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: August 12, 2014

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Dear Brian,

The world is full of confusion and sadness and anger today upon hearing the news of Robin Williams’ suicide yesterday. I’ve been in a weird place since I found out… on one hand I’m so sad for his family and friends to hear that he lost his battle with depression and addiction and on the other hand it is a grave reminder of what I went through in the days following your suicide.

I had 4 very generous souls message me personally to tell me they were thinking of me and that they realized the news must be causing me some emotional turmoil… and they were so right. I’m incredibly grateful to them for recognizing that and for thinking of me, I really needed those words of encouragement and they often come from surprising places… and often don’t come from the people you’d expected or hoped they would.

Today the radio, TV and internet are saturated with the words “suicide” and “depression” and each time I hear the word “suicide” it is like a knife in my heart. When someone so well-known and beloved dies by suicide there is all sorts of chatter going on about why he did it, how he did it, who found him, etc… and then all the opinions start flying. I should have known better than to read any comments because people can be very outspoken about how they feel suicide is the ultimate sin… the most selfish of acts… and the act of a total coward. I believe none of those things are true and each time I hear those things it feels like a piece of your memory is being tarnished and I feel compelled to defend it… and to defend you. I kind of think of myself as having the emotional equivalent to a “weakened immune system” now. Things affect me even more strongly than before and I need to be aware of what I can handle and what I can’t… and today, the internet might be one of those things I can’t handle for a few days.

Depression shouldn’t be an ugly secret and absolutely is not a character flaw… but we all feel the need to hide it because the world can be cruel and judgmental and can perceive a person suffering from a crippling depression as less of a person and a less capable person.

I keep thinking back to my own bouts of suicidality over the past 27 years and how I was feeling– the powerlessness, the hopelessness, the exhausting, deep sadness… and being terrified that it might never end. I can’t blame anyone for choosing to escape that because unless you’ve experienced a darkness of that depth you can’t possibly understand what it is like. I remember quite some time back that while I desperately wanted to die I was afraid of leaving our family with the pain and agony of a suicide… so I used to think of other ways in which I could die; I used to run a lot… so I often wondered, “what if I were to go for a run late at night in a neighborhood with a lot of gang activity and gunfire? I might get shot– it could work! I would die… but it would appear to be nothing more than a terrible accident.”

Interestingly enough, yesterday was the 18-year anniversary of my car accident in which I broke my spine as well as my jaw in a few places. That accident could have gone several ways but I survived and recovered really well and surprisingly quickly. Why did I survive that? After all those years of wishing for an untimely death I survived a car wreck? And in the years that followed the accident I can’t tell you the number of times that I wondered why I wasn’t granted my wish to leave this world in a way that wouldn’t hurt you or our parents. Somehow the universe decided that I was still supposed to be here to outlive you and experience the agony of living the rest of my life without you, my only sibling, and knowing there wasn’t a darn thing I could do to save you.

Robin Williams starred in one of my absolute favorite movies, “What Dreams May Come.” I won’t spoil the movie for anyone reading who hasn’t yet seen it but I completely recommend it as it puts a beautiful spin on life after loss as well as paints a stunningly beautiful picture of what I imagine the other side will be like when I get to see you again. I’ll leave you with a quote of his from the film:

“A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in heaven, then we’re all together forever.”

I hope that you, and Robin, both find some peace on the other side.

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

 

Letter to Brian: May 12, 2014

Dear Brian,

I heard someone say the other day that all of the cells in the human body are replaced within 7 to 10 years and, as a result, that I may actually be an entirely different person than I was 7 to 10 years ago.  That was amazing to me.  Looking that fact up brought me to this quote by computer scientist Steve Grand:

 

“Think of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it?

But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there.

Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place … Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes

together to be you.

Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made.”

Now, I don’t know if that is true or not but it got me thinking.  If it is true, then within another 3-5 years I’ll be an entirely different person than I was when you were still alive.  Crazy!  Physical makeup aside, I can say with perfect certainty that I’m already a completely different person on the inside than I was when you were alive.

