Disclaimer: this post may be a trigger to some. If you are having thoughts of ending your life, please call the 24 hr crisis line at 1-877-435-7170 or visit reasontolive.ca
The day after my Mother passed away with my brother and I by her side, we met my father for lunch. I didn’t want to go out anywhere, be seen by anyone, or have to act normal for a group of strangers while choking down greasy Thai food, but I knew he had something I needed as much as any life raft. He had her suicide notes; her final letters and goodbyes she couldn’t bear to say in person. The last words I was craving to hear as soon as I was told she wouldn’t be coming back to us, that we would let her slip away without hearing her say my name or I love you or I’m proud of you. The words I hoped she would say but wasn’t sure, knowing that she had crafted these notes when she was in her darkest place, living in the shadows of the bright star she once was. I was scared that I would read all the things I had feared would haunt me for the rest of my life, that she wasn’t sure, that she didn’t want to live anymore, that she was tortured… That I wouldn’t get the closure I was after.
In the two page, hand written letter marked with her tears, she told me how much she loved me. How my brother and I were made up of the best parts of her and my dad, that they were both cowards for leaving us (in different ways). That I was her bright one, that she was so proud of me, that I was strong. That she pictured herself old and alone and that it was a scary picture. That she couldn’t see the good in people anymore. That she had a cancer in her heart that was eating away at all that she thought was good, and all of the hope she had for herself.
I knew these things, but I didn’t know them. I didn’t know how deeply and utterly hopeless she was. I had never felt that way; how could I, when I had the support system of a mother like her? When I lost my hope, she gave me hers. Now, I had failed to help her see the good in the world and the possibilities that existed for her. I tried, I had countless conversations about how we would take her in, find and buy a house where we could all live together, how I could help with her bills, how she could still retire from full-time work and how she could go back to school and live her dream of becoming a Pathology/Physician’s Assistant and get her confidence and self-love back. I spent all my free time (and truthfully, time at work) crafting critical paths of exactly how we would paint her new life so that she could visualize it and accept it as a possibility.
But she couldn’t. I later read in her journals that she would see happy, young, couples holding hands and wanted to scream at them that it wouldn’t last. That she thought everyone was dishonest and that true love didn’t exist. She worried about everything and carried the weight of the worries of the world in her mind as she lost and lost and lost her own. She swore and developed a short fuse that would result in tears or a flash of anger, She wrung her hands and developed a stutter when she spoke.
She was broken, and we couldn’t fix her.
My beautiful, glorious, ecstatic, bright, altruistic mother had given everything to the world and got back so much bad that she couldn’t see the positive. She thought she had a Cancer in her heart, and perhaps she did. I believe hopelessness is one of the most dangerous qualities of depression and mental illness that will inevitably steal away the inhabitant in which it’s made its home. Hopelessness for the future, for the good, for any possibilities of a different life. The rest of us looking in from the outside know the reality our loved ones see isn’t true- it would never be true that my mother would be old and alone and deserted- it’s a scene that’s completely and utterly opposite from the reality that would have been. I saw a future of watching VEEP together in our jammies, walking our dogs together in the park, Summers spent gardening, her strengthening her relationships with her friends, family, and loved ones… me taking her on a trip, for the first time in her life. Her being at my wedding, and maybe being a grandmother. Us doubled over laughing together every day. Bickering in the car, not speaking until she reached her hand out to me- the silent symbol that our fight was over as soon as I put my hand in hers. I saw all of these things and more for the rest of my life.
After she died, I floated in an upside down dream world that I refused to believe was true each morning when I opened my eyes. The shock of waking up and remembering was enough to make me gasp and snap my eyes wide open as tears filled them. It made me gag with anxiety when faced with the bigness of my life and the gaping hole that was cut into it. I survived because of the people around me and the things I had to do- the tasks at hand and the thoughtful attention that was paid to my grieving. As time went on and I began dealing with the disbursement of my mother’s estate and the sterile however, anger set in and I adopted aspects of my mother’s late outlook on life: cynicism, hopelessness, and pessimism. I identified more and more with how she was feeling, noticing the colour slipping away, and would jolt as dark thoughts crept into my mind and stole the place of the happy ones. As I sank deeper into this hole, I realized I needed to figure a way to claw my way out. I didn’t want to stop believing in people, that they could be good. That people could be selfless. That they weren’t just looking out for themselves, that someone’s promise wasn’t just lip service. That love was real. That I could find joy in the small things and laugh freely and meet people who were genuine and who inspired me to be better.
And so I tried. In the small moments, in every day things, I tried to smile. I started perhaps sub consciously while she was in the hospital, my brother and I laughing at the Nun who kept popping by uninvited, imagining what Mom would have said about her (something along the lines of “bugger off.”) Sharing stories about her that made us smile. Avoiding zoning out or having episodes of dis-association where I’d realize I’d have gone on entire walk without really watching anything around me or paying attention to the dogs. Being in the moment with them and laughing as they rolled around me like little clowns, begging for a laugh. Relishing in the warm weather and the sunshine. Starting to exercise again and pushing myself mentally to get sturdier and more resilient, and taking in endorphins as I went faster and harder. Laughing uncontrollably until my cheeks hurt while listening to my favourite comedian. Belting out a song with the sunroof open. Listening to Van Morrison, the Beatles, the Clash, Dean Martin, the Stones, Patsy Cline and Neil Young without bursting into tears… listening to the lyrics that made up the soundtrack of my childhood and allowing the memories to flow back to me like the sun. I started thinking about what I wanted for the future and how I was going to go after it, and started taking those steps one at a time.
I wish there was a prescription for finding hope again, for finding your way back to the person you were before. I remember thinking that if it could just be Summer sooner, Mom would get back to herself. If we could find a house she loved; if she could stop self-medicating; if she could retire from her job and get away from all the stress. The truth is, in my experience, it’s not one simple thing that will flip a switch… but having the will, or perhaps a better word- the belief, that things can be better. Whether that belief comes from anti-depressants, the support from friends, an encounter with a puppy, meeting a new person, exercising again, or having a good solid laugh- I promise you that one of these things will poke at the shield of hopelessness you’re feeling. Please allow it to. I know it’s easier to think of slipping away, but it’s an illusion. Depression is trying to steal you from the things and the people that matter most, and who love you and care for you. Allow a moment of happiness to give you the hope you need to believe that, be brave, and press continue.
If you are having thoughts of ending your life, please call the 24 hr crisis line at 1-877-435-7170 or visit reasontolive.ca