Letter to Brian: January 21, 2016

Dear Brian,

I’m turning 42 in a few days, can you believe it?  I’ll keep getting older and you’ll always remain 35 years old.  I’m pretty sure you’d find a lot of joy in teasing me about that for eternity.

It just occurred to me that Mom was 42 when her Dad, Grandpa Don, passed away. I could never have imagined that when I reached that same age that both you and Mom would be gone and I’d be completely on my own. No family, no children of my own, no husband or special man to share my life with…but hey, I’m still here, trudging along because that’s what I’m supposed to do, I guess.

I’m doing a little better than when I last wrote you, I guess… but hiding away still just feels like the right thing to do most days.  I know that people mean well when they offer up all kinds suggestions like, “Please call me, if you ever feel sad and need to talk.”  It’s a really nice thought and I know it comes from a place of loving kindness.  But these days, it seems very few people answer the phone anymore.  Myself included.  It’s far easier, impersonal as it is, to text people instead.  I remember one night feeling pretty sad and needing to talk to someone; I tried calling 6 people in a row, not one person answered.  Either I had horrendously terrible timing or I should take the hint that no one really wants to answer the phone when they know there is a good chance they are going to hear whining and/or sobbing on the other end of the line… for which I honestly wouldn’t blame them one bit!

I get it, I really, really do.  A conversation I overheard at the salon on Tuesday night sums it all up. The gal in the chair next to me was telling her stylist about a friend of hers who suffers from depression; she said it was “so exhausting” being her friend and that it was really hard talking to her sometimes because the negative feelings can be sort of “contagious” and she just doesn’t want to deal with it some days.  She said, “I know she’s really trying and all but she’s just not getting better.”  That’s totally me!  After all these years and years of therapy and medication changes it still comes in heavy waves that knock my to my knees and leave me gasping for breath.  It’s getting old, you know?  And I wouldn’t judge anyone for wanting to distance themselves from me during those times.

I actually had a friend in college who kind of “ghosted” and disappeared, stopped communicating with me.  A few years after that we sort of reconnected and I asked her about it.  She told me it was just too hard; she kept trying to help me but I just wasn’t getting better and she grew tired of trying so she quit. It hurt to hear that, but I understand what she was saying. That’s sort of why I feel it’s easier to just withdraw and remove myself from connecting with others; it feels better to not call on anyone and avoid feeling the pain of unanswered phone calls or the humiliation when they look at me with pity and disappointment when I slip up and fall into my old pattern of self-harm.  It’s very possible that all 6 of those people were truly busy that night; most of my friends have husbands, children, families and important jobs.  However, what my depression tells me is that all of them looked at the caller ID, rolled their eyes and said to themselves, “I just can’t deal with this right now.”  But like I said, I really understand!  I wouldn’t want to hear my same old sob story time after time, either if given a choice.  That’s exactly why I tend to deal with it alone… not only to avoid feeling the possible rejection but also to spare them the agony of talking to a “Debbie Downer.”  That phrase is a bit of a joke… but there’s also a lot of truth to it.   That’s one reason these letters help me so much– I can talk to you about all of the things that I don’t want to dump on my friends.  I dig that about writing to you.

It really sucks that this week I’ve been rushing to my mailbox after work every day not in search of a birthday card from Mom but for the copy of her autopsy that I should be receiving any day now.  Not cool.  Mom was the one who made my birthdays so, so special.  I’m not looking forward to this one.  If she couldn’t be with me, she’d order me a cake and flowers and make sure Leashya could pick them up and help me celebrate.  She made all occasions so special.   Every single year on August 11, the anniversary of my car accident in 1996, she would send me flowers and tell me how grateful she felt that I survived and that I was still in her life.  That day was like a bonus birthday for me because she always took time out that day to tell me how very special my life was to her.  This past August was the ONLY year in 19 years that she didn’t send flowers and she actually sent me an email to apologize for that.  She was going through a divorce and about to move out and live alone for the very first time in her 65 years and yet she was feeling bad for not sending flowers to ME.  But that’s just how she was… she always put us kids and our feelings before her own.  ALWAYS.  I’m very aware of how very lucky it makes us that we had a Mom who made us feel so important to her.