Losing you has changed me in so many ways, Brian.  I will say that one of the things that I’ve come away from this experience with is a new, almost animalistic need to speak up for myself.  I feel it is sort of out of necessity, really. I’ve struggled with my own depression my entire life and recall that my self-injurious behavior began at a frighteningly young age– about age 5.  I vividly remember what I believe may have been the very first time:  I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom in front of my mirror and I was crying so hard.  I was so small!  I just sat there sobbing, looking at myself in the mirror and hating what I saw and being angry at and disappointed in the pitiful person looking back at me and I began to punch myself in the face over and over and over until it hurt too much and I cried myself to sleep in a wrung-out little heap on the floor.  It happened often– not always on my face so people wouldn’t see and ask questions.  If they did happen to see, I made up excuses for why there was a bruise– I fell out of bed, I tripped running up the stairs, something fell off the top shelf of my bookcase, etc.  I don’t think it was until I was about 17 when I finally fessed up to Mom and Dad (and you) in terms of admitting to how I got all those bruises and scars; when the urges were no longer satisfied by hitting I moved on to cutting with a straight edge razor blade.  As a result my arms, chest and legs are blanketed with scars of various lengths and severity.  The cuts actually became more severe over the years because it was not unlike the drug addict or alcoholic who, after years of an addiction, required more and more of their chosen substance to get the same effect as they did early on.  The cutting was never a suicidal gesture.  I feel the need to clarify this as I know so many people out there think of cutting as a pitiful attempt at suicide or simply an attention-getting scheme.  It is neither of the above.  As you are well aware, we didn’t live in environment in which we could safely express our emotions and feelings so they remained bottled up inside… cutting was a way for me to release that pent-up energy because it needed to go somewhere.  Imagine the emotions like a balloon being blown up… it continues to become fuller and fuller  and fuller until it is in danger of exploding; to self-harm was the equivalent of letting go of the balloon allowing all the energy to escape and I was immediately relieved and relaxed… until the next time.

In my last letter to you I spoke about our childhood or, rather, my own experience of our childhood.  While you were present for all the things I spoke about in reference to our father, we didn’t talk about it much other than we agreed that we both felt the same way with regard the lack of any emotional connection from him at all.  We seemed to be around solely to give him an audience to whom to preach rather than as little human beings to love and cherish and nurture into healthy, grown up human beings.

I don’t entirely know if there was ever any “hands-on” sexual abuse in my childhood though I have a few vivid memories that would lead me to believe so; regardless, the verbal and visual sexualization to which I was exposed at home certainly wasn’t appropriate.  I think I learned at a very young age that men were interested in women for one thing: their sexuality.  I clearly remember getting myself all dressed up to go hang out in the basement and do my best to flirt with the contractor working on our house– I was only 3 years old.   A few years later, using my little, plastic sewing machine, I made myself a halter top and wore it to the neighborhood grocery store and pranced around in that tiny shirt in hopes of catching the attention of a man who worked there.  And yet there was always the underlying feeling of being absolutely terrified of men.  As children you and I nearly always had a female babysitter but I recall one instance in which Mom found a male babysitter for us.  You were so excited, you finally had a guy to hang out with and who would play Atari and wrestle with you.  While you guys played in the other room, I stood at the front window and cried and cried and cried just praying Mom and Dad would hurry back; I wouldn’t let him anywhere near me because I was afraid he might try and touch me or make me do things I didn’t want to do. When I received a letter the summer of 1984 announcing who my 5th grade teacher would be that upcoming fall and I read that my teacher would be a man I cried myself to sleep for weeks because I’d never had a male teacher and I was deathly afraid of what would happen if I was ever forced to be left alone with him.  If I were to describe all the memories I have like those I just mentioned this letter would go on for miles so I’ll leave it there for now.  And the thought I keep coming back to year after year is that those feelings of horror are not innate– we are all born with a natural inclination to trust; I wholeheartedly believe that we LEARN those feelings of fear and distrust somewhere.

I really wish we had talked about this stuff more when you were alive, Brian.  As much as these letters help me process my feelings they are no replacement for having you here and it would be so much easier if I still had here you on my side.  You were my first best friend and are the only one who can really understand what I’m talking about.  There is something at work in my soul that is making it possible for me to finally get this stuff out in the open; it’s a poison that has been keeping me “sick” for a long, long time and it needs to make its way to the surface.  I realize the things that I have said, and will continue to say, will not be popular with everyone.  But a few wonderful friends have been reminding me that it is absolutely OK for me to say what I’ve been saying because it is MY life and MY story and if it will bring me some healing then I have every right to put it out there.

Stay tuned, dude.  More to come…  🙂

Love Always,
Laura

Letter to Brian: August 27, 2013

Dear Brian,

In the checkout line of the grocery store the other day a cover of a magazine jumped out at me… a picture of a beautiful, young woman, a former contestant on “The Bachelor,” who recently took her own life.  I did actually watch that season of the show and remember her well– she was stunningly beautiful and had one of the most engaging smiles I’d ever seen.  The people close to her seemed to be so shocked that this happened.  It’s not that uncommon, really.  Though I knew how badly you were suffering and expected your death to come, I heard so many people say to me, “I had no idea he was depressed… was it a total shock to you?  I never would have seen this coming.”  I felt ashamed to say, “Yes, I did see this coming.”

