I wrote the below entry one year after my mom killed herself. This November it will be six years since she died and when my world was turned upside and shaken. Suicide is preventable. Educate yourself. Know the signs. We can help others who are suffering in silence, but only if we collectively stop avoiding the discussion because it makes us uncomfortable. Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Please read this, share it and then take one minute to read the warning signs at http://tinyurl.com/mrgtcuw.
The following was written December 30, 2008
"Crazy drivers," "crazy neighbors"... I used to use the word crazy in my every day language...until my mom killed herself.
Of course no one ever used that term when describing her to me, but I know that's what some people were thinking. Seriously, someone would have to be "crazy" to kill themselves. At least that's what we tell ourselves to keep us safe and sane. As long as we are "normal," then we are protected from one of life's greatest threats.
This is why so many people were deeply and forever effected by my mom's death. She was one of the "normal" ones. She didn't have a label that would help us explain it all away after it happened. She wasn't manic, bipolar, schizophrenic, alcoholic, drug-addicted, depressed...
Oh, there you go. That last one. Depressed. A word used so loosely in American society. It can mean everything from having a bad day to an illness that robs you of yourself and causes you to lose your life metaphorically or realistically.
She was never ill. She didn't drink more than the occasional glass of wine while making dinner or a cold beer on a hot day. She exercised. She had tons of friends. She had a daughter who was a best friend and a husband whom she loved endlessly. There were two grandsons who loved her and one who considered her a best friend. She was thin, beautiful and smart... all the things women are told that if they posses, then life will be good, should be good. There was little she wanted for. She was a woman admired by many, but of course, too modest to ever notice the admiration. And, if you pointed it out to her, she would argue that you were mistaken.
So, how could someone like this, choose to die?
That's the question all survivors of suicide are left asking. That's why those labels make it easier for us to process. If someone is "depressed," and dies by suicide, then we can say to ourselves that we're safe because we're not depressed.
I mean, we would never do anything crazy like that.
That's what my mom used to say. She was a "normal" healthy woman until her own mother died and she turned 60 all in the same year. Her depression moved in without warning, just like the thick fog that envelops the coast when the valley is too sunny. She always wondered if her depression was like the fog. Had her life been too sunny? Like the fog, was her depression here to balance all the sunny days she already had in her life?
Hindsight is 20/20. I would like to say that we all missed how seriously ill she was, but we knew. We just never thought it could possibly end this way. Her depression wasn't lifelong. It snuck up, grabbed on and wouldn't let go. We've all had those days where we don't want to get out of bed for whatever reason. That's all it started with, and eventually she was feeling that way everyday. This is when she would acknowledge all she had in life because she was trying to make sense of her depression.
"Why am I like this?"
"Why can't I be happy?"
"I have everything I want."
"What is wrong with me?"
I was the first person to utter the word "depression." She didn't want to hear it. Oh, how she fought it. It had to be a post-menopausal thing. Lack of sleep. A vitamin D deficiency. Anything other than depression because then she would be labeled different, abnormal... crazy. Maybe not by others, but by herself. Like many, mental health was always something she thought one could control. Therapists and the like were as questionable as chiropractors were forty years ago. A hope that the therapists could help, but the belief that the only one that can get a person out of a dark day is oneself.
All tragedies are a series of small events that cumulate into one gigantic and horribly wrong event. My mom's suicide is the same. From being raised to think you only go to doctor's in the most dire of circumstances to refusing to admit some people will need medication for life. From always wanting everyone to know she's fine, even when she isn't, to reaching out to a therapist who in turn caused her more pain. From an uneducated family when it came to mental health to poor warnings on drug labels. From fearing she would cause her family anguish by helping her find a those sunny days again to having handguns in the house that were there to ease the pain her husband suffered from PTSD caused by war.
The small events go on. Like a snowball. Even if you manage to remove a single snowflake, the size and destructive power of that snowball once in motion doesn't diminish.
Suicide happens. It's the devastatingly sad and destructive loss of a person with mental illness. My mom shot herself in the head one year ago, and I still have a hard time admitting it to people. I still feel like I need to give an answer. To explain away the unexplainable.
I was her daughter. How could I not know?
Whenever I tell her story, I hesitate on mentioning she was falling back into the depression she overcame and feared so greatly. I don't want to give people a reason to think it can't happen to them.
Because if it can happen to her, we are all at risk... including me.