September is Suicide Prevention Month
A lifetime ago in February of 2014 I was witness to a moment in time which has left an engraving mark on my mind and soul. The aftermath of a suicide. Just a few days afterward I was suffering from what I can only assume was a short term form of PTSD, although it was never diagnosed as such. To help find my way through the muddle of numbness and confusion I did what I do best – I wrote about it. Below is a 3,500 word essay to one of the most profound moments in my life.
Too long? Didn’t read? That’s ok. I’m sharing it now because whether you read it or not I want you to know, without a single doubt in your mind, how very loved you are by this stranger. How deeply your soul is connected to my own. How though I have never met you I can say with absolute certainty, just how important you are to this world.
If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, please contact the suicide hotline at: 800-273-8255 or text 741-741 if you feel you are in crisis. For more information on suicide prevention visit NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness.
This will not be pretty or poetic, well written or censored. But I can promise you it will be honest. Honest and real because this is my outlet. Often, my fingers speak better than my lips in times of crisis whether of love and happiness or pain and anger. This is where I choose to allow my mind to run rampant, for my thoughts to attempt clarity. Perhaps, even, where I might explore as an observer, a hidden scientist within, searching for understanding of what is felt and seen by this body.
Please understand that my motives are purely selfish as I have no intention of doing anything, but describe my own experience. I do not seek advice or pity from others, so please offer me none. With this said, allow me to begin at the most appropriate place… the beginning…
This last weekend, while I was driving to Portland, headed northbound on I-5, I came across an accident right as I was entering Eugene. Minutes before my arrival at this particular intersection a young man had jumped to his death from the overpass bridge into the right lane of northbound traffic. He was subsequently run over by a vehicle leaving his body mangled and incomplete.
The cars ahead of me and behind were the beginning of the congestion… and congestion that was being directed by civilians as the emergency vehicles had yet to arrive. There was this man, there was this brave man standing in the right lane praying, I’m sure, that the oncoming traffic saw him as he waved them into the left lane. A woman on the on-ramp waving people around the young man’s body. They had covered him in a small sheet about the size of a towel. It was pink and covered some, but left much exposed.
I looked. I thought it was just a normal accident – the type we all can’t help but look at. A broken bumper, maybe. But not this. Not a young man’s body twisted on the pavement. His tennis shoe some feet away having been knocked off his foot. Bits of his brain scattered on the road trailing to the lump under the sheet.
We were driving slow as we passed, trying to be safe for those directing traffic. We had time to look. Too much time, but all the time we needed to comprehend what had happened.
It was instantaneous. I knew what had happened, my logical mind made the connection as to how this body became this way. There were only two options. Either he jumped or he was standing in the road waiting for someone to come. I knew what had happened and my heart shattered. This man, whoever he was, fell to his death and there he lay, his body broken and destroyed. My tears came in heaving floods, my brain was clear, perhaps numb. The only thing I could say, the only words that came were “I love you. I love you so much.” It was if my soul was reaching out to his, searching for the essence that always remains, the piece of him that is truly him, the piece that his body only harbors, but does not own. I said it over and over again. I needed him to know. He needed to know how loved he is. I fell madly in love with him. The love of a sister for a brother, a mother for her child.
