I’d like to take a moment to write about something very difficult to talk about but very serious. Mental health. I apologize in advance for the long post but I feel it’s important to talk about.
Four years ago our 14 year old cousin commited suicide, he was in grade 9. My husbands mother is a twin and this was her twins son. I met Christopher when he was about 3 years old. Even before my husband and I began dating, the two of us would go and babysit Christopher and his older brother Jeremy. He was always a quiet boy, but full of life. Boy, he literally would climb the walls when we would play hide and seek. I think that kid could hide anywhere! He had the most infectious smile- there was no way you could be upset with him. Ever. He would just look at you with his cute little cheeks and his amazing smile and you couldn’t help but melt. We watched him grow from a tiny, adorable toddler, to a child and then a pre-teen. He never lost that smile. And we loved him beyond words.
It was Family Day 4 years ago when I received the worst phone call in my life to date. My husband and daughter had gone to my in-laws house. I had stayed home as I was extremely ill. I remember hearing the phone ring and thinking “Oh I don’t want to get up to answer it”. But I did. It was my mother-in-law and I could barely understand her. What I did understand was “Christopher hanged himself”. My first reaction was that he was ok and that we would get through this and help him. I even said that to her. I told her that he was ok and that she needed to calm down before she became sick. Then I hung up the phone and got dressed to drive to their house. When I got there my mother-in-law was laying on the couch, beside herself. My husband and father-in-law had already left to go to my Aunt’s house. I was oddly calm as I still didn’t “know” that he had actually died. I remember just trying to calm my mother-in-law down and have her relax. I still continued to tell her that he was ok and that we would get through this. My husband returned home a few hours later and that was when he told me that Christopher was dead.
My head was spinning. No. Absolutely not. There is no way that this could be true. What? There must be a mistake. Are you sure?
I don’t remember crying.
I don’t even remember crying at the funeral. Christopher was cremated so there was no “viewing” which to me, it just didn’t feel real. I remember watching all of his friends from school coming in, one by one, shocked, crying and devastated. And I remember thinking “I am 26 years old and I can’t handle this, how could these 14 year and 15 year olds be getting through this”. I remember what emotions were like and every little occurance was a huge, drama filled event in high school- and those events were just regular, unexciting events in “real life”. Now this, this was astronomical. I finally realized how the immediate family and close loved ones didn’t cry at the funeral of someone who had passed (especially suddenly). There just are no tears. The shock prevents them from flowing at that time. But they’re there.
Obviously there was an investigation into what had happened. Christopher was not a depressed teenager. He was not suicidal. Discussions with his friends did not reveal a tormented soul to which any understanding could come from. He wasn’t bullied. He wasn’t picked on. He was well loved and liked by so many. What it did reveal and the conclusions that we came to was that Christopher was suffering. But not from “regular” teenage drama. From mental illness. He was silently dealing with what was going on in his head.
Why are we so afraid of talking about mental illness? If a family member has diabetes or cancer, we talk about it. But if a family member has a mental illness or even an addiction, we shove it away and pretend that it will get better on it’s own and that support is not needed for this. But this is wrong.
Of course, we all have wishes and thoughts that we could have done something to change what had happened. However, I’m a (usually) *bright-side-of-life kind of person and here is the “Bright Side” that I extracted from this entire life-altering, devastating ordeal. He saved a life. Or two. Or more. In the weeks and months and now years since, his Facebook memorial page has had hundreds and thousands of messages and comments from his friends, family members and even those who didn’t directly know him. The page had more than 1000 members in the first week. His friends were of course, forever altered by this. Some recognized that they were headed down a path of self destruction and took steps to change and better themselves. They all now knew that suicide was not a “victimless” act and that it was NOT the answer. And it brought to light that we need to talk more openly about depression and mental illness.
And so I like to think that this is how Christopher helped others. I am not trying to glorify what happened, or lessen the pain but this thought helps me get through it. And not just “others, but myself as well. My life will forever be altered by the decision Christopher made. Forever.
I myself, was suffering from Post Partum Depression but it wasn’t until after Christopher’s death that I sought help. I too was suffering in silence and I was too afraid to talk about it. Now I’m a well educated person, so I know that what I’m about to write doesn’t fully make “sense” but at the time the thoughts I had were that “I was the only one and no one would understand”. So I let my life continue to slip by me, missing out on an amazing part of my life and seemingly letting it crumble around me.
And so I got help. I went to grief counselling and I took medication. Yes, I did. And from this, I was able to recover. And I can’t even describe the vast difference in not only my thoughts and feelings, but my life since my treatment AND recovery. I am not embarassed by this.
If there is anything you take from this it’s that we need to have open lines of communication. We need to be aware of the signs of mental illness and depression and not be afraid to reach out and talk to someone about it, for our own selves but also for others. TALK. ABOUT. IT.
Two years ago I had to do an assignment while in photography school – a Portrait without a Person. And so I chose Christopher and so I will share this with you. I had some of Christophers friends help me. They brought items that reminded them of Christopher and shared memories and feelings with me. And we shot in the hallway of his high school. I feel oddly “big sister” like to these friends. Last year I watched them graduate from high school and I felt proud. I am watching them grow and become adults. And while Christopher will forever be 14 for us, I will watch his friends grow and be proud.