Living with high-functioning mental illness is exhausting and quite isolating.
I have been struggling especially hard with my anxiety and depression over the last couple of years but the majority of my struggle has been behind closed doors.
As a therapist, I can easily imagine my list of diagnoses branded to me by counselors and psychiatrists alike
F43.12 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic
F33.1 Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent episode, Severe
F41.1 Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Z63.5 Disruption of Family by Separation or Divorce
Z91.5 Personal History of Self Harm
Z62.810 Past History of Physical Abuse in Childhood
Z62.810 Past History of Sexual Abuse in Childhood
But people who meet me. People who take me in. Really breathe me in. They don’t see these things. It’s not that I necessarily try to hide them- I’m just in recovery. And healed- for the most part. But scars run deep. And some days they rear their ugly head and I’m crying in a parking lot. Or on the tiles of my bathroom floor. Or on my sons carpeted floor.
The high-functioning part confuses people who are close to me.
I work several positions in the helping field. Achieving credentials and new certifications regularly.
I am a doctoral student.
I am a wife.
I am truly the girl who tries to do it all.
However, struggling with the demons of my past while also being a perfectionist and over-achiever can be completely exhausting and isolating.
My highlight reel is *insert 100 emoji here*.
Smiling faces. Matching family outfits. Funny Instagram stories. Perfect skin.
But they are only the highlights.
Don’t be fooled.
There are endless photographs that are never taken. Never posted. Never shared.
Panoramic views of my mascara streaked cheeks on nights when I cry endlessly to my husband that I just can’t do *this* anymore.
Still frames of my toddler hitting me in the face because hitting is really, really entertaining to him right now.
Nonexistent polaroids of me on my knees begging my husband to please forgive my hurtful words after an argument.
These are the pictures I don’t post.
The pictures you don’t see.
Don’t you have these pictures too?
Don’t be fooled by my success.
I. Am. Struggling.
Just like you.
Because having a childhood filled with trauma, monsters, and haunting streetlights can really impact a girl.
But I don’t give up.
That’s the high-functioning part.
I keep going.
But I struggle too.
Do you get that?
Doing both is completely possible.
I’ve learned overtime that being high-functioning doesn’t make my struggles any easier.
Sometimes I’m bobbing along in the ocean. Other times I’m being pulled under, caught up in a riptide and battling the water that is trying to drown me. It may seem as if my struggles are less severe or less intense but its just that I’ve leaned to tread water.
Not that I’ve ever came close to being perfect, but I had an internal program that told me I should be.
My quest for perfection didn’t make me perfect, but it did bring me a whole lot of misery.
I recognize that I am not alone in this. Perfectionism is rampant in our image-obsessed, achievement-driven society. I have nothing against self-improvement, but when we don’t deprogram ourselves from perfectionism, it doesn’t matter how many improvements we make. It will never be enough.
Because perfect is not only impossible, it’s un-human.
Not only does perfectionism make us miserable on the inside, it also it makes it hard to live life on the outside.
How satisfying is it to be a student when nothing below an A is acceptable?
How hard is it to enjoy a hobby when nothing less than a perfect outcome will do?
And how hard is it to be in relationships when we are unable to receive feedback without crumbling or getting defensive?
Perfectionism only brings us misery, discomfort, constant feelings of inadequacy or incompetence. However, while our culture, families, teachers, or coaches might instill in us the need to be perfect, it is within our power to let go of that need. We hold the key.
You are good enough.
Let good enough be the new perfect.
Perfectionism is just an endless quest for the worst parts of ourselves.
It’s the part that keeps telling us that nothing we do will ever be good enough and we need to keep trying and trying and trying without ever reaching what we believe will make us good enough.
Perfectionism keeps moving the goal further and further away.
In The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brené Brown says,
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”
Perfection is a moving target. It’s an illusion.
Perfection is weighing us down.
Free yourself from perfectionism.
You are good enough.
Hi, I’m Brandy and I’m a recovering perfectionist.
I recently shared a brag post on Facebook about having a 4.0 in my doctorate program. I am extremely proud that I have managed good grades while juggling the different aspects of my life (3 jobs, husband, son, house chores, budgeting, meal planning, volunteering, key spouse duties, community initiatives, etc *this list could go on and on*) so I shared the post without hesitation. A friend of the family commented something along the lines of how amazed she was at how I juggled so many things. And just like that WHAM- I realized how pretty my life looks from the outside looking in. From the outside I am truly the woman I always hoped to be- the one who can do it all. She is a go-getter. She is doting towards her family. She can seamlessly handle and master the various roles she has placed herself into.
