Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining me. I’m your host, Christopher Gajewski.
Let’s get naked about mental health!
In this episode…I’m going even further off the reservation. In honor of Suicide Awareness Month, let’s discuss the other side, the people left behind.
Since I started talking about my experiences with suicide, people have asked me about loved ones who committed or tried to commit suicide. They wanted to know, or needed to know, how I got past my suicidal period, how I am still here when their loved ones are not.
It tears them up. I can understand this as I have been there on the other side. My mom was bi-polar and tried to commit suicide multiple times. I was a witness to it twice that I can recall.
The first time I was very young. I had to be old enough to read because after trying to wake her up for hours, I opened the folded note on the bedside table and read it. Either through panic or ignorance, I did not know how to call 911 so I ran.
It was late, very late. I remember a warm rain that chilled me as I ran through the streets in my socks that quickly got soaked in SW Philly. I had no idea where to go, even with family right up the street. I was drawn to a candy store a couple blocks away where I knew the owners lived in the house next door. I banged on the door until they opened it. I don’t remember much after that, but they must have called 911.
I was much older the second time. It was my greatest sin, my greatest crime. My arrogance. I was 29 and would save my mother from her manic depression. I moved her into my two-floor apartment and tried to work with her. She was too far gone in her madness, and, for the first time in my life, I met a foe, a situation, that I was powerless against.
After a couple months, I knew what was about to happen. I even called her doctor. I took my mother to see him. On the car ride over, I saw this incredible transformation. It was like watching a woman get ready to walk the red carpet for the Oscars.
My mom was completely in the grip of the madness. It shackled her and incapacitated her. All that she could do was sit on the sofa and scratch at her arms. In that car ride, though, she became the master manipulator that did not want to go into the hospital. The transformation was truly incredible to watch. Terrifying, but awesome.
We walked in and she completely conned the doctor. I tried telling him, explaining, pleading. He looked at her, asked her questions that she answered clearly and sanely, and he ignored me. I believe he accused me of trying to get my mom hospitalized so I could have a break from taking care of her.
He got a call the following afternoon. It was after the cops busted through the door, after I wandered through the apartment amazed at how much blood could come from one person, after my own madness began.
I got his answering machine. “I was right and you were wrong. Your patient is in the hospital. The doctors are amazed that she survived.”
I’ll give him this though: he did call me back.
So, yeah, I’ve been there. I guess that is one of the reasons why both my plans included not letting anybody know, not subjecting them to the horror of finding me and having to clean up the mess. Allow the waves, tide and ocean to take me into its embrace.
If you have been through this, I highly recommend getting counseling with an expert on the topic. It is most likely what caused my PTSD but I am bad at taking my own advice.
For now, let’s talk about the doorstep and beyond. You can find an essay on it I wrote on my website: In Memory of Robin Williams and others who lost the battle against depression. Some people have found it helpful.
I was so angry at my mother for the longest time, but then I began to understand it from her side. It would be about six months from her attempted suicide to when I almost exited stage left.
I made my own appearance at the Oscar’s, walked down the red carpet all smiles and waves. I’m alright. I’m okay. Everything is perfectly fine.
But first, let’s dive into the deep end. A person who is actively suicidal or succeeds at committing suicide. The doctor asked my mother if she had a plan to hurt herself. She lied and said no. This is an extreme case, but it illustrates the point very well. There is no room for metaphors. This is a true story.
My mother’s madness had evolved to a point where she knew that she was an instrument of Satan sent to spread disease on the earth. Try to take that in for a moment. She was an instrument of Satan sent to spread disease on the earth. It was truth to her, fact. It was her reality.
She had spread the disease to me who in turn had spread it to her grandson. She was now spreading it to everybody that she knew and loved.
In this situation, what would you do? If this was your reality?
So now let’s water it down, take it back from the extreme. I know that the first time I went from passively suicidal to active, I felt like a complete piece of shit. I was not an instrument of Satan sent to spread disease on this earth, but in my reality, I was a burden, financially, emotionally, mentally and physically to all those I loved and cared about. People were taking care of me. That was my reality. My truth. Beyond any doubt and beyond any counter argument.