After the initial shock of the situation my mind went into a panic. My best friend, the woman who is like a sister to me, was also on the road. She, too, was headed to Portland, but was she ahead or behind me in her journey? I called her as fast as I could, the tears still streaming down my face, my voice still uncontrolled. I couldn’t even speak when she answered. Eventually, all I could manage was “Where are you? Have you reached Eugene yet or are you past it?” She was past it, probably 10 miles ahead of me. I was so thankful. I cried harder. Never would I want her to see what I had seen. Ever. My friend, the love that she has for me, waited with patience as I tried to explain what I had seen. I can’t remember what she said, but I know she offered to wait. I had by then taken the next exit and parked my car. I needed to close my eyes, to let the tears come. I needed to lose control. And she waited on the phone with me. She let me cry. I love her so. She let me cry. After some conversation, I know not what, we hung up. I felt the need to express whatever I had rolling around in my head so I did the new normal thing – I updated my status on Facebook:
As I was writing it my friend’s mother, Mutti, called me. I answered. Her mother, one of the most nurturing, loving people I know prayed for me while we were on the phone. She knows I don’t believe in God and yet she prayed for my heart to find ease. For the soul of the man to find peace and know how much he is loved. She prayed for God to embrace his soul and teach him of love. It was the most beautiful prayer. An incredible prayer. Mutti invited me to the farm where she lived – just outside of Portland – so that I might find a place to decompress before going to where I needed to be. I agreed and I went.
At one point I called my husband. I don’t remember when. I told him through choking tears what had happened and that I would see him soon after my detour to Mutti’s where my dearest friend was going to wait for me. I had this overwhelming sense of knowing that never, ever again in my life did I want anyone I had met to feel they were unloved. It grew increasingly important with each mile passing that from this moment forward I would radiate a love of self and others for all to feel and see. Never again would anyone doubt that not one person on this earth cared for them.
The rest of the night I was numb. Zoned out or zoned in. Surrounded by people, but feeling completely alone and away. I was somewhere else. While I thought of nothing I still felt the nag of social obligation. It was a big night for my husband. His night of initiation into a spiritual path. It was the night he formally adopted a teacher. It was a very big deal and I remember nothing of it. I can’t imagine how rude I must have seemed to those who were there. How callous or disinterested. I tried to make conversation. One woman even said, “You have something very deep going on right now. I can see it.” She assumed I was contemplative for my husband. She had no idea my tears were for my own heart and not his.
At the end of the night I begged my husband to tell his teacher where I was, what I had witnessed, why I was so distant. I asked him to tell them all that I was happy for him, but unable to express it. I needed them to know I cared… but that my mind and heart were reaching out in another direction. He understood and promised he would.
The drive home was silent. I nearly fell asleep at the wheel a few times from exhaustion. I needed home. I needed my bed. I needed my dogs. My loves. My soul puppies who could heal me.
I slept. I slept through the night in the silence of my dreams.
My dogs woke me up that next morning, long before I was ready.
It was a day of routine – laundry, dishes, dinner. I watched “Robin Hood” (the one with Kevin Costner) and built a fire. I felt fine. I was aware of what I saw, but I felt fine. I had the house to myself and felt completely fine. I ate normally and felt rather rested.
When my husband and his father came home from their weekend trip I still felt fine. I had made chicken enchiladas in red sauce. They were delicious.
It wasn’t until my father-in-law offered to make dinner the following day that I began to feel it. The anxiety. The panic. The need for control. No matter what I said, I couldn’t get him to relinquish the dinner. I needed to make that dinner. But he didn’t know it. He didn’t realize what a dinner meant to me. I went to bed early. Maybe if I went to sleep this feeling would go away?
Monday came and I was up with the alarm. The weekly routine of early mornings had begun. Our car was loaded, but we were running late. Anxiety. Our cat ran under the bed. Panic. I had no patience. I used to always have patience.
Why wouldn’t he listen? Why couldn’t things be just so? Why did I have to try so hard just to get out the door? Tears.
The cat was extracted and put in the living room. We got in the car and I closed my eyes. Concentrating on my breathing I tried to control the panic stretching across my chest.
You can do this, you teach this. You tell your students about anxiety. You tell them to breathe. You can do this. Fuck! Why isn’t it working!?
“Are you ok, honey?”
“I’m fine….I’m just…” I’m looking away so he can’t see my tears. Why am I crying? Why am I hiding? Breathing… trying to control it.
The drive is silent. My mind starts to go through the day I have ahead. Two yoga classes and then into the office until 5. I’ll be fine. I start to eat my leftovers.
