And I want it, I want my life so bad
I’m doing everything I can
Then another one bites the dust
It’s hard to lose a chosen one
You did not break me
I’m still fighting for peace
Well, I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart,
But your blade—it might be too sharp
I recently participated in the Bell Lets Talk day by Tweeting out the link to my blog. I hesitated before making this decision as I know how social media can turn mighty quick- despite good intentions. I decided to put aside my fears and follow the intention of the blog… to try and help others with my experience, and, to try and heal myself.
I was overwhelmed with gratitude by the kindness shown by everyone who retweeted me, sent messages of appreciation, and who sent me their own stories of loss. After my tweets took off, Jimmy sent me a screenshot that showed my name trending on Trends Map. Again, I was overwhelmed, humbled and grateful that this social media “experiment” turned out in a positive way- partly, I think, because everyone was focused on mental health for that day.
I’m happy that I talked about my story of mental health and I’m happy that others are starting to. Still- I don’t think that we know how to talk about mental health issues or disorders- yet.
Two weeks after my mother passed away I was back in my university night class, the last class I needed to officially finish my undergraduate degree.
In her note to me, my mom told me to finish it for her. For me, and for her.
So, after missing only two of my classes in Postmodern Philosophy, I found myself sitting dazed at my desk through three hour lectures and writing essays and exams through a haze. I can’t remember what I wrote about for my final essay, or how I managed to ace the final exam to come out as a graduate of the program I had been piecing together throughout the years.
One of the last assignments was an essay worth 30% of our grade (I really can’t remember what I wrote about, honestly), and a student in our class persuaded the instructor to let her do a visual art project and presentation on what it meant and how it related to the class. Though I’m all for flexible learning environments and classrooms, it was clear during her presentation that the project didn’t quite relate to the assignment, or the curriculum. At one point, she told a story about how this life sized paper-mache cartoon character she created related to her friend who experienced a mental illness, and how when she visited her friend in the facility, she wasn’t allowed to bring her sewing kit inside because she could kill herself with the scissors or hang herself with the thread/yarn. She went on to tell the rest of her story, grasping at straws to relate it back to the assigned topic. Aside from being completely insulted that the student was wasting the class time with this (honestly) brutal attempt at getting out of an essay, I was floored that she talked about suicide and mental illness as a footnote in her project.
How cavalier. How ignorant.
I’m well aware that what I write may be a trigger to some, and it’s something I consider before I post any of my articles. However, I’ve had several people reach out to me who are living with depression and have told me that it’s helped them see the perspective of whoever they would be leaving behind and how devastated they would feel. I hope that by continuing to write, I can continue to affect those who may be experiencing it or who have gone through what I have.
I hate to be angry with anyone who doesn’t know any better, but I felt true anger at this student. How dare you talk about something that you don’t own? How dare you regurgitate something that an admitting clerk/nurse told you, and repeat it to shock everyone? How dare you talk about your friend’s story to add substance to this project? I was shocked, and angry that I was subjected to listening to something that made my hands shake and brought me back to two weeks before without my permission. I had naively thought that I would get to decide when I had to go back to that place, experience flashbacks or hear the word ‘suicide.’
In fact, my experience has been the opposite.
We throw around the words depression and suicide like they’re as weightless as balloons. We throw them around not knowing that to some, to the survivors and to the suffering, they cut and hurt and stun. I feel stunned when I hear them in everyday conversations. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “If I have to listen to this one more time I will throw myself off of a bridge” or “I literally want to die,” “I’m actually going to kill myself if I fail,” or “I’m so depressed today,” etc. Of course, these (to me) aren’t nearly as bad as when I hear references to hanging- “hanging myself,” “hanging out to dry,” hangman’s knot, etc. The Hunger Games even has a iTunes chart topper called the Hanging Tree. Drake’s new album cover resembles a scrawled suicide note on a napkin. There’s a cult burlesque crew of tattooed pinup girls called the Suicide Girls. Coaches run drills called suicides (man makers). These words are everywhere that they shouldn’t be. They’re made out to be cool and edgy and normal.
These references, these triggers, often send me spiralling into what can only be described as panic and despair. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach and all of the air shoots out of me, leaving me dizzy and off balance. I usually have to leave the room as I’m forced to relive a moment in time that took my most precious and beloved person away from me. She’s gone forever because of a decision she made, and I’m forced to relive it because of decisions others make to live in ignorance and not give the courtesy to think before they speak.
Understanding how these words and expressions can effect others is the first step to understanding that mental illness is real. It lives in the shadows and snatches people away in the light of day.
It’s difficult to explain how losing someone to suicide is different than losing them to something else- I hate to compare or say it’s “worse” because the reality and end result are the same. Still, for the survivors of suicide, there’s are a million of unanswered questions, of “what ifs” of “if only’s” and guilt. You’re asked to accept the unacceptable, that the person who died is the same person who took them away. You feel silenced, because when asked how your mother died, saying “by suicide” is akin to dropping a bomb. (In hindsight, this might be why I decided to be so forthcoming about what happened… so I don’t have to explain it in person). It stuns people to meet someone who really lost someone to suicide and depression. To meet someone who experienced it firsthand and is still standing. Who has had to say it so often, that it almost hurts them less than it hurts the listener. For the record, if that person doesn’t open up about their family member or friend’s suicide, don’t press them or take it as an invitation to discuss. Always take your cue from them and let them know (if it’s appropriate) that you are truly sorry for their loss.
As I approach the one year anniversary of the day that my mom’s attempt and subsequent death four days later, I feel that I’m approaching an emotional milestone of sorts. This year has gone by quickly and agonizingly, and I still can’t believe this happened. I can’t believe she left. I wish I could say that this year was as easy as it could be, that I’ve come away with a profound appreciation for mental health initiatives and how projects like #BellLetsTalk have taught us to speak up and to ask if others are okay and to support each other. How many programs there are out there that have supported me and helped me recover.
Instead- I’ve seen a disappointing amount of programming that directly and explicitly relates to suicide prevention or for the care of survivors of suicide. I have cultivated my own support group of friends who are kind enough to listen, of my own nucleus of a family (Jimmy and the dogs) and am fortunate that I can afford therapy and psychological assistance. This is a privilege and not a service that is afforded to many. The wait list for a psychologist provided through our health care is astounding, and fails those who need the help most.
There are two suicide prevention and suicide bereavement groups in Winnipeg, run out of one center (Klinic). In BC, there are 10. In Alberta, there are 8. In fact, there are few (less than three) provinces that Manitoba outranks in terms of suicide support for survivors.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that I feel abandoned through this system. In all the ways I’ve been left behind this past year, this is potentially the worst. What if I didn’t have an amazing partner? What if I couldn’t afford counseling? What if I didn’t have a lawyer for a brother-in-law who has selflessly helped me navigate this complicated and exhausting executor role? I have these resources because I have led a privileged life.
We are failing.
We are failing suicide survivors, those struggling with depression, and those who are falling down a rabbit hole of mental illness if we don’t improve our situation.
We need more support. We need more programming. We need to learn the language of mental health.
At the very least, we need to learn how to talk about it.