Wednesday, June 24, 2020

I Wish I Could Show You

I wish I could show you,
when you are lonely or in darkness,
the astonishing light of your own being.

Four years ago, I posted the quote above on my Facebook Page. It was meant for my boyfriend John to see. He was struggling at the time, not believing that he brought value to the world. It is such a common woe for those of us who deal with suicidality. We use our mistakes, our faults, the ways we lash out at the people we love - as proof that we are not worthy of life. The premise is heartbreaking and inaccurate. But for those who've been suicidal or who've had an attempt, the misconception is often there. I only hurt people. My leaving will be a relief to many.

In the ways that John hurt over feeling unworthy, I hurt in the ways that I could not get through to him. At times, his mental illness took away his ability to see his own value in the world. In the end, his pain was insurmountable. John died ten months after I'd posted the quote above. He died while I and others tried desperately to impart to him how important he was to us all. And when he died, just as many of us struggled with the question - had the limits of our love failed him?

Those of you who have supported someone dealing with a mental illness know that some days it takes a profound amount of commitment to find the strength to not walk away. I suppose it is only love that gives us the muscle.

With John, on some days I could handle the commitment. On other days I couldn't. On some days I probably helped John. On other days I probably made his pain worse.

In the end though, I have learned that neither my efforts nor my mistakes were responsible for his suicide.

My closeness to him couldn't save him. My boundaries didn't kill him.

I know.

Some people who knew John well told me that they believed he'd lived longer than he would have, because of me.

I don't know if that's true. Part of that sentiment touches my heart, part of it breaks my heart at the same time.

What I do know is this: I will never regret any of the times that I stuck it out with him. There were many times when John's illness dictated his actions and the words that he said to me, and in the same measure - the words he said to himself. Still, I will never regret the times I stayed, nor will I regret the times I left and then returned. John was not the worst of his illness. John was also and always the best of who he was as a human being, too. I knew that. Ultimately, every time I stayed and every time I returned, meant I had more time with John. And when he died, I didn't just miss the parts of him that were 'healthy' - I missed all of him.

I have had many times to stop and think about these things over the past year. Though my mother died 18 years ago, and John died 3 years ago, this past year has also been one of the most difficult of my life. I experienced so much loss, yet again. The people I loved the most were experiencing profound loss too. To say I fell apart would be an understatement. In no small part, I am alive today because of the people in my life who took the time to remind me that I had a light inside of me, and that even if I felt unlovable, I was loved.

There were days that turned into weeks and then months when it seemed like the only conversation I could have was to rattle off my faults and my mistakes as if they were reasons for people to leave me. In many ways, I used those judgments as a way to leave myself.

I'm here because people stood beside me (sometimes they got down in the dirt and sat beside me) and took on the brunt of my hurt and my anger and my pain - just so they could remind me over and over again that I was loved still, that I was loved always, and that even in the midst of my mistakes and all that anger and all my hurt, that I was loved, period.

Some stepped away for short periods and then returned. (We all need to breathe sometimes.) Some had the fortitude to sit beside me every single day.

No matter. If there was one crux that kept me alive, it was this. All of them recognized that it was my illness that was breaking me apart. None of them blamed me. None of them called me crazy. None of them said I was sick. Perhaps most importantly, none of the people who loved me told me I was unforgivable for the ways that I was lashing out - whether I was lashing out at them, or at myself. All of them focused on one thing through it all. And that was to tell me that I was loved.

Suffering from mental illness or not, I do believe we are all accountable for our actions. I had apologies to make when I began to lift my head up again. It was a gift that people let me make them. Perhaps the most poignant response came from a friend who said to me "I don't need you to apologize - I just need you to stick around. Stay in my life and that's apology enough for me."

Maybe I did help keep John alive for a little bit longer.

Maybe all of us that reach down into the mud and yuck that comes alongside loving those who suffer from mental illness - maybe we are all extending the lives of those we love.

My heart is with all of us who've  had to navigate how to let someone know that they deserve to be cared about - especially when that person's illness is telling them the opposite.

My heart is with all of us who've had to step away from those dealing with mental illness. Our own psyche, our own trauma, our own boundaries, are so important too.

And my heart is with all of us who've struggled with mental illness and who feel ashamed about the ways our illnesses have impacted the people we love.

Wherever we are on that spectrum - the truth is, all of us are bringing a light to the world that cannot be replaced, and we should not be judged.

And this too: everyone finds themselves lonely or in darkness, sometimes. May we never forget - even in the darkness, our light still shines. When we remain in a place that is dictated by love- or at the least return to that place if we've stepped away - even if it means we get just one more day, there is so much hope and beauty possible. It is astonishing.