The Past - By Caroline Cook
I started writing this to share my story of surviving a suicide attempt in the family. It is difficult to start this paper because it happened many years ago. However, looking back on how it transpired, I realize that my heart has been attached to this all along. It is not shame that drives me to be a mental health advocate, but the realization that shame and guilt can keep this story silent. The silence of this epidemic is what is affecting so many suffering on a daily basis.
I was 11 years old at the time, and I remember it clearly as if I was still sitting there listening to the tears and admission. When I was young our family moved from Germany, and things were difficult to get adjusted to in California. For my Mom, it was more difficult to struggle with learning English. She learned early on basic English language, but still found it difficult to explain her thoughts. So when I was growing up, I was told to learn English instead of German. I usually was the person to explain to my Mom what other people were trying to explain to her in English. We also left part of our family in Germany, and this caused my Mom a lot of grief.
I was in middle school at the time, and it was a weekend. My parents were having difficulty getting along. Every six months there was contact from family by telephone. Family from both sides would contact us. I can not be certain if they were just asking to come over and live with us. Or they might have been asking for financial assistance. All I know is the grief was so strong that my Mom would drop everything we were doing and the house would be a complete disaster for about a week. When this grief came up every six months, so would the drinking problem. This particular weekend it was quiet, and my Mom had approached me in the bedroom. She said she had to talk with me about something and the tears were already running down her face. She kept saying she was sorry, but I did not know for what. I was too young at the time to realize the phone calls were causing the grief. Her apologies went on for about five to ten minutes, and I kept asking her what was wrong. I asked my Mom if I did anything to cause her to cry so much.
I somehow began to feel responsible for my Mom’s distress. My Mom tried to tell me that I did not do anything wrong, but I felt the guilt start to hit me hard listening to her cry. So we sat on the bed until I could get her to talk to me further. I held her close with my arm wrapped around her, and I started to cry as well. I begged her to tell me what was bothering her so much. So when I kept getting her answer of “I am sorry” it was then I realized she was apologizing for something. She finally admitted sitting on the bed with me that she wanted to commit suicide. I was 11 years old at the time, and this was devastating to me. All I kept thinking of was what did I do wrong for her to say this. She said it was not my fault, but I kept crying and asking her please to not leave us. There was me and our whole family in that little house. While the two of us were sitting there in the bedroom, I just kept holding her tight. I held her hand as she cried and leaned on me. I asked her to tell me why she felt like this but she would not answer completely. I felt her pain throughout that morning as she asked me not to tell the rest of the family. I was not sure I could keep the secret as this was just putting me in distress as well.
So I sat with my Mom on the corner of the bed for about an hour. I don’t believe she had been on the phone with anyone, or that she had argued with my Dad. My Mom and I sat there together holding each other for at least the next hour. The time we sat together and cried could have actually been longer, because I truly lost track of the time. My only concern was how could I help her. I felt like it was my fault, and that I had done something wrong. I wanted to call my Dad, but she had me promise not to say anything. I knew in my heart that if I told my Dad that it may be possible he would call an ambulance and she might be taken away. With that thought in mind, all I could think of was that I may lose my Mom forever. So I hesitated to tell anyone what she told me that morning. After what seemed like an eternity, my Mom finally stopped crying. I could tell she was still upset though, and I made her promise not to hurt herself. I told her that I loved her and did not want her to leave us. Through her tears she said she was sorry, and that she felt so bad.
All I could do is say that I was glad she told me so I could tell her how much I loved her. We quietly got up from the edge of the bed and went out to the living room. I honestly do not remember what happened the rest of that day. All I could think of is the fact that I needed to keep an eye on my Mom just in case she tried to do something. Again, I was 11 years old at the time, and all I could think of during that day is that I needed to be on standby. I was exhausted and I totally felt like it was my fault she felt this way. I know how that sounds, for me to feel guilty, but when my Mom came to me I realized at the time she trusted me. After that morning with her, I felt it was my duty to keep an eye on her. I took on the responsibility of being the adult, and only I knew the horrible secret of the pain she was holding. I could not put the pieces together of the grieving and PTSD she felt at the time, but I knew the pain was huge and heavy on her soul.
The depression, anxiety and sometimes fear I witnessed in her became clearer to me after I left the house as an adult. Her reaching out to me for help that morning changed our relationship. It explained the pain I saw in her eyes on a daily basis. The grief she was feeling over leaving family lasted a lifetime.
I know the family phone calls were causing a lot of stress. I know she longed to go home. The subject came up repeatedly during the year when she got asked if she missed her hometown. My Mom always said she did miss being home. But she never took the opportunity to say she missed the family too. As I got older, I saw her anxiety still bothering her, and even much later I was able to understand her PTSD that she was suffering from. She was a teenager in WWII when she walked through the destroyed villages of Germany trying to find safety with family. My Mom also mentioned being harassed by a family member, but I think there was more to that past than she admitted. It was the grief of losing family that was eating away at her when I was growing up. I honestly believe her cry for help came just in time. Even though it caused me to grow up a lot faster than a kid should, I am glad my Mom reached out and we made it through together.
Looking at it now, if she had not asked me for help she would have missed so much more in life. She would have missed marriages, family, and grandkids. I am grateful she spoke out, even though she did not share her deepest reasons at the time, I knew she still did not want to leave us.
Now that I am so much older, I hold dearly those moments in time where I could hug her. The moments that she laughed with me, and fixed coffee and toast in the afternoon. The soccer games we used to watch together. My Mom cheering her favorite English soccer team in the living room. The joy she held for my brother too. The moments she was Grandmom to my daughter and son evern for a short time. I would have lost those moments had she taken her own life when I was 11 years old. Her touch, kisses and her smell of 4711 perfume that will stay with me forever. I miss her dearly. Over 25 years later she passed due to a cancer related illness. I am grateful she felt she could lean on me in my teens, and everyday I had with her after was a gift. Although growing up from that standpoint had changed, I would not trade it for anything else in the world. I felt I was given a second chance to be with my Mom. This second chance gave us so many years together I am grateful.
This last year I started writing about my own experience of being injured, and then having PTSD kick in hard. This journey started in February 2014, and resulted in me actually being unable to work or stay focused. Through a series of bad decisions, I ended up homeless for the next year. It took a while before the symptoms subsided in 2015, but not everyone is so fortunate. It also took another year and a half to regain my self confidence. I started writing about my experience in 2018. In just reaching out to others I have learned so much . In the process of learning, I ended up becoming a Mental Health Advocate online. I am trying to focus also on a non-profit to raise awareness for Veterans and First Responders suicide prevention and rough sleeper (homelessness). I never expected to be able to reach out to so many, but in my injury, PTSD and rough sleeper experience I have found my passion. I am in service to others in the effort to make positive changes for those suffering in silence. The suicide rate is an epidemic across the world, and even working on this front I feel this will raise awareness for all involved.
I can not go back and erase the injury, PTSD, or rough sleeper experience, but I can work to make changes that will positively affect someone else’s life. No one should suffer alone in silence, and with resources we can reach out to those suffering with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more. It is important to me to leave an impact, and I feel my journey taught me more compassion and left me humbled to be here. For those people that are on their journey, I can tell you it is so worth it to step forward. There are more people who love you and care for you than you realize. In honor of my Mum that suffered, and all the young and older suffering, I am reaching out. Make that decision to want your life back. There are great things ahead on your journey for you to experience. It can and will get better. Stay blessed and stay connected. You are loved more than you know.
If you are searching for the sign, we love you - here is the sign. Step into the light.
Mental Health Advocate