It’s so strange how suicides attract so much attention in the media.  People want to know all the “gory details.”  How did they do it?  Who found them?  What did they look like?  Was there a note?  What did it say?  Did they blame anyone?  Did anyone see it coming?  But for a death that creates so much interest and curiosity, it sure is lonely and alienating as a family member; people are afraid of us, it would seem.  They are uncomfortable with our presence because they don’t know what to say to us or because our pain is hard for them to be around or possibly because we remind them of the pain that exists in their own life.  I had a long-lost friend recently resurface to tell me, “I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you– I didn’t know how to help you so I just stayed away.”  While I can understand her feelings, it does still hurt because the alienation adds another layer of pain to your death.

There were details about your death that I needed to talk about and process but absolutely could not share with those around me– they were too intense and too difficult for others to hear.  That’s where the support group at The Christi Center was so helpful– there I could talk about those “gory details” that no one wanted (or was equipped) to hear and not be judged or ashamed for needing to talk about and work through.  I remember discussing one event that was really hard for me after your death.  It was August of 2011– 10 months after you died.  I was in my office at work and noticed an awful, awful smell.  The smell was coming from an animal that had died in the rafters above my office and was decomposing in the Texas heat.  I had a full-blown panic attack and had to leave for a bit because that smell was not unfamiliar to me– it was not unlike the faint smell which still remained at your home when we went to collect your belongings.  You had been dead for a week when you were found and I was told had decomposed at an unusually rapid rate for having been indoors in a moderate temperature– being October in Minnesota and all.  Once you smell that scent, you never forget it.  It’s strange to me how those kinds of details would make for a juicy story in a tabloid but when it comes down to relating to a real person, no one wants to hear that stuff!  I wish they wouldn’t print those kinds of details because it feels like an exploitation of the grief the family is experiencing– and it must feel like such a violation.  While it was so helpful to me to be able to talk about it with other suicide survivors who understood the need to share those kinds of details, I can’t imagine the pain of having had your picture plastered on the front cover of a magazine along with a headline speculating how/why you did it.  And to have millions of strangers reading about your life and your pain and your ultimate death… would just be so painful because so many people are afraid to talk directly TO me about it.

My heart goes out to this young woman’s family as they begin the process of restructuring their life without her in it.  It is a process I continue to work on every single day and wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

Love,
Laura

Letter To Brian: March 18, 2013

Dear Brian,

While I realize that people don’t necessarily always know the right things to say to someone who is grieving a loss like mine I do have to say there has been nothing that stings quite like someone saying, “I know how you feel. I had to put my dog down recently and I think I know now where you are coming from now.”

Don’t get me wrong… you know how very deep my love for animals goes. It borders on the excessive at times! However, I can’t seem to find a piece of my brain that can understand where that comparison comes into play in this case. You and I both know what it was like to finally have to say goodbye to the loving critters we called our friends from our early childhood until we were nearly out of high school. It was so painful! And to lose another pair of dogs way too young when they accidently jumped off of a bridge near our home and did not survive the fall.

On October 2, 2010 I brought my sweet 7 year old cat, Sophie, to the vet knowing something was really wrong. I would find out that day that she was dying– her kidneys were beginning to fail. On October 6th 2010 I received the last e-mail I’d ever receive from you; it was quite short and said simply this: “Any word on Sophie?” She remained in the hospital until after your funeral. Treating her at home was going well and she was feeling better for a few months but I eventually had to do the loving thing and give her a peaceful exit on January 29, 2011 only 3 short months after I’d lost you.

I know what it is like to lose pets from illness, tragic injury and old age. I know what it is like to lose a Grandparent quite suddenly and to lose one because it was simply their time to go. I’ve experienced many kinds of loss in my life but none could begin to hold a candle to the infinite amount of pain left by your death. There isn’t a single part of me that feels I could ever understand someone making a comparison to the loss of their 16 year old dog to the suicide death of my only sibling.

I hope this isn’t interpreted as a lack of compassion for other losses– as I truly can empathize with the pain that goes along with losing a pet. But it is excruciating to have that comparison made because I know, having experienced both kinds of loss (and in such a short period of time), that there absolutely IS no comparison.

