Suicide Awareness: The Family Secret
I remember sitting in my family living room with my twin brother during a hot summer day watching a cartoon about rabbits, when I heard the phone ring and then the most heart-wrenching wail I have ever heard come out of my mother. My father immediately came into the room in a stoic and serious manner and told us that our uncle had died. He said not to do anything or say anything to my mother, and quickly left the room.
All I remember is feeling shocked and not knowing how to react. At such a young age, I had no idea what was happening. Nothing was explained to the children in the family, except that our uncle had died and we weren’t allowed to come to the funeral. My brothers, cousins and I played and carried on as usual. It was a confusing time.
It wasn’t until I was in a counseling session to treat my own depression during my mid-teens that my mother revealed to the therapist (in front of me), that my uncle had in fact died by suicide. I was in shock. I was angry at my mother for keeping it a secret from me. I was angry at my entire extended family for keeping this a secret from me, and confused as to why it had to be a secret at all. This was especially confusing to me, because I was dealing with my own depression and anxiety and I felt it was something I should be made aware of as a part of my history.
I dealt with generalized anxiety symptoms and some mild depressive episodes throughout high school, but it wasn’t until college that the severe depression began. This is when depression began to disrupt my life and my plans for the future. This is when the suicidal ideation began.
The thoughts were fleeting and far apart at first, but gradually over the years they became worse. This was shocking and new to me as I had never experienced anything as dark as this in my life, and I couldn’t seem to control it. No matter what I tried, no matter how many “positive thoughts” I forced into my mind, I would still wake up wishing I was dead. I would still find myself walking to work, crossing a bridge and thinking “should I jump right now?” or “what would happen if I jumped into this traffic?”
The hardest part to understand is that I didn’t always want to hurt myself; I just wanted to stop existing. I wanted people to understand that I didn’t want to cause my family any pain. I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. I did want to stop the pain, and it sometimes happened even when I just felt numb.
As I isolated myself more, the thoughts became darker and closer together. I became more vocal about my thoughts and it landed me in the hospital multiple times.
There were a couple of things that kept me alive during my darkest time. One of these things was my family. My mother became my fulltime caretaker for a few months during my darkest depression and I couldn’t give up on her. The other thing that stopped me from doing anything about those dark thoughts was the thought that maybe I wouldn’t die. Maybe if I went through with one of my ideas, I wouldn’t die and I would just be critically injured for the rest of my life and it would be worse than the hell I was already in. That’s what kept me going. I think only when I expressed this sentiment to my mother, is when she realized the seriousness of the situation we were dealing with.
Suicidal thoughts come and go now with my depression. After a period of “wellness” you can almost forget what it’s like to be suicidal, but after the first few days back at it, it becomes like an old habit.
Seventeen years ago when my uncle died by suicide, attitudes about mental illness and suicide were much less progressive. That being said, we still have a long way to go to de-stigmatize suicide and mental illness. These attitudes and beliefs that have been ingrained into our society are slowly changing through the media and awareness, but there is still work to be done. Maybe the adults of my family were just protecting our innocence when they didn’t reveal to us exactly what happened. Of course, it is always up to each family to privately decide how each situation should be handled when it comes to this topic. Some families may decide to handle things the way that my mine did. Others may decide to have an open discussion. There is no way to know what is right, especially when there is pain, grief, guilt, anger and a whole variety of other emotions coming into the mix. Things are more open and progressive now, but the subject is still very much “taboo.”
Suicide is not selfish. Suicidal thoughts and mental illness are not things to be ashamed of. It is always important to know that there is hope when you are suicidal. It may not seem like there is hope, and in my situation, I didn’t feel any hope at all for a long time. However, I was able to find my way out from a very hopeless and dark place and get to the other side, and if I could do that, anyone else can too. You are worth living, even when you don’t know it. This is just one story, and mental illness is not always the cause of suicide. Hopefully, through awareness, we can continue to de-stigmatize suicide.
If you are considering suicide or you are worried about a friend or loved one, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Gearsbeck, C. (2018). Suicide Awareness: The Family Secret. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/suicide-awareness-the-family-secret/