First, I have to say, I have a hard time saying the word “suicide”. It makes my stomach turn and I always fear people’s reactions. No one wants to talk about what makes them uncomfortable or sad, and survivors often fear judgment, especially those closest to the deceased. It took me several minutes of staring at the title of this post to put that word in there; suicide.
Suicide. Suicide. Suicide.
Maybe if I keep saying the word, I’ll become desensitized to it. Maybe my stomach won’t turn every time I say it, maybe my eyes won’t swell with tears as much and maybe the pain will stop. Probably not. But not talking about it or acknowledging suicide as a symptom to an illness doesn’t stop it from happening. So the word needs to be said even if it feels uncomfortable.
The day my husband died by suicide, was like any other day I’ve had for the last year and a half. Simply put, fucked up. I’m not kidding. Our story with the existence of untreated mental illness in our lives was devastatingly fucked up.( Please excuse the language, but if you do not like cursing, I don’t recommend my blog!) I’m not meaning to cause stigma, it’s the exact opposite. We need to talk about it. Our communities need to acknowledge it; the worst needs to be acknowledged too; not just the ups and downs; the whole picture. The psychosis, the rages, the scary parts, the good moments, and the bad. But this is a post for another day.
After a seven month period of mania, mixed mania, five of which were riddled with psychosis, suddenly, he was “better”. According to his sister that is. I had lived with him for 11 1/2 years. I’d seen the ups(that’s an understatement) and had experienced what it looked like for him to become “better”. Due to his playing around with his medication, and marijuana use, his better didn’t last long, and after this episode, I needed him to commit to treatment and have at least 6 months stability. The pendulum usually swung quickly the opposite direction; a severe dark depression also riddled with psychosis. I was being cautious with the children, and skeptical with his sister’s claims that he was better. But I was still hopeful and responding to him with kindness and love, because when you love someone with mental illness, you love the person they are, not what the illness makes them.
I was hurriedly making chicken, calling for my daughter to get her soccer gear on. It was a warm day, May 16th, 2016 and I was co-coaching her soccer team. My husband had messaged the night before, and usually had been calling on Mondays. You see, we were separated for 3 days short of 11 months and he was now living with his sister and dad out at his family farm. Our home was foreclosed on in March because he wasn’t paying any of the bills or the mortgage(poor money management is a symptom of mania). I was wrought with fear and guilt as I had temporarily set up visitation through a local safe visitation program due to his unpredictability and anger towards me during his manic episode. It was a temporary arrangement until he stabilized, was attending regular counseling and on proper medication. He’d never hurt our children intentionally, but his behavior was confusing and scary for me, and he refused to stay sober. How would our then seven year old daughter interpret his behavior…
I was anticipating the call, or a text. Just hearing from him brought me relief he was ok. Or at least re-confirm he was safe. When the phone rang, I picked it up not expecting to hear the strange voice on the other end of the line. It was 5:02pm.
” Hi, Donna?” “Yes? This is she.” I replied.
The next sentence was a blur… something about George from victim services, blah blah blah … All I kept thinking was “How did these people get my home number?” I had assumed it was a work related call. Suddenly, my heart started beating faster and the room felt like it was spinning. I heard him say Vauxhall and my mind started racing.
“We don’t usually do this over the phone, it’s, um, it’s not protocol, but it was insisted I call you….”
First what the hell is this you don’t do? Second, if it’s not protocol then why are you breaking it? “OK” I said. I wanted the call to stop. I wanted this man to either spit it out or shut up. It’s funny how in those moments you know the trauma is coming, but a part of you just can not wrap your head around it. I thought maybe my husband was finally in the hospital, getting help or maybe his dad died or something. I did not expect the blow I was about to receive.“I’m sorry to tell you this, but Anthony, your husband, he’s well, he’s dead.”
I now understand why being told over the phone by a complete stranger named George from victim’s services that your loved one is deceased is not protocol. I had no one to fall into, no one to touch me, which is especially important when something traumatic happens. I am thankful my daughter was in the basement and the TV was on at the time. It was the only time I was grateful she didn’t listen to my instructions to put her soccer uniform on. To this day I do not know how she didn’t hear me; maybe she did and ignored it, or maybe she was just zoned in on the TV. I don’t know. But I’m grateful she was not in the kitchen at the time.
The scream that escaped me in that moment still haunts me. It hurt. Everything instantly hurt. “Nooo! No! No, No!!” I screamed, as if screaming no, as if my not agreeing with what this stranger just told me, would be enough to bring my husband back. “What happened!!!???What happened!!!???What happened!!!???”I continued to scream over and over as though this guy was an idiot(which he was not, but at the time I didn’t like him much) couldn’t understand what I was saying.
“I’m sorry. He committed suicide.”“What?!Suicide? WHAT?!” By this time, I somehow ended up in my bedroom, on my knees, on the floor. Between sobbing and screaming, I do not know how I didn’t pass out. I don’t remember how I got there. I can only assume I was trying to run away from what had just become my reality.
When trauma hits, your mind goes all over and then freezes and then all over again. Your body doesn’t feel like your own, and you don’t think clearly. I stood up, and demanded to speak to my sister-in-law. I needed to speak to someone who was not a stranger and could confirm what this guy, George, had just told me. I didn’t have much respect left for her after the years of criticism, lying, blaming and pointing the finger. They believed his illness was my fault. Truth be told, there were times I believed them. “What happened Jess? What’s going on? Where’s your dad? What happened? How did he do it? Who found him? Where is your dad?!” The questions just came, and I don’t think I took a breath or paused, nor did I have much control at this point.
” He hung himself in the barn. I found him.” Oh god. How awful.. As much as the years had brought me to a place of strong dislike for her, I never doubted her love for her brother, and I certainly wouldn’t have wished this on her. You see, shortly after my husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a rift was caused between them and I. We had very different views about mental illness, and when manic, my husband could cause a storm of arguments. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” We sobbed together for a brief time. She said he had been crying a lot, and that he had asked to go the hospital on Friday, only three days before. “What? Then why didn’t you take him!?” I was still screaming out of control. I now realize this statement was accusatory, but at the time, I was in shock, and hurting. She didn’t cause this.
She went on to say something about me and the voice recording she had sent my best friend as an attempt to “reach out”. I had to cut off contact for a while from everyone to save my own sanity. To save myself so I could help and support my children in a healthy way. So I had little to no contact with her since Christmas. In February sometime, she sent a voice recording to my girlfriend that was, in my opinion, completely uncalled for, and crossing some significant boundaries. My response to her was just that “It’s not the right time to discuss this Jess. That recording was unnecessary and cruel..” click. The line went dead.
What the hell? I froze, staring at the phone. Did any of this really happen. Please tell me this is a night mare.
I ran outside, and the world kept spinning. I didn’t know what to do next. I started to hyperventilate. My son was at work, my daughter still going about her day watching TV thinking she was going to go to soccer. Oh god. Oh no. What do I tell my babies? I ran behind the house and began to vomit in the garden. I couldn’t break their hearts. How could he have done this to them?
What happens after that moment was very much a blur. At some point I called my best friend and between sobs, managed to tell her my husband was gone, and she needed to come over now. She did. In fact, she got there before victim services called me back. Before the police showed up at my door. Before anyone else. I called my parents. They immediately said they’d come down.