Guest post by Lynn Keane, author of Give Sorrow Words (Starburst DRI, 2014)
On a Tuesday in late spring of 2009, our 23-year-old son, Daniel, died by suicide. We did not know that our son was living with anxiety and depression. His disease left him unable to concentrate and the self-loathing was crippling. After our son’s death, I went in search of answers. I needed to understand the contributing factors in his depression and suicide. That epic journey led me to write about our experience in my memoir, Give Sorrow Words.
When I began writing my book, I went back in time to fit the pieces of Daniel's life together and it was there that I first encountered the stigma associated with mental illness, the sense of worthlessness and shame. I began to acknowledge that we had contributed to Daniel's growing malaise because we told him to get his life together. We told him he could do anything if he simply applied himself. When all you can feel is self hate and that you have become a burden, you no longer have the capacity to understand what is happening to your mind. You are unable to get your life together. I wanted readers to understand my son's trajectory from a precocious little boy to an ambitious entrepreneur. He was a successful high school student and athlete.
Then, the next thing I knew, my son was fighting to live. In the book, I try to give voice to the signs and symptoms we did not understand. Perhaps we lived in hope—or maybe denial—that things would get better. Our son would figure things out and life would go on. It did not. Life experiences, chronic health conditions, a possible head injury, self-medicating behaviour and a sense of not belonging were all part of the litany of factors that led to Daniel's depression. After his suicide, I learned that he had often isolated himself, anguishing alone. The interior shame that he experienced destroyed his instinct for self-preservation.
It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness; and 3.2 million 12- to 19-year-olds in Canada are at risk for developing depression, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. By educating ourselves about mental health and suicide prevention, we have an opportunity to change outcomes for youth living with a mental illness. With awareness, we as parents are in a better position to honestly look at our kids and ascribe the emotional and physical changes to something more than just part of growing up.
Here is an excerpt from my book, Give Sorrow Words.
Sometimes I try to imagine the last hours of Daniel’s life. I try in the hope I will come to understand why our son ended his life. I replay the scenario over and over, but it never brings the comfort I’m looking for.
Oakville April 28, 2009
Daniel had turned his cell phone off and tuned the world out. Chances are Daniel walked through the cottage trying to figure out what to do about his painful emotional state. Daniel went to the bathroom off of the narrow hallway and brushed his teeth. His toothpaste and spit sat in the sink for months. It was our last living particle of him and we were unable to wash it away. Daniel opened the doors to the front hall closet and took down my old winter jacket. The night was getting colder. He put it on and walked outside. Maybe he went out toward the water so he could remember what the bay looked like in late spring.
Daniel was letting go. As the late April day grew darker, Daniel’s ideation continued to build. Continuous thoughts about death and the method in which to end life would have now consumed him. There would have been no one around to intervene. After Daniel turned off his phone he moved farther into darkness; despair had overwhelmed him. That fateful spring day had begun with sunny skies and warm temperatures. Then the weather changed. The skies grew dark and Daniel would have been bathed in twilight shadows while he sat alone on the couch. The television was the only source of light in the room. Then Daniel got up and walked into the kitchen where our family photographs are scattered on the top of the bar counter. Daniel may have noticed the reflection of himself in the stainless steel fridge.
Then, slowly, Daniel began to feel some relief. For the first time that evening his mind was not muddled. On that spring night he realized that he had separated himself from his family. The momentary control of his feelings felt good. He moved quickly through the cottage, with his plan hovering at the edge of his thoughts. While he had been in the kitchen he had opened the small bar fridge, pulled out a beer and thought about writing his final communication to his family members who were trying desperately to reach him. He grabbed one of the lined notepads and the black pen that he kept in his desk drawer in the small reading room and wrote his last words: Dear Mom, Dad, Emily and Aimee, I am sorry for lying and trying to hide things from you. I covered up my problems. I know I’ve disappointed you. I am sorry. Daniel was left-handed and wrote with his entire hand moving all over the page.
His final dispatch spoke of intense hopelessness: I drank to escape, but drinking wasn’t doing anything for me anymore. Don’t blame yourselves cause you did everything for me. Love, Forever & Always DK