I am not at a loss for words even if I keep deleting what I type or I keep writing this perfectly in my head when I walk away from the laptop. I have many words swirling around in my brain and have for a while. I would have wanted to give you a joyous retelling of part of our vacation as my first post back, but that will come later. This is much more important.
This is about 9/10 being World Suicide Prevention Day.
This is about the loss of one of my cousins.
This is something that needs to be shared because not talking about it just furthers the stigma of mental illness, whether chronic or episodic. Anyone who has no frame of reference when it comes to mental illness needs to understand that not everyone with a mental illness can easily be picked out from a crowd. Many people are able to live productive lives and function like “normal” people. Whatever normal really means anyway. A woman on a motorized scooter at Disneyland two weeks ago got a bit huffy when she tried to go to the front of the handicapped line for It’s A Small World. We happened to be in that line because Little Obi-Wan has a Guest Assistance Pass. The cast member taking care of letting everyone in the handicapped line through at the right moment directed her to the back of the line. Her voice dripped with disdain as she asked, “All these people are handicapped?” The cast member politely responded, “I’m not allowed to ask, but they all have a pass.” She was not happy with him. I was not happy with her.
While I was still working in the mental health world with teenagers and the agency I was working for was trying to open the group home, people in the neighborhood of the home put up a fight. They didn’t understand how a severe emotional disability (SED) was truly a disability because they couldn’t see it or touch it and if it was a disability, what are the kids doing in the community. That was the argument on the table. They don’t look sick, but if they are sick, why should we let them in our backyard?
Because everyone deserves the chance to live in a home, go to school, and get their first part-time job after school. Or play for the school’s football team. Or hang out at the mall. Because they all worked hard to get from where they were when we first got them to where they were when they were ready to transition into the community.
Just looking at my cousin’s dimpled smiling face you would never know the inner turmoil that plagued him. I did my best to help him and point him in the right direction to get what he needed to take care of himself. Now it feels like I didn’t do enough. But, I know that is erroneous thinking. I know he wouldn’t want me to torture myself with what ifs and should haves.
I will always remember that alone feeling I got sitting in the L.A. Coliseum at the start of the 3rd quarter when I received the text from one of my aunties. Holding it together and choking down the tears while looking towards the aisle for Chaz to return from his “Chaz time.” Desperately wishing my phone battery was not at 5% when the texting started and then having it shut it down when it hit 1%. Breaking down and sobbing uncontrollably right there once he had his arms around me.
It is hard answering the question, “How was your vacation?” People expect to hear, “Great!” I can only manage to squeak out, “Good.” It was a great vacation though. I got to see family, friends, a musical, the beach, a fair, and amusement parks. I got to spend a lot of time with my best friend and teach Little Obi-Wan how to play Steamroller. But memories of Jonathan always jump to the front of my mind.
Those old clichés I was taught back in school haunt me. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Suicide is a selfish decision. Suicide is a sin. I think these clichés came from people who lost someone and were trying to make themselves feel better as a survivor. Yes, it is a permanent solution. However, for many people, it is not a temporary problem. It is a daily feeling of the walls slowly closing in on you. Each day just a little more and a little more until you feel like you can’t breathe anymore. I can’t even touch on the selfish cliché because it just makes me mad at the adults for trying to guilt us as teenagers. But, is it really selfish to want to end the agony when you feel you’ve tried everything and there is no relief?
I struggle. I miss him. I wish I could be at the funeral so I can grieve with my family. My baby cousins aren’t supposed to go before me. I would have loved for him to have made a different decision. Yet I can’t fault him for what he did. I know the difficulty having stood at the same crossroads when I was a teenager. I know the internal torment that leads to those crossroads. I know I wouldn’t be here typing this if it weren’t for divine intervention.
There is a pull inside of me telling me there is more. There is something that needs to be done here. People need to know that what goes on to lead to this kind of decision is not always telltale. Not everyone who decides they need to take their own life will demonstrate the signs we were all taught. Not everyone is visibly clinically depressed. Some of us are good at putting on a smile and hiding it all. Some of us are good at just smiling and not saying anything no matter how much pain we are feeling.
This is the most difficult post I’ve written so far. Memories of the other people I have known who have ended their own life before pop up. Thoughts of the teenagers I worked with who wanted to do the same thing. Flashbacks of my own near attempt. The heart wrenching loss of Jonathan hits a spot that I cannot explain. Not a day is going by that I don’t think about him.
If some of you are wondering why I didn’t say anything to you personally before sharing it here, it doesn’t have anything to do with you at all. It has to do with my internal processing of my family’s loss and where I am emotionally with my grief. And sometimes, it’s just easier for me to share something in writing rather than verbally.
One of my cousins, Jensen, put together a video of all the photos we did for Suicide Prevention Day. He graciously agreed to let me share it here.
Watch over us, Jonathan.