Jean-Baptiste shot himself on a Sunday. He had prepared for this day: settling his financial affairs, clearing out his house, wiping his VHS collection: intimate films made with the women he loved. He’d gone through his filofax, tippex-ing out each entry and set a deadline in a note to his ex-girlfriend. She didn’t call, so he dispatched himself neatly through the temple.
camparigirl knew something was up. J-B hadn’t arrived at work, and it wasn’t like him not to phone in. By mid-afternoon she was frantic and alerted the police. When she arrived at J-B’s flat: the young bobby confirmed the worst.
None of us had seen it coming. We debated endlessly – had he seemed more withdrawn, less flirtatious? Had he let us know in some subtle way? Adults almost never end their lives on a whim, and J-B had prepared meticulously. Had he said goodbye without us noticing. Could we have stopped him?
He was the last person we would have expected to kill himself.
Last Christmas we had brunch with life-long pals of my mother’s. We took my nieces with us and sat on straw bales around a long, low table at a farmer’s market. Beatty told us that her daughter was planning to have a baby. Sandy is around 50, so the news was surprising. She was undergoing fertility treatment to prepare her body for the pregnancy – and her parents were footing the bill. Sandy has always been flighty (her mother’s word), dabbling in this and that but always circling back to her parents and their financial assistance. Her mother, now 75 years old, was concerned that she could end up looking after the baby. And terrified what would become of the child if “anything happened to me or John.”
We tried to reassure her, telling her how much joy Riley (born when sofasister’s marriage had started to unravel) had brought to our lives. How concerned my mother had been whether my sister would cope with three children ‘on her own’. How the reality of a sweet little life makes you ‘just get on with things’. How it had all turned out just fine. She said: “maybe, maybe”. Smiled, ruffled Riley’s hair and sent ‘the boys’ off for coffee.
John got to her as she drew her last breath – the paramedics say she had been dead for a while, but he swears she said “help”.
The signs were there, he told us. She had been suffering from depression for years. Their doctor had prescribed medication, but she hadn’t been taking it. This should have been such a happy time – the baby was healthy and their daughter delighted. But somehow arranging the baptism party had proved all too much, and Beatty had quietly locked herself in the bathroom and picked up a knife.
Depression is a murderous bastard. One that hard to understand: unless you have experienced it. I had my brush with it in New York – could feel the little tendrils of grey smoke unfurling in my mind. Disrupting my sleep. Clouding my judgement. There were shadows everywhere and I had no way of accurately assessing what was true and what was imagined. Until the day I disassociated and realised I had to do something. My doctor knew – she had known for months.
We battle on valiantly with the pain depression brings. Accepting mental anguish as our due. Rather than tackling it head on, naming it, asking for help, taking the meds, seeing the counsellor, dealing with the cause. If we had physical pain to that extent, normal life would be impossible. We would be incapacitated. The brain controls everything – yet we are loathe to confront and deal with depression – because we are ashamed. Because we should ‘be strong enough’.
Taking Lexapro turned me around – I was able to identify the actual dangers in my landscape and address them. It took a while. But that drug gave me the intent and direction I needed. It took away the shadows. It worked for me.
My depression was based in anxiety: I hated where I worked and all I did was work. But I never considered taking my life. If I had, I like to think I would have known I was in too deep to deal with the situation on my own. That’s not to say I condemn anyone who does chose suicide. Hurting ourselves is bloody difficult. Try smacking yourself in the face, or slamming your finger in a door: it’s virtually impossible. Self-mutilation takes extreme willpower. Most of us would only do it if we were co-erced.
Who knows if things would have ended differently for Beatty if she had been forced into professional care. For J-B, if one of us had sat with him and reminded him of the other great loves he had experienced. Of a future with the daughter he cherished. Someone I worked with tried over and over to end his life – cycling through interventions until he was ultimately successful in a garage with a shotgun. He knew what he wanted. He had decided.
After John’s call, the theme song for M*A*S*H has played in my head all week:
“… suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please”
I get that. I don’t see suicide as an act of cowardice; it is a resolution. A way of stopping unbearable pain. Ending our lives should be our call. After all, it is the one thing that we truly own. But there is also no denying the chaos, disbelief and blame that decision inflicts on others. The aftermath can overwhelm, start a new cycle. Depression can do the same if unaddressed … passing down through families in silence – creating a ghastly legacy.
It’s Christmas in a few weeks, and then New Year: festive for most of us but lonely for so many people. If you think you know someone who needs a hug, an invite to lunch, a call, a walk, an inclusion, a visit, a frank conversation – do something. Name it if you need to. Show that you get what the person is going through. Offer them an in. Do it now.
You could make a difference, from there: its up to them.
(Images found in the public domain.)