Three Years Ago Today

Three years ago today that I took the note Willie wrote me to our family doctor. I sat in his office and showed him the note and asked for help. I cried and said I was scared and had no idea what to do. The note Willie had written me explained in simple words how he felt; his fears, his worry that he was sick, mentally. His desire to die. More than anything else though, his note asked for help. Not in a “it was a cry for help” sort of way but in actual words. He literally asked for help because he didn’t know what to do and he was scared of his own thoughts and what was in his mind.

Today, three years ago, I took that note to our family doctor. The doctor who had known Willie since he was 4 years old. Three years ago today Willie was too embarrassed and scared to go himself but asked me to go and see what we could do to get him help.

Three years ago today I sat in that office and was lectured for 20 minutes on my parenting and how divorce affects children. That note that must have been so hard for Willie t write – that note was tossed on the desk by his doctor with the remarks that he was “bluffing” and “grand=standing” and that I should “call him on it”. That if he really was serious about wanting help then he would call the suicide help line himself.

Three years ago today I left that office with a promise to have his name put on the waitlist for a psychiatrist, 12-18 months wait list. I also left with more anger and fear and sheer rage than I have ever felt in my life.

Three years ago today I walked back into my home and I was met by Willie asking me how he was going to be made better..what help he could get. The eagerness in his eyes tore me up inside as I fought to control my frustration at what I had just encountered. And I had no answer but to say that I would get him help…and I never told him what his doctor said and how he was dismissed by the “system” that should have helped him that day. Why? Because at that point, he had hope and even then, I knew that he needed that more than anything else.

Hope that slowly dwindled as the weeks and months went by and he was let down time and again. As he saw that, time and again, it was waiting lists and assurances that were never realized.

It all started with that one appointment three years ago today. And it ended the way he, more than anyone else, never wanted it to.

Did you know?

Almost 2 and a half years ago today and I still wonder.

There had been so many other dates that you set for yourself to end it; so many other times that you berated yourself afterwards for not completing what you set out to do.

Did you know that this time would be different? That this time you would go all the way through with it?

Saying goodbye to your little brother the night before, did you know that would be the last time you would hug him and call him your “little buddy”?

Our conversation in the car, did you know that would be the last we would have?

That night when you went to bed, was it with the knowledge and assuredness that it would be the last time that you would fall asleep?

Showering the morning of your death, folding your laundry and putting notes where they would later be found… did you know that this time, there would be no “after” an attempt.

Choosing your clothes to wear that day; did you know that they would be the last ones you would ever wear?

That this time, in a few hours, it would be your body that would be found when your family came home and not you, playing video games or listening to music…

Did you flip the calendar page to February that morning, the morning of the first, knowing that it would be the day that you really did it… the day that we would always know as the day you died?

Did you know that the next day, the sun would come up and another day would begin; and that you wouldn’t be there anymore?

Did you know all this… and did you welcome that knowledge?

The common denominator?

I came across this article today:

Have a read through, but to summarize it is an overview of the facts that nearly all of the horrific mass murders and familial murders and tragedies have one thing in common; the accused were taking (or had recently been taking) various medications for mental illnesses.

The not so subtle insinuation of the article is that the drugs are somehow responsible for the actions that these people took. That the effects of the drugs were such that they caused the rampages, the killings and the suicides. What is so aptly pointed out in the comments following is the simple truth that ALL of these (predominantly young) persons were not just being blindly medicated; they were on medications because they had been exhibiting symptoms and issues associated with a variety of mental illnesses. The underlying mental illnesses were, most likely, more to “blame” than the drugs they were taking.
Granted, in many cases, the side effects of these drugs are disturbing and, in some cases, worse than the worst actions that could be caused by the original mental illness but let’s not dismiss that these persons had underlying mental and emotional issues already.

