An Open Conversation About Suicide

*This post contains conversations about suicide and mental health issues.

4 years ago, my brother David committed suicide. And 1 year ago, my cousin Jasmin did too.

I have a hard time talking about their deaths aloud without sobbing. I’ve never publicly divulged the circumstances of their death. Even now when people ask how many siblings I have, I sometimes leave my brother out of the picture. And that isn’t from a lack of love. It’s just easier to pretend he’s not there because it invites less questions—questions I’m still not prepared to answer.

In the latter half of 2012, my brother confided in my parents that he was having difficulty concentrating in nursing school and subsequently dropped out. It was a few months later that he was formally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. His therapist later drew parallels to a patient with terminal brain cancer—no combination of medicine or therapy was healing him. As the months droned on, my kind and compassionate older brother slipped deeper into his delusions. He would stay up all night and scream until my dad came in. He stopped driving. He would talk to people that weren’t there. He would pace back and forth for hours. He was in therapy a few days out of the week. He took his medicine every single night without fail. But he could no longer separate his delusions from reality. He was cognizant of the severity of his sickness, and I know this hurt him profoundly.

My sophomore year of college, David and I fell into a routine of phone calls. He would call whenever he wasn’t sure he was having a delusion. I can remember a distinct moment that year when I didn’t pick up, and he blew up my roommate’s phone in panic.

But this isn’t meant to be a story about my brother’s battle with schizophrenia. This is a story about its aftermath.

The first year following his death felt like I was drowning in fire. Grief turned me ugly. I resented my friends for not understanding. I was envious of my peers that could keep pushing forward when I just wanted time to stand still. And man was I angry. I was angry at my parents for not keeping a more careful eye on him. I was angry at my sister for not coming forward after my brother confessed to her he was having suicidal thoughts. And most importantly, I was angry at myself; there’s an enormous sense of guilt that comes with surviving a loved one’s suicide.

So when my cousin committed suicide last spring, all the wounds I thought I had healed had reopened ten-fold. Jasmin came to David’s funeral. She sat with me and held my hand through all my nervous breakdowns. She visited me during my gap year following his death. She read my private blog posts chronicling that first year of grief. I never once felt angry with David, but with Jasmin, my anger boiled. How could she take her own life after seeing how deeply David’s suicide hurt our family?

It took finding her diary entries five months later for me to learn to let go of my anger. I won’t go into details about the contents of those entries; however, it did shed some light on her mental state at the time. The gravity of her sadness was far worse and debilitating than I could ever really understand; how could I stay angry at that?

As painful as their suicides were, I think my grief paled in comparison to our parents. When a parent loses a child, it’s an unnatural order of things. Children are supposed to outlive their parents, not the other way around. I watched over the years as my dad and my uncle meticulously took care of their children’s grave. They routinely cleaned the mud off their gravestones. They replaced flowers, nourished them, and watched them grow as the seasons pass. And maybe that’s the ultimate role of a parent—to take care of your child even in death.

I think the difference of losing someone when they’re young compared to when they’re older is you mourn for the life they could have lived more than the life they necessarily had. You feel robbed of a future you took for granted they’d be a part of. Every year that passes is another year I’ve outlived them. Every success, big or small, I’m reminded they’re not there to share it with me. They’re never going to meet my future husband. My kids will never really get to know them outside of stories I choose to share. But every year that passes means the wave takes longer to reach the shoreline. Grief never really goes away; but with time, it eventually becomes more manageable.

In support group, we often talk about how this is the club that no one wants to be in. We’re never going to get closure from the people that leave us. We’re responsible for making our own closure. And sometimes we have to let our sadness enfold us because it will eventually be the stepping stones we use to build our lives.

I know this because it helped me build mine.

There are so many things in this lifetime we can’t control. No amount of planning or prowess will let us control every single possible outcome. I knew the consequences of not paying enough attention to my loved ones, and Jasmin still died anyway.  I’ve learned to become jealous of everyone that has a brother. In hindsight, I think a lot of my grief stemmed from the lack of control. I had to learn it’s okay to not be Superwoman; my cape isn’t big enough to hold together the people I love dearly.

When I entered 2017, I told myself to let myself be as selfish as possible and stop acting overly cautious. And I truly mean that in the best way possible. I needed to feed my own soul. I normally don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions (namely because people tend to break them), but I made an exception this year. So far, this year has been one of the best years of my life. I listed all the places I wanted to travel to. I’ve been slowly knocking them out one by one. I’ve been reading three times the number of books I’ve read the year before. I’ve been hitting the gym four times a week and eating more than I ever have in my life. I’ve been saying yes more often. I’ve been forcing myself to put in my all in everything I’ve committed to. And last night I boxed away all the things I had left of them and put it under my bed.