But this isn’t always accurate.
When you’re outside looking in everything can look polished. Perfect. Amazing.
But when you’re inside things are not always pretty. They can be messy.
Especially when the woman who can do it all has suffered with depression and anxiety throughout her lifetime.
This year, 2018, I made it my resolution to say yes to life.
And I did.
I was sick and tired of sitting on the sidelines and being too afraid to say yes to life.
So I went for it.
2018 brought several new, wonderful things into my life.
However, saying yes to life proved to be a bit overwhelming.
You should see my day planner.
Saying yes to life made my life look pretty looking outside in.
But it made things difficult.
Feeling overwhelmed is never a happy place to be.
I somehow took in this mindset that I needed to be busy every single day to be successful. To be worthy. To be happy.
For 2019, I want to say yes to life but also say no.
I want to say I can’t.
I want to say this is not healthy for me.
I want to say I am barely hanging on.
I want to be vulnerable.
I want to say I know this is confusing but some nights I cry myself to sleep. Some nights I feel like I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do everything anymore. I need help.
I want to say that if you’re outside looking in and you feel amazed at how well I juggle things please know that this is not always accurate.
Brag post perfect.
These are not accurate.
For 2019 I want to rest.
I want to recover.
I want to reflect.
So, new year, new me: say yes to life but also say no.
I want to “destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful”.
I want to “embrace the concept that rest, recovery, and reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and ultimately happy life.”- anonymous
Today marks 14 years since my father died by suicide. It seems like an eternity ago and as if it were yesterday at the same time. This is the tricky thing about grief. It bobs along in the past and guts you in the present. No matter how much time passes by these notions still ring true.
Grief is not an event in time.
Grief is like love.
It is a life-long, ever-changing experience.
It changes in depth.
But it never fades.
It changes us.
14 years ago when I heard the words fumble from my Mom’s mouth that my Daddy was dead, I was forever tied to this grief.
Anchored to its weight.
Bounded by its presence.
It is both the past and the present.
Moments of gut-wrenching intensity bring me to inconsolable tears even 14 years later.
Today consisted of a few of those moments.
Seeing his photo grace my social media timeline today (even though he didn’t live to see Facebook- or Instagram- or my blog) brought me to tears.
His brown eyes reflecting back at me in the mirror brought me to tears.
Even though I see these eyes every day.
Explaining to an audience full of grievers that my son’s middle name carries on my Dad’s legacy brought me to a drive home with tear-streaked cheeks.
Grief is in the present.
It is the now.
Grief is for always.
Grief is the price we pay for love.
These gut-wrenching moments are because I love my Dad.
Because I hurt that he hurt so badly and no one rescued him.
Because I didn’t rescue him.
Because I love him.
No matter the years that pass by my grief will never be in the past.
This grief. This love. Is a part of me.
It’s who I am.
It’s the best of me.
The worst of me.
My brightest light of hope.
My darkest depression.
This grief is me.
This grief is present.
If you are missing someone you love and wondering why your grief is in the present and not the past- don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong.
When I was in fifth grade some girls in my class cornered me. They made fun of my beat up gym shoes and my frizzy strands. They bestowed upon me the presidential title for the IBTC. All fellow girls cringe at that committee. No one wants to be President. But what those girls didn’t know is I didn’t care. My walls were higher than their words could go.
Before fifth grade I built my castle walls. In the streetlight lit room of my childhood I built a fortress around myself.
I realized at a young age the importance of protecting myself. From the monsters. From the mean girls. From the frigid air of our unheated home.
Protecting myself meant that no one could hurt me. It gave me power. Control. Safety.
All the things I didn’t have as a girl who grew up in chaos.
Taller and taller the walls went following each night in my pale pink room filled with snow made of baby powder.
All I needed was a key and I swallowed it whole.
Although this fortress protected me over the years, I’m afraid that I’ve blocked out too much.
Too much possibility. Too much hope. Too much Brandy.
I want to let her shine but I fear the mean girls.
I fear the rejection
I don’t fear the monster because I could take him down if I wanted to.
I don’t fear the chaos because I now have power. Control. Safety.
Do you ever scroll through old Facebook updates and cringe at the utter embarrassment you used to be?
Because I have.
On a daily basis I am able to capture a narrow glimpse at the person I used to be.
It’s no wonder I don’t have lifelong friends.
I stood on that alternate Brandy’s shoulders and claimed the territory.
I slaughtered her.
I grew anew.
