It’s taken me 11 years to work up the courage to put my feelings about my father’s death by suicide down on paper. 11 years to not give a f*ck about the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide. 11 years to realize that sharing my story of struggle, anger, abandonment, despair, and hopelessness is more important than staying quiet because people may judge me or treat me differently.
11 years to understand that sitting back in silence could prevent me from being there for someone who is struggling like I struggled. 11 years is a long ass time. Almost half of my life to be exact. I’m not saying it’s any easier, but I do feel more like a seasoned veteran rather than a blubbering emotional mess. I have finally reached the point where it feels like I can give advice rather than seek answers or comfort or feelings of numbness.
So here I am, sharing my completely unprofessional, maybe uneducated, definitely unsolicited advice with hope that it will reach someone, anyone who is struggling.
1. Telling people what happened is just as difficult for me now as it was 11 years ago.
It never fails. You meet a new person and exchange pleasantries. It’s going well and you think, “hell yasssss, am I making a new friend right now?!” Then the inevitable happens, the dreaded question is asked: “What do your parents do?” It never fails. My hands get all clammy and suddenly, I don’t have as much to say. There are people I have met and spent a lot of time with and would consider good friends who think my dad is still very much alive and running his family’s textile business.
It’s effed up, but there have also been time where I think, “what the hell, I’ll just come right out with it” and it ends awkwardly and abruptly and I’m left thinking I’ve done something wrong although all I did was answer their question. Saying the words “my dad killed himself” don’t exactly make people feel super comfortable though. And that has a lot to do with the shitty stigma surrounding mental illness and especially suicide. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone who knows nothing of my situation say “Suicide is so selfish”, I’d be really f*cking rich.
2. People LOVE to talk about themselves.
As I said in my first point, telling people you lost your dad to suicide is one of the most awkward, uncomfortable, upsetting things in the whole entire world. As I got older and more seasoned in the art of telling people that uncomfortable story, I’ve learned how to strategically avoid the question. Now, this doesn’t work all the time, but a lot of the time, it works quite well. You’re exchanging pleasantries with a person and you just have to pick one single thing that they tell you and run with it. Figure out what their passion is and fire off questions about it.
Chances are, they will be so enthralled in telling you about their passion that the awkward conversation can be avoided and you will be able to a. learn something really new and interesting about this person b. find out you have something in common and bond over that or c. make someone’s day by letting them tell you about their passions. I’ve been called nosy more times than I can count because I ask LOTS of questions when I first meet a person. Call it a defense mechanism or call it plain nosy, but I have learned a lot of interesting things from all kinds of different people because of this tactic.
3. Abandonment issues are still real and FIERCE.
When one of the people (your parent) who is supposed to love you unconditionally, no matter what, decides to take his own life, that shit is HARD AS FUCK to grapple with. Add in being 13 when it happened and also the only girl of the family and an extreme daddy’s girl, and you’ve got a recipe for extreme self-esteem and abandonment issues. I get worried sometimes that complete strangers (like the cashier at the grocery store) will hate me and not want to be around me ever again and avoid me like the plague the next time I’m in the grocery store.
That is completely ridiculous and asinine, but it has made me feel this need to have every single person I come in contact with like me so that they won’t abandon me. In truth, my father’s struggles were far greater than me or my brothers or anything we could’ve done. Accepting that he still loved me and did everything he could to be there for me is still something I struggle with sometimes.
4. Find a (healthy) form of therapy and use it every single day.
I have been to a few therapists and never found one who worked for me. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other forms of therapy. I tried using the unhealthy therapy (alcohol, drugs, spending exorbitant amounts of money), but I realized that music is one of the best therapies for me. Ask anyone who knows me and they know my favorite kind of music is “old, dead people music”.
Music like Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, James Brown and MANY others transport me from my shitty ass day to a magical little oasis where I have no problems or worries. And when I can stick to a plan, exercise has the same effect. Spinning releases endorphins like no other and yoga calms my anxious mind. There are tons of scientific articles to back up my unscientific claims, but y’all take my word for it. Google that shit if you need a little more convincing.
5. Tell your story. It’s cathartic and could possibly connect you with others.
Without going into too much detail in order to guard this person’s privacy, I once met this guy who I’ll call “Matt”. We met by chance and got to talking and he told me that his father died by suicide when he was 13.
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I told him that the exact same thing happened to me. We commiserated with each other, shared stories of our struggles through the years, and found kindred spirits in each other. Now I have a friend for life, and Matt also taught me that you never know what can happen by sharing your story.
6. Friends are the family you choose for yourself.
This is not a diss towards my family, but rather a shout out to all my homies. Everyone handles tragedy differently and my family is no exception. Holidays are no longer joyous occasions, but rather a time when the absence of my father is even more magnified. Sometimes it’s just too painful to deal with, but my friends always step up to the plate and invite to spend holidays with their families. My friends let me cry about it when I just need a good cry.
They’re nonjudgmental and know that I do things differently and view the world differently because of the shit I’ve been through. And they don’t love me any less or look at me like I’m a freak (even though I definitely am). Basically, my friends rock and act as a big support system for me when I’m down or struggling.
7. Everyone has been through shit
One of the most helpful things I’ve learned is that everyone has been through tough shit. And everyone handles their tough shit differently. Judging people is probably one of the worst things you can do. Realizing this has made me a more understanding, empathetic person. At the end of the day, everyone is just trying to get by. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself and thinking that people just don’t understand the pain I’ve been through, but that’s not fair nor is it true.
Everyone has experienced pain and suffering, so who am I to judge them? I personally think that we should all rally together and support each other and lift each other up, because at the end of the day, that’s what we want as humans. We want camaraderie, support and to feel like we are loved and cared for. When you have all of that, not much else matters.
8. It still hurts to think about all the things my dad will miss out on
As embarrassing as it is for me to admit, one of the first things I thought about as a 13 year old who had just lost her dad was “who is going to walk me down the aisle at my wedding”? I have grown and matured by leaps and bounds since then, but thinking about that still makes me really fucking sad.
I think about my future children and that he won’t be there for their births. My kids will never know their grandfather and what an incredible, amazing man he was. Sometimes I get worried that I’m forgetting all of my memories of him that I won’t even be able to remember any great stories about him (and there are a ton) to share with my kids.
9. Time heals all
In the grand scheme of life, 11 years really isn’t that long, but to my 24 year old self, it seems like forever. In those 11 years, more than I ever could’ve imagined has happened. When I lost my dad, I was a sad, angry, depressed, confused girl. Now, I am a self-assured, empathetic, passionate adult.
I have worked hard as fuck to be where I am today. I’m not saying I’m perfect because I have millions of faults, but I know that as each day passes, I feel myself get stronger mentally, more accepting of my past and more excited for the future. Right now, I know I’m exactly where I need to be and that feels so damn good.