I just felt like sharing that with you… thanks for listening.

Love,
Laura

Letter To Brian: February 24, 2013

vikings blanket

Dear Brian,

For your birthday 3 years ago I gave you this blanket I crocheted for you– in purple and gold for the Vikings, your favorite team! I had no idea that would be your last birthday and I’m so grateful that I chose to make you something myself. I spent so many hours working on it and I can’t tell you how excited I was for you to open it. It made me feel so good when I saw you had posted a picture of it and bragged it up a bit on Facebook. It meant so much to me to know you appreciated it and that you were proud of it because though I wasn’t always great with words it was a way for me to show you how much you really meant to me.

I had no idea at the time how important that blanket was to you or how important it would become to me.

When you were found in your home on October 13, 2010 the police reported that you had passed away in your recliner with the blanket I made for you draped over your lap and your legs.

I’ve tormented myself over and over and over with thoughts of how lonely you must have felt as you took your last few breaths. But I’ve chosen to believe that you choosing that blanket to keep you warm as you drifted away from the world that brought you so much pain was your way of having me close to you and that perhaps I was in your thoughts.

I got the blanket back. I made that blanket for you, Brian! I had no idea that only a year after I’d made it that I’d have it back and the importance it would hold for me. While I still have been unable to convince myself that I did enough to try and save you, it does bring me hope to think that perhaps you had that blanket with you in your last moments because you DID know just how much I loved you and that it brought you some comfort.

I’ll go to sleep tonight, like I do every night, with that blanket by my side. While I can never be certain that it brought you the comfort I wished for you, I can tell you it brings me so much comfort to have that piece of you with me still.

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

Happy Birthday, Brian!

brian face

Today Brian would have turned 38 years old. My tradition for his birthday is to watch his favorite movie, Gladiator, and eat pizza– his favorite food!

I remember the first time I saw Gladiator. Brian and I were living together in an apartment and were going to be hosting Thanksgiving at our place back in November of 2000. We watched it together as the turkey was cooking and of course I cried like a baby at the end. He loved that movie so much! He even was nuts about the soundtrack which I thought was just so fascinating; he typically was listening to Pantera, White Zombie, Metallica, etc. But he used to put the Gladiator Soundtrack on in his car (a black, Honda Civic hatchback he lovingly named “Blackula”), roll down the windows and just rock out to that stuff. Totally made me smile.

But looking back I can totally see why he really connected with the movie. Maximus was a man of great honor and strong, moral character and so was Brian. Maximus fought for things he felt were right and so did Brian. In fact one of the things that ended up pushing Brian over the edge was having so much trouble, in his own words, “watching the world continue to undo itself.” He was so deeply affected seeing all the hate and unrest in the world and felt powerless to do anything about it.

There is a scene in the movie where just prior to his final battle in the colosseum Commodus stabs him in the back, deeply wounding him. They bandage him up and put on his armor to cover the injury so the crowd would know nothing of this “imbalance” in the fairness of the battle. Maximus spoke of it to no one; he went into the battle and fought the best he could though gravely injured.

While not the same, it reminds me of something that happened to Brian at work. He was working so very hard and was given a great deal of extra work to do to help make up for another member of his team that rarely showed up to work but made a lot more money than Brian did. His manager continuously bombarded Brian with not only his own projects, but the projects of his absent, higher-paid co-worker.

When management caught wind of the work that Brian was doing, they approached him and asked him why he was doing those projects that were not his responsibility. Brian told them his manager asked him to do so. However, when his boss was approached about it, she completely threw him under the bus! She told the management team that she gave “no such instructions” and that Brian took it upon himself to involve himself in those projects all on his own. As a result, he was reprimanded and it was suggested that he “resign.”

While Brian had all the requests from his manager documented and could have presented that to management to defend himself, he chose not to do so. He told me the job didn’t make him very happy to begin with and his manager was a single mom– he didn’t want her to get fired when he knew she had a child to support. He chose to instead give his notice and bow out gracefully without having cleared his own name. That’s just the way Brian was. He often put others before himself even if they didn’t deserve it.

I have often thought that Maximus, like Brian, chose to keep the “back stabbing” to himself because he had nothing more to lose– he had already, in essence, given up. That incident at work was less than one year before he died.

Maximus once said to his comrades, “Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.” I think Brian’s kindness continues to live on!

Tonight I will be joined by my amazing friend Leashya and we will watch Gladiator, enjoy some pizza and toast a glass of wine to the memory of a worthy soul.

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.