Last night was hard. More like gut-wrenching.
Our community lost an amazing man yesterday, and I learned of this loss when I got home from my typical Friday night grocery jaunt with my crew. He (I’ll call him Trevor for anonymity’s sake) had so many talents – the arts, music, photography, not to mention being a kick-ass clinician and teacher by day and passionate advocate.
He was also a devoted husband to an incredible woman and loving father of beautiful young children.
I had to read the post in our private Facebook group a few times before reality set in. Moments later came the hand over my mouth, tears welling in my eyes, and then …
“Why didn’t I say something?”
Weeks ago, I happened to come across one of Trevor’s posts in my feed, and what he shared was deeply personal. What followed for days afterwards was fairly dark and he soon removed that jarring post revealing something that I believe under typical circumstances he would not have written for public display and also referring to himself as “a joke,” as “unworthy” and truly lesser than others in this world.
I had a dream last week that I was at a gathering with both Trevor and his wife present (probably an upcoming event when we would have all run into each other), and that we were enjoying a conversation about the work we were doing and about our kids. I woke up peaceful. Looking back I wonder if it was because in that dream, so lucid and so real, we were speaking face to face and I had made a connection with the two of them.
Why didn’t I reach out like I did in my dream, when my instincts kept nagging at me and saying “something isn’t right?”
Why did I assume that someone else spoke up already?
Why did I feel as if it were not my place to practice kindness and express humanity, even if just to send a message to ask “hey, is everything ok? You seem pretty upset lately.”
Why didn’t I follow my heart?
Why didn’t I advocate for his well-being, so that his wife and children would not be in mourning today?
I wish I had. I wish. But dammit, wishing isn’t going to bring this man back.
Death by means of succumbing to mental illness is devastating, and just passes ones pain to others. However, this world needs to “get woke” and recognize that suicide just isn’t a choice that someone who is emotionally well would choose. It is the way out for someone who has suffered for far too long without relief, feeling as if they just don’t have another viable option.
Depression is an evil beast, a dark reaper that takes over one’s mind and soul, and sometimes, our human selves are unable to fight any longer.
It has almost ripped away many friends and even friends’ adolescent children from my circle. So many faces and stories right now are flashing through my mind.
I’m thinking about my mother’s cousin’s ex-husband Bill, whom my cousin found after just days without typical contact. Though the marriage did not last, she kept tabs on him as she knew that no one else was. He had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and it was severe. Without his medication and without maintaining his therapy sessions, he was a ticking time bomb. After days of “disappearance,” the time bomb went off. She sensed something was wrong, and she went to his apartment. She said to my mother and I, “I will never unsee that for the rest of my life.” I can imagine that witnessing such a scene is like a video stuck on repeat.
Growing up, I was aware of this danger being the daughter of someone with bipolar disorder myself. As I have shared openly, mental illness runs rampant in my family on both sides. As a child, somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10, my father was hospitalized not just for one of his usual cyclic episodes, but because he was 302’d. If you aren’t familiar with this term, it means you are committed to a psychological setting or hospital because you have made a threat against someone’s life or your own. July 14th will mark ten years since I last looked in those big steel blue eyes. I’m so glad that he wasn’t ultimately victim of his diagnosis (no, just everything else under the sun it seems), and count myself fortunate that I had him in my life for as long as I did. We were blessed.
Also in my mind’s eye is my college dean, who also lost his life to depression when I was in my 20’s. I could not stop crying for days when I learned that he was gone. If it wasn’t for him – named John, like my Daddy – I would not have finished my two year degree. I walked – no wait, I wobbled – into his office when I was about seven months pregnant with Christian. I said, “I’m here to withdraw and I apparently need your signature to do it.” Rather than taking the form and pen I tried to hand to him, he pushed both back into my hand and asked me to sit down.
He asked how I was feeling, how my classes were going, and if leaving school was really what I wanted. Not only had I just switched my major from education to journalism, I was active with the student paper as the Editor-in-Chief, I was involved with student government, and I was a campus ambassador who gave tours to prospective freshmen. I said, “Well, no, Dean Beatty this isn’t at all what I want but I don’t know that I have any choice right now. And besides, why would you want me as a Lion Ambassador? I’m PREGNANT. I’m a poor role model and I let everyone down including you.” I put the form on his desk. “Go ahead, sign it.”
He stood up, handed it back to me, and gave me a hug. “No, Cathy. No. You are a role model. You are a good student. You’re a good person. You are going to make something of yourself for you and that baby and I will NOT sign that form. Not now, not ever.” Fast forward to the summer of 1998, I enrolled in a summer class and started working towards a letters, arts and sciences degree. In May 1999, my mother, my father and my son in his stroller accompanied me to my graduation ceremony. I would not have donned that cap and gown if it weren’t for that man – a man who like Trevor and like Bill simply could not overcome the demonic cloud of mental illness.
These memories have been haunting me since last night, like what cousin Gerry describes as the scenes that won’t stop replaying.
When I realized that it was five years ago this month that I was in that same dark place myself, I let loose and let Mama Betty comfort me while I sobbed hysterically. I said, “Mom, do you know that could have been me that people were dropping their jaws over?” In July 2014, I almost faced that same fate. I thank God, my loved ones and treasured friends for ensuring that I accessed the treatment that I needed to recover, to restore, and to realize that I am indeed worthy and that I am indeed enough, right now. They saved my life.
I’ve been so busy these past few months with many exciting happenings while watching my son strive to grasp abundance in his life, too. We had a rough go of it for a while, but I’ve clawed my way up out of the rabbit hole. I’m involved with several writing projects, both collaborations and solo pieces, and no they aren’t just focused on autism. That’s what I’m most well known for, but as I told a friend who will be interviewing me next month for her podcast, I don’t narrow myself to one bucket. I have so much to share.
I have said yes not just to authoring works, but to multiple interviews and presentations – from teaching healthy relationships and self-care for people with disabilities to stressing the critical importance of providing Applied Behavior Analysis to persons living with autism to my experience as a survivor of sexual assault.
I am going to keep saying yes, and I am going to keep openly sharing each and every painful moment. Recovery has amplified my voice more than ever before. I refuse to be a highlight-only reel on my platforms.
I am no longer afraid.
I am imprisoned no more.
I owe the world my stories. Someone, maybe many someones, need to hear them. Maybe next time, my story will save a life and stop someone’s light from fading away.
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well, I do.