I’ve been going through my fair share of growing pains the last couple of months. This is just another chapter of grief I’m working through.  But know, I’m doing just fine. And for the first time in a long time, I’m happy.

Because there is always something left to love.


SUICIDE HOTLINES

Albania: 127
Argentina: (54-11) 4758-2554
Australia: 13 11 14
Austria: 142
Barbados: (246) 4299999
Belgium: 106
Botswana: 3911270
Brazil: +55 51 211 2888
Canada – Greater Vancouver: 604-872-3311
Canada – Toll free-Howe Sound/Sunshine Coast: 18666613311
Canada – TTY: 1-866-872-0113
Canada – BC-wide: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
China: 0800-810-1117
China (Mobile/IP/extension users): 010-8295-1332
Croatia: (01) 4833-888
Cyprus: +357 77 77 72 67
Denmark: +45 70 201 201
Estonia (1): 126
Estonia (2): 127
Estonia (3): 646 6666
Fiji (1): 679 670565
Fiji (2): 679 674364
Finland: 01019-0071
France: (+33) (0)9 51 11 61 30
Germany (1): 0800 1110 111
Germany (2): 0800 1110 222
Germany (youth): 0800 1110 333
Ghana: 233 244 846 701
Greece: (0) 30 210 34 17 164
Hungary: (46) 323 888
India: 2549 7777
Ireland (1): +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90
Ireland (2): +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92
Ireland (3): 1850 60 90 90
Ireland (4): 1850 60 90 91
Israel: 1201
Italy: 199 284 284
Japan (1): 03 5774 0992
Japan (2): 03 3498 0231
Kenya: +254 20 3000378/2051323
Liberia: 06534308
Lithuania: 8-800 2 8888
Malaysia (1): (063) 92850039
Malaysia (2): (063) 92850279
Malaysia (3): (063) 92850049
Malta: 179
Mauritius: (230) 800 93 93
Namibia: (09264) 61-232-221
Netherlands: 0900-0767
New Zealand (1): (09) 522 2999
New Zealand (2): 0800 111 777
Norway: +47 815 33 300
Papua New Guinea: 675 326 0011
Philippines: 02 -896 – 9191
Poland (1): +48 527 00 00
Poland (2): +48 89 92 88
Portugal: (808) 200 204
Samoa: 32000
Serbia: 32000
Singapore: 1800- 221 4444
South Africa: 0861 322 322
Sweden (1): 020 22 00 60
Sweden (2): 020 22 00 70
Switzerland: 143
Thailand: (02) 713-6793
Ukraine: 058
United Kingdom (1): 08457 909090
United Kingdom (2): +44 1603 611311
United Kingdom (3): +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92
United Kingdom (4): 1850 60 90 90
United Kingdom (5): 1850 60 90 91
United States of America: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Zimbabwe (1): (263) 09 65000
Zimbabwe (2): 0800 9102

6 thoughts on “An Open Conversation About Suicide

  1. Ann,
    This is incredibly poignant and heartfelt to read. It is very courageous of you to make yourself vulnerable by sharing your personal journey grieving the suicides of David and Jasmin. Going within to experience and articulate our feelings provides a map of healing to follow, so continue doing so!

    Like

  2. This not only was a well written post but it was also heart warming to read. I’m sorry that you went through such difficult trials in your life, I genuinely am. It’s inspiring to see how a positive outcome has come from such a tragedy. Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing this lovely piece!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Ann,

    I just want to reach out and say I’m sorry about what happened to your brother and cousin (prayers to them). I have been studying/observing this for some time and I have to admit that it seems to me that many people are afraid to reach for help when it comes to mental health. I don’t know, but I can tell you are of South Asian descent and I know in many Asian communities the topic of mental health/mental illness is taboo, which was recently confirmed by my thesis topic, where I have analyzed how parenting can influence certain risk behaviors (one of which is suicide) among Asian American youth, and also of a few personal incidents that I have known of. There are several reasons to why this is so like lack of knowledge, no resources, stigma..etc. It really makes your question a lot of things when you hear of someone taking their life. I know the US has a system in place, but for people part of Asian communities or cultures that are conservative in these things, I do hope many of us start to realize that mental health/illness is real and that it’s ok to ask for help, but it’s very hard to break the stigma around it. I think it’s up to us break the mold.

    Hugs to you.It’s very tough. Hope you will find the answers you are hoping to have.

    Like

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