There are no words to describe the feelings that washed over my body when the phone rang and I heard, “Your mom’s in the hospital; she took a lot of pills and her organs are close to shutting down.” Or when I walked into the laundry room in my house and found my 16-year-old son standing with a chair in front of him and a cord in his hands. I went blank. Then I thought, "Oh, God, not in my house." Maybe that wasn't the best parenting thought, but you really can’t control what happens when you come face-to-face with your biggest fear.
There have been three times in my life when I had to face suicide attempts: two by my mom and one by son. That's three times I’ve sat in a hospital trying to keep it together. Watching my mom hallucinate or getting her wrists sewn up. I can't even count the hours I’ve spent in the hospital with my son.
I could go on about how mental illness has affected my entire life — how I felt like it held me back from finding true love or moving my business forward. But the truth is I’m grateful.
Of course, I wasn't always grateful. Life sucked for a long time. I drank, gained stress weight, lived on autopilot, spent more time in psychiatrist offices than I did my own home and complained. A lot. Then, three years ago, the victim part of me simply washed away.
I was at an event where we were asked to go up to a stranger and share what our last talk would be if we only had 15 minutes to live and wanted to make a difference. What message would we want to give to the world before taking our last breath?
For some reason, this opened up a door inside me. It all made sense. And as I looked up, crying and snotty, into the stranger’s face, I said the words that changed my life: “It wasn’t my fault." I was never meant to save my mom, and I was never meant to save my son.
It was as though a flood of victimhood, shame and guilt washed off my body. I instantly felt a huge weight lift off me. And when this happened, everything else I had been told or learned about mental illness changed shape for me. The words and encouragement from years of therapy finally made sense.
The thing is I had spent so much time blaming my mom and son for slowing me down, causing my life to stand still, that I didn’t realize the only thing actually standing in my way was myself: me. My choices. My thoughts. My perceptions of what was going on. Because the truth is no one can affect our lives completely unless we give them the power to do so.
I remember when things were at their peak with my son, Ethan; my therapist told me to detach myself emotionally. She asked, "If he weren't your son, would you let anyone else treat you this way?" The answer, of course, was no. After I dropped the guilt, my therapist's words became my mantra: Detach emotionally. Detach emotionally. Because I could also ask the question, "If this weren’t my mom, would I acknowledge that I had done everything humanly possible to help her feel better?" The answer was yes. More guilt drifted away.
Even now, I detach emotionally to look at situations in my life with more clarity. I believe these words give me the opportunity to break codependency (codependency is something that, since I grew up around mental illness, I’m exceptionally good at — or rather, bad at) and put myself first. I also learned to detach from the outcome; this one was huge. Because all those years of spending time in fear that something terrible could happen at any moment — that took a ton of brain power away from me.
For so long, even when I was out with friends, working or away for a weekend, the fear that at any moment either my mom or my son could take their life was constantly on my mind. But by realizing I had done everything I could, I felt a freedom — I felt that even if something did happen, I could release responsibility. I could live freely and without fear.
Man, did I ever have to trust in a higher power some days. Because when I detached from the outcome and acknowledged that I wasn’t able to protect my mom and son, I needed to know that someone/something else could. There needed to be a way to give the fear away and to clear the patterns and beliefs I had carried within me for so long. Faith gave me that freedom.
Even though there were many times I lost myself in the sadness around me, I’m so grateful for what my mom’s and son's suicide attempts have taught me. I’ve learned to listen to my own intuition — not the instructions of society, of what we “should” or “should not” do as daughters and mothers. I've learned to model by example, to do the work on myself so my son can see what is possible in this world. And I've learned, most important, to raise my voice. After years of being afraid to use it, afraid I would hurt the ones I love, I now use it to inspire others with our story.
For more information on the warning signs and prevention of suicide, click here. If you're considering suicide or fear you may become suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24-7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you're worried about someone you love, visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org. If you live outside the U.S., you can find a list of suicide-prevention hotlines worldwide here.