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.