For some reason I was just reminded of one of the times that I auditioned for the Minnesota State Fair.  I don’t know what year it was, but I do know that it was after 1997– that was the year I got in and actually made it to the finals and got to perform (something I had written myself) at the Grandstand in front of 11,000 people.  (That VHS recording makes me so happy because you can hear her cheering for me soooo very loudly.  She was so proud of me that day.  But back to the other audition… she was hurt that I didn’t let her know I was auditioning because she wanted to come see me and cheer me on.  I told her there was “nothing to see, really.”  I figured if it was good enough, I’d make it into the competition, but if I didn’t get chosen then that would be my validation that it wasn’t worth the trip for her.  She didn’t care.  Regardless of what other people thought, she was always there to support and cheer me on and was always proud.  I regret not letting her come support me that day– there are a lot of people who didn’t have a Mom care as much she did and sometimes I really took that for granted.

I miss her so, so much.  I saved some truly bizarre things after she died… things I am not ready to part with.  I should be ashamed to admit this, but I found a little clump of her hair on the floor of her bedroom… I kept it and it’s still in my jewelry box.  Her toothbrush now sits on the bookshelf in my bedroom because I’m not sure what to do with it but I can’t bear to throw it away.  The same toothpaste tube she was using is in my bathroom drawer and I use it, but VERY sparingly because I don’t ever want it to be empty and feel as though I have to get rid of it because why on earth would I save an empty tube of toothpaste?  I still have a bag of chocolate covered pretzels that she sent to me in a Halloween care package; I can’t bring myself to eat them because she touched them; she made them with her own hands, placed them in a little plastic gift bag and wrote my name on the tag.  As a thinking adult, I realize these are just things and aren’t the real essence of Mom.  But there is something so different about holding things she touched that make me feel closer to her somehow.

If you and Mom could visit me in a dream again soon I’d say that would be just about the best birthday gift I could ever imagine.  So if you could get on that dude, that would be great.

Miss you guys… hug each other for me.

Love,
Laura

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: January 11, 2016

Dear Brian,

Now that you and Mom are together again, I’m feeling lonelier than ever.  I miss you both so much and… well… if I’m being honest, I’m jealous that you can be with one another now in a way that I cannot be with either of you.

I’m pretty sure this letter is going to be a complete drag for you to read, dude.  I’ve got a lot of really ugly shit going on in my mind these days and I’m about to air it all out. It’s so helpful that I can be so in-your-face honest with you in these letters in a way that I just can’t be with other people.

It’s a new year.  This past year was pretty much a shitty one for me.  I suffered through the most painful breakup of my entire life; twice in one year, actually… with the same person.  I moved three times… I don’t recommend it.  Our parents divorced after nearly 43 years.  Our family dog, Jake, died. October marked 5 years since you ended your life… and one month later Mom was dead too.  Just… not my year.

Last week I watched the film”I Smile Back” starring Sarah Silverman as a suburban wife and mother who struggles with major depression and crippling addictions.  There just aren’t any words to adeptly describe how much I connected with her character.  There were times it felt as though someone had crawled inside my head and decided to make a movie about the craziness that goes on up in there.  There were moments it was terrifying and then there were moments of peace as I realized this movie, and it’s popularity, meant that surely there must be many more like me and that brought a bit of comfort.

I don’t have a husband or children, so that part of her character I obviously couldn’t relate to… and honestly, my depressive disorder is one of the primary reasons I chose NOT to have children.  If not only for my fear of screwing them up beyond recognition then for my fear of passing on this genetic disaster into yet another generation.  I vividly remember what it was like as a 1st grader who wanted to die and still, 35 years later, I have flashbacks of that first self-harm incident where 6 year-old me sat cross-legged on my bedroom floor in front of the full-length mirror and sobbed as I punched myself in the face over and over and over.  I was a painfully awkward kid and my depression only made it harder for me to really connect with others (and for them to connect with me) so it could be quite alienating.  I had no desire to bring a child into this world who had even the slightest chance of having that same devastating disorder because I likely would not have had the capacity to care for them as much as they deserved.