I got to a point where I couldn’t function. It was a moment of clarity for me. My mom’s “selfish” act became a selfless one. I was going to follow her lead, succeed where she failed.
It was my mom who saved herself. I don’t know how. The doctors don’t know how. They believe that the thing that first saved her, gave her time, was she tried to kill herself two ways. Her thoroughness bought her time. She sliced and took a massive dose of sleeping pills. The doctors feel the sleeping pills slowed her heart enough for the blood to congeal. In a moment of clarity, she dialed 911.
For me, I needed at least one person to understand. Something within me, maybe something that was still clinging to life, made me call a friend to try to explain it to her, for her to understand. Simply, because I have spoken about it other episodes, she asked for more time and I gave it to her.
Time was the common factor. A few seconds. A week. A month.
I’ve read stories about people who jump from the Golden Gate Bridge wanting to commit suicide and survive. It is said that as soon as they jump, they regret jumping. I am sure you can find the stories on YouTube.
The need for survival is our most basic instinct and that of every animal. People will do amazing and miraculous things to survive. To end your own life, you need to override this most basic function.
Now, think about the stories you know that may override this. Things you may have said, especially if you are a parent. I’m an uncle. Blood of my blood. As soon as that kid was born, I knew I would do anything for him, including giving up my life to save his. It was a love so complete, so powerful, that it placed his safety and survival above my own.
Now, apply that to the above story. Does it make it easier to understand?
…I just took a break from typing this up. Diving this deep, I need to come up for air once in a while. I ran across a meme a friend posted on Facebook.
“The people in your life should be a source of reducing stress, not causing more of it.”
Now, I’m sane right now. Or as sane I get. I understand the meme. I preach it. Get rid of the toxic people in your life.
But imagine when insanity enters the equation. Imagine you become the toxic person. Toxicity becomes your identity, your reality. You are the toxic person in people’s lives. The people you love and care about. Your very existence is causing them pain and harm.
What would you do?
Aye, I realize it is hard to understand, hard to wrap your imagination around it. But if you have a loved one who committed suicide, you have to try and realize that it is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done. In their reality, they did what they needed to do.
Altered reality. Imagine me trying to explain to you that the sky is really neon red not blue, that water feels scratchy, roses smell like horses, a baby’s crying sounds like Mozart, and filet mignon tastes like mustard.
I’ve always said that depression warps reality, it is a powerful illusion. It is so hard to pierce through it. You cannot do it alone. Please see my episode on the Mental Health Triangle.
Now, the second time I was planning on committing suicide was very different in many ways. I did not feel like a burden to anybody. I wasn’t toxic. I was walking down that red carpet with waves and smiles. But the carpet was not leading to the Oscars. It was leading to the end of an existence that I could not bear anymore.
I started planning it when I was about 48. It was a hell of a plan, that Covid interrupted. The story doesn’t matter, and it is one I share in other episodes. The important thing for you to know is that nobody knew and there was nothing that anybody could have done. I was waving and smiling and actually feeling great.
You see, I justified everything. It all made perfect sense, once again, in my mind. I had given my friend her year, and then another 18 after it. I was done. I had a good run, but it was time.
I said all of my goodbyes without letting on that I was saying goodbye. I wrapped things up, took care of everything that needed to be taken care of, and was about to set off on that final journey when the pandemic interrupted everything.
I was just so damn exhausted. The depression had returned after a long time and hit me with a vengeance. There was no meaning in my life anymore, just exhaustion. No purpose. No will to continue.
As I mentioned, I justified it all. It can be easy to do. Depression can alter time. As I mentioned before, as a person who suffers from Major Depressive Disorder, I think maybe 5% of my life in total is the depression. But when within that 5%, it becomes 100%.
I compared depression to cancer. In the previous few years, I had watched friends and family die of cancer. It had eaten up their bodies. To me, the depression was a cancer of my spirit. It had eaten it up and there was nothing left.
