The year 2001 was the worst year of my life. In January, one of my closest friends was admitted to the hospital with a “mild” case of pneumonia. It developed into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The day before my birthday, she died while I held her hand.
Shock and grief sent the depression I had battled all my life spiraling out of control. The medication I had taken for years no longer seemed to help. The simple act of breathing was physically painful. I wanted the hurt to stop. More than anything, I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. Almost without realizing it, I drifted into planning how I could make that happen.
Why am I telling you this? Because if you are like most survivors, including me, you’ve spent a lot of time agonizing about what you could have said or done to keep your loved one alive.
I have been where our loved ones stood.
I know the tunnel-vision lure of the suicide trance. And I also know that there was nothing anyone could have done to get through to me at that point. Absolutely nothing.
I knew that my family and friends loved me and worried about me. Somehow, my mind twisted their concern, distorting it into the conviction that I was making them miserable, and they’d all be better off after I was gone.
Were they perfect? No, of course not. They were human.
Did they sometimes say the wrong things in their desperation to break through to me? God, yes.
But not one of them said – or could have said — anything wrong enough to push me into suicide nor anything right enough to pull me back from the brink.
I could barely register their words, anyway. All I could focus on was my own all-consuming anguish.
The only reason I survived my suicide trance was sheer dumb luck.
While I was making my plans, I had scoped out a pawnshop that sold handguns and wasn’t too fussy about paperwork or mandatory waiting periods. The night I was ready to act, I took $300 in cash out of my bank account and drove over to the pawnshop … only to find that it had gone out of business.
My tunnel vision was so narrow at that point that it didn’t occur to me that I could go to another pawn shop, and I was too mentally and physically exhausted to think of a different plan. I sat numbly in my car in the parking lot until daybreak. Then I slowly drove to my doctor’s office.
By the end of the year, I had acquired a psychiatrist, a new diagnosis – bipolar disorder – and a new treatment regimen that slowly began to disperse that dark cloud of despair that had shrouded me for so many months.
Looking back on that time in my life now is a little like trying to remember a nightmare in the warm safety of daylight. One thing I cannot forget, however, is the dull resignation of being trapped in a prison of depression with walls so thick that not even love could penetrate them.
If you are still struggling with guilt over your loved one’s suicide, please make today the day that absorbs the knowledge, in your mind and in your heart, that you are not to blame. You did not cause it. You could not have stopped it.
Fairy tales and Hollywood tells us that love is enough to overcome anything. I used to believe that. I don’t anymore. Sometimes the bad things are stronger than love. Sometimes the bad things win. As the song, “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Misérables says so eloquently, “… there are dreams that cannot be / and there are storms we cannot weather.”
It is sad – horribly and tragically sad when depression or another mental illness steals a life. But it is not your fault.