It wasn’t only her familial status I didn’t relate to but also her blatant promiscuity and cheating on her husband… neither of those are things to which I can relate.  She clearly used sex as a coping mechanism along with alcohol, cocaine and the abuse of prescription pills.  While I admittedly rely on alcohol and the occasional “herbal refreshment” to ease my emotional pain, my primary drug of choice is, and always has been, self-injury.  Back in my 20’s there were times I’d cut a few times a week and, for a brief time, it was several times a day.  In the past 10 years or so it has reduced to about once a year, maybe.  While I’d love to be able to say that it never happens anymore or even go as far as to promise it won’t ever happen again, that just isn’t realistic for me.  I know it’s not what people who care about me want to hear because it’s disappointing… upsetting… disgusting… and so many other things, I’m certain.

I saw someone berate the ending of the movie saying it was “too depressing.”  She tried, but she just wasn’t getting better. I loved the ending because it was HONEST.  Because it was REALISTIC. Because sometimes the illness IS bigger than the person’s strength to get over it.  That’s how we lost you, Brian… your depression was stronger than your ability to overcome it.  And for me, it is a constant battle to not give in to it, too. Some days are great.  Some days are absolutely terrifying.  But the majority of them are just… tolerable at best.

I injured myself again on Saturday, November 28th.  I had just returned home from 2 weeks in Minnesota for Mom’s funeral and had been through the wringer.  I thought about cutting every single day since she died but there were always people around and the urge just kept building and building and building… I was exhausted. The very first moment that I was really alone I gave in to the craving and I just did it.  It was ugly and it was deep… much like all the others before it.  And yet… it helped.  Immediately I felt a relief from the pressure that had been accumulating after weeks of not really allowing myself to feel as much pain over losing Mom as I knew was inside me.  Much of my energy had been focused on all the work that needed to be done and I knew I couldn’t fall apart because I’m the only one left to take care of it.

I’ve spent a lot of time these past few months withdrawing from the world.  I just don’t have the energy for it, you know? I’ve had people repeatedly remind me not to “wallow” or “feel sorry for myself.”  I’m sure their intentions are good but it hurts so much to hear that.  I wish more people understood that when I barely have the emotional bandwidth to deal with the necessary items (i.e. getting myself to work every day, taking care of my laundry, housework, grocery shopping, caring for my cats, paying my bills and basic hygiene) finding any strength to get out and socialize is nearly impossible.  My emotional bank account is suffering like never before.  Just like a “real” bank account, I say it’s only responsible to use your money to pay expenses necessary for survival before you start spending it on the “nice to haves.”

I appreciated that the film showed how depression is bigger than just “having a bad day” or a reaction to a traumatic event.  Living with a chronic, major depressive disorder is so very different from what some might refer to as a “situational depression” when someone is depressed following the loss of a loved one, a failed relationship or losing a job.  Not to discount the feelings of deep sadness those individuals feel, but typically those feelings don’t last for years.  I’ve always said that my major depressive disorder has left me with the mental equivalent of a “weakened immune system.”  What might not set back the average person might knock me over completely.

You and I come from a family riddled (on both sides) with chronic depression, suicide attempts, eating disorders and substance abuse issues.  I’ve been dealing with my illness for my entire life.  I know what it’s about. I know what I need to do to survive when another episode hits.  The decisions I make for myself might not be what others want me to make… nor what they think they might make for themselves in a similar situation.  I don’t make the choice to withdraw from socialization to hurt anyone’s feelings or to “seek attention.”  It’s quite the opposite, really.  Let’s I have been invited by a group of friends to join them on a 5 mile hike after I have just sprained my ankle… I’m going to decline the invite.  Why put myself through the agony and only slow the group down or, worse yet, require that someone carry me?  I’m going to sit it out on my couch, thank you.  I’ve decided to call the emotional equivalent of this “brain sprain.”  My psyche is badly injured and I dislike slowing other people down… so I sit it out knowing full well I have depleted any energy I have left to “fake it” to make a happy hour gathering tolerable for myself as well as those forced into my desolate company.