Updates like a lost car that was never lost or declarations of being on house arrest because of my troublesome behavior and my parents attempting to salvage my reputation and mental health are plastered across my memory page on Facebook.
In the past I allowed myself to cringe.
But not anymore. I have new eyes to see these updates with.
Although it is still slightly embarrassing to remember the person I used to be….
It’s actually reassuring at the same time.
It assures me of the capability and possibility of change in each and every human.
My hope for humanity is, oftentimes, restored amongst the feelings of shame buried deep inside of me.
For who we are now took a journey.
And on my journey to myself I’ve been so many people.
Along the way I have nurtured my soul.
I have attempted to the best of my abilities to feed and fuel myself with grace and care.
Although the slaughtered alternate Brandy still lives somewhere deep inside of me. She is kept at bay. She is the roots of this Brandy. The very beginning of her transformation begins with a drunk night and a lost car. With declarations of being on house arrest after a night full of secrets.
I grew up in a rickety house on Jackson Store Rd. in the middle of no where.
I didn’t come from money.
There were days I can remember eating a mayonnaise sandwich for dinner and longing to get to school the next day for breakfast.
The constant fear I lived in was sometimes overshadowed by my MaMa’s sweet tea or my Mom’s frozen grin as I sung on stage during a beauty pageant.
I used to hide in my closet in the dark until the shouting would stop.
Well into my adulthood, these memories sometimes flood me like a tidal wave.
I find myself thinking of the way things used to be and then the next thing I know I’m bobbing along a turbulent sea. Struggling to keep my head up above the water. Stopping myself from blurting out some narrative about a pageant interview where I talked about the dogs I used to have and how they were punished when they wouldn’t stop barking or if they got out of their cages. Stopping myself from telling people the cringeworthy shit of my childhood. The dark, black, nasty stories that no one wants to hear. The stories that bring me such great shame and embarrassment that I wish I couldn’t remember them.
Not long ago, I wouldn’t have considered writing about the shame and ugliness of my childhood.
I didn’t want anyone to know.
To judge me.
To judge my Mom.
To automatically slap a label on my family that would no longer be accurate.
To allow people to gossip about “why didn’t she leave”.
Shame is a corrosive emotion.
Oftentimes, we give shame too much power.
Brene Brown, researcher and social worker by trade, describes shame as:
“the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
No wonder we don’t want to talk about shame.
However, I feel that the less we talk about it the more power we give it.
Telling my story- my ugliness- my flawed self- allows me to have the power- I’m in control of this narrative.
So here it goes-
My name is Brandy Leigh Chalmers and I’ve spent upwards of 20 years feeling humiliated and embarrassed of my childhood.
I come from a broken family.
A broken home.
A large chunk of my childhood memories involve physical and emotional abuse.
I’m not ready to talk about the other kind.
We struggled financially and used a kerosene heater for warmth.
I can remember big sheets hanging to try and keep the warmth in around the doors in our home.
I mainly owned hand me downs from my friend, Polly. And I weaved in and out of feeling ashamed to wear them to ecstatic to own the newest barbie doll threads.
Not everything was dark and ugly.
I had a skating rink birthday party that was one of the greatest days of my life.
I was good at pageants. I loved being on stage.
I owned a sky dancer, an easy bake oven, and a polaroid camera.
I moved away from the violence when I turned 11.
Things really, really changed then.
For the better.
But then my Dad killed himself and I was back at square one.
My experiences left me, for a long time, feeling unworthy of love.
They led to self sabotaging behaviors and constant searching for additional experiences to validate that I, in fact, was unlovable.
But I’m done with that. I’m done with the shame.
I was seven years old the first time I realized my life at home was not normal. I had a sleepover at a friends house and it was magical. There was no shouting. There was no empty beer bottles. There was no tear streaked eyes. There was just love.
I was a child.
I didn’t ask for this baggage.
I didn’t ask for any of it.
But you know what I did do?
I allowed myself to feel ashamed. Unlovable. Not good enough.
For many, many years this is what I carried.
No more. I’m not doing it anymore. I’m not the same seven year old that begged to not come home after a sleepover. I’m a grown woman who chooses her future. I am in control of my own narrative.
Don’t let shame hold you back. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Be you.
More and more each day I am realizing that our society is the cheer up society.
The idea of sadness terrifies us.
Sadness is a hallmark symptom of grief. It is the ultimate consequence of losing something or someone we care about. I consider sadness and love ultimately linked.
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hallow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” -Jamie Anderson
Grief is love.
