Disclaimer: if you have not been touched by suicide, this material may not be for you. Like anything else on my website, take what resonates with you, and leave the rest.
When I decided to change my About Me page, and add the story of my father's life and death, I didn't anticipate how it would change the people that were attracted to me and my site.
Since then, I have helped quite a few people who have been affected in the same way that I have by a family member with severe mental illness and suicidal ideation.
The maddening thing about this situation is not only the stigma involved, but the way that people tend to stand back, and then away from, others who have to deal with this daily. Over time, I have come to view this as more of a gift, than a curse. I have used the energy that the situations with my father created in order to help others.
Looking at this face, you see a young, aspiring young man with a lot of potential. We don't know our parents for their whole lives. We only get to see a piece of them, in a certain timeline. We do not share their whole lifetime, and we do not always understand the things that happened to them before we came along.
Some of these things I came to understand after my father died. As the person responsible for his estate, I had to go through all of his things, and make sure any legal and other paperwork was disposed of properly. He was a lawyer by trade before he became incapacitated by his illness.
It appeared that once he turned 19, he started to become paranoid. Whether it was stress or another trauma that caused this change, we don't know. What I do know is that I found letters he had written to his brother, with ideation about his professors "having it out for him", and "making his life difficult on purpose".
The letters went beyond simple worries. They bordered on paranoia. And I began to wonder, how much of my father did I really know? And were the stories about him and his behavior before I was born really true? If they were, then his behavior after I was born made much more sense.
My father was an extremely intelligent man, too bright for this world. His vocabulary was so over the top that sometimes even we could not understand him. He understood the law backwards and forwards, and I read some of what he had written when he was practicing. He was so brilliant, in fact, that he became one of the youngest partners at his firm.
My dad's cousin told me a story after he died, about going to a bar in New Orleans and sitting down next to a lawyer my dad knew. The lawyer was complaining that he had to face my dad in court the next day. Apparently my father was so good at what he did that he rarely failed, and he was so eloquent in court that he made his opposition nervous.
These stories came up more and more after he completed suicide. I heard so much about him, but I knew so many things from seeing what was in his space, that the two didn't seem to fit. If he was so brilliant, what made his mind break?
It appeared that he went into law simply in order to right injustice. He had a strong sense of fairness and didn't like seeing others being taken advantage of. He prepared so thoroughly for his cases that he, later on, became hard to live with. The stress of having kids on top of a law practice seemed to tip the scales.
He had his first mental break when I was three, when my sister was born. He couldn't handle the stress of his job, and started to experience psychic phenomena. In the medical world, we call this hallucinations and delusions. This was the beginning of a downward spiral for him, that would last for more than ten years.
In those years, he tried very hard to work, but the stresses of family life often made it hard for him to concentrate. He had complained about this in the letter I found that he wrote in college, that concentrating was almost impossible when people didn't want to accommodate him. He liked perfection, and if he couldn't think, he couldn't practice.
By the time I was nine, he had been in and out of hospitals so many times that I never knew when he would be home. He also had physical issues related to stress- chest pain, and other problems. The stress got to be too much for him, and he attempted suicide when I was nine. And then he didn't come home.
Now you could say, at this point, my abandonment issues were triggered. I have come to look at this differently. Because I take care of myself, and do not abandon my own needs to others, I rarely feel this pain or trigger anymore. That is not why I am writing this story. I am writing it for those of you who have been through something similar.
What sticks out to me now is his next suicide attempt when I was 15 years old. My parents had been fighting over custody for four years. My father was often angry and unreasonable during visitation, and as a teen I said enough. I didn't want to put up with it anymore and I was tired of being an emotional punching bag.
I loved my father, but he had created so much chaos in our family since my sister came along, that I wanted a break. I needed to be away from him. And then he attempted suicide, and I didn't see him again for another few months.
I still remember the first time I saw him after his attempt. I was so angry at him I could barely speak. But right then and there, I started to understand emotional manipulation and how far I could go in helping him. And I clearly understood, at 15 years old, that I was going to have to set boundaries with him if he was ever going to get better.
The thing about mental illness and suicidal ideation, is that sometimes, the people we love simply don't see reality clearly. He hadn't seen clearly since he was a teen. And in his life, he never really did. He was paranoid and angry, or felt victimized most of his life.
And the biggest problem I always ran into was the stigma around what my family was going through. Before I worked in the hospital and then learned to be a nurse, it appeared that no one else was going through what we were going through. But I knew differently.
One of my good friends completed suicide when we were in eighth grade. So I knew that it was a lie, the stigma and the isolation, and the secrecy around mental illness. And once I became a nurse, the health issues and mental health issues of the public as a whole started to become more clear to me.
I have said to people for years that they are not the only ones going through a hard time, and that they are not the only ones with a family member with mental illness. We are never alone in this life. We always have parallel experiences with other human beings, situations that we have been through together, while we are apart.
I knew before he died that I was not the only one. And then after he died, when my sister and I were at the funeral home, what the lady helping us said really struck me. She said, "you are now part of a special club. My brother died by suicide, and now that you have an immediate family member who died this way, you are part of our club."
I know she was trying to be helpful. In that moment it was incredibly helpful. But it did not help the stigma that followed his death, and it did not help the stigma that fell on me and my family, that persists to this day. There were people that I had known my whole life, who stopped speaking to me. My best friend promptly dropped me from her life.
But what I learned, through all of this, was that having a person in your life with mental illness that is so severe that they talk about suicide all the time, is a gift. And it is not a curse. This is because having this person in your life teaches you patience beyond everything else you have ever learned.
I had to learn patience with people. I had to learn who I could talk to about my dad frankly, and who I could not. And, yes you guessed it, the people I could talk to frankly were the ones in the club. I made a lot of mistakes trusting people with information about his death in the beginning. And then after a while, the stigma ceased to matter to me.
I am so happy that organizations like the AFSP exist, and are fighting the stigma of suicide every day. The stigma prevents people from getting help, and it prevents them from truly healing. It is not a mark on a family that their member has been in a mental hospital. It simply means that they were trying to get better.
Karmically, some souls come to this Earth to teach us this exact lesson. And they decide to leave before it is their destined time to go. They choose the time. But what I have come to see is that if your loved one suffered from mental illness for most or all of their life, that sometimes they think this is their only way out.
It is their choice, not ours. I have given up worrying about all the things I could have done to help him. I did everything I could, within my boundaries and my ability to do for him. He had to do the rest for himself, and he would never meet me halfway. This may sound harsh, but I certainly was not going to let him drag me down with him.
I miss him, and I miss our conversations. Despite being mentally ill and paranoid, he was funny, and sensitive, and loved me with everything he had. He was angry and frustrated much of the time, too. We are all human and we all have the full range of human emotions.
He taught me more about mental illness than any other lesson in my life could have. And he also taught me about karma, karmic actions, and what karma truly means. His karma was simply not mine. His actions were not mine. And me taking responsibly for them, or trying to, was not my place. I was not ever responsible for what he did in his own life.
This is a hard lesson for survivors of suicide loss to learn. Sometimes they do not learn it in this lifetime. But if I can ease the burden for someone else who has just gone through the most painful experience of their life, I will, in every way possible.
If you'd like to reach out to me about this post, use my Contact Page.
If you are suicidal, call the national hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the crisis line at 741-741. For veterans in crisis, text 838-255.