by Deborah Brown
The below was shared on a WebEx during COVID remote working where over 200 associates across the US joined this fortune 500 company virtual event. It was one of our May Mental Health Month events. We had panelists representing Youth Mental Health, Substance Addiction, and Suicide Prevention. Anne Moss Rogers graciously joined us to speak on suicide prevention.
So, why I am here with you today? Because I care. I care about every single one of you and every single Fortune 500 Company associate not joining us today. My journey has been long and continues to this day. I was in a training last fall where I was asked if I bring my full self to work. My answer, to myself, “No.”
And that is why I am telling you my story. It is not for any reason other than to keep anyone from being who they truly want to be, loving themselves fully, and shining their light bright.
Before I begin, for my time perspective, I just turned fifty. My daughter is 29. This is a very high-level summary of my life and I am happy to discuss anything in more detail with anyone for the benefit of them or anyone they love healing.
My story, for today, begins in Seventh grade
I always loved getting dressed for school, putting together really pretty outfits, and doing my hair. I was not part of the popular group and spent many days in the hospital because of my asthma. It caused issues with playing sports or having animals in classrooms. I was picked on all the time by boys. And I attempted suicide, ended up at the ER, admitted to the pediatric unit, moved to the mental unit, and then under house watch.
None of this helped me, it only made me feel more of an outcast. The resources we have today didn’t exist then. I applied to a private school to escape. My 8th-grade science teacher’s recommendation stated I was not good enough to attend so I didn’t get in. High school didn’t prove to be any better. And then it was finally over.
I married when I was 20
I was in what I thought was love. I had my daughter, who was the only true joy I had ever experienced at that time. The rest not so much. We lived on a military base in poverty during the Gulf war. The verbal abuse then is still the result of my body image issues today. Red roses being given to me and later flying at me crashing on the wall behind me are my dislike for them to this day. You will never see me with a red rose. Choose your words and actions carefully.
I divorced when I was 23 and raised my daughter on my own. I gave everything to her. I didn’t date. Or even consider it. How can you when you can barely look at yourself in the mirror? We lived in many places, survived on welfare, food banks, various jobs, and the love of family and friends. I graduated from college when I was 30. I bought my first house when my daughter was 10. I had done it. I was back on track.
At 36, I hired a personal trainer and reclaimed my body and my self-confidence Everyone thought it was time I dated, so I did.
And I fell in love–gut-wrenching, to-your-core, all-you-ever-imagine kind of LOVE.
He had PTSD, I knew that from the beginning. I knew how to wake him up without risking my life. I knew the details of the nightmares. He taught my daughter how to rip an ear off if being attacked and taught her so much more than that but that always makes me giggle. I thought I finally had the life one always dreams of as a little girl.
What I didn’t know was that he lived with bipolar disorder
He managed to keep it under control for our first four years. Then it crept in…on top of the PTSD. After two years of the two without willing to get help, it was tearing our family apart and I didn’t know what else to do.
I broke up with him. I still loved him, or who he used to be, but he wouldn’t let me help him. Three months after, I still tried to help. I was in a meeting at work when I got his email suicide note. He took his life by firearm shortly thereafter. I remember exactly where I was and the beautiful Virginia blue sky that April day seven years ago when I got the phone call.
His family embraced me for the first two days. We started funeral arrangements. And then it changed. I was to blame. Everyone associated with me was to blame. His family cut us all out.
To this day I have no idea if he was ever buried or where. The part that hurts me the most is that I found out later from his childhood best friend that he had been bipolar since he was a kid. Everything he did to me he had done multiple times before. And no one told me. Over six years of being a part of their family no one told me. And no one helped when it started again.
How do you deal with the pain of losing the one person you love to your core?
I turned to alcohol to cope
And so begins the next chapter. I did okay at first, some here the some there. But eventually, it became years and years of normal actions by day, and alcohol to numb the gut-wrenching, black hole in my chest. The next thing I know it’s been five years since I had a day without alcohol.
During these years, the suicidal thoughts came back. Quiet, and in the back corner most of the time, but back with a vengeance other days. I have dealt with it for so long by now I can talk myself back to reality, but it is hard. Really hard. My saving grace somedays has simply been walking in the doors of our corporate office building in Virginia knowing I was safe. I was safe from myself and surrounded by people that cared about me.
For the three years, I worked remotely from California I was safe from the visible reality. I didn’t have to see that conference room where I got the suicide note. I didn’t have to drive by the parking lot where I got the call. And then I moved back to Virginia in 2019. And I had to face it.
I finally found a good therapist. I told people. I owned my feelings. I got help with alcohol. I did the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention walk and saw the hundreds of people like me in pain and what pain it can cause.
What have I learned from all of this over the years?
Own your story. Don’t try to be someone else. Reach out. Get help. Don’t wait. The longer you wait, the more the pain and suffering grow. You can only begin to heal yourself when you acknowledge you cannot do this alone.
Whatever it is. Abuse, mental health, addiction, suicide…you need support to heal. And there are so many people out there to love, support, and lift you up. There will still be pain and hard work on your part but don’t do it alone. Too many people love you.
Learn to love yourself as much as they do. As Elton John says, “How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.”
Whatever your reason for reading my story, take something away to lift yourself or someone else up. We are all in this together. We’ve all been hurt, put down, or struggle with something.
Those moments in your head when you think you are alone are not reality. You are never alone. Someone cares, someone loves you, just open your mouth and your mind and you’ll find they will open their arms. It may take a few go-arounds to find the right support but you’ll find it. Don’t give up. You are worth it.
All my best. Take care of yourself and the ones you love.