“Most suicidal people are undecided about whether they really want to live or die. Sometimes when they attempt suicide they are gambling with death, and leave it to others to save them.” – David Lester.
I am currently in the process of reading a book that was fittingly recommended to me by my Mum titled “Missing Christopher”. It’s about a mother’s true story of losing one of her sons to suicide and her battle to save her two other sons from the encompassing darkness of mental illness. I have unknowingly and ignorantly ignored some significant repercussions from my personal struggle with suicide last year, but this book is forcing me to confront them. For the past year after shaking Death’s hand, I have selfishly been absorbed with my survival and empowerment to overcome such darkness that I have neglected to consider, let alone ask, those dearest to me how my experiences affected them. A large part of this neglect stems from a failure on my behalf to ask, but also a neglect from others to communicate their own struggle. I suspect their neglect though, was an attempt to prevent me from feeling guilty for my suffering and to avoid making this struggle about them. Instead, many individuals close to me have undoubtedly been suffering in silence.
The individuals I speak of are predominately those who lived with me through this struggle. The individuals who truly grasped how close I was to taking my own life. And not everyone who knew me during this time really comprehended that. My friend Ida and my girlfriend at the time Rachel, both who found my suicide note, definitely grasped the severity of the situation. As did my friend Stephanie, whose house I showed up to that night completely and utterly lifeless. Helpless. Distraught. Both my friend Mel who has been such a significant member of my recovery and my professor of whom I still frequently rock climb with, also grasped the unsettling and confronting reality of my near-suicide. All of these individuals knew how close they came to losing me. Although I was unaware at the time and for a long time after, I have occasionally witnessed how severely my experiences have affected them on a few independent occasions. And then of course, there are my parents. And my brother.
Over the past year, I have frustratingly been unsuccessful at having “that” talk with anyone in my family. I say frustrating because I wanted to talk about it. I felt ready to talk about it and pretty soon after it had happened too. But I was observing the situation with blinders on. I could only see a narrow field of vision. My field of vision. I had glimpses of images from their perspective, but it hasn’t been until reading this book that I have truly been sensitive to the delicacy of my experiences. Ironically then, I haven't actually been ready to talk about it.
The first night that I arrived back in Australia after being in America for two years, we had a family dinner to celebrate the occasion. Given the nature of my family’s passionate and intense personalities, it wasn’t long before discussions became heated. The discussion turned to depression. And then to suicide. I felt attacked by my brothers, misunderstood. I defended myself, my situations, my experiences. All the while upsetting my Oma and parents. Everything was still raw. I was institutionalised only five months prior and had intent to end my life just three months prior. The wounds hadn’t even begun to heal. And I suspect, the wounds had not even begun to feel again. Instead, shock and numbness dominated their realities.
On the 28th of December 2014, my parents received a call (I suspect). Their daughter, their only daughter, who was living in a country entirely by herself, was in the hospital: suicide attempt. That’s all they were told. That’s all anyone knew. That’s what the doctors recorded it as. That’s what I would go in the books under a statistic as. But, with complete clarity I can confirm that it was not a suicide attempt. I had no intentions to end my life that night. It was a cry for help. A severe cry because my former attempts had gone unnoticed. Communicating my struggles weren’t heard. Intentionally and visibly harming myself was ignored. And so I took it to the next step. And it was received. But it undoubtedly traumatised my parents and those closest to me at the time. Imagine receiving that call and knowing that it would be at least 36 hours before you could even reach your child, assuming one could leave immediately? Despite pleading with my Mum not to worry and not to send anyone over, my Dad arrived the next day. He wouldn’t be able to see me for another two days though, given that I was an in-patient at Ridgeview and visiting hours were restricted to Wednesday nights.
On the night I returned home back in Australia, things escalated quickly. My Dad shouted “Enough!” and Robert left feeling blamed. My Mum then stated that she didn’t want to talk about feelings, she just wanted to talk about our favourite colour or something superficial. I got up, teary eyed, and feeling personally attacked with my sense of identity victimised, “That’s one of our problems Mum. You never want to talk about feelings.” I defined my very essence, my very being, by my ability to hold deep, heavy conversations. That’s who I was. At least, that’s who I thought I was. I was, and still am, a sensitive soul. I crave depth. I need feelings. I can’t function on superficiality. And that is something that has isolated me throughout the duration of my life. Fortunately now, I am able to maintain a more balanced conversation, though my soul still yearns for that depth. For that connection.
