I was eighteen, and almost free. I had my whole life ahead of me. Six weeks before I could escape the cult I grew up in and go to college, live in a dorm, and finally, maybe, have a life of some sort. I was on a train to go see Kiss. A moment I’ll never forget. I’d been trying to get tickets for weeks, and the day before the show scored them on eBay. My boyfriend was meeting me after work and we were seeing Avenged Sevenfold the next night. It was going to be an epic weekend. My boyfriend kept calling because my mother wouldn’t let me stay the night at his house, which was much closer to the concert venues. Yes, I was eighteen and still took no for an answer. I had grown up in a cult, and frankly being allowed to be out past my normal ten PM curfew was a lot. My boyfriend’s mother even swore to my mother to make sure I slept on the sofa, but it wasn’t enough. I’d be tainted or something if I slept under the same roof as him. And that was okay. I knew I needed to be home for Lexi.
My phone rang. It was my sister’s boyfriend. He rarely called me, but he was my best friend’s brother so we talked on occasion. I answered the call and he was freaking out. When I got him to be coherent he’d asked if I’d heard from my sister. I hadn’t. The last thing Lexi had said as I walked out the door for the weekend was ‘Fuck off.’ Not unheard of in our rocky relationship. We fought constantly, I was a dick, she was an asshole. But night after night when she couldn’t sleep because being alone terrified her. She’d come into my room and sleep on the floor. Our fights never extended to prohibiting that. She needed me to chase away the voices and I was always there. Just another reason I never spent the night out anywhere. I never knew how much those words would haunt me for years to come. They were so mundane for us.
My older sister called me as soon as I hung up with Lexi’s boyfriend. Lexi had tried to kill herself and was on the way to the hospital. This wasn’t the first time I’d received this call. Or the second. The times before were called attempts because she was a cutter. I wasn’t worried. We’d been here before. Lexi would spend a couple of weeks in an inpatient program and then be back to the usual. It wasn’t the same. It wasn’t close to the same. When my older sister said ‘tried to kill herself’ on the phone what she meant was: Lexi killed herself. But not even she could bring herself to say the words.
We hung up and I called Lexi’s boyfriend to tell him and ask him what happened. He was devastated. They’d had a fight. A stupid fight and I can’t even remember what it was about it was so insignificant. He was going to go meet them at the hospital. I was nearing the city at dusk and it wasn’t a safe place for me to get off the train and wait to catch another. So I would continue to union and then see if I needed to be home. It still wasn’t a big deal. We’d done this before.
And then I got another call. My older sister again. Lexi wasn’t breathing when they found her but my dad and older sister had revived her before the paramedics arrived. Things were serious. I needed to come home. This was before cell phones had data so I was staring at the train time table trying to figure out what train I could get back on. I got to union switched trains at rush hour and got a seat on the packed train. People were everywhere. I could barely move. It was summer, hot, and there was no air. I got another call. Lexi was dead.
Dead. I had my first panic attack on a crowded train. Sobbing unable to breathe, I couldn’t even answer my phone that kept ringing. My boyfriend trying to figure out where I was. A stranger answered and talked to him. Another stranger got me a bottle of water from some place. Strangers were producing tissues. I cannot tell you how many people saved me that day. I wish I had the power to thank each and every one of those people. After an hour on the train having a panic attack, I was picked up by my best friend to spend another hour in Chicago traffic trying to get to the hospital. I couldn’t drive in traffic for years without having a panic attack. I couldn’t get near a train without not being able to breathe.
I’ve never told this story in full to anyone. No one. As I type all these details this is the first time I will have put it all out here. Sure. I’ve spoken about parts or little details, but not even my partner of thirteen years has heard all of this. Partly because I’m a mess writing this. It’s been fifteen years in July and I’m still a fucking mess recounting it. Full on tears over my keyboard. The other part was this deep shame people like me have been made to feel for dealing with mental health.
Mental health has been a whispered secret in my life for a long time. It was the dirty secret we didn’t talk about in public. It was the shame my family hid from the world. Where was my little sister? Surely not in a mental hospital. She was visiting relatives, or at home, or any number of excuses my parents could come up with to hide the fact she was in the hospital again. Those who found out, because there were always some, looked at all of us like we were part of the sickness. I remember the judgment from church, because it got out there after my mother asked for prayers, like prayers could put a bandage on an illness we couldn’t see. I had friends who weren’t allowed to see me anymore. There was an inbred embarrassment forced on us from the outside by so called well-meaning people. For a long time after my sister took her own life it was hard to utter the word suicide, and not because I was embarrassed but because I knew the disdain and the looks I would get after saying it.
I went through eight years of swallowing the words and replacing them with, ‘she died’ and ending the conversation, before I was comfortable talking about it. I had friends who knew me for years and years and never knew I had a sister who killed herself. I’d hear I’m sorry over and over, and I get it. What else do you say to someone who experienced a death. I heard it over and over after my sister died. To the point where I never wanted to hear ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ again. The phrase made me want to scream, and I know now it was just a way of coping and not wanting to deal with the loss I was feeling, but it still echoes the fact that there are no words to say to someone when they are suffering through this.
My sister killing herself is something I’ll never get over. It’s nearly impossible to quantify loss. I’m sure this can be said for all kinds of losses, in death and even in the loss of those that are still living, but we carry about this weight with us. Every person you see is carrying this weight in one form or another. There are people who tell you the loss gets easier over time, and I’m sure that’s true for some types, but I can tell you from my experience, this loss has never lessened.
And this is why we need awareness. Because it’s not a secret. Depression a disease so many people are suffering with. But they aren’t the only people who are suffering. Their families are suffering, the ones they leave behind are suffering, and our society bleeds with the loss of people. Still to this day we hide our depression. We hide medications. We hide the pain we carry. But we shouldn’t have to hide anymore. We can do more than ‘I’m sorry’.
This is why I’m so proud to be a part of this fundraiser Denise has put together year after year.
A part of the proceeds of Forsaken go to the Milano Fund.
Please support these authors who are donating their hard earned royalties to this cause.
Or donate directly to the Milano Fund.
And to lighten the mood I am going to be giving away some copies of the other books on the list. So please comment below with something sexy, or funny or what ever you’re in the mood for for a chance to win one of the amazing books on the list.
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