On June 13, 2006 I woke up and saw that I had a voicemail message from my mom. She was crying, so I braced myself for the worst, but couldn’t begin to imagine how bad it was going to be. When I returned her call she told me that my big sister had taken her own life. She was 30. Her boyfriend found her the night before. The police called my dad to come identify the body and sent a unit to my mom’s house in the middle of the night to tell her that her firstborn child was dead.
I was living far from home, and my family offered to fly me in for the funeral, but I chose to drive the 700 miles. I couldn’t deal with airports and people. I needed to be alone to process what was happening. When I finally got to my mom’s house, almost 18 hours after receiving the news, my mom greeted me with the words, “I got her an oak coffin,” in a voice that was barely a whisper. It’s strange the things you remember. I couldn’t tell you anything else either of us said that night.
I spoke at the funeral. I told stories about she and I playing as children, getting into trouble as teenagers, and a lifetime of friendship and love. I greeted friends and family. Everyone told me I was “so strong,” as I was falling apart. I promised my mom that I wouldn’t follow my sister, that I wouldn’t take my life. I told her that I might go a little crazy, but I would still show up every day. I went to my sister’s apartment and saw the spot where she died. I packed box after box of her belongings. Within 2 weeks, I buried my sister, packed up everything she owned, and was back home. The worst of it was still to come.
Fifteen years earlier I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, just like my sister, and many other family members. After my sister’s suicide I was also diagnosed with PTSD. We were just 15 months apart in age. I didn’t know how to live in a world where I didn’t have my sister. Everything I knew about everything was invalid. I lost myself in grief and pain. I didn’t want people I had known before my sister’s suicide to see me because I knew how much I had changed. I began drinking heavily and was just waiting to die.
On December 12, 2011, I hit rock bottom. I was ready to end my life.
The next morning I found out I was pregnant, after believing for years that I wasn’t able to have children. I can’t say that motherhood has fixed me, but it is definitely the inspiration I needed to keep trying. I take my medication exactly as prescribed every day. I keep all my appointments with doctors and counselors. I have an amazing relationship with my adorable little boy, who smiles at every person he meets. I still miss my sister. I don’t think that wound will ever heal, but I’ve learned to live with the pain and to feel joy again.
I do everything I can to raise awareness on the topics of mental illness and suicide. I’m very open about my sister’s death and what’s it’s like to live with mental illness. I hope to show others that those of us with mental illnesses are not that different from everyone else. If anyone reading this is looking for a glimmer of hope, keep looking. It’s out there. Something that I’ve learned over the last few years is that life is about enjoying what there is to enjoy while enduring what there is to endure. Hopefully, if we’re lucky enough, the good will outweigh the bad.