I felt misunderstood. Hurt. I felt like the black sheep of the family. I felt rejected. I felt like I couldn’t be loved for who I was. I wanted to go “home” – back to America. I hated Australia. Reflecting back now, these reactions by all in my family were completely understandable. My parents almost lost one of their children. My brothers almost lost their only sister. My parents were grieving a life they were so close to enduring. And that was something they did not want to be reminded of, not then, and probably not now either. But they still were. They still are.
Over the years, my Mum has wanted me to come back to Australia. But particularly within the last year. To which I have frequently defied her and felt frustrated because of an overwhelming sense of being misunderstood. I felt like she was not respecting my decision to stay in America, my desire to remain independent. But it wasn’t until today that I finally understood why. Her desire for me to come home has nothing to do with respecting my decision. It has everything to do with her wanting to protect me. My Mum feels responsible. She feels guilty. She has never admitted that though, but I suspect that is why she recommended this book to me. To offer a glimpse into her struggle with what I went through. Albeit she never “lost” me, no, but she almost did. And to me, that guilt is probably just as poignant.
Jayne Newling, the author of Missing Christopher, also discusses her fear of losing Nic, the youngest son. That fear was present before Christopher’s death and intensified after. Jayne was so consumed at the thought of losing her youngest due to the demons in his head and ability to articulate his desire to die, that Jayne overlooked Christopher’s own struggle. The struggle he endured in silence. The struggle that would become so evident in hindsight. Christopher was the middle child. And I see many parallels between Jayne’s family and that of my own. I am the youngest and I struggled with suicide and depression, much like Nic. I doubt my parents ever foresaw my illness escalating as rapidly as it did, but a large part of that was due to me living in a completely different country half way around the world. Before I took a turn for the worse, my parents were worried about Robert, technically the middle child, but as he’s a twin I’m not sure that still applies. After my experience, my parents, especially my Mum, has heightened sensitivity to depression and suicide. It wasn’t until today that I finally understood her concern with Robert. It wasn’t until I read a comparable personal account, articulating the thoughts my Mum has silently endured, that I finally understood.
I suspect Robert took my near-suicide extremely personally too. He alluded to it in a conversation one day, but brushed it aside as though he didn’t feel responsible. Before I was institutionalised, I had reached out to my brother numerous times asking to please skype with him, but he was busy as he himself was going through a few things. When I was at the hospital on the 27th of December, I recall texting him, furious with the world, stating, “If people just listened to me, if people just answered my calls, I wouldn’t fucking be here right now. This is fucking bullshit.” That was a dagger to his heart. He felt responsible. He felt guilty. He knew I had reached out to him and he wasn’t there. Although I didn’t blame him in the text and still don’t to this day, he felt like he failed at protecting his younger sister. And I suspect he still feels that way.
My Mum is worried about my brother. And I am too. But I insensitively keep brushing it off because I know that you can’t help anyone who doesn’t want to help themselves. But now I know that my Mum is really worried. Much like Jayne was worried she too might lose her youngest Nic after losing Christopher, I suspect my Mum worries she might lose my brother. Perhaps she feels like she was given a second chance with me and is using that second chance to prevent a similar outcome coming to fruition with my brother. Perhaps it is through this book that she is articulating her own personal struggle with grief, with guilt, with an almost tragic ending.
My Dad almost lost his little girl. And I know he struggles, too. But much like Phil, the husband of Jayne, he is much better at hiding his struggle and at conveying normalcy within his life. He uses humour, with me and with others, to mask his pain. I see through that though, particularly when he looks at me. His once proud and glowing sparkle in his eyes is now filled with heaviness, sadness, and fortune. He is thankful I am still here. His words may fall silent, but his eyes vocalise his truth.
So to my Mum of whom I know will read this post given her endless support in my openness and willingness to express myself, I owe you an apology. I apologise for my insensitivity and frustration with your inability and seeming reluctance to discuss what happened to me. I ignorantly thought you never grasped the severity of my situation, but I realise now it is quite the opposite. You are fully aware of what I endured and have struggled to accept that potential reality. Struggled to comprehend losing a child to suicide; a death that cruelly appears to be preventable. A death that occupies the residence in one’s soul and disguises itself in the form of guilt. The guilt that consequently kills you. I apologise too, for my nonchalance towards my brother’s situation. I understand, now, why you have been so adamant on helping him and so reluctant to take my emotionally detached advice.
To my brother, if you ever read this, you were never responsible for what happened to me. The only way I was going to be saved was if I saved myself. I gambled with death that day, and I won. I was gifted a second chance and perhaps that second chance is to ensure you never need one.