On my one friend’s death bed, where I had gone every night for a month, I knew that she was entering a better existence. I did not want to lose her, but I thought that was so damn selfish of me. The pain she had been through for the last 14 years was unimaginable. I loved her, and for her sake, I wanted her to let go and finally be at peace. She did.
Peace was all that I wanted. An end to the pain, an end to the exhaustion. People loved me and I felt they were being selfish for asking me to stay. Why? For them? To make them feel better? I continue to suffer for what? To live a life of quiet desperation until something or another more natural caught up to me? It didn’t make sense.
–Remember. We are talking about an altered reality here. We are talking about–metaphorically–standing on the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. I knew I was surrounded by people who loved, and were mentally grasping and pulling at me, so I wouldn’t jump. And I was pissed off at them for it.
But there were things missing in my life. Pieces that I did not know and could not find. I had never engaged the Mental Health Triangle fully. I did not have the tools to find the pieces or put them together.
Just allow me to friggin’ jump and be done with it! You’ll get on with your lives. You’ll see me as a tragic soul who lived a troubled life, mourn for a while, and then you get to get on with your lives. Leave me the hell alone. If I love you, I’ll stay? If you love me, you’ll let me jump.
There was nothing left for me.
I was about to jump and then the pandemic hit me like a hurricane force wind, blowing me back away from the edge. For a while. I’d fight my way back to the edge.
I’m okay. I’m alright. Everything is fine.
That is what everybody saw. It is all they would have seen. I would have just disappeared. There is nothing anybody could have done. Nothing. It was something that I had to do for myself.
Again, I come back to time. The pandemic granted me that. Forced it upon me. In the end, I was happy for it. At the time, I was angry. I was the jumper on the Golden Gate Bridge–with a bungee cord unknowingly attached to me.
How and why? How am I still here, talking about this?
I don’t know if I have a good answer for you.
The only thing I can think of is acting classes. I have lived through a lifetime of trauma. I’m good at this shit. When I am at my best, or at my worst, I know I can accomplish anything. I’m a mental monster and can be arrogant as hell. Maybe it is the SW Philly, maybe the Infantry, maybe my past, but there is something in my gut that tells me you can put me in any situation and there is a chance I’ll win. A slight chance, but a chance.
This just may be altered reality, or a delusion of grandeur, or a slight touch of insanity, but I really believe that if you put me in the ring with the heavy weight champion of the world, I have a chance. Not a good one. One in ten million? I’m going to get my ass beat. But there is a chance, however slight, that I’ll get lucky with a well thrown punch–or kick, bite, elbow or knee.
Aye, I’m from Philly and fight dirty.
When Covid hit, that caused a massive surge in depression and trauma, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a psychiatrist specializing in trauma and PTSD. He said people need to be talking to people like us, that we’re good at this shit.
I guess that that is one of the things that saved me. Instead of turning inward and being pissed off at the universe for attaching a bungee cord to my ankle, I reached out. I wanted to help, so I started making social media posts that would eventually lead to an odyssey across America. I engaged people in the different reality that had been imposed upon them, trying to pull them from it and offering tips on way to cope and get out of it.
If someone you know tried or succeeded in committing suicide, you need to reach out to someone. You are not alone. Trauma can make us withdraw and that is the last thing you want to do.
The easiest thing to do, and it does not cost a dime, is reach out to a local Al-anon or Nar-anon meeting. They are support groups for loved ones of addicts, some of which have lost people to the addiction. An overdose, to me, is just a different type of suicide.
They have open meetings. Go, listen, find support, engage, and do not isolate.
I can’t recommend counseling enough, with a trauma specialist. Your reality has been altered and you need to learn different ways of dealing with it, fixing it.
I do wish life was like a movie and there was an Oscar waiting for me at the end of the red carpet. Very apt as the movie I am thinking of is Good Will Hunting and the actor who received the Oscar was Robin Williams.
It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.
There is nothing you could have done.
And that is a wrap for this episode. If you found this helpful, I invite you to share it and follow me. It is all on my website.