It strikes me personally as I have wondered and it has been speculated what would have become of Willie had he lived. He was diagnosed with the innocuous anxiety and depression that was, in fact, most likely not what was going on inside of him. His journals and writings our private discussions point to a more likely condition involving psychosis that was just starting to manifest. The truth is that we don’t know – and we never will. His journals rant and vent about things that are too private and personal to share but that clearly indicate a mental illness that was not only worsening but that was taking a toll on him with the fear that he would lose control.
When he was placed on Prozac I was concerned and expressed that concern. I had been on antidepressants myself as a teen and they had had very distinct and disturbing side effects on me. I, like so many people, had read and heard about the potential for tragic consequences when teens are placed on SSRI’s and the other drugs that are so commonly prescribed now. I was assured that they were all safe, that the fear-mongering and sensationalized accounts were unfounded… that it was such a low dose anyways.
He was only on the drugs for a few weeks and really, they seemed to have no effect on him at all. In hindsight, he should probably have been on anti-psychotics and not anti-depressants but hindsight is 20/20 as the saying goes.
My psychiatrist has discussed that for all we know, what Willie did was the best possible outcome. That he may have grown and worsened into one of those headlines. Or maybe not. We’ll never know.

What is clear is that regardless of what drugs he was or wasn’t on, he committed suicide because of the mental illness that had caused him to be treated (if that’s what it can be called) in the first place.

Instead of focusing on the drugs, let’s not lose sight of the facts that behind all of these stories and names and tragedies there were people who were sick and scared. People who weren’t sane and rational and “themselves”… That the larger issue here is that they didn’t get the help that could make them “better” … and that sometimes, for some, there is no “better”, just an end…

Don’t stick your *&%# in crazy

Not necessarily for the younger or easily offended reader…

We all have different communication styles and ways of perceiving information that comes our way. We draw from past experiences and references and interactions that have shaped how we process and assimilate information and feelings and emotions that we experience.

Depression, other mental illnesses and so many more things impact how we communicate and how others can communicate with us. There are the brutal and derogatory phrases that float around like “don’t’ stick your dick in crazy” which essentially captures the sentiment that people with mental illness are incapable of having mature, coherent and meaningful interactions because of their mental health status.

It’s a crude way of stating what is done every day. Someone who is identified as mentally ill is marginalized very often. I mean, let’s face it, loving with and being partnered with someone with a schizo-affected disorder isn’t easy. Neither is living with someone with OCD that controls their lives. Even “just” depression puts huge strains on a relationship and even the most amazingly supportive partner(s) will run out of what it takes to dance that dance. PTSD has a knack for tossing grenades of hell into a seemingly great day or moment just for the hell of it with no rhyme or reason – that always makes for fun. It clouds a person’s ability to sequence thoughts and formulate emotional reactions at times. Everyone is affected differently by any myriad of mental illness.

I can attest that living with depression and PTSD is exhausting. It’s a rollercoaster that you don’t want to be on and that you are so sorry when you look around and see that the seats are filled with other people being dragged along.

Being in the life of a partner who has a mental illness is a daunting task. Dealing with emotional swings and drops is one thing but just watching what the person afflicted is going through is hard too. I used to cry just watching how much pain Willie was in with his mental illness… and that I couldn’t fix it. Now being the one who has partners and friends who I see are dealing with me – the guilt and self hatred for what I put them through is horrible. The urge to isolate and just not be around anyone gets overwhelming sometimes.
I have always considered myself a good communicator and someone who not only listens well but also is able to express myself clearly and rationally and with a lot of thought given to making sure that I’m not clouding communication with emotions rather than getting what needs to be conveyed out there. Recently a partner brought to my attention that because of my PTSD and depression, there are “ways” to communicate with me that will take into account how those issues affect my ability to communicate. Does this mean that I’m not actually able to communicate and interact as well as I think I am? AM I living in a delusion that I am a functional partner in a relationship? Maybe the fears and worries I have that I am the problem is true – regardless of how many times they try to assure me that I’m not.

This has made me think … was my original thought last year that I am too damaged and “broken” to be in a relationship accurate? If there is a “way” that I need to be handled and communicated with so that I don’t fuck up communication in a relationship…. Should I even try? Maybe I should be keeping it at light and fluffy and friends with benefits rather than trying to establish and maintain a committed relationship.

I ask myself if I have been deluding myself that I do communicate well… maybe my own judgement is so altered by depression and ptsd that I actually AM the problem in relationships and that maybe the “don’t stick your dick in crazy” isn’t such a bad idea after all. Maybe I am too “crazy” to be on the receiving end of said member. Not that any of my relationships are at that point anyways… I am still too messed up to get that close to anyone.

Ignorance is bliss?

The truth is that in order to heal you have to let the pain be felt. The question is how do you feel AND function when the pain is so great that it’s all-consuming when it is allowed out to be felt?

