Janine asked me why I didn’t write about mental health on Bell Let’s Talk day.
There was a reason. Talking about mental health is new and Let’s Talk day is invaluable, but I decided to wait because I knew there would be a lot of things written about it last week and I want to keep it going a bit longer, from the perspective of how lucky I am.
I have told this story to very few people. Most people I know will probably be shocked to read it. I know already how hard pushing “send” will be but I believe so much in the talking.
Today I’m talking to the loved ones of people who didn’t make it through. You have to bear all the sorrow you would feel for any life gone too soon, but you have to bear an extra devastation and anguish. No matter what I or anyone else says to try and help you, you will suffer terribly from the what-ifs. But “Let’s Talk” also means talk to yourself. Tell yourself every day that it was not your fault and that “if only” will do nothing, but hurt you more.
Only once did I consider ending it. I don’t recall how old the children were but they were in school. I was just lying in the bed believing I could not and did not want to get through another day. I thought how easy it would be to fill up the deep claw-foot tub and just sink underneath and everyone would think it was an accident and my children would not have to live with the fact that their mother had committed suicide.
Then I thought about their father raising them without me and I knew that I had to be their mother, that no matter how useless I was, I was their mother.
So, I didn’t do it.
I got up and got through another day and eventually the darkness lifted again and I functioned again but I had learned one thing; I could get through another day. And I’ve hung on through every episode since by telling myself that it would pass eventually. That makes me one of the lucky ones.
Two, maybe three people, knew I went through bad times but nobody knew how bad I was. If I was well enough to go out I was good at functioning in front of people. If I wasn’t, I “had the flu.” When I was at my best there was nothing I couldn’t take on. I was “a real go-getter” and I’ve done a lot of interesting bold things for which I am grateful. Mostly.
I know now that those were classic Bipolar 2 symptoms; no manic episodes as in Bipolar 1, but “normal” for me was being very fervent and confident. This usually lasted for months, and then, for no apparent reason, would come a debilitating depression. I’m oversimplifying but it did take around 35 years to have it properly diagnosed and effectively treated. I could be bitter that I shouldn’t have suffered so long but nothing about mental health is simple.
My bathtub plan wouldn’t have worked anyway but nobody could have blamed themselves if I had ended my life. I was lucky, because deep inside somewhere, part of me was well enough to want to stay for my children. It could have been very different and if your loved one didn’t make it, it wasn’t because they didn’t care enough, but because they just weren’t well enough to take the pain any longer.
Taking your own life is neither brave nor cowardly. It doesn’t signify a lack of love or caring for those you love and who love you; your children, your family and friends. Sometimes there seems to be a motivator, sometimes there doesn’t. Sometimes there isn’t. It just is what it is.
Try to take solace in the knowledge that your loved one is now out of pain.
Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.