But yet, we spend a significant amount of time trying to cheer people up.
Because we consider that being sad is bad.
However, I want to challenge you today to consider the idea that being sad isn’t bad.
I spent the first seven years of my grief drowning.
I was in the middle of an ocean of grief- desperately trying to keep my head above water.
My legs were concrete. My arms were large rocks.
I was tired.
Consumed with my struggle.
I was drowning in my grief rather than sitting in it.
Everyone around me tried to comfort me. Tried to save me. Tried to cheer me up.
“He’s in a better place,”
“God will never give you more than you can handle,”
“He wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
These attempts to comfort me failed miserably. I didn’t need to be comforted. I needed to sit in my grief. I needed the permission to feel sad. I needed permission to feel.
In this clip from Inside Out you see Bing Bong lose something he loved.
Joy attempts to cheer him up. And fails.
Sadness sits with him. Sits with his grief. She empathizes with him.
This is what I needed. When I was drowning. I needed to sit in my grief.
If you know someone who has lost someone or something they love. Maybe something in their life has changed, sit with them. Sit with them even through the uncomfortableness of sadness. Encourage them to feel. Give them the permission they may need.
And remember- you are loved. And sad is not bad.
Grief is love with no place to go.
Grief lasts as long as love lasts- forever.
Somehow, I hope that love becomes light in all of our darknesses of grief.
It got a few likes, a share, a couple of comments. It was lighthearted. It made me laugh when I saw it. I shared it with no second thoughts.
Except last night, late at night, they crept in.
“You have no friends.”
“No one texts you.”
“No one asks how your day is.”
“No one likes you.”
These terrible, awful things I said to myself hurt.
I let my racing thoughts at 1 AM consume me.
All because of this meme:
I’ve never had many friends.
Growing up, I always felt like an outsider. I kept myself locked up because I was afraid of being rejected. Afraid of being made fun of. Afraid of people finding out what life was like at my house. The fighting. The screaming. The violence.
When I moved away from my old life- to another city- another school. I had the chance to be the real me. The me people would love.
But they didn’t. I was still so guarded. And my guard put up a really good front.
A “I don’t need you” front.
A “I’m better than you” front.
And this kind of continued into my adulthood.
I can not even count how many people have told me, “I thought you were stuck up when I met you.”
Well, I’m not.
How could I possibly be stuck up when half of the time I’m not certain if I even like myself? When I’m down, I’m
I’m just guarded. Afraid. Terrified of being rejected. Petrified of being vulnerable.
This is something I have worked HARD on the past 4-5 years. Trying to show the real me. The genuine me. The me who cares and loves so deeply. The me who has hid for far too long. The me who has made mistakes. And has tried to right them.
The me who could be an amazing friend if you gave me the chance.
However, change doesn’t happen overnight. It also doesn’t always happen in 4-5 years… no matter how hard we try.
I am still guarded.
My walls around myself are so high that they may not be worth climbing.
But that doesn’t mean I need to take the negative self-talk. The terrible, ugly things I say to myself late at night. The LIES my mind tells me. The lies that leave me in tears.
“You have no friends.”
“No one texts you.”
“No one asks how your day is.”
“No one likes you.”
These are not truths.
I do have friends. Not many- not many that I talk to on a regular basis- but they exist.
People do text me. My husband and I text each and every day. And he ALWAYS asks how my day is going.
I’m sure someone likes me? My husband loves me. My mom thinks I’m cool. Doesn’t that count?
I’m done talking so ugly to myself. Why do we do this to ourselves? We feed ourselves inaccurate information that we absolutely accept as truth without challenging it.
I want to challenge you: combat the negative self-talk you may say to yourself. Ask yourself- “Is this actually true?” instead of accepting it as fact.
And never give up on goals you set for yourself. This blog is the gateway to a more transparent me. A less guarded me. A vulnerable me. A me that is hopeful for the future. And worthy of being loved.
“I grew up in a rickety house on Jackson Store Rd. in the middle of no where.
I didn’t come from money.”
I penned that once before in a blog post but that rickety house came back to me today in a wave of shame, humiliation, pride, and gratitude all wrapped up into one.
Today was the first day, in the last 368, that I enjoyed living in South Carolina.
This move has not been easy on me. Change never is. The chaos of my childhood and the constant debilitating fear of what may happen next has made change a foe of mine. They say that chaos brings comfort to those with traumatic childhoods because it’s what they know. But I don’t know any good quote that covers the notion that sometimes a child finds safety and stability in a new space they deem home but then are uprooted. I tend to believe the chaos/comfort line is out the window and the little girl is hanging on with everything she has to what brought her perceived safety. Moving brought chaos to me. I hang on. Still.