My husband asks me how I am doing. Our conversation revolves around… I don’t even remember anymore. Something about the young man. Something about what happened. I’m crying and my heart is racing. We are disagreeing about something.
I can’t finish my breakfast. I can’t look at it anymore. My stomach is turning. The tortilla, covered in red, it’s his skin.
It’s his skin.
My tears come in heaves. I can’t control it. My husband pulls over in the parking lot so he can console me. He doesn’t understand, but he loves me. It hurts him to see me so confused, so distraught.
I taught in 10 minutes and I couldn’t stop crying. I cried harder. The very thought of being in front of 30 people to teach them something from my heart. To create and speak to them. To have all of their eyes on me. Panic.
Through those tears my husband learned that I was not fine. I was not OK. Something was most certainly not right. This was not the wife he knew.
I tried anyway, but it took a simple question from my colleague to unravel me.
“How are you this morning?”
The tears. I couldn’t keep them in. I had no answer for her. She cancelled my classes and I walked straight to the counseling office on campus.
What if she isn’t there? She has to be there. She must be there….
It was before opening hours, but she saw me anyway. I broke down. Somehow I managed to fumble through my experience and somehow she managed to understand what I said. She could see my shaking. She could hear my fears, my reservations.
She listened and she asked questions. She reminded me of my resources. She asked me what I needed.
I needed to be internal. I needed to hide. I needed to be alone and away from people. I needed… I need control. So much control. I need to be able to control the little things in my life. That which can be controlled.
“Have you ever had your control taken away before?”
“… yes…. when I was 16. My boyfriend… for 3 months. But I never had triggers, not really. [That was a lie] I’ve managed that well.”
I needed her to be my proof. To call my supervisor and tell him I needed time. I wanted him to know everything. No secrets. I feel guilt when I stay home for being ill. I feel anxiety for not being there. I need permission to not work.
“That’s a whole other side we might need to work on sometime…”
Her voice was calm, nurturing, caring. Her eyes were full with unshed tears. My pain hurt her heart and I loved her for it. I had no guilt with her.
We agreed that I would go home early. I wasn’t sure how I was going to because we carpooled to work just like every other morning and my husband wasn’t done teaching until 4, but I agreed to go home…. I didn’t.
She offered me a number to call, a free resource for faculty and staff at the college. A counselor I could call when I needed to. It was a high recommendation. She explained that the way that I handle this trauma would set the tone for all other traumas I might face in the future. That by calling and getting any help that I might need would set the foundation for everything else that may come my way. I said I would call… I haven’t.
When I got to my office I spoke with my boss. I told him how little I would do that day. My job being one of high customer interaction and involvement, I sought to stay behind my computer and find what control I could. The guilt began to creep in. I spent most of the morning writing the email below:
Good Morning Everyone,
Per Becky’s encouragement, I am writing you all to notify you of my situation as well as ask for your help and support. I find it a challenge to ask for help as I have never been very good at it, but I understand its importance and can see how this is an opportunity for me to grow in this area.
This weekend, while driving to Portland on Saturday, I came across an accident. A young man had jumped to his death from an overpass bridge into traffic on I-5 into the right hand Northbound lane. He was 21. The few cars ahead of me and myself were the beginning of the traffic congestion that soon was to follow the incident. At this time, the emergency vehicles had not arrived yet, but were close behind. Civilians were directing traffic and had attempted to cover him.
Fortunately, I did not see him fall (as that was, in fact, what he had done as he released his grip from the chain-link fencing…), however, I did see the aftermath of his collision with the ground and subsequent interaction with a vehicle as it passed over him. I saw him lying on the ground, barely covered, and not complete. The experience has created a deep impact on my mind and heart and I am working on processing it. At this time, I am finding that it is difficult for me to handle stressful situations, even minor ones, as my problem solving capacity seems to be short circuiting at the moment. Being around people can trigger panic attacks and even as I write this I can see my hands shaking. I zone out often, which in all honesty, feels amazing because my mind runs blank and I don’t have to be present. And more than anything in the world, right now, I wish I could go hide and cry.
