For an Angel
On December 6, 2006, ten years ago, yesterday, she died. To say it that way almost makes it sound prosaic, or even peaceful, but that is the cruelty of the truth. She did not die a natural, peaceful death, her life was stolen from her, stolen from the lives of her three children, of her family, and the friends who loved her. At the age of forty-two, living with an illness that kept her in chronic pain, without hope of relief, as well as treatment resistant major depressive disorder, she made the decision to end her pain that day. She decided that she would no longer face the daily struggles that had been beating her down, the job that had been stealing what little joy she had, or the other nagging things that conspired against her, whispering into her mind, convincing her that her permanent solution was the best choice she could make.
When my doorbell rang unexpectedly that evening, it was the delivery boy from the Pizza shop down the street, asking me to call his boss.
“Angel’s dead,” he said. He had been dating her sister and knew we were friends.
There is nothing to make sense of, no words to speak that make this better. If anyone can understand why Angel did what she did, if anyone can relate, there is no question: her story parallels mine in many ways. We were both diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and chronic migraine. While she was diagnosed with depression, my diagnosis was for bipolar disorder. Neither of the two is a joy to live with, but people with bipolar, at least, have the occasional “light” at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, that tunnel can still be quite long and bleak.
It would be a lie to say that suicide was not something that ever entered my mind. It has. Not recently, at least, not in the sense that, “This is what I should do today.” But, in the case of Angel, in the case of her pain and struggles, the voices speaking death and destruction were simply more powerful than those speaking light and life.
That’s the problem. We need to be there for those who are susceptible to hurting themselves. We keep hearing things about breaking down barriers regarding mental illness, about stigma busting, about making people aware of what to do, but what really needs to be done is stop turning away when your friends, your loved ones, your neighbours are hurting.
One in Five Canadians will face a mental illness. One IN FIVE. 20 Percent. Think about that. If you find yourself in a work environment with more than five people, one of you is probably struggling with something that they do not want to discuss for fear of being labelled weak, or incompetent. Mental Illness is not about being weak. Depression is not about being weak. Bipolar disorder is not about being weak, and that does not even address many of the other mental illnesses.
Weakness is how someone reacts to someone with an illness they have no control over. Weakness is judging someone for being different, for not allowing them to express the fullness of their talents despite their diversity. That is weakness.
Strength is being who you are, regardless the pain you may be feeling, or the social cost of living your life as you are, without caring about what others think.
For my friend, for Angel, her great gift was in making others laugh, in having a personality that could shine through even the darkest moments. She only stumbled for one short moment, listening to the seductive mutterings of those dark voices that promised to deliver her from her pain, forever. She is deeply, irrevocably, unceasingly missed.