Chrissy, a member of Still I Run (SIR) who asked to remain anonymous, talks about losing her parents to suicide and her family’s struggle with mental health issues. SIR is a community of runners and mental health warriors whose mission is to promote the benefits of running for mental health.
“My parents were incredibly complex and very loving people in their own way,” she said. “My father was obsessed with history. He was a lawyer, but he always expressed regret that he didn’t become a history professor.
“My mother did all sorts of things; she was a Spanish teacher, an insurance agent, and worked in a boutique clothing store, which was impressive, considering she had dyslexia and didn’t learn to read until she was almost ten years old. In addition, she loved to work in her garden.”
Mental illness: a family disease
Chrissy said mental illness runs in the family.
“For our family, there is definitely a genetic component to mental illness,” she said. “Both of my parents had depression and anxiety, as did my maternal grandmother,” she said. “My maternal grandfather dealt with alcoholism, and I’m not sure what else.”
While Chrissy’s family didn’t talk openly about mental health, she recalled a memory of when she was a teenager.
“I remember very vividly my mom telling me at about 12 years old that we couldn’t go shopping after she took me to tutoring because she was afraid that my dad was going to hurt himself if left alone for too long.
“We didn’t talk about it in an informed way,” she said. “It was just this thing that was always there in the background. I always remember being sad as a kid as far back as I could remember and wondering why I was alive if I could not be alive.”
Let’s end the stigma
Chrissy, like many teenagers, struggled with self-esteem and expressing her feelings.
“All through my teenage years, I struggled with depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder, and self-harm,” she said. “I didn’t get professional help until I was 17 years old.”
As a child, Chrissy was close to both her parents. She began struggling with mental health issues herself around the age of 12 which resulted in an eating disorder that caused her to push people away.
“My father was on the autism spectrum, which didn’t help because teenage girls are all feelings, and he was all facts,” she said. “Feelings didn’t make much sense to him. At least not the kind that teenagers have.”
Chrissy’s parents divorced when she was 20 years old, and after that, her relationship with her father became closer.
“I knew I could go to him with anything, and although he wouldn’t have the traditional ‘fatherly’ advice, he would always listen and give the best and most rational and calm advice he had to offer.”
Losing a parent to suicide
When Chrissy was 26 years old, tragedy struck. Her worse nightmare had come true. Her father committed suicide. He was only 66 years old.
Afterward, Chrissy and her mother grew apart because of her mother’s distrust of psychiatry and the fear of the stigma associated with mental illness.
Depression: a brain disease
“I remember her telling me to get off ‘those medicines’ because she had and was so much better for it,” she said.
“That was the first time I realized my mother was telling me to do something that I KNEW would harm me, and that turned my world upside down. My medications for depression and anxiety helped me to function because my brain didn’t make the neurotransmitters it needed to. And now she was telling me to stop taking them.”
Chrissy said her mother continued to be on and off her medication until she committed suicide a few months ago at 69.
“The last couple of years, we had minimal contact because she was determined to say and do hurtful things,” she said. “With the advice and support of my therapist and husband, I cut off much of my contact with her.”
Self-care is essential for mental health
Chrissy recently decided to leave her job because the stress of her mother’s death and the pressures of her job began to affect her mental health.
“I was in a very dark place,” she said. “I didn’t feel safe. “
Chrissy said she learned through the years the importance of asking for help.
“I was able to communicate it, and had a plan in place for when I am not feeling safe.”
When parents commit suicide
When asked what she would say to other people who have lost a parent or loved one to suicide, she replied, “I am so sorry that you have to know this pain. But, you are not alone, and your feelings about it are not wrong, no matter what they are.
“Losing a parent is complicated. Losing a loved one to suicide is complicated. And losing a parent to suicide is doubly complicated. The idea that the people who brought me into this world would choose to leave it by their own hand or own choice is a head trip. Although, they were not in a place mentally to make an informed decision.”
Guilt: Coping with the loss of a loved one to suicide
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Roughly 700,000 people worldwide die by suicide every year.
Even now, Chrissy still struggles with the guilt of losing both her parents to suicide.
“I struggle with not seeing the signs for my dad and for being in very limited contact with my mother,” she said. “But I still have to remember that to the degree they were able, they made their own choices.
“I had a lot of anger at my dad. And I still struggle with it for my mom because of the fallout from their deaths. I understand that they were both very ill and died of their illness, but that only gets me so far some days.
Running through depression
Since she was 14, Chrissy said running has always been her “coping mechanism.”
“I started running to get out of the house and away from the negativity and never stopped,” she said.
Her favorite running mantra is “the only way out is through.”
“There is going to be discomfort, and you can’t avoid it because it’s how you improve as a runner,” she said.
“I have a couple of mantras,” Chrissy said. “First, I use ‘Be Still’ for everyday life since it’s something that I have a difficult time with. My anxiety makes me need to be go-go-go all the time, and that’s a good way to get burned out and exhausted. Second, I’m of Christian faith, and the words’ be still’ are in the bible several times in stories and verses that are meaningful to me.”
The best therapist has four paws
She said her dog Hopper is her “freelance emotional support animal.”
“He’s never far away when I am upset and tries to interrupt me with his paws and by licking my face when I am losing my grasp on things,” Chrissy said. “Since he is a rescue, we don’t know his actual birthday, so we decided to give him my father’s birthday in remembrance. It’s no accident he found us, and we found him; I like to think my dad’s spirit had a hand in that.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression or other mental health issues, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.