So a year ago, I wrote a very difficult blog post.
Today, I can say a year and three days ago, my father attempted suicide. After, he was in a psych ward for three weeks. I was in Chicago when it happened.
It rocked my world in ways I couldn’t imagine. I was afraid to leave my father home alone. I couldn’t touch the kitchen knife he used to cut his wrists. I didn’t know how to talk about it, or what the right way to talk about it was. I still don’t, since my dad never brings it up, and I don’t know if I should ever broach the subject with him.
Things are better. They’re not like they were last year, but they’re not perfectly healthy and okay, either.
To be honest, they were never perfectly healthy or okay.
I have a little story about how books helped.
I read WHEN WE COLLIDED by Emery Lord shortly after everything happened. It was a shock to find a book that somehow represented everything I was feeling at that exact point in time. There were scenes in a mental hospital–a normal mental hospital without evil doctors and gothic monsters around every corner. There was a boy struggling to be a caregiver to his depressed mother. There was a girl struggling with her medication and a mother trying to do the best she could. It made me feel seen. It made me feel like my mom and I weren’t alone. It was cathartic.
Yesterday, I read Emery Lord’s new book THE NAMES THEY GAVE US. In it, Lucy’s parents keep the fact that her mom’s breast cancer returned from her, partly because it’s her prom night and they want her to have a good time. My mom kept my dad’s attempted suicide from me for several days while I was out of town because she wanted me to have a good trip. I understand why she did it, just like Lucy understands why her parents kept it from her. But it still fucking hurts. And somehow, once again Emery Lord made me feel understood.
Books are some special kind of magic.
My dad grew up in a tiny mountain town in Italy, where mental illness wasn’t spoken of. It’s left his mark on him, how he copes, and how he communicates. He’s 68, so there’s not much we can do about it at this point. But the stigma matters because it has shaped people, entire generations. And the work we’re doing now, the work to undo the stigma is so, so important.
I process depictions of suicide or self-harm in books/movies/TV different now. It hits a different nerve. It came up in a lecture this past semester, in History of US Sexuality, where I thought I was safe. I don’t remember what was said, but I just remember freezing up, my brain replaying everything that had happened to my family. I felt sick and unsteady, and I just sat there for a few moments breathing deeply.
My dad’s been sober since, so that’s a good thing that’s happened.
This blog post doesn’t feel very cohesive, and some of that is because my thoughts are very scattered and disorganized on this topic. On this memory. On this event that happened in my life, in my dad’s life, in my mom’s life. I can’t really believe a year has gone by. When I think about it, it’s like it just happened yesterday. But it also feels like it was decades ago.
I guess a year later I can say, don’t give up. The road is scary and daunting. Everything feels insurmountable when it happens. Those first days he was home from the mental hospital were some of the most anxious, petrified out of my mind, exhausting days of my life. But it can be done.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please get help: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1800-273-8255. The world needs you, your voice, your light. You are light, even if it feels like you aren’t.