I have resisted this move because the change brought grief and unsettling questions. Because change is scary. Because this move brought me closer to all of my nightmares. Because this move brought winding roads and trailer homes that replicate the roads of my childhood. Because this location is too close to that rickety house.
This morning it snowed.
And I mean snowed!
Mother nature brought us 7 inches of beautiful white snow that brought wonder to my son’s eyes and warmth to my heart.
I snapped a snow photo this morning of its glory (before the other 3-4 inches came). Here’s my winter wonderland of a neighborhood:
I came inside and happily browsed through my snow photos. This photo struck me like a ton of bricks.
The beauty. The size of the homes on my streets. The suburban-like nature of this very photo.
It slapped me in the face. I felt overwhelmed with disbelief.
How could this be where I live? How could this really be my life? How do I deserve this?
I get that this may look like a normal neighborhood to you but remember I grew up in a rickety house?
Let me give you a glimpse at my childhood home:
Granted, I took this picture in 2020. Moved out in 2000, I think. I know the house had windows intact and a flowerbed out front. I know it was not as dilapidated as it appears here. But I think you can get the overall picture. The tin roof looks untouched. The steps up to the house are the same. It now looks as atrocious as my memories that pour out of its broken window panes.
Not feeling deserving of good things is connected with a core belief I have that nothing I do is good enough.
Two steps forward, one step back.
The hesitation pattern of my life.
Two steps forward, one step back.
I am my own worst critic.
You will fail.
You will embarrass yourself.
You. Are. Not. Good. Enough.
The thoughts that cloud my mind.
I have never been a good friend to myself.
I can pick myself apart.
Any award or accomplishment I have received has been ripped apart in my mind.
They felt sorry for you.
The thoughts that cloud my mind.
When I was in fourth grade I was awarded the honor of student of the month. Some girls at school snickered behind my back. In a bathroom stall I heard them gush about how the teachers felt sorry for me.
Words of judgement slipped through their nine year old mouths rather quickly.
“Did you notice her bruises?”
“Her hair is always a mess.”
“Does she only own one pair of shoes?”
Walls built. My heart as guarded as can be. I remember walking out of that stall with my head held high.
The front I show to the world is confident.
But I can pick myself apart.
You will fail.
You will embarrass yourself.
You. Are. Not. Good. Enough.
Two steps forward, one step back.
It could be worse.
It’s slow movement but its movement.
GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD, BRANDY.
Hesitate no more.
Life is too short, too fragile, and too uncertain to take so many steps backward.
I want the front that I show the world to be my reality.
Maybe one day I’ll be her. Until then I’ll admit to the world that I pick myself apart.
Because maybe I’m not alone in this.
Maybe we are all criticizing who we are instead of loving ourselves as we should.
Maybe we are all looking at what we have and doubting our worthiness.
I do deserve this home. This family. This life. This goodness. The suburban-like nature of the photograph of my street.
I deserve to be out of that rickety house. I deserve to grow with change.
I worked for everything that I have. That rickety house had walls and a door with a key. It tried to keep me in. Hold onto me. But I escaped. When that rickety house comes up in my mind and covers me with shame- I can fight against it. I can change my thinking. I can try.
Today is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
I have the great honor of sharing my testimony at a candlelight vigil today at 2 PM.
But I wanted to take it step further so that I could reach more people with my testimony…
So here I am, posting my story on my blog- in hopes that someone who is hurting and feels all alone can know that I am standing with them. We are survivors and we will survive.
So here it goes:
Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, knows that it forever changes your life. It rocks your world in a way that no other death can. It can leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, and completely lost. The emotions can be overwhelming and the “whys” and “what if’s” can consume you. You can become overcome with anger as you question how the person you loved could have left you here. Grief after a suicide is complicated.
It has been 15 years since my father died by suicide. I was 15 years old when he hooked up a hose to the exhaust of his truck and connected the hose to his bedroom window. His truck ran all night as he fell asleep in a bedroom filled with carbon monoxide. I was a young, naive teenager when I became a suicide survivor. Losing a father to suicide quickly began to define who I was. I was filled with turmoil and unanswered questions and I quickly began turning to the wrong comforts. I dabbled with alcohol and drug use for a few years of my early 20’s while living with the heavy weight of depression. I seemed to have forgotten the man my father was during my childhood and defined him by his suicide. I was quick to call him selfish. A coward. A disappointing father. I was hurt and not coping well. I think this pattern of self-hatred, guilt, and shame is easy to get wrapped up in when you’re a survivor of suicide.
