Letter to Brian: October 12, 2018

Dear Brian,

I haven’t written you in quite a while so this is gonna be a little long-winded, I’m afraid.  Certainly not due a lack of things to say but rather a lack of knowing just how to say them.  Tomorrow will make 8 long years since I found out you had taken your own life.  While that’s certainly been weighing on me, there’s been something else I’ve been struggling with a great deal.  I’ve been going back and forth and back and forth (and back and forth some more) in my mind about whether or not to publicly share this.  Doing so is going to put myself in my very most vulnerable position yet and I fear that the interweb trolls may dish out things that I’m not quite strong enough to withstand.  But… after a lot of sleepless nights and self-examination, I’ve decided that it’s important to my well-being (and possibly even some stranger’s well-being) to just speak my truth and get it all out in the open.  I’ve been so fearful about admitting to it out of embarrassment, shame and fear.  I’m not sharing my story in the hopes of receiving any pity, attention or outreach from anyone; in fact, I’d prefer that I not receive any of that at all. It’s only out of self-preservation that I’m sharing; I hope that this will release all the tension and discomfort I’ve been experiencing. The secrecy has been eating away at me and causing so much pain and has only served to create more loneliness and seclusion for me.

I’ve only told a very select few about this because I’m embarrassed and, moreso, I’m ashamed. On July 3rd of this year, just 3 months ago, I attempted suicide.  After decades of depression, self-harm and chronic suicidal ideation I’d never, ever actually followed through with a plan or attempt though I’ve been so dangerously close dozens of times.  Many things have stopped me over the years, mostly always concern for those I’d leave behind.   After you died, I wanted so badly to end my own life as well but just couldn’t do that to our Mom; to lose not one but two children to suicide would have been just too much for her to bear.  After she passed nearly 3 years ago now, the feelings have become so much more aggressive and I’ve felt even less grounded here in this life than ever before.  In fact, while cleaning out Mom’s home I came across her bottles of insulin in the fridge.  There were many moments throughout that week that I thought about how it would be so easy to just do it right then and there… I had the needles… I had the insulin… all I needed was the nerve to follow through.  But instead I dropped off all of her unused medications at the police station like any responsible citizen would do.  There was just still so much to do… my demise would have to wait until I’d settled Mom’s affairs.

Nearly a year after Mom died, I moved back to our hometown in Minnesota.  I thought maybe being back here with so many people to support me would surely help these feelings subside.  That just hasn’t been the case.  I’ve had many great moments over the past few years, of course… but it seems even after a night out with friends sharing many laughs I still find myself sobbing uncontrollably as soon as I’m back home alone.  It’s just always there… lurking underneath the surface.

About 5 months ago I posted something on Instagram joking about the dangers of online shopping and Amazon Prime after a few glasses of whiskey; I’d gone and purchased myself a $500 gas-powered generator in the middle of the night.  We all had a nice laugh about it… but the truth is, it wasn’t an accidental drunken purchase.  Though I have since returned that generator, I actually bought it with the intention of using it to die by carbon monoxide inhalation by running it in a small, enclosed space.

I guess I’ve stalled here a bit… I suppose I should tell you about THE night.  After work, my boyfriend and I were cooking a nice dinner on the grill and enjoying a few drinks and talking.  Things were really going well between us and we made each other laugh endlessly.  We truly loved just being around each other; I was really happy with him. At some point in a conversation about the future, I’d told him that someday, (not anytime in the near future, but someday) I could see myself marrying again… or at least  be committed long-term to one person and share a life and a home with one another. That possibility gave me some comfort and hope. It became pretty clear that he was uncomfortable about that as he became very quiet and withdrawn. As I was getting our food dished up to eat, he got up and walked to the back door and said, “I gotta go.”  I said, “Um…. I’m sorry?  You’re leaving?  You’re not going to eat?”  He replied again, “No.  I have to go.  I gotta go…. I’m sorry I wasted your time.”  I began to sob like a crazy person, begging him to stay and talk to me.  There was no explanation, no conversation, just an “I gotta go.”

