By Gerri Graves
Word on the Street Issue 40, February 2024
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**EDITOR’S NOTE – this story centers around experiences with loss and suicidal ideation. If you are struggling or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Idaho Crisis & Suicide Hotline at 988.
Let’s begin. Like a story. One that goes to dark places. Subject matter we ignore until confronted with the inevitable.
Death is not a topic we discuss over coffee, but with suicide affecting our children in recent news, the subject bludgeons itself into relevance.
It’s the reason I’ve always been so adamant about the protection of religion. ALL religions. When questions arise over our mortality and what comes after, well, there is no clear cut answer, is there? We wake up every morning not knowing what life’s lottery has in store for us. We cannot predict what’s coming, and if we’re to be honest, it’s a bit terrifying.
Faith restores, at the very least, a semblance of sanity. It softens the blow of the inevitable, and I personally am behind whatever brings solace to my fellow earthers.
However, what about those that leave us before their time? Faith can hold your hand, but it can’t do the heavy lifting. It’s up to those that are left behind to comprehend the incomprehensible.
I didn’t want to approach this with stats, conjecture, or the sterile analyses of medical professionals. We’ve already read those articles. It made no sense to regurgitate biased opinions — oftentimes from the perspective of those who have no experience of living with the condition — nor can I offer professional advice from years of schooling, as I am neither licensed nor an expert in this field.
I’m just a woman who suffers from a lifelong dance with depression, suicidal ideation and attempts. A mom who has endured the loss of a child. A person with lived experience.
What I can give younis honesty.
Depression is not what you may assume it to be: easily controlled. In my personal experience, medication not only does not work, but it cuts me off from that part of me that I love most. That creative, strong advocate. An artist. The part that writes poetry and cries over the loss of lives she’s never known. That person you can’t woo or bribe into submission. A woman who thinks and feels and loves and creates and sings, and weeps…….and writes.
Depression has already taken so much from me. I will not let it take that last morsel of the me that I love.
I choose to be unmedicated. Which means I’ve been in my mind. I’ve become familiar with my symptoms. What brings it on, why it camps out in my head, and how to talk myself out of an early release.
I’m intimate with the nuances of the malady. I’ve become my own expert through self-evaluation and hypervigilance. It’s lighting a candle in that dark dungeon to see clearly the monsters that lurk in corners. I’ve given them names and numbers.
I have a counselor that understands that unfair trade and doesn’t push unwanted medication on me. I’m honest with what I’m feeling and don’t hide that part of me from her. It’s a fair trade and it’s built on trust.
I once described it as walking a tightrope. What most people don’t understand is that staying on the rope is living. That’s the hard part. The fall? The decision to die? That part is sooooo easy.
It’s a cancellation of every f***ing thing that hurts. It’s shutting down the constant whirring in your head, revisiting everything that eats you alive. Tearing yourself apart. Self immolation. Suppressing perceived abnormalities. I don’t fit in. I never will. I’m not pretty enough. Young enough. Smart enough. Skinny enough. Nice enough. Not even a good enough mother.
The ever-invasive thought that you don’t matter. You never did. You’re a blip on a timeline that lent no true significance.
All that comes to a halt when you commit yourself into stepping off that rope. A calm embraces you. A euphoria of sorts. You’re resigned. Complacent. Peaceful.
It’s not selfish. I hear that so often and it’s absolute bullshit. It isn’t about the ones you leave behind, it’s about making the hurt stop. If you take anything from this, tuck away that last sentence to memory. It isn’t about you. It never was. It is only about being mentally overwhelmed and wanting to make it stop.
I know I don’t speak for everyone that suffers from this affliction, but I know from speaking openly about my own experience, that it does ring true with many.
You may look back and feel you could have done something, anything, to prevent them from going, but more often than not, the pain was just too much to bear.
I know from losing my own daughter. I blame myself for this very day. I’ve wished a million times for a do-over. I’ve also wished more times than can be counted to trade her place.
I mean, is there a pivotal point in time where a life can change irrevocably? That line of demarcation that denotes a ‘before and after’? ‘Cause, if there ever was, it surely resembles the loss of losing someone not meant to go before you. Especially if all that child ever knew was pain. It all seems so unfair that she fought for her life, and yet in the end, it was taken from her anyway.