Or how about “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?”  People don’t really want to hear what’s on my mind… it’s not pretty in there right now.  It’s like when someone asks another person, “How are you?”  How many people do you think want a truly honest answer?  I’d venture to say that more often than not it is a rhetorical question; certainly most people would stop asking me that question if I answered truthfully every time.

Don’t worry too much about me, Brian. I’m doing my best to not completely separate from the world.  I still go out and socialize and spend time with people and even am capable of having moments of joy once in a while.   But for the time being, I’m focusing on my mental health and I’m doing my best to not push myself beyond what I’m prepared to handle.  One day at a time, as they say.  And yes, I’m still going to therapy every week. So I’m still working on it.

I miss you and Mom ferociously, Brian.  You two were all I had left and I feel your absence so deeply.  Mom and I talked on the phone every single day!  I still reach for my phone to call her a few times a day and it’s agonizing.  If wherever you are now you’re able to “talk” to Mom please tell her how much I love her and miss her.  I don’t believe in “closure” with regards to your suicide and Mom’s unexpected death… I need to learn to survive in this new “normal” but know there is no such thing as closure when it comes to losing my whole family.

Love always,
Laura

 

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: May 5, 2015

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Dear Brian,

It had been nearly 2 years since I’ve had a self-injury incident but I had a few a couple of weeks ago.  It’s so hard to explain to people who don’t understand… but it really does help me.  There’s this buildup of such intense pressure; it just builds and builds and builds… and the energy needs to go somewhere.  It’s like an extremely over-inflated balloon in danger of bursting… you let a little bit of air out and suddenly the crisis of a potential explosion is averted.

To some degree, my lack of self-injury in recent years was due to progress in therapy and learning better coping techniques and just getting things talked through and out in the open; that’s been the biggest antidote to my cutting– talking.  I’ll admit that there have been many situations in the past few years where I definitely felt the strong urge to cut but I didn’t simply because of those who care about me– I knew it would upset and disappoint them not to mention it would embarrass me to have to admit to them what I had done to myself.  I despise the shame that always follows… both the shame I put on my self as well as the shame that comes from seeing that humiliating look of disappointment on their face when they find out.

We’ve been working on the self-injury again in therapy as of about 3 weeks ago.  I can’t recall exactly what she had said towards the end of one of our sessions but it was a reference to “that moment” of the first cut and seeing the blood.  Apparently a tiny hint of a smile drifted across my lips and she said, “I saw that!  What was that?”  I was confused.  “What was what?”  She replied, “That little smile when you imagined that moment. I don’t think you even realized you were doing it.  Let’s start there next week and explore that further.”  So we’ve been talking about it a lot and doing some work with EMDR.  She’s the second therapist I’ve had in all my years of therapy that has been open enough to leave me the freedom to still have it be a part of my life until I don’t need it to be any longer.  I had one therapist a long time ago that said, “If that happens, I can’t continue to treat you.  I need you to promise that you won’t do it or we will need to terminate this therapeutic relationship.”  Interesting.  Not a hint of giving me the tools to work through an emotional crisis but simply a “don’t do that anymore” method of treatment.  Thanks, genius.  Why hadn’t I thought of that!?

I can recall the very first time I injured myself.  It began as hitting/punching.  I honestly can’t say for sure how old I was but I have a perfectly clear memory of me sitting on my bedroom floor, in front of my mirror, and punching myself in the face over and over and over.  I think I was about 5 or 6 years old.  That’s pretty fucking young to have such a hatred for yourself.  It wasn’t until years later that I “graduated” into cutting; as the years went by, I required more and more severe injuries to achieve the desired relief… much like a drug addict’s substance of choice, and the quantity of them, typically increases over the years as they require stronger things, and more of them, to achieve the same “high.”