I wish that I were exaggerating when I say that I made a complete fool of myself crying and pleading with him.  I begged him to please, please, PLEASE stay, admitting to him that I really didn’t want to be left alone that night.  His response was to turn and walk away without looking back.  If he had, he’d have seen me in the fetal position on the floor of my breezeway crying and saying to myself under my breath, “I can’t be alone.  I can’t be alone.”  After a year and a half together, I felt that I at least deserved a conversation about ending our relationship… certainly more than, “I have to go.  I’m sorry I wasted your time.”  (I mean… I assumed that what he was doing was breaking up with me; I wasn’t totally certain until the next night when I received a text asking me if he could drop off my belongings I had left at his house.) That’s not how you end a relationship with someone whom you love and respect. In his defense, he had admitted to being a complete stranger to the dynamics of a truly healthy relationship never having experienced one before.  What he didn’t know, and what I certainly wasn’t going to tell him, (because I didn’t want anyone to try and interfere with my plan) was that in the next room I had a folder ready to go that contained a suicide note, a copy of my will, a list of my emergency contacts, my driver’s license, passport, credit cards, social security card, passwords to all of my online accounts as well as my wishes regarding any funeral arrangements. I’d already spent the previous months purging my belongings, donating items, giving things away to friends and tossing a great deal of it in the garbage so there would be less to deal with after my demise. Having the person who said that they loved me treat me that way made me feel as though I must be worthless; I figured, if I really mattered, he’d have stayed when I said I didn’t want to be alone. I’d already disrespected myself by continuing the relationship after he’d been unfaithful to me early in our time together.  He’d apologized and cried and begged me for another chance.  (I clearly made the wrong choice; I foolishly thought someone that was trying so hard to keep me must have actually saw themselves having a future with me.) I can’t stress this enough: I wasn’t about to kill myself simply because I got dumped; it just happened that getting dumped was the very last piece pulled from my wobbly, Jenga Tower of a mind to make it crumble to the point of desperation. If it hadn’t been the breakup, it would have been something else, I’m absolutely certain of it.

I put the folder on the counter and made sure that everything was order.  I put the cats in their room, made sure they had plenty of food and fresh water and said my tearful goodbyes to them and asked them to forgive me for leaving them behind.  I tossed the beautifully grilled Ribeyes and potatoes in the garbage.  I took all of the dishes and cookware and tossed them in my dumpster.  Why leave them out for someone else to clean up?  And why on earth would I have spent any time washing them when I knew I’d have no use for them in the future?

I placed this note on the counter where it wouldn’t be missed:

Having lost my own brother to suicide, I’m certainly no stranger to the immense grief that is left in the wake of someone taking their own life. This is my only regret; I leave knowing what this will do to those who care for me and for that I am so deeply, deeply sorry.
It’s certainly not one single event or trauma that brings me to this choice but rather nearly 40 years of wrestling against an overwhelming will to die that has been present in my mind since early childhood.  I’m so incredibly tired.  I’ve done the therapy.  The medications. The switching of medications. And more switching of medications. The calling of friends to talk. Support groups.  Hypnosis.  EMDR Therapy.  Talk therapy. DBT Therapy. Yoga therapy. Biofeedback therapy.  QNRT Therapy. Biofeedback. Natural remedies. Reiki. Healing Touch. All the self-books you could imagine.  I’ve gone so far as to try psychics and past life regressions. Even when any of these provided me a little relief for any amount of time, it always came back.  I’m so tired of it always coming back.  Because it always will; and as always, it will come back worse than the episode before it.
Much like my brother, I’ve never in my life felt truly grounded in this world… even at my best, I’ve always felt like an outsider and painfully uncomfortable in my own skin.  There’s a disconnect that all these years of therapy and soul-searching couldn’t seem to repair.
This emptiness in me has always been present… and with each trauma, loss, failure or failed relationship in my life it seemed as if larger and larger pieces of my soul were being carried off and that persistent emptiness grew larger still.
The only responsibility in this is mine… and mine alone.  Those closest to me have done everything possible to make me feel heard, supported and loved. No additional amount of love or attention could have created a different ending to my story.
This quote sums it up:  “The time came when the pain it took to stay was greater than the pain it took to go.”
My cats are in the spare room. Please, please… someone take wonderful care of them and continue to love them for me.

