was– he said, “I’m alright now. I was cured the moment I passed away. I love you very much and miss you.” I told him I loved him and missed him… and hugged him and cried. Again, I kept looking at Mom to see if she was hearing it– and she was. But she stayed there quietly next to me and watched and listened… like she knew this moment with Brian was meant just for me.

Mom and I were then saying our goodbyes downstairs to him as if we were leaving his place like any other time before; Mom asked, “Are you going to be OK? What are you going to do now?” He said, “I’m good. I’m going to just run out for a bit;” he had a cup of coffee and reached for his keys– as if he was truly only going to hop in in his red Saturn and go for a drive.

That’s the last I remember before waking up… and I woke up feeling so peaceful and grateful that I’d had this dream. I have been hoping to dream about him like this– and I hope it is a gift from Brian– I hope it was really him telling me he is OK now.

I’ve had other dreams about him since but none remotely like this– and anyone who has lost someone dear to them has had a dream such as this knows exactly what I’m talking about. There was something so profoundly peaceful and heavenly about that dream that no one could ever convince me that my brother did not come to me that night to bring me a little comfort.

Plastic Babies!!

bag of babiesbaby

After we’d moved our Grandma into an assisted living facility Brian, Mom and I were going through the contents of the house preparing to sell it. We had a lot of fun finding pictures we’d never seen, knick knacks we used to play with as kids and the occasional butterscotch hard candy.

For some reason he giggled so hard when we found a few small bags full of little plastic babies amongst her craft supplies. He didn’t know it at the time, but I took the bags of babies with me to have a little fun. I started out by hiding the first one in his jacket… and laughed until I nearly cried when he texted me to say he’d found a creepy little plastic baby in his jacket pocket.

When I’d stay over at his place to take care of his cats, Maximus and Marcus, I’d bring a bag of babies with me and hide them everywhere. He’d find them all over the place! In a box of cereal! In a stack of towels in the hall closet! Under the driver’s seat in his car! In the silverware drawer! Inside a tub of sour cream! He’d step into a shoe only to find a creepy, plastic baby stuffed into it. Damn, I’d laugh so hard every single time I’d hear from him after finding yet another one of those little things.

In fact, when we cleaned out his townhome after he died we all laughed when we continued to find the little babies everywhere! I kept them all and even have one sitting on my desk at work where I can see it every single day. Each time I look at it I swear I can still hear Brian’s amazing, infectious laugh!!