I remember walking out of that hospital shell shocked. I had just rocked her until she took her last breath. Clinging to her still as her body began to chill. I wrapped her body in the quilt I made her and held her tighter, as if I could warm her back to life.
That cold that set in was so pervasive. It seemed impossible that I would ever feel warmth again.
My tears fell on her face as I stared and tried to remember the animation it held when she laughed, talked, cried. It seemed impossible that I would never see it again. It was only a couple of days worth of hours of witnessing it last — the incomprehension that it would be denied me the rest of my days.
To return home and find her things scattered amongst the house — things she would never use again. I locked the door to her room from the inside and closed the door. It remained just the way she left it until we moved.
The days after are a blur of, “I’m so sorry,” to, “You can always have another child,” to a funeral with an impossibly small coffin attended by people afraid of your pain. Like it was contagious.
People fell away and the purpose of needing them in my life went with them. I lived in my pain. Talking myself onto the rope when everything in me wanted to fall. No one knew what to say to me anymore, so they just stopped talking. My world grew quiet and black.
And all the things that were, are, and to become had come to an end. All that is tangible is, all at once, made redundant. Space, time, and thought once occupied…..empty. Silent. Shiny surfaces accumulate dust. Dates expire. The world turns. Days, weeks, and years, fall away, but the void cannot be reclaimed. It lingers there, beckoning like a wicked siren to
I laid in dark rooms with the door shut to the outside world. Grief consumed me black, like a path of devastation laid waste from flame, burned so thoroughly. Completely.
The after comes in waves. Never forgetting. Most days forcing interactions, faking smiles and pretending to move on
But, I keep her room in my head. The expensive sleigh bed I saved for while pregnant. Her bed set I made, and the matching French canopy that consumed yards and yards of peach floral fabric. It glowed like a stage when she played with her colorfully lit toys. Her stuffed animals and Radio Flyer wagon stocked with bandages, ointments, and diapers. Her dresser filled with the sweetest dresses, carefully folded, meticulously stacked and sorted by color. This room, once filled with love and laughter, gone quiet within the confines of memory. Silent…like the day she left.
There are times I open that door and pull out a memory, but it’s always a double edged sword. Laced with pain.
I look forward to the days when the memories are just the sweetness of who she was, but it hasn’t happened yet, and if I’m to be honest, I don’t think they will ever come.
There is no parallel to the pain of losing a child. It simply is one of the worst events that can ever happen to a person. There is no fix. And it’s always here, just below the green of my eyes. It’s in that luggage we all cart around that contains all the events that make up a life.
People suffering from depression and loss need nothing more than someone to talk to. No advice. No judgment. No pretending to understand. No sympathetic meme on your social media with ‘thoughts and prayers’ written across a sparkly rose.
They need REAL human connection. They need someone to listen. A thousand times, if need be, because there is no time limit on grief. There is no afforded grace on a loss this tragic.
Our kids are being bombarded with real world issues on their phones, sometimes live. The most empathetic of them WILL BE affected. Talk to them about their concerns. Validate them. Walk them through the hard stuff. Let them cry in your arms when things like ridicule, or politics, or death, or genocide — sometimes in real time — hurt them.
Our youth are dealing with far more than this Gen X’er did, and we lived through the Cold War with threats of being annihilated at any given moment.
We need to save the humane within our ranks. The artistic, articulate, deep-thinking, empathetic, emotionally mature, expressive, sensitive souls among us. We’ll need their compassion, understanding and love as we head into an uncertain future. As the world grows more hateful and desensitized, these are the few that carry our collective humanity, and they must be cherished.
I was lucky to have a few good people in my life that happened to come into it when I needed them most, and you can be that for someone else. That someone out there who’s walking that same tightrope.
This was hard to write, but I hope my honesty brought clarity. I hope it saves a life. And if that life is you, I hope I represented us fragile, bleeding hearts adequately.
You are not alone. You never were. You’re just too beautiful for this mean old world. All the more reason why you need to stay. There’s too few of you left, and we need you.
Find your tribe. Stay. Okay?