With the recent suicides of the missing Oregon mother and Robin Williams, there’s been an outpouring of people acknowledging depression as a disease. I have to admit before my mother-in-law committed suicide, I thought I understood depression. I thought I was pretty in tune with people’s feelings, I worked in the mental health industry for a bit, and had watched my mother-in-law go through many ups and downs. I was expert enough to make comments about mental health or say I kinda understood. I thought so until the moment I was told she was dead and then realized I didn’t understand shit.
As an adolescent I watched the after-school specials where they talk about suicide and the devastating mark it leaves on the people left behind. They looked shocked, analyzed the note, figured out the subtle clues, and solved the “why” mystery in record time to find closure. The story usually revolved around someone who worried they wouldn’t be loved or felt alone in a moment. Love the person, I thought. Tell them how special they are and all those dark monsters hiding in their head will disappear.
Which guy do you think commits suicide?
Survivors from a close suicide have to live with so much afterwards. I knew my mother-in-law was mentally ill even though we never spoke about it out loud. She made jokes about being crazy and had worked hard to keep her thirty-five years of sobriety. As her husband became more ill, the alcohol made its way back into her life to numb the hurt. We begged her to go to AA or try counseling. Something to fight the monster inside. I thought I could counter the isolation by repeatedly telling her how much we loved her. How we needed her every day in our lives. Her grandchildren needed her laughter and love. I thought we could be enough if we loved her more. That’s the funny thing about being naive. The innocence behind the thought is laughable to someone who knows better. It’s a disease, not a choice. Would I ask someone to recover from cancer because I loved them a lot? Suicide survivors understand this like no other. They put in the countless hours listening, talking, begging to find it doesn’t change anything. We were never enough.
The day after she died, we took the kids to a local pool to take their minds off the sadness. They peeled off their shirts and raced to the edge. I called them back to warn them about swimming in the deep end. “Be careful with the slide. Don’t swim near it.” They dove in and had great moments. There was laughter and smiles even with the pain heavy in their heart. Hubs and I watched with hopes they wouldn’t be scarred for life.
My son swam closer and closer to the deep end where the mouth of the slide poured into the pool. Racing bodies shot from the plastic tube and torpedoed the water. I watched a giant kid climb up the three stories of stairs to get to the entrance. I looked down to watch my son bob his head barely above the water to catch his breath. His body squared in front of the slide’s opening.
“He’s gonna get hit,” I said to Hubs. I wished my son to swim faster. Mentally screaming at him to move his body out of harm’s way. When I knew he wasn’t going to make it, I stood from my seat and started yelling at the water. His ears were submerged under the water line and I couldn’t catch his attention. I yelled louder. He couldn’t hear me. Not even when my voice turned from a shrill scream to a pathetic begging. I tried turning my attention to the giant who was about to throw all his weight down the slide. An unstoppable force. Something completely out of my control. Maybe I could alter his course. Tell him to wait five minutes. Then he disappeared.
The large kid shot from the tube like the weapon I knew he could be. His feet crushed against my son’s back and pushed him under the water. I almost dove in to wrap him up in my arms and make sure he was okay. My son pushed up through the water and choked on chlorine and tears. He got out, I cuddled him, and whispered warnings about swimming in front of the slide.
This is a the closest comparison I can share with watching someone you love battle depression. (Please note, this is only my account. Every person’s experience is unique and their own story.) No matter how loud you scream, their demons flood their ears to keep it out. They try to keep their head above water until some force is too much for them to take. Unfortunately, they don’t always come back up.
And while everyone’s situation is different, this isn’t the afternoon special I was sold. One person tweeted about how if only the Oregon mother knew how much her family loved her maybe the ending would’ve been different. I countered with, it didn’t matter. Because for the survivors who lived around the depressed person, we saw it coming all the way. We hoped we could stop it. We wished them better. We begged for them to stay for us. Which only confirms how naive we all are.