I washed down a heaping handful of sleeping pills with an entire bottle of rum.  I hung blankets up over the windows in my garage (to prevent anyone from seeing me in the car from outside) and pulled my car inside.  I sat in the driver’s seat, with the car running, until I passed out. The last thing I remember was lying back in the seat and looking up at the ceiling of my garage and saying “Momma and Brian, I’m coming.  I’m coming to be with you,” then drifting off to sleep.

I know that on any given night that 2 sleeping pills will ensure that I sleep soundly throughout the entire night; so I figured it was safe to assume that a handful of the same pills in tandem with a shit-ton of booze surely would keep me asleep long enough for the carbon monoxide to do it’s thing. But for whatever reason, I could just Not. Stay. Asleep.  I drifted in and out of consciousness in there for over 4 hours.  I had such a terrible headache and I was absolutely soaked and dripping in sweat and just couldn’t take it any longer.  I was so damn uncomfortable.  And also very angry that I could not stay asleep. I was so certain that I’d planned it out to work.  I was so angry at myself; not that I’d attempted to end my life, but that I couldn’t even do that right and I’d failed at yet another thing. I finally decided that maybe it wasn’t meant to happen that night and that I’d just have to try my back up method the next night.  So I stumbled back in the house and laid on the couch and slept a little bit on and off through the night as Golden Girls played on the TV.  To this day, the sound of that theme song brings back the smell of sweat and exhaust.  I don’t care for it.

I had the next day off of work being the Fourth of July.  Late in the afternoon, I decided to put my plan B into action. I went to Menards to pick up a few “supplies” for my next attempt.  As I wandered through the aisles, I was still overwhelmingly shaky and dizzy so I gripped the handle of my shopping cart for support.  I wondered if those walking past me could smell the stench of exhaust coming out of my pores; I could sure smell it… but then again, I didn’t really care. It felt so surreal making small talk with the cashier, watching him ring up all of my items wondering if he had any clue that a few hours later I intended to collectively use those same items to end my own life.  As the day progressed, I had decided, “Maybe I can just hold on for a few more days.  I’ll finish out the week– button up some things at work and then just kill myself on Friday.” But Friday arrived and after having a nice evening with my friend (who did not know about my attempt) I thought to myself again, “OK, tonight turned out to be sort of decent.  Maybe I’ll give it a few more days.” Some dear friends came to visit me on Saturday against my will and I’m so grateful that they did; it did me a world of good… but I didn’t tell them about what I’d done. They didn’t take no for an answer and just showed up at my house.  It felt good to be reminded that some very wonderful people care so much about me.  Then Sunday rolled around… my best friend came to pick me up and get me out of the house for the day; no small feat given that I still couldn’t stop crying, barely spoke and was still feeling pretty ill from the carbon monoxide inhalation; of course, she only thought I was just inordinately down about my recent heartbreak.  We spent the day driving around in the country and stopping at the occasional antique store and I even ate a little bit, which was a vast improvement over the previous 5 days.  But I couldn’t wait any longer… I hated that there was this horrible “secret” that I was holding inside and as we sat there in her car, I told her about what I had done.  It felt really good to release that to another human being so the weight didn’t feel quite so overwhelming.  Over the next few weeks, this friend absolutely saved my life.  She kept me completely occupied and distracted and allowed me to just hang out with her family when I didn’t feel I could be alone at home.  She let me cry and just stare into space when I wasn’t capable of engaging. (I lovingly referred to her as my “babysitter.”)  It’s not lost on me that if she hadn’t done all that I may not be here today.

Something always seems to get in the way and I find some reason to wait “just one more day.”   I recall one day on my way home from work I was contemplating attempting again soon; however, when I got home and collected my mail, I found that I’d received a beautiful necklace from a friend I haven’t seen in quite a while and it was accompanied by this note:   “Sweet Laura, you and your life are a gift and a blessing to this world. Please never stop trying, we need you. You are loved and treasured and beautiful.” I just burst into tears and asked the universe why it kept sending me signals like that telling me I’m supposed to keep trying??  It’s getting harder and harder but I still keep receiving little signs like this that tell me to wait a little bit longer.  And now… it’s been over 100 days of “just one more day.”

