Sunday, August 1, 2010

Aches and Pains

Today I was witness to something that most people will never see. I was present when a suicide note was read.

My mother is a therapist, and has worked with many clients over the years. I distinctly remember the first time one of her clients committed suicide. It was early in her career and very, very painful for her. As with most people, she blamed herself to some degree for not being able to stop the attempt, for not seeing it coming, and probably for a myriad of other things. That was several years ago, and fortunately my mother hasn't had a client commit suicide since.

A few days before we moved out here, my mom told me that one of her former clients who had chronic pain and had suffered tremendous physical and psychological damage, had committed suicide. My mom had maintained contact with this client over the years, even though they were no longer in a therapeutic relationship. She considered herself to be a support system to this person who had very little emotional support in her life. Upon this person's death, her family informed my mother that the former client had left a letter addressed to her and they would send it, along with a momento.

The momento arrived a couple of weeks ago, but not the letter. It appeared the letter had been misplaced after the funeral, and the family was looking for it but hadn't been able to locate it yet. Today, as she was sifting through the mail that arrived over the week, my mom gasped and said, "This is's from (-)." She opened the envelope and found two pieces of paper inside. The outer piece was blank. The inner piece had only two lines written on it. For the sake of confidentiality, I'll paraphrase: We've known each other long enough that you know why. Please pray I rest peacefully.

For most of my life I have struggled with depression. I think many people do, far more than talk about it. It's still highly stigmatized. Mine can be traced genetically through one side of my family. One of my parents has struggled with it; one of my grandparents struggled with it; a great grandparent committed suicide. There is a definite genetic component to this illness that I deal with. I have to manage it the same way a diabetic manages blood sugar or someone with high blood pressure manages that. I take medication, practice stress relief techniques, engage in talk therapy as needed. Yoga is a great tool, as is writing. Different people practice and find success with different treatment options.

I was eleven when my parents first noted concerns about depression, and rightfully so. I suffered from childhood depression. I had intense fears, as young as four or five, of being left without my parents. I remember long crying spells and feeling sad and scared. Most people don't become depressed until adolescence or adulthood, and most will experience shorter bouts or even situational bouts with depression. Mine has been long lasting; I do not know what it is like to live without it. It's a disease I manage on a daily basis.

I understand the risks of writing about this on a blog. If you're unfamiliar with what depression is; if you have fears of mental illness or its stigma, then this is for you. Because I'm just your everyday person--I work, I have a family, I live and I love and most days I do an okay job of it all. It's a risky proposition to discuss something so personal because of the stigma and the misconceptions people have of the disease. I can assure you though, that I'm absolutely the same person I was before you read the above information and I'll be the same person when you're done reading this entry. I'm a good person and live a good life.

Those misconceptions are not only held by your average Joe. As my mother read the letter she had anticipated receiving, I couldn't help but note it was only two sentences long. Two sentences to say all you had to say to someone who loved you? I tried to imagine, and couldn't, what I would write in two sentences to sum up my feelings for any of the people that I love in this world. And yet, in those two sentences, there was such intense pain and emotion communicated. Those sentences were about what had already been said. What these two people already knew about each other.

I have long held the belief that people who suffer from depression make a choice each day to live or to die, and it is one of the most basic choices we make. On this particular day, this person could no longer do it. My mother understood why, even if you or I don't. It's not up to us to say. This person's pain--both physical and psychological--was real and intense and raw. And there was no escape. No hand holding, no talking, no amount of anything would take that pain away in that moment. People say suicide is a selfish act, and perhaps it is; but to those who take their own life, it is often viewed as the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, to no longer be a burden on those whom they love.

Those two sentences have stuck with me today and I have shed more than a few tears over them, not for my mother, but for this person who could no longer find the strength to hold on any more, to live and love and breathe and do the things that most of us take for granted each day.

And I pray for anyone who may read this and is having trouble breathing and living and loving that you are able to hold on until you can catch another breath, for one is always coming after the last one, even if you fear it won't.

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