If you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of hopelessness and depression, please call: 1-800-273-8255 or contact the National Suicide Lifeline.
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Our “Laugh Wall” is my favorite spot in our home. When I look at it I can’t help but hear my Mama’s laughter. I also hear her laughter through my own when I get really tickled about something. Laughing was a given in our home. My Mama could find the humor in any and in every situation. And her laugh was contagious! It was in fact the fading of her laughter that was the first symptom we noticed in a sickness that would ultimately take her life and for quite a while steal our joy.
This summer will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the saddest time my family has ever faced. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, July 13th, 2003. My husband, myself and our four year old daughter were at church and just settling into our Sunday School class when we were asked to step out into the social hall. There, we learned that my Mama had died by suicide just moments earlier and less than a mile away from where we were standing. I had just spoken with my Mama over the phone on the way out of the door leaving for church.
She told me she was fine, but she wasn’t. I remember in my despair and utter disbelief thinking, “Why God would you let me pass right by her house on the way to Your House?” My sister and I had plans to have her hospitalized right after church that Sunday. How could this have happened?
Since that day, I’ve struggled to make sense of it all and fifteen years later, I still can’t. But, what I can do and plan to do for the rest of my life is to tell others that no matter how broken you are, how much of a burden you may feel you are, or how death may seem to be your best option… it is not. No matter who you are in this life… father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister your family would rather help you through than lay you to rest.
I’ve been blessed to share our story several times over the past fifteen years with complete transparency. Because of that, I’ve seen good come from what was the absolute worst time of our lives. Something that I didn’t believe was even possible in the first stages of my grief. During that time, I didn’t believe I would ever be able to laugh or experience joy again. I can remember the first time I laughed out loud after she died. I remember feeling so guilty.
I wish my Mama had realized this simple but powerful truth… things will/do get better. After struggling through all the different stages of grief I finally, personally found peace. I rest now in the belief that God understood her heart that Sunday morning and understood that the untreated mental illness had eaten away, much like a cancer, at her ability to make rational, healthy choices. She struggled with untreated mental illness and clinical depression. Along with other family members, we believe that she let the stigmas and shame that sadly surround mental illness and its treatments keep her from receiving the help she so desperately needed.
We believe she somehow blamed herself for the clinical depression. We believe she felt she was relieving us of a burden, but she was not. She had no idea the lengths to which we would’ve gone to bring her back to herself and to us. Instead, she slipped right through our hands.
I, myself, take a tiny blue and green capsule every day because of my predisposition to clinical depression. I am not ashamed of it and refuse to let stigmas keep me from being the best me possible. I will never say “I’m fine”, if I’m not. Those were actually two of the last words I ever heard her say.
I will always teach my three beautiful daughters that there is no shame in suffering with any form of depression or mental illness. It is simply that, a very real and a very treatable illness.
At home I make it a point to laugh with my daughters as much as possible, even at completely inappropriate times. Especially at completely inappropriate times, because life can be so very hard, and we shouldn’t take it all so seriously. I want them to take that to heart. I want them to instinctively find the humor in difficult situations.
I vow to never let the stigmas and shame that surround depression or mental illness keep me from living this beautiful life I’ve been given. I only wish my sweet Mama had been able to come to the same realization. I hope by sharing our story that maybe we are helping to break down some of the walls that stigmas and shame have built around mental illness and its treatments. Those walls need to come down. There is no shame in admitting you need help and there is no shame in receiving help.
For those who may be struggling with feelings of hopelessness I would like to encourage you to never give up. Don’t lose your laughter, your joy. Don’t let any stigmas or shame you may feel keep you from reaching out for the help you need. Having clinical depression or any form of mental illness does not make you crazy, weak or a failure. It makes you a person with a real illness that is in need of real treatments.
Mental Illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t ask you what your title is, what your financial status is or if you’re an upstanding church or community member. It is however, an illness that requires great strength, bravery and someone who can simply say, “I need help”. Trust me when I tell you, your family and friends would rather help you mend your broken pieces than lose you. Let someone help you walk the road of treatments, therapies and redemption that leads you back to yourself.
You are worthy to make this journey. Today, with more mental health awareness campaigns, growing resources and support communities getting help can be accomplished much easier than fifteen years ago. Like any other chronic illness, your mental health issues will require treatments and follow up care to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I’m not saying it will always be easy, but it beats the alternative. Living your very best life, instead of being debilitated by the mere thought of trying to live every day without help.
Now, fifteen years later I can still hear my Mama’s laughter. These days I think of her more often when I’m happy than when I’m sad. It’s nice to know if you really love someone, you’ll always be able to hear their laughter, even long after they’re gone.
I’ve been blessed to have lived enough to know that living life without joy is just existing. Untreated mental illness may steal a person’s joy for a while, but with correct treatments and compassionate care, a joyful life can be possible. I plan to continue to add photos to the “Laugh Wall” in our home. I look forward to adding more photos of my children, and eventually their children too. I’m counting on living my best life and finding joy around each new bend in road. And, along the way I’ll always carry a piece of her with me. She was an amazing woman.