I had a good friend tell me about 15 years ago that something happened to her one night that sort of helped her put my “coping mechanism of choice” into perspective for her.  She said she and her husband had gotten into a terrible argument and he stormed out and left in a fury.  She was left at home alone and sobbing.  She tried to distract herself with busywork and started to iron some clothing.  She said she continued to cry as she ironed clothes until suddenly, in her preoccupied state, she  accidentally slid the iron right over her hand, causing a burn.  She immediately went to tend to the injury and only later did she realize that in all the scurry to take care of that burn she had stopped crying and had momentarily been distracted enough to have forgotten all about the argument she and her husband had just had.  She told me, “I think I kind of get it, now… in a small way.”  She explained how the injury had made her forget about why she was crying in the first place.  And she agreed that physical pain is by FAR easier to deal with than emotional pain and it was a welcome distraction.

It was such a relief to have a friend talk to me about it in that way… not everyone is so understanding.  I’m always hesitant about who I tell and how I tell them.  I had another friend around that same time whose response was, “OH MY GOD, YOU ARE A FREAK!!  WHY WOULD YOU TELL ME THAT?  AND WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF???? OH. MY. GOD.  WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU!??”  It made me overwhelmingly cautious about who to tell from that day forward.  And I’m terribly self-aware of all of the scars when I’m meeting new people for the first time.  I don’t want that to be one of the first things people learn about me… I’m a good person and I have a lot to offer and don’t want to be judged up front by what they see to be a crippling character flaw.

Last week I finally watched the recent interview Diane Sawyer had with Bruce Jenner where he was discussing is lifelong struggle with his gender identity and his intent to someday undergo gender reassignment surgery.  While my self-injury isn’t the same, so many things he said rang true for me and I really related to his struggle.  At one point he said he had a “revelation.”  He said, “Maybe this is my cause in life; maybe god put me on this earth to deal with this issue.”  And that revelation seemed to give him courage to keep moving forward.  He also said, “All of us deserve the right to be loved for exactly who we are.”  That’s exactly what I need out all of my relationships.

Towards the end of the interview, Diane looked at him and asked, “If you were me, what’s the one question you would ask you?”  He thought for a moment and offered a reply of, “Are you going to be OK?”  So she proceeded to ask him that very question: “Are you going to be OK?”  He said, “Yeah.  I hope I’m gonna be OK.  2015’s gonna be quite a ride.” In closing, he said to the viewers, “When you think of me, please be open-minded. Have an open mind and an open heart. I’m not this bad person.  I’m just doing what I have to do.”

It’s as though he pulled those words right out of my own head. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for myself… with regards to the scars all over my body and the truth behind how they got there; I want those who care about me to have an open mind and an open heart and still love me for exactly who I am.

Love,
Laura

 

“Never be ashamed of a scar.  It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.”

-Author Unknown

 

Support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention!

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On Saturday, November 9, 2013 I will be joining with thousands of people nationwide this fall to walk in AFSP’s Austin Out of the Darkness Community Walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I would appreciate any support that you give me for this worthwhile cause.  This is my 3rd time participating and I hope to raise even more money than previous years!  I figure that if each of my 656 blog followers donated just $10 I’d have raised $6,560 for the AFSP!

Aside from my own life-long battle with depression and self-injury, I lost my only sibling, my brother Brian, to suicide in October of 2010.  It has changed me in a way I never could have imagined. As I approach the 3 year anniversary of Brian’s death I’m finding my strength and desire to speak out about suicide is growing.  Losing Brian was devastating and I want to do my part to increase awareness about depression, mental illness and suicide; if these efforts save even one single family from the horror of losing a loved one to suicide I’ll consider it a great success!

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is at the forefront of research, education and prevention initiatives designed to reduce loss of life from suicide. With more than 38,000 lives lost each year in the U.S. and over one million worldwide, the importance of AFSP’s mission has never been greater, nor our work more urgent.

I hope you will consider supporting my participation in this event. Any contribution will help the work of AFSP, and all donations are 100% tax deductible.

Donating online is safe and easy! To make an online donation please visit my fundraising page here:

http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=437472

Thank you for your consideration!!

Laura