I come from a lineage of mental illness: depression, bipolar disorder, and unfortunately - suicide.
My Grandpa lost his father to suicide when he was a young child. As a young adult his brother and sister shared their father’s fate. A couple decades later, his daughter, my Aunt Kary, took her own life.
Kary died just a couple of days after my Mom found out she was pregnant with me. (After a small stretch of infertility.) This had my entire family reeling in the highest of highs and then the lowest of lows. I never got to meet Kary - but she’s laced through every part of my existence. I’ve seen the hurt her death caused my family, but I didn’t experience the loss myself. It’s an unusual circumstance.
My Mom always talked a lot about my Aunt Kary. Even posthumous she’s been a relevant player in my life. I spent a good amount of time pouring over her photos and imagining what kind of relationship I would have had with her. I clung to her details, piecing together the kind of person I imagined her to be. We’ve always been tight on Mom’s side of the family - and I liked to imagine she would have been a mentor and confidante, a cool Aunt that I could call up on anytime. For most of my childhood I didn’t know how she had died - just the vague understanding that she had had some kind of illness in her head. As a kid, that was satisfying enough. But as a teenager I pushed for more - what kind of illness had she had? Was it a tumor? An aneurism? Cancer? Was I susceptible?
Once I learned how she had died things kind of clicked. It explained the grief, the sorrow, the pain that was always just an arm’s length away - a different grief than other familial losses. It explained why my Grandma and Mom reveled in speaking of her - with a duty of sorts toward keeping her memory alive. It explains why my Grandpa rarely says her name - carrying a crippling hurt that no parent should ever experience, lest of all somebody with as many losses as he. It explained why over the years I would occasionally hear my Mom wallow and cry through the night ...
Kary would have turned 60 last fall. My Mom cried all of October 8th. 34 years removed, and the pain is still so raw. I wish my Aunt Kary knew how missed she truly was. I cannot even fathom the pain my grandparents have felt - it makes my stomach churn to even imagine their loss.
Depression is a liar. Depression makes you believe you aren’t worthy. You aren’t good. You don’t deserve happiness. That you are a burden to your family, friends, or those that you love. It separates you, eventually isolating and encompassing you, and hollows you out. You may believe that your family will be “better off” without you. These are lies.
I too have had several bouts of depression (good ol genetics). I have felt the emptiness and the void. I have heard the lies whispered in the dark crevices of my mind. But I also have had the first hand experience in seeing the brokenness and pain my family has carried all of these years. Years ago I was hospitalized in relation to a battle with depression. I remember feeling horrified at how I must have made my parents and grandparents feel ... I made a promise to myself that I would never put my family through that kind of pain again.* Kary’s death taught me how much my own life mattered and in some way, I sort of feel like she saved me.
I pray you are spared from ever having to deal with the darkness of suicide. But. I also hope that what I’ve experienced will stick with you. Your life does matter, and your family and friends won’t ever be the same, nor better off without you. Whatever burden depression makes you think you are lifting from others will be replaced by an eternal aching - a twisted and complicated grief. Your life does count, and you are worthy. I wholeheartedly believe that Aunt Kary fell for the lies ... how tragically wrong she was.
The internet is buzzing with crisis hotlines, and sharing links asking those who are suffering to “reach out”. That’s not really how depression works in most cases. It doesn’t hurt to share of course, but I believe there are better approaches. I’ve seen people talking about DOING the reaching out. Reach out to your friends, even the ones who seem strong. Be present. Be available. Be aware. Make the calls, and do the checking. I think this is a thoughtful and wonderful approach. Dial in and stay connected ...
Final thoughts ... please remember that mental illness is no more shameful than cancer. It’s just chemicals in your brain going rogue ... dancing to the beat of their own drum and causing chaos for the rest of your body (mind and spirit). There is no shame in getting help. There is no shame in being broken. You aren’t selfish. You aren’t lazy. You aren’t awful or an embarrassment and most importantly - you are not at fault. I’ve been there, where you are, and it’s nothing a little serotonin can’t help.
Much love to you all.
* I know that I am at high risk for depression. I actively stay on top of this, and seek help the moment I feel the familiar fog looming. My Mom is managing her depression with the same honest and open approach.
Mom’s Facebook post on Kary’s Last birthday ...