Sometimes a horrible thing makes you remember your own horrible thing and you find your mind digging into memories you’d much rather forget, and feelings best left buried. This happens to me on occasion. I don’t know if this is because my heart is learning a compassion that comes only with the passing of time, or if I am still healing bit by bit and the hurts must be squeezed out drop by drop, day by day, and filled with love instead. I don’t know.
What I do know is that my life and the living of it has presented some harrowing circumstances that swirl around mental illness. I know what I used to do to be silent. I also know what others have done to silence me.
I recently heard of an old friend’s mother’s attempt on her life, which made my memories of silence all too close and too hard. I saw the mother’s tight smile in an unexpected interaction, and I knew. I know the tightness of lips when one feels failed at life and then fails at death, too. It etches vile ruts in their faces, that tightness.
I have seen the look on my own mother’s face many times. I lost count of her attempts somewhere in my junior year of high school; I haven’t been able to keep up since.
I wish I didn’t know that look so well. But I do, and so when I see it, my heart breaks. And it breaks more when I see the faces of the loved ones around the hurting one. That ache, that unbearable ache of inadequacy and the inability to make it better. That hope that perhaps more love will draw someone back into life.
I wish I didn’t know the stigma of being a loved one of someone who succeeds at death unexpected. I was hit with this especially hard the night a student violently ended her days; afterward, those around me explained in no uncertain terms that no one should call it suicide. I wish I didn’t know the tears I held in my throat that night, aching for another family shamed into silence by a well-meaning community afraid of being raw.
I wish I didn’t know how a soldier who has returned home sleeps with a pistol and whiskey close at hand. I know that, too. I know how a sister falls to her knees in the middle of the night and prays hard for the tough nightmares to leave her brother because they have both lived the same hell years before and they are close enough that she knows in her heart something is terribly wrong. I know how the phone rings some twenty minutes into that anxious prayer and I know how tears fall when a brother tells you he is not okay. And every time I meet a soldier and I hear a bit of a war story, I remember that night.
I wish I didn’t know how an abusive and depressed and highly praised man can make depression and fear seep into every area of your life, and make you wary of any raised voice or hand. I wish my parents didn’t know how to worry about a daughter’s safety from two states away. I think of this when I meet women in far more difficult and dangerous circumstances. I wish they didn’t know either.
I wish I didn’t know the enormous amount of shame that depression brings. Every time I meet a patient newly diagnosed with something I am slowly but surely clawing my way out of, I think of the brave day I walked into my physician’s office and explained with a tremble that I could not sleep at night and that the girl who rarely cried was sobbing without warning at any hour. I remember, too, the day I told the same physician that you are never sure of how deep you are in until you get out. I said that to him because I had cried with relief just that week when I heard my familiar quiet giggle bubble uninhibited from a place that had not allowed it to escape for many months. I see my patients and their aching hearts and I want to hug them and tell them it will be okay and they are not alone.
I wish I didn’t know these things. I really do. The past is the past and it is not my master by any means. Grace has paved the way for healing. But my story is still my story. And it still aches at times. I would be remiss to be silent about what I wish I didn’t know. Silent, though, is exactly what I have been.
I wish we weren’t silent. I wish we wouldn’t hear things like PTSD and depression and suicide and cringe inwardly and gossip in our fear. I wish we were brave. I wish we were honest. I wish we would take a deep breath and know that we are not alone and healing is possible. I wish we would offer a hand when someone hurting needs one. I wish we would listen. I wish we would tell our stories like they really are and in so doing, create space for individuals to find freedom in the honesty of struggle and to be rid of the shame unnecessarily heaped on aching hearts. I wish we weren’t so afraid of our own frailty, the failing of our own skins, the consequences of being honest in a world insistent on being false and good-looking on the outsides.
May we all be raw and brave and loud in the face of horrible things.