I had barely turned 22 when my mother committed suicide. For someone who had cried wolf on the subject my entire childhood I was actually stunned when I woke up to a September morning phone call that my mother had passed away. I knew death was on the other end of that call before I even picked up, but I didn’t know it was hers.
You see the phone call came from her actual cell phone, but my mother was not exactly a morning person so when I saw her on the caller ID in the early morning hours I knew something bad had happened. I was actually still sleeping when I let it ring a few times before picking up. I braced myself for the possibility that one of my grandparents had possibly passed away. When I finally picked up and heard her fiancés voice on the other end it was like the whole room went static. It’s a strange feeling when you hear words echo in your ear that you were ready to hear as a child but never as an adult.
When I was growing up my mother was very troubled. She was barely 23 when I was born. I was a “whoopsie” baby. There were no plans for my existence. My mother was in the LA party scene at the time. This was the early 80’s so drugs were pretty normal. There was some great deal of relief when my mother gave up drugs and alcohol when she found out she was pregnant with me. Her will power and strength during that time is something I wish she would have held onto for the rest of her life. Sadly as soon as I was out of the womb she fell into old habits.
My childhood in detail is best saved for another time but to wrap it up nicely in a dysfunctional little package for you I saw my parents have a nasty divorce, my mother in an out of rehab, her parade of abusive boyfriends and her countless attempted suicides. Receiving a phone call in the middle of the night when I was at my fathers that my mother was going to kill herself was getting to be pretty routine for me. I remember the confusion and sense of responsibility I felt as a child.
Why would my mom not want to be my mom anymore?
Why won’t she get help when we offer her help?
Why does money seem to always fix the problem?
Why does she do this when I go to my dad’s?
Is this my fault?
I often felt like I was responsible for my mother’s happiness even though I felt like I could never make her happy. If she needed money I would get money from my father for her. If she needed saving from an abusive boyfriend I would, literally go to bat for her. One time I had to beat one of her boyfriends with a baseball bat to stop him from choking her to death. I think I was 8 or 9.
One night I woke up to my mother calling my private line when I was around 14 and heard her on the other end crying wolf that she was going to kill herself. The tears were beginning to roll down my face while I pleaded with her not to do it and my body was shaking from anxiety. I got out of bed to start the walk down the hallway to my father to have him send her money or to rehab or whatever it was he did to keep her alive. The walk from my bedroom to my father's was a long one. His house had marble tile floors so when I stepped out of my room the chill that went up my body felt ice cold and stopped me.
I was not going to wake up my father.
I was not going to try and save my mother.
This was not my responsibility.
This was not my fight.
I had always been there for my mother until that one night I told her “no”. I didn’t run to get my father. It was not my job to fix her life. I loved her as much as a child could, sometimes even more than a child should. I had done everything I could do to try and save my mother. Even a year after hanging up on that phone call I had tried again to have a life with her and I actually almost lost my mine to her hands because of her issues.
My mother had bipolar disorder, substance abuse problems and experienced a lot of abuse as a child. She had never found the strength in herself to fight her inner demons or resolve her issues in the best way possible. She continued using drugs, prescription pills, alcohol, abusive relationships and money to try and find happiness. She never did.
The idea of “Suicide Awareness Month” means well but sometimes I feel like there is a gap in the message of it. I hate seeing those “call someone and tell someone you love them…..it could save their life” meme’s on social media. I hate the idea of anyone feeling like they should be responsible for someone else’s happiness. I do think it is helpful for people to know they are loved but you still read stories of suicide and hear how the person was loved by their family and friends. That everyone was shocked. The issue is depression and other mental illnesses. People are bullied which leads to depression which can lead to suicide. People have addiction problems that are never treated that can lead to suicide. People don’t get treatment for their mental illnesses which can lead to suicide. There are thousands of roads that lead to the same dead end.
Suicide and depression are very personal things. My depression is the ache in my bones and my mother’s suicide is the scars on my skin covering it. Every day I choose to deal and fight my depression because I want to save myself. I don’t want anyone else to save me. I don’t want to have to wait for someone’s phone call that they love me. I don’t want someone to have to get a phone call that I didn’t save myself. The road that has led me to dealing with my own issues has been a rocky one but I refuse to reach that dead end. I will keep traveling forward.
So on this last day of “Suicide Awareness Month” I have a few words I wish I had heard aside from “I love you.”
If you lost a loved one to suicide I want you to know that as long as your intentions for them were good and true you did enough. Don’t blame yourself. It was their fight to fight not yours. Allow yourself to grief how you need to. Don’t deny your present feelings thinking about how you could change the past.
If you think someone you love might be contemplating suicide or is depressed and you are fearful you might lose them then do what is best for them and yourself. Never put yourself in physical or emotional harm’s way. You can express your concern and love for them but don’t take their demons on as your own. No one wins in that fight.
If you are battling depression I want you to stay strong for yourself because you have made it this far and you have much further to go in life. Fight your fight. It may take longer than you thought, it might hurt more than you hurt now, but it’s yours and winning that is a victory no one will ever be able to take away from you. It’s a strength you will always be able to count on. It’s just for you and that makes life beautiful and worth living.