I feel it is important for you all to know the truth of the situation rather than leaving mystery to hang in the air because it will bring understanding and compassion rather than intrigue and gossip (we all can get that way.) I often feel guilty when asking for help or staying home when I am ill even when I know that I can trust the people I’m around to care rather than judge.
So I need your help. I need help controlling the little things in my life right now… which is why I am sitting at my computer trying to personalize it. I ask the ladies at the front counter to help me by allowing me to help when I can and to sit at my desk when I feel like I can’t. I know this may place a larger workload on you, but I appreciate everything you do. Sometimes I might need to just go for a walk, as Becky has wisely suggested, to walk off any building anxiety. And sometimes I might need to go somewhere to cry and be alone. I really don’t like talking about what happened because I don’t like how lax it can become when it was something so powerful and life altering for all those involved. One of the biggest things I need right now is to just be internal rather than external (social). I just need you to know so you can understand. Becky mentioned that this likely will not just go away, but will take me time to recover from. We don’t know how long it will take, but I believe with the support and love of my friends and family it will happen in due course.
Today I am going to busy myself behind the scenes with the transcript files and working on some form creation. I likely will be heeding Becky’s advice and leaving early when I feel I need to.
Thank you all for being a part of my work family and allowing me this opportunity to heal and process. Your support will be and is vital in my growth.”
The email was sent to multiple departments as I work with many on campus and was well accepted. I had many replies of offered prayers and positive thoughts. A few hugs and a couple smiles.
I stayed until closing and we went to the store. I need safe food. Food I can eat that looks nothing like I saw.
Sleep found me early.
Tuesday’s alarm was unwelcome. I couldn’t get out of bed. I wasn’t tired, yet I was exhausted. I called in and went back to sleep. The day was spent in my pajamas, eating chips, and playing games on the computer. I zoned out the entire time. My brain was blank, I did nothing all day, and yet my heart was pounding. All day the anxiety was there – a little voice in the back of my head questioning whether or not I was home because I was truly hurt or because I just wanted to be lazy. There was doubt and guilt present. Disbelief in my need for rest.
Another early night.
I’m lying in my bed, hiding files beneath the covers between my husband and myself. My heart hurts, I can feel the spirit in the room. This energy of malice at the foot of our bed. It wants the files. It swoops around the bed to my side and slides its very human hand beneath my back.
My eyes bolt open. It’s dark in the room and no one is there. The feeling of the hand still lingers, the residue of the energy hangs in the air. It was there. Whatever it was, it was there. Checking the time on my phone I see that it is 3AM. Two more hours before I have to wake up. I roll over to my side and hold on tightly to my dog. She kicks at the blankets and backs deeper into me. I love this dog.
Two hours of sleep pass too quickly and there I am again, canceling my classes.
I wake at 7 to start my routine. Thinking throughout the shower, the hair dryer, the breakfast. Thoughts of an observer, finding deep interest in where my mind was going. The doubt of my condition. The moments of feeling fine proving the feelings of panic and anxiety childish. The realization of how an individual with a background in mental wellbeing and holistic health could possibly believe that because her injuries weren’t physical, weren’t exposed that they truly didn’t exist. The thought that it was all in my head.
Well of course it is all in my head, but doesn’t mean it isn’t real? I am not an impartial viewer, a scientist standing above a mouse in a maze – observing without interfering. I will set the record straight. I will tell myself the truth. It was then, within these thoughts, that this essay become an idea. I needed to write about it. I needed to get it out. I needed to share with absolutely nobody how I was feeling, little do I care if it is read. It is no longer within me. These thoughts are no longer rummaging about in a mind full of doubt. They have validity through publication. They are real and tangible. They are no longer only mine.