For suicide survivors, after the initial shock of learning of the death, the “whys” begin- terrible, unending “whys” that we play over and over in our head. The first being “why did he do it?” followed by “why did I not see this coming”. They can spiral from there to “What if’s”- “What if I had called him” … “What if I had seen the signs?”
I currently work as a grief counselor and recently worked with a young girl whose father died by suicide. When the topic of “whys” came up she had a particularly brilliant answer. She said “you know, all we have is our best guess, and our best guess might be wrong”. Our best guess might be wrong- yet; we spend such a great deal of time pondering over these questions. If only we could approach it like this 9-year-old girl.
I spent about a year in counseling working through the shame and guilt I had taken on. I had to work through an abundance of negative self-talk including things like “no one will love me- not even my Dad did” and “I’ll never be good enough- my Dad didn’t think I was worth living for”. I worked through the “What if’s”. Like the self-blame I internalized for not calling him the night he killed himself. The night my Dad killed himself I had picked up the phone with the intention of telling him about me ordering my class ring that day. However, when I picked up the phone my boyfriend was there. The phone didn’t ring. Just coincidence. Remember how that could happen with landlines? I forgot to call my Dad back and the next day I found out he was dead.
I never imagined that I would be standing here- telling my story 15 years later. At some points of my life I wasn’t sure that I would even exist 15 years later.
Now, I can stand proudly and share my story of being a suicide survivor. For I no longer feel ashamed that I am the daughter of a man who killed himself. I now have a new understanding of suicidal ideation and mental illness. I have my master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and have worked as a grief counselor for the last few years. I now know that those who die by suicide are not selfish, nor a coward. They are amazing, wonderfully loved people who see no other way. They are sick and hopeless. When I explain suicide to a young child I may tell them that suicide happens because of a brain attack- much like a heart attack. It’s very physical. The brain is very, very sick and can not see any other way to survive.
My father had a brain attack. He was a warm, funny man who was an amazing Dad. His name was Buddy and he was only 35 years young when he died by suicide. I’ve had time to reflect on the amazing father he was since healing through my grief journey. We would sing karaoke together in my brother’s bedroom. We played hide and go seek and shot a bb gun in the woods behind our house. He scratched my back when I was sick and held my hand when I was scared. He was quick-witted and made me laugh until I cried. He was very intelligent and worked as an electrical engineer. He had a wonderful set of parents and a brother and a sister who loved him dearly. He didn’t live a charmed life by any means. He was divorced three times and suffered from chronic pain for most of his adult life. I don’t remember him being depressed. I was shocked by the suicide and still am to this day. There were no signs we could have seen. There was nothing I could have done.
Unless you have lost someone to suicide, you have no idea what survivors are going through. The degree of hurt, abandonment, betrayal, and confusion we are left with is indescribable. For me, going to counseling and talking about my feelings and hurts and disappointments helped me heal.
Another way I have found healing through my grief journey is by turning my pain into a purpose. I use my struggles to help others however I can. I can’t go back in time and save my Daddy but I can do everything in my power to let other people know that it is okay to ask for help. This outreach ranges from me posting bits of my personal journey on social networking sites to presenting at conferences to help other counselors know how to best work with suicide survivors. I find that my personal experiences have fueled my passion for suicide prevention and awareness and will continue forward with my efforts for as long as I’m able. I encourage you to find a way to turn your pain into a purpose. I’ve known people who do this through blogging, through checking in on friends, or just sharing a suicide hotline on their social media sites. You can do this by smiling at strangers or giving a meal to homeless person. The ways you can utilize your struggles is endless. I also encourage you to tell your story. Memorialize the person that is no longer with us today. Tell stories about them. Don’t let the shame, guilt, and unanswered questions stop you from remembering what you loved about the person. I believe we suicide survivors are strong.
If you are listening to me talk today and wondering how it is possible that I am all better after losing my Dad- let me clear things up. I’m not cured. I am better. But I will always grieve. Grief is not an event in time. Grief is like love. It is a life-long, ever-changing experience. It evolves. It expands. It changes in depth. Volume. Intensity. But it never fades. It changes us. My grief will always be a part of me. Because grief is love. Someone I love died and my life will always be different because of it. But my grief looks different now. My grief encourages me to help others. I have decided to allow my grief to encourage me. What will you do with your grief? It’s up to you.
“Bad things happen. How I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have: life itself”