Monday, August 30, 2021

Survivor's Guilt

 (Disclaimer: This post is about my own personal feelings, and family and close friends reactions to a suicide. This is not saying that this is how everyone reacts.)

I remember back when I was a teenager, my Mom telling me that my cousin had died. That he had committed suicide. Being a teenager I didn’t fully understand. I remember being sad and confused. Why would he do that? Why didn’t he talk to someone? I sympathized with him in my own way. How alone he must have felt.

It wasn’t until I got older and had my first spiral down that I felt like I understood better how he felt. I mean, how could you not feel so small in this world? Doesn’t everyone know that they don’t matter? That you are just a burden to everyone, and that they will appreciate you being gone.

It wasn’t until after my suicide attempt, years later, that I realized how much I mattered to people. And that was the first time I became angry with my cousin. How could he do that to us? So many people loved and cared about him, didn’t he understand that? 

And that’s when it became clear to me, that when you are so far down the rabbit hole, that you are literally not in the right state of mind anymore. Now, I wish my cousin had asked someone for help. I wish that the stigma didn’t make asking for help seem like a bad thing. Why is going to the doctor for a broken bone different then going to the doctor for your feelings? Why are we made to think that suffering from mental illness is a bad thing? Why do movies and TV shows only depict the worst case of any mental illness and not the ones who live with it everyday? 

I was lucky earlier this year, I was deep in the rabbit hole when I had a moment of clarity. Realized I didn’t want to leave my girls or family. I reached out, called my doctor and told them I needed help. And I received help. But again, why is asking for help considered a bad thing? Why are so many people taught to suck it up? Or “fake it until you make it”? 

Earlier this month, when I received the call about my close family member. This time the emotions hit like a ton of bricks. Denial, anger, depression. Why did this happen to us? Why didn’t he reach out? What could I have done better to help him? And then the anger.

Not anger towards him, for me my anger was at the stigma. At the people who believe in the stigma still out of ignorance not knowledge. How is it that we are in 2021 and mental health is still taboo? How are more people not angry with this? So, I started researching.

The 6 top reasons people don’t reach out for mental health: 1) fear of judgment. 2) guilt. 3) shame. 4) feeling misunderstood. 5) fear of rejection. 6) fear of criticism. I have personally felt everyone of these. No one wants to be judged for having a hard time. I have also pushed my need for help aside because I didn’t want to be a burden to my family. I felt shame for a long time after my diagnosis. I still often feel misunderstood, because of the lack of information available for mental health. Let’s face it, no one wants to be rejected, whether from family and friends, or romantic relationships, or even professional ones. How many times have you “vented” or reached out to a friend or family member and been told people have it worse? Or been told to be strong, fake it until you make it? 

So what can we do to be better? We can start by talking openly about our struggles. The best way to end the stigma is to make people uncomfortable and have them listen! Change won’t happen overnight. This is something we need to work on everyday. We need to stop judging by worst case examples and open our eyes to everyone's struggles. Mental health is not one size fits all. We need more resources available, we need not to judge each other on our struggles. 

I’m hoping we can escape the stigma, and end the taboo behind mental health. And the only way for us to reach this goal is to open up to each other. Be there for one another. After losing 2 family members and almost myself to suicide, I can honestly say I am angry, not at myself or my family members, but at the stigma, the lack of resources, the criticism when admitting you need help. Speak up with me, let's end the stigma. Let’s be loud and make people uncomfortable!

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