If you’re in your 40’s, I’m pretty sure you grew up watching M*A*S*H, a medical dramedy about a medical surgical unit situated in the middle of the Korean war. It wasn’t a life-altering experience for me, just part of the background noise of my growing up. 28(!) years after the series finale, I can only remember a few things – Hot Lips Houlihan and her boob of a boyfriend, feeling indignant at the non-Korean actors portraying Koreans and embarrassed at their laughable attempts at speaking Korean, among other things. But mostly I recall the show’s opening theme song, a hauntingly beautiful instrumental version of “Suicide is Painless.” I once knew all the grim words to this song (as a moody teenager with strict parents, I’m horrified to admit that I had given some thought to how miserable I could make my parents by killing myself), but the only words that still stick in my mind today are it’s provocative title.
I share this because a friend of mine committed suicide a few weeks ago. A beautiful, generous, caring woman, who had been battling depression for a number of years. I’ve been out of touch with her since our university days, but occasionally our circles would intercept and we would reconnect for an event with mutual friends. We’d hug and talk about how “we must get together!” for coffee or lunch, but neither of us ever took the time to make anything happen.
Back in university, she was smart, beautiful and drove a Volkswagen Cabriolet. Navy with a white top. She had an older boyfriend who took her to fancy dinners while I was struggling with acne and midterm exams. If I’m being honest, I probably envied her more than befriended her, and that makes me hang my head in shame now. So what the fuck happened? Her life now was not all that different from mine – a daughter, a job, family, friends – except she was saddled with a disease that people don’t really talk about much. Since hearing about her lonely death, I’ve been struggling with my emotions – shock, sorrow, guilt and anger among them and that sad melody floated back into my consciousness.
At her funeral, the guilt in the room was palpable. Suicide is not painless, and most definitely not painless for those you leave behind. I don’t profess to know anything about mental illness, except to say that it really frightens me. Mental illness robbed my friend of her capacity to think logically and act accordingly. Despite all external appearances, she felt powerless and alone. Sadly I heard she reached out to several people from her life in the week before she died, quite probably to say goodbye, but no one clued in until it was too late.
Someone once told me, with every interaction you have the opportunity to start/grow or diminish/end a relationship.
May you grow some friendships today and everyday.
Rest in peace sweet friend.
PS. With every comment on this post, I will make a $20 donation to the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC. Thanks for reading and call an old friend today xo
14 Comments Add yours
Beautifully written sister. She was a wonderful woman and she is definiteily missed.
One of the best ways to control depression is to talk about it, make it less of an unknown entitiy; so bravo to you for doing that! I also loved your reminder to connect or reconnect with someone! You never know how many ripples your stone throwing will cause. xo
Of all your posts this one touched me the most. I was one of those girls with the M*A*S*H theme playing in the background of my childhood. Rather than Hot Lips, it was Radar’s teddy bear and the lengths Clinger would go to in order to be sent home that surface when I hear that soundtrack.
Suicide is not painless nor is the path that leads someone to it’s door. I have recently spoken publicly about my own journey into postpartum after the birth of my last child. I never experienced it with my first, so it came as a huge surprise to me when the label found it’s way to me. I wish I could say that this well rounded, spiritual self was able to control the dark intruder, but I wasn’t. Instead I hid it as much could, byway of hiding myself. I quit going to the gym, I quit socializing with my friends, I quit going shopping when I knew my friends would be out and about. I avoided anyone who knew me. I didn’t answer the phone, I didn’t answer the door and I communicated with people when I had to by email. When I was at school pick up or drop off, I was always in a rush, too busy to talk to anyone despite the countless efforts by fellow parents who just wanted to set up a play date.
I sold my mental state to my husband as a product of having a new house and a new baby. I thought I had myself and this ‘ I’m okay facade’ under control- I allowed myself time to ‘get it together’ and just as I figured that I was getting it together I agreed to join my girlfriend Panny for a coffee one day and she took one look at me and took my phone out of my hand and called my family doctor and made an appointment for me that day, right there on the spot. The lesson that day was you can bullshit a bullshitter but you cannot bs a bff. I was horrified and grateful at the same time when I realized that Pan was on to me. I remember thinking that I should have never agreed to meeting her for coffee! Epic fail. I went and saw my doctor, she put me on a medication that would help me out of the funk I had been living in. I am forever grateful. Forever.
I wish I could honestly say that suicide never crossed my mind during that dark time. It seems embarrassing to me now that I am back to having a healthy mind that I would have let my mind wander with curiosity down that ugly road, but that facts are facts.
Depression, there it is that shameful word… let’s say it again, Depression, and let’s get used to talking about it… depression is beyond our control when chemical imbalances are present and medication is not. That’s right I said it… Medication, come get me Tom Cruise… Having mental illness is as shameful as having cancer. It is beyond our control and deserves the same unconditional compassion as someone living with cancer.
