(Originally drafted in July 2022)
This is a very personal post and I am not great about "putting myself out there" for a lot of reasons. Over the years, I have found it more and more difficult to be vulnerable; a self-defense mechanism, for sure. And that's not a great characteristic to have for an actor because part of the craft is stripping away barriers so that you make yourself open to feeling, experiencing, and expressing emotions. To lay it all bare on the stage, without losing yourself entirely. That's a skill; that's the craft. And many spend years training on how to do this (you can argue which method is best, but that's not the purpose of this post).
This week, I lost a friend. And I say that with a lot of guilt and remorse because I hadn't truly been in touch with this friend for a few years, for a variety of reasons. Mostly because I didn't know how to communicate with him any longer. Not that I didn't know how to reach him - I had his phone number and email. But I couldn't understand him anymore. I couldn't talk to him in a way that flowed where he felt understood and where I felt understood. He was on a path of "enlightenment" that was different from mine. But it was difficult to know if this path was a result of deep, inner searching or mental illness; maybe it was both.
I know that I am not the only one who felt this way because many people said that they too had to disconnect from him. And that disconnection only resulted in his further isolation from what was once his "people" - his community or circle of friends.
And now I hesitate to even use that word - friend. Was I really a friend to him?
This isn't meant to be an "oh woe is me" post. I don't feel sorry for myself (that's for damn sure), and I sure as hell don't want anyone else to either. I am not seeking comfort. It's just an honest effort to try and figure shit out.
James killed himself. Plain and simple. And he had struggled for