Oh, man. Well, I usually spend today writing a reflection of the XX amount of lessons I learned over the past year. This year feels different. I have tried to write this post every day, multiple times a day, and it has been the hardest post thus far to write. Two weeks ago, my sister committed suicide in a very public way, so public that it appeared on national news. Yea– try getting a news alert on your phone that details your sister’s suicide. Horrific.
Those that know me might be experiencing a bit of déjà vu, as my only other sister also committed suicide around 10 years ago—one family– two suicides. I will be entering year 33 as an only child for the first time in my life.
As I go through all of the emotions that come with suicide, I realize that mental health needs to start inside of each individual. It sounds like a “duh” moment, but all of the help in the entire world can still not be enough for those suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. Why? A person needs to accept that they have an illness before they can heal. BPDs often cannot see that they have a mental illness–it is everyone else who is to blame for anything that is happening in the BPD’s life. This leads to an unwillingness to accept care.
That little but crucial part of BPD is what I want to focus on in this reflection of my 32nd year around this planet; self-awareness. I have watched a family and an entire community wrap their arms around a BPD patient. I have experienced the feeling of giving every piece of energy, until you are worked down to your bones, to try to fix someone. But in the end, my sister did not have the capacity or self-awareness to accept care. She chose a path that 8-10% of BPD patients have taken.
Mental health is not just the responsibility of the obviously ill patients. We are responsible for our own mental health, and if we aren’t looking inwards, we could be missing something that could grow into an uncontrollable mental illness. There are plenty of articles about helping someone suffering, but there are little about taking ownership of ourselves and getting the help we need. I believe it’s due to a stigma surrounding mental health, especially in the United States. I was once asked in an interview if I would really be committed to the work because this man read on my blog that I had a sister commit suicide (8 YEARS PRIOR). WTF does that have to do with anything? I’ve had two men comment, horrifically, via LinkedIn (I hope you guys are reading this now), and tell me that my sister was “six feet under” and I was just “using” her to get attention. I have a client irate that I could not take calls right after it happened and only asked for some breathing room until I got back to work. All of these people publicly express their judgments against suicide as if it is a known fact that no one is to speak about it. It’s taboo. Talk about no self-awareness.
Part of feeling comfortable enough to look inwards is standing up and addressing the stigma. We have to make the stigma the minority. Until we can accomplish that, people will not be getting the care they need to heal and survive. I lost two driven sisters, who went to Harvard and were the best at everything they did; two sisters who did not feel comfortable breaking the stigma and accepting help. That is two too many for a family to endure. Every single photo of my childhood will have two extra people in it who will not be a part of the majority of my life (hoping I live to at least the average age of death!). Two extra chairs will be at the holidays hosted by the family of five. How does someone even wrap their head around that? I can’t.
I’ve had two separate strangers email me and say that after learning about how hard my mother struggled with my first sister’s death, they knew they could never, ever attempt suicide again. They could not do that to their parents. One man was on his way to his fourth attempt, and a tweet with my blog post re: what suicides do to families caught his attention. He stopped his fourth attempt because he realized that was not something he could do to his mom. I broke the stigma to speak, and two lives were saved. I am not reflecting on this to put a feather in my cap, but to show what can happen if an entire country could break the stigma and have real, honest conversations about mental health and suicide.
As part of breaking that stigma, we need to look at ourselves. Are we mentally healthy? Are you mentally healthy? Or are you obsessing over how COVID-19 is wrecking your life while sharing tweets to “help” your friends with their mental health? Are you restricting eating because it’s the only way you feel in control right now while smiling and throwing up a peace sign in your selfies? Are you in five-day worn PJs because it’s too hard to get into the shower right now while bragging about your COVID attire on Instagram?
Scary, isn’t it? When you really think about it, are you mentally healthy? Or are you just posting like you are while missing the signs your mind gives you to show that it needs attention right now?
When my first sister committed suicide, my job immediately paid for me to go to bi-weekly therapy sessions with a Christian counselor. My job paid for my plane tickets going back and forth for the funeral. Coworkers rode with me in the taxi to La Guardia each time I had to go back home for something re: her suicide. The HR Director took me in and had me stay with her family for a while– they even took me on their family trip since I couldn’t fly back that particular week. All of that support allowed me the grace to look inwards and be honest about how I was feeling and the impact of my sister’s death on my life. I would not be where I am today without their fierce breaking of the stigma. My boss from that job was one of the first people to connect with me when the news of my second sister’s suicide was out. He said, “You deserve good things.” That sentence alone prompted me to sit with how I felt and process the grief, and process the deserving of good things.
And that is where I am stuck on the eve of this birthday. How can I celebrate in the turmoil and destruction that suicide leaves behind? How can I possibly take my parents from their grief and ask them to celebrate me tomorrow? How can I put on the beautiful gold dress I designed and smile for a photo? That last thought alone makes me sick to my stomach.
But then I hear my old boss’s words, “You deserve good things.” And maybe, just maybe, between the stinging metallic pricks running through my veins, and the bags under my eyes that clearly say I lost the fight, between the wails that escape my body late at night, and the nightmares replaying her violent suicide…just maybe, I do deserve good things. I do deserve a day to celebrate my life. I am still here. I am still full of life.
Maybe the least I deserve is to put on that gold dress, eat Mama’s traditional homemade chocolate and date birthday cake, and let my husband’s arms hold all of my broken pieces together as I make a wish.
Maybe you deserve to post a raw, unedited photo of yourself and tell the world how you are really feeling. Without even knowing you, I know you deserve the life you are living. I know you have put up quite a fight, and COVID-19 seems to have erased any progress you were making. I know you are scared to be exposed because you could lose your job, your partner, or just control in general.
I am here to tell you that fear is real, and I feel it even now as I write this post, but once you open up to even just one person about what is really going on– you will receive such relief that you didn’t even know was possible. You will start the healing process. You will survive.
So, I will wear my gold dress tomorrow and allow laughter and smiles and celebration, IF YOU take some time to sit in silence and really listen and embrace what you feel right here, right now. IF you reach out to just one person, app, social media account–even me!–and share that you could use some support.
Mental health starts from within, and you are strong enough to face it head-on. I promise.
**Disclaimer: This is based solely on my experience with one person with BPD. I admire those with BPD because they are brave to face an illness they never asked for. If you read this and you have BPD, I am open to hearing about your experience if you want to talk. If you are suffering from anything right now, I strongly encourage you to seek professional help. I will personally help you find someone if this part of healing makes you nervous.