The way you speak of your friend, smart, educated, a lovely family, lots to live for… I think I fit that bill also. I have the most amazing partner and children, my friends are unspeakably beautiful and my outlook on life (when healthy) is as positive as you will ever find, but when your mind is unwell it is like seeing the world through blurry gray lenses that allows you only to see the outline of anything. The flowers have a good shape, but they are a shallow void of anything worth admiring. Your children seem to be beautiful in way you cannot deserve to enjoy, so much so that you can believe they would flourish into greatness only in your absence. All the goodness around you could be greatness if only you were not it’s way…
It is a sick, sick, desperate disease that can be brought on by so many different experiences from trauma to pregnancy. Now that I am on the healthy side of this heartbreaking journey I can tell you for certain what saved my spirit and quite likely more…
1. When your dear friends disappear, APPEAR. Show up to there house. Look in the windows and do it until you connect with your friend. When I say connect. Sit down at a table with them, hold their hands, look in their eyes and you will see for yourself what is not being said and eyes to eyes is the the same as soul to soul… your soul will not betray your well being in fact it will OUT you and your depression in this case… it did exactly that to me. CONNECT.
2. If you think you have a friend being tormented by mental illness, find a way to meet with your friend’s partner privately. Husband’s and wives are often the last to know. This illness takes away one’s willingness to protect themselves;however, the need to protect your immediate circle intensifies and often propels the illness. You need to involve those closest to your friend so that you may all share and prepare to get involved as a loving team. Rally!
3. When it comes time to loving your friend back into a healthy life, set up a regular, weekly date where you actually have a sit down with your friend. A lunch date is best so that you have an hour to really engage and do some eye gazing. Going for walks and shopping allows for too many distractions where any real depth is easily avoided. You need full on face to face ‘love ins’. Engage!
Connect, Rally, Engage were the tools that were used on me, for me, and with me to assist me in the journey back to self. My husband was amazing, my children oblivious, my friends were beacons that would not be denied.
I am happy to report that I am as grateful and healthy as I have ever been. Grounded and solid in my truth as I know it. Secure and proud enough to speak openly about mental illness and medication, yet respectful enough to know that we all need our own space and time to safely arrive to our own safe place of healing and emotional well being.
I am always open to sharing my story and I am always eager to remind people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Once someone has come to that conclusion for themselves you must accept that nothing you would have done would have been heard by her/his healthy mind or heart. The one thing you can find the tiniest gleam of light in is that their lonely, painful mind has released them to the beautiful, glorious spirit that has been trapped within that illness. Imagine your friend soaring within each sunset being loved and loving each wisp of wind. Peace.
Where there is light there is hope and love and promise. Every time we send light and love into the world it is like sending hope to all of those that read it, feel it and hear it. Which is why I choose to sign every email, letter, blog post, it’s the way I say good bye and the way I say good night to my children: Love & Light.
I don’t claim that this is every person’s experience, nor do I mean to project it as such, but it is mine and it is common. Love to in your loss, but I hope you are able to see some light in all of this darkness.
love & light
Thanks for sharing Tiffany, I am in awe of your openness and your light.
Thank you for sharing your big, brave, beautiful heart so eloquently.
And thank goodness for friends like Panny! xox
Thanks for talking about depression, Lucie, and the fact that suicide is not painless to the ones left behind. Time to reconnect to some old friends and let them know how much they mean to me.
I came across your blog from Twitter. What a wonderful post – talking about something that is difficult to discuss…and in such an open, honest way.
I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and for those she left behind. Suicide is most definitely never painless.
Tough topic to take on. Many people avoid discussing suicide as it is a very challenging and difficult subject to talk about. In my day job, we are required to take suicide prevention classes. They teach us how to look for warning signs, ways to talk to those who have suicidal thoughts and ideations, and what to do to take the next step of getting them help. I think that often people are so caught up in the disbelief that someone is taking their problems so hard that they don’t realize how easy it is to make a difference and get them help.
Awesome thing you are doing here.
Mental illness needs so much more attention. Thank you for bringing attention to it. Ruthie
I really wish it was intuitive to know when those around us are genuinely happy, and if not, we would/could do something about it…because sometimes the consequences are too much to bear. Thanks for sharing this sad experience, Lucie, hopefully it will make all of us a bit better.
Oh this makes my heart hurt. There is most definitely pain in the aftermath of suicide, and sad to know that your friend held the burden of depression. Hard for everyone involved.
I am so sorry to hear about your friend. Suicide is so sad. Sometimes I get angry when I hear people day how selfish it is for people to kill themselves. It might be, however, imagine what it takes for someone to get to that point, how alone and in despair….that there is no other way to stop their pain but to end their lives. Its so awful.
Lucie: I will give you my $20 when I see you this week 🙂
So well written, my friend!
A few years ago, my brother-in-law ended his own life, leaving my 16 & 18 year old nephew & niece fatherless. Since then, many times, I have poured over in my own mind what it must have been like for him in his final minutes–AND the weeks and years leading up. But as hard as I try, I simply can not imagine. Suicide is painful.
So well written and such a valuable topic. Depression is prevalent in our society, writing and talking about it can only benefit those afflicted. So sorry for your loss.
Oh, Lucie. Thank you for writing this, for inviting response, and for provocation to name this for what it is. I, too, have lived too close to depression – personally, and with others in my immediate circle. Thank you to the Pannys and the Lucies who care enough to be brave, to confront, and to perhaps save.