I am expert at keeping emotions and feelings bottled up, to be dealt with “later” when I have time or when it’s convenient. My first thoughts when I was told that Willie was gone were that I needed to be with my other boys and tell them and make sure they were ok. I pushed any reaction other than shock away to do what had to be done at that time; and in the weeks and months that followed.

Since I moved and have been on my own I have found ways to keep emotions at bay and to not face and deal with grief. This, obviously, doesn’t always work and I have spent the last year swinging in and out of depressive episodes and grief-fuelled spirals. Facing the reality that in order to be able to move forward that I have to stop trying to turn away from the hurt and actually let it in and acknowledge it and experience it.

Couple this awareness with well-intentioned people who keep telling me to not dwell or think about Willie’s death and that I need to just put it behind me and you have a recipe for disaster.

The pendulum swings inside of me between the extremes of despair and hopelessness and the public face of “I’m doing better”. I have learned the new art of not trying to be “fine” necessarily but instead letting just enough show so that people will think I’m doing ok. The reality is that inside, the hurt is still the same. Yes, I function better… Yes, I have more “good days” than bad… Yes, I laugh more easily and do have joy in my life again. I’m thankful for all these things and do recognize them. Inside me though is still the pain and the hurt that I can’t even describe because it’s so much and so deep.

Inside and hidden, is the fear that comes with knowing that I’m still taking that hurt and just burying it. That I haven’t grieved… all I’ve done is pushed it down harder and with more resolve to not let it affect me. That I AM moving forward, but not because I’ve dealt with the loss… but because I’ve just managed to figure out how to hide it even better than I ever have before… than I have been able to with anything else before this.

The fear that comes from knowing how overwhelming it is when it does peek out. When a glimpse of what is there is seen and felt… that glimpse brings fear of how to cope with it and IF I can cope with it if I let it out. The panic overcoming me at times as I fight to keep the emotions down enough that I can keep on doing what needs to be done. Panic of whether it will one day just be too much and break the dam holding it in no matter how hard I try. The fear knowing that I need to let it out if I want to heal. A seemingly no win situation that results in me turning away, again, from the glimpse and looking forward more resolutely as I ensnare the loss and pain even more firmly in the grip of ignorance within.

Inside the mind of mental illness

Mental Illness, as described to me by my son…

Imagine you’re on a train, like an old-fashioned passenger train. It’s comfortable and you’re sitting in a seat, with people in almost all of the other seats. A lot of the people you know and you’re friends with but there are also lots of people you don’t know. They’re walking around too and going from train car to train car, just doing what they do. There’s people talking and laughing, some just reading or being quiet. You’ve just been having a fun conversation with some of your friends but now you look out the window and there’s scenery going by; fields and lakes and mountains… and it’s pretty and you’re having a good time looking at what goes by.

You’re not sure how long you were looking out the window and you think maybe you fell asleep because things look different a little now. It’s not sunny anymore – kind of grey and cold looking now. The lakes are gone and the trees and grasses aren’t green anymore. You figure that you must have gone a really long way and you miss the way the scenery was. All this time, you’re not really sure where you’re going anyways.

You realize that it’s really quiet around you so you stop looking out the window and notice that the train is empty. Everyone is gone and you don’t know where they went or when they left. You don’t remember the train stopping or anyone getting off or even any of your friends saying goodbye to you – but they’re all gone now and you’re alone.

The train is cold now and you look back outside and it’s almost dark now. It’s all rocks and cold outside now and nothing is growing. You get out of your seat and walk up and down the train car alone. The doors at the end that led to the other cars are still there but they don’t lead anywhere now. You go to the window at the end that looks back on where you’ve come from and can see a faint light way back in the distance but the train car is speeding away from it so fast it’s almost gone.

You go to the window at the front of the train car that looks forward to where you’re going and it’s pitch black and ice is starting to form on the window because it’s getting so cold outside.

You know that you can’t stop the train car or make it go back to where you were. You know that the only way to not go where you’re heading – which looks horrible – is to get off the train… and that means jumping and that you’ll die. So you make the choice to do that … because you can’t go back and you don’t want to end up where you’re going.

This was how Willie described it to me one day when he was trying to explain what it was like inside his head… and why he wanted to kill himself. I haven’t shared this before as it was very private to me but I hope this helps people understand as much as it did for me when he explained it this way.