Unfortunately I’ve been engaging in self-harm (cutting) again; I’m sure I should feel ashamed about that, but the truth is that release is helping me to keep moving forward right now.  I realize it isn’t the healthiest outlet, but it works so I’m ok with it for now.  And having my sweet kitties, Bart and Fiona, to come home to is also very helpful… it would be really difficult for me to come home to a completely quiet house.  Those furry little souls are always happy to see me and are content to just be there with me, no matter my mood.

It’s just that I feel everything so, so deeply that it’s unadulterated agony.  Even the smallest things cause this deep, pulsing ache in me that just hurts so much.  For example, I recently came upon a teeny tiny mouse on a cold morning, it was lying on it’s back at the curb of a gas station parking lot.  I quickly realized it was still alive but obviously suffering.  I can’t explain it, but I just couldn’t leave a little being there to suffer and die alone. The thought of that physically hurt me inside.  So I picked it up, placed it inside a tissue box and took it home with me; I hand-fed it formula every 2 hours for the next 24 hours and it continued to improve; it had a safe little habitat warmed with a heating pad and ate out of my hand and completely melted my heart.  That little guy had such a strong will to survive.  A very kind acquaintance of mine took the next step and drove the little mouse up to the wildlife rehabilitation center an hour away when my work schedule didn’t allow me to do so.  I was made fun of a little bit for rescuing “just a mouse” though most people were extremely kind to me and applauded me for the love in my heart for what most considered to be an insignificant little creature.  I just didn’t see it that way; what I saw was something in pain and that I had an opportunity to do something about it.  So I did.  That’s just one example of how things are so hard for me sometimes… this time I was able to do something to help that sweet mouse and affect some change; but most of the time I see things happening around me (and the current state of our country is a big one) that make me so weak inside knowing someone or something is hurting and knowing that I can’t do a single thing about it.  It reminds me of a terrible sunburn; when your skin is so badly burned that it hurts to wear clothes, to shower, to be outside in the heat… even to touch it. Your skin on a normal day is unaffected by these benign acts… but when it’s inflamed like that, everything hurts. My soul and my heart are like that sunburned skin– things that seem so small to the outside world are burning me up inside. It’s almost surreal, sometimes; I’ve become so adept at hiding what’s really going on inside me that I am constantly hearing from people I meet, “Gosh, you’re so cheery and upbeat and friendly, I love it!”  I’ll smile and please everyone by exercising my “appropriate social behavior” but as soon as the door closes behind me and I’m alone… it all comes tumbling down.

I’m not terribly interested in seeking any therapy.  I’ve done decades of therapy, I know what to expect and I suspect I’ve gotten about all I can get out of it.  Besides… my insurance only covers two providers in town and neither are accepting new patients.  I’ve reached out to a few other providers up to an hour drive away and again… not accepting new patients.  I even reached out to the amazing therapist I saw in Texas for 4 years; she does remote sessions but unfortunately she can’t do out of state sessions due to licensing laws. The demand for therapy is far too high for the supply of therapists these days so help is really hard to find.  Finding affordable therapy is a great frustration.  And I’ll be honest… I’ve run into more than my share of providers who were not very warm it’s so difficult to open up and bare your soul to someone who doesn’t even seem to want to be there.

I saw a quote by author Matt Haig this morning that gave me a bit of encouragement to follow through with publicly sharing my story like this; it read:

Mental illness isn’t weakness.  And silence isn’t strength.  I was never stronger than when I was ill.  And never braver than when I first told people.

I hope that someone out there can relate to some of this; it will have made this painful and humiliating confession worth it.  I’m going to keep taking this life thing one day at a time.  After all, it’s gotten me  this far… I suppose I can keep trying.

Please, Brian… if you or Momma have any pull of the celestial kind, give me a hand down here, would ya?

I miss you and Moomie so, so deeply.

Love Always,
Laura

 

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: May 30, 2014

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Laura