Edited to include a picture taken of me, a week after the suicide. I’d not slept more than 28 hours the whole week.
I don’t support the Bell Let’s Talk day because Bell doesn’t give two stuffs about the mental health of their employees. So they can shove this day up their asses. They’re hypocritical jerk muffins who are only in this for the PR.
Having said that, I do think everyone should take the opportunity to discuss mental health, be it a personal story of their own, or a story about someone they know/love.
I have had my own struggle with mental health. The causes have been varied but the one everyone knows because I’ve been somewhat vocal about it is – I witnessed a suicide.
The woman who took her life was 30, beautiful, a successful lawyer at one of the best law firms in the country (basing this on how often their lawyers are nominated as top lawyer of something or other). She grew up in an affluent family, travelled, went to the best schools. On the surface she had everything going for her. Beneath the surface, however, she was living a personal hell that she probably kept secret from everyone she knew.
Like many women, myself included, she was molested as a child. For many, there is a disconnect and you brush it under the carpet and hope you get over it. You know what’s happened and just hope to slough it off like dead skin, but you have not acknowledged it. The pain exists in a sort of limbo. It slowly poisons you and you make subconscious decisions based on that poison, without even realizing it.
When you do wake up, when you do fully and consciously face the abuse you suffered, it makes or breaks you mentally. You either become stronger or the pain wears you down.
Sadly, the young, intelligent, beautiful woman could no longer cope. And so she attempted to take her life. Unsuccessful, she checked herself out of the hospital, came to her workplace on the 27th floor, got to the roof through an access window, and jumped.
Her pain ended with her life, yes, but that only started the pain for other people. Her family. Her friends. Her coworkers, one of whom ended up taking three years off work because of her own breakdown. And then me. The unfortunate witness to her death.
In the movies it is portrayed as a slow moving and beautiful fall. The wind whipping her hair. Her fingers floating on the wind as you would out the window of a moving car. Perhaps a tear falling down her cheek. Some flighty dramatization of what we wish suicide by jumping looked like.
The movies are bullshit. Death is ugly and suicide is painful, for everyone.
For the briefest of seconds there is silence, then the most deafening noise, and then the quietest silence again as your brain, soul, eyes, and ears try to put together all that you have just witnessed and heard:
A body hitting the earth.
That someone chose to place themselves there is beyond comprehension and yet, you saw it happen. You know what you’ve just seen is true yet your mind is lagging, unable to compute.
Death by suicide is ugly. It is gut wrenching but not vomit inducing. There is an immediate pain inside you, location unknown, that exists, still to this day. That pain would be PTSD.
In total I took five and a half days off work, what amounted to two weeks. I forced myself back to work because I was afraid of what people would say about me. I was afraid that people would think I was scamming or milking the time off.
I was dying inside, trying to piece together the broken pieces of my soul. But I worried about them and what they would say about me. How insulting. That I spent even an iota of time on their opinions instead of my own health is insulting. But indicative of where we are as a people when it comes to illness, time off, mental health, and trauma.
We take for granted how fragile our minds are. In one split second I went from a confident, take no shit person to someone who was afraid of the dark and tall buildings.
The anniversary of her death is this Saturday. We have come full circle and on the 5th anniversary, the date of her death coincides with the day of the week on which she died. This is not lost on me. At the minute of her death I will be where I was then. I will try not to think of the pain I suffered, an impossibility, clearly, but I will try to think of her family instead. Because while I witnessed it as a bystander, some poor shmuck in the wrong place and time, they must live with the guilt they place on themselves – of not seeking treatment, not helping her, not calling her enough. They live with self induced torment.
We tell ourselves and our friends, I’m here for you. I love you. Whenever you need me, just call. The fact is, though, we get busy and those who suffer with mental health issues, they suffer alone because they don’t want to burden anyone.
We need to be a better society and take better care of our people. An illness of the heart is just as worthy of medical attention as an illness of the mind. People still look at mental health as either a joke or something to be feared. A man or woman living with schizophrenia cannot divulge their mental illness to a potential employer, are in fact terrified of them finding out, for fear of not being hired. Meanwhile, a heart patient thinks little of it.
We need to talk. We need to normalize. Accept. Understand. We need to open our damn hearts and love.
Don’t isolate someone who is suffering because you don’t know what to say, think it’s an awkward conversation, or it would make you uncomfortable. The best thing that you can do is shake their hand or hug them and offer them support with a mere few words. Because for their entire lives they have felt alone and isolation will only make that worse.