I’ve thought/prayed/reflected for a very long time about how to write or if I even should write this post. Today (Nov 7th) is the one year anniversary of my cousin’s death by suicide and it’s been a day of mixed emotions. How do you even begin to describe loss of such unbelievable proportion? Well.. you start by describing how you’ve been in that very same mindset.
I am no stranger to mental illness – I have one. Before I was old enough to even realize it, I’ve been host to the most unwelcome of visitors: major depression and generalized anxiety. These two things probably masked themselves with devastating eating disorders that began in my early teens. I was a devout ballerina, believing in my heart of hearts I would be dancing professionally in New York City. Have you seen Center Stage? If not.. you should watch it. Despite it being somewhat sappy, it’s a shockingly accurate portrayal of life up there as a young dancer and all the various pressures that come with it. I desperately wanted to be the best – which also meant being the smallest and thinnest. I can still hear my teacher’s voice degrading me as a young teen developing into a young woman and telling me I looked “fluffy” that day. I weighed no more than 100 lbs y’all. And I wasn’t the only one. We all wanted her approval. Being ignored was worse than being verbally shamed. It was such a sick cycle. So as you can imagine, I first was a ferocious bulimic – hiding it from everyone. Once I began to fear my purging was being noticed, I shifted into outright anorexia.
Through the years I’ve grown past the eating disorders (mostly) but still hear those mean little voices telling me I’m a monster for eating cheesecake. Severe stress always exacerbates my anxiety, funneling into depression or self destructive mind games. When people say you are your own worst critic, it’s insanely true. The past year has been unbelievably difficult for a variety of reasons. Once I left my transplant profession and started my doctorate, I had a huge and unexpected loss of self. I didn’t know who I was without my job or what my purpose was any longer which told me I was living for my job and not working to live.. not okay. I was attempting to repair a marriage that had spent years apart, grieving the loss of my cousin, fearful for my professional future, starting a doctorate with a jerk of a professor who hated my work, and trying to build my blogging/social media platforms while comparing myself to others. I had grown apart from certain friends and afraid my chronically ill father was going to suddenly kick the bucket at any point in time. All the pressure looming over me eventually fractured my composure and I had a complete and total melt down.
My best friend and I officially broke off our relationship in the summer – which was the final straw in my little remnants of strength. The self destructive voices in my head only grew more constant, negative, and suffocating. You reach a point in that lowest of lows where you can’t see past the darkness. My heart was broken and I felt alone in a way I never had before. I knew I had people in my life who loved me and would be devastated but yet I couldn’t stop myself. I was already susceptible to fits of crying that would last for incredible lengths of time and had been in one of those fits. I literally couldn’t stop crying. All the pain, all my demons, and a complete sense of hopelessness of my future drove my hand to find the emergency medical kit I keep around (in case of some disastrous emergency) and take a scalpel to my wrist.
My cousin had taken a gun to the roof of his mouth and pulled the trigger – and he’s all I could think about as I cut through the layers of my skin. I didn’t even feel the pain, like my mind was numb. I wondered if he instantly relieved of his pain and if he was watching over me as I wanted to leave my own. I’ve always been a person that has felt emotions to my very core. I cry when I hit a squirrel on the road, when I lose a patient, when the world is tearing itself apart, and when I’m incredibly angry or disappointed with someone. I thought of my best friend as the blade of the scalpel sliced through vessels – devastated at the loss of such an intense relationship and angry that I felt so abandoned.
In the moments I watched my blood leave my body, my mind raced. I wondered what it was like to die. The scariest thing about all of this is that I never ever thought I was capable of such a thing. I mean I have fought to keep hundreds of patients alive for Christ sake. But in such a rapid spiral of sadness and overwhelming depression, I was capable of taking my own life. It was then that I realized I was a humongous hypocrite. How on earth could I preach transplant and the gift of life but let myself die and waste life?
I got help, a lot of help – help I should’ve sought years before. Therapy really can be a lifesaving thing – the thing that makes the biggest difference when you find yourself in your lowest moments and reaching for coping mechanisms instead of a blade. The scary thing is most people don’t talk themselves down and take the full plunge into the deep. Most people don’t come back from the brink. My cousin won’t come back from the grave.
I actually have two cousins who have killed themselves. The other threw himself off of a bridge in an attempt to escape a drug addiction. Mental illnesses surround me. It frightens me beyond measure, which is the other reason why I finally sought help. So I beg of you all, to be vigilant in telling your loved ones how much you love them. Be vigilant in your awareness of someone’s life and emotions. Most people will show you clues. Pay attention to the clues, to their pain. Your attention may be what makes them feel less alone in their sea of solitude.
For those that may be reading this who have been in that hellacious darkness, I am with you. For those who need someone to talk to – please share your pain with someone, anyone. You can call 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK. Please remember there is life beyond that suffocating blanket of depression. There is the Suicide Prevention Lifeline that is available 24/7 by phone or chat and in Spanish! If you find you’re incapable of talking to someone please then call 911 or go to your nearest ER. Getting help is NOT shameful! No one will look down on you.
Today I am missing my cousin, who died one year ago to the day. I remember where I was and exactly what I was doing the moment I received the call. Today I grieve for him, our family, and this year of turmoil. I am missing the moments he and my brother chased me and his sisters around the neighborhood. I am desperately ready to greet a new year and embrace the promise of a new future.
I share all of this incredibly personal information (as I did a little before here) with you all because more than anything, I hope you all know the real problems of people, even when their social media life looks pristine and perfect. So many people want to be like someone else, live their life, covet their things yet they don’t know the entire picture. I share this with you so you can find the joy in your own lives and the moments to be grateful for, even if it’s a mere cup of coffee the next waking day.
Photography by Megan Weaver