Its Okay to Not be Okay: The aftermath of a loved one’s suicide
Have you ever heard or read a story about how someone loses a loved one to suicide and they say “they were always so happy” or “they never showed any warning signs”? My story starts like that.
My dad was the fun dad, the sporty and sometimes nerdy dad, the always working hard entrepreneur dad. He lived by the optimist creed and always taught me how to stay positive. I looked to him for everything. I was amazed at how smart he was, whether he was telling me what to look for when buying a house or where to get the best deals.
He was my first call when I had a question about anything and the person I was always excited to call when I had good news.
Then one day he was gone.
I did not think I could handle the pain of this loss and I really did not know how. So, I did what I have done many times before, I tried to push it down and block it out.
Over the next two years I went into a deep depression.
I didn’t realize it at first though. I tried to stay busy and found any distraction I could. Some days it worked, others it didn’t. Eventually I was not allowing myself to feel anything at all. I would not let myself feel too sad, but I never felt happy either.
I started to question why I was living.
And, I felt like I was in a trance, just going through the motions of life. But I didn’t take it seriously. I didn’t think these thoughts were serious or anything that needed to be talked about. I would tell myself things like “I could never actually say these things out loud, people would look at me differently” and “everyone probably feels like this sometimes so it’s not a big deal”.
One day last summer was my turning point, a day that changed and probably saved my life. I was lying on the floor, questions running through my mind about my life and my dad, then I thought of a question I had never thought before.
Is this how my dad felt? Am I living a version of his life?
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it opened my eyes. I know he didn’t want this for me. If anything, he would want me to have the life he fought so badly for. He would want me to live a truly happy life. He didn’t want me to feel this way.
So I told myself I needed to get help.
I got off the floor and talked to Rudy about what was going on. The next day, I made a therapist appointment. On my first visit with her, I was honest, completely honest for the first time. I remember having thoughts of suicide or self-harm since middle school. I never told anyone. That day, I told her. It was terrifying.
I was shaking. But it was such a dang relief.
I continued my sessions, I read articles and stories, I really did a deep dive into mental illness, depression and suicide. What I found was encouraging. I found the facts, the truth, and an incredible community of people to help teach me.
I realized I was led to believe so many myths and misconceptions about mental health. Those caused me to have a distorted view of it all. It caused me to not seek help right away due to fear of judgement. It caused my dad to suffer in silence until he lost his battle.
Losing my dad to suicide was the hardest and most painful thing I have ever experienced. But he led me to an incredible place, and for that I am grateful. He has helped me understand mental health, helped me seek the help I needed and allowed me to be more open minded and understanding. I have been feeling moments of actual happiness, something I haven’t felt in a long time, I wish he could be here to share them with me.
He is the reason I am at where I am today.
During the time when my depression was very bad, people mostly said “You’re so strong” or “You’re doing great.” They had good intentions, but I want to bring light the fact that I actually was NOT doing great. I was showing you what I wanted you to see. This was just like my dad and so many others.
No one really tried to pry or ask too many questions. That’s not their fault. They didn’t want to say the wrong thing or upset me. I probably wouldn’t have answered them honestly even if they did. But I just want to emphasize that you never really know what people are going through. And, even though it might be uncomfortable, it is important to ask the tough questions.
The phrase “Check in on your strong friends” rings so true to me.
For a long time, I thought I should keep my dad’s cause of death quiet and not talk much about it. I thought he would want that and that’s how I should honor him. He feared the stigma. He didn’t want people to view him a certain way. I wonder how his friends think about him, if they still do. And, I wonder if people remember how great he was. Or do they use the word “suicide” or “weak” to describe him. If so, they are sadly mistaken.
He was incredible and I will always remember him that way.
It’s been almost three years, but the other day something good happened to me. Out of habit I grabbed my phone to call him. Then, I realized I couldn’t. It hurts every day, some days more than others. The best way to honor him is to share his story, not keep it quiet.
If his story and my story can save one person from experiencing the pain of losing someone to suicide, or help someone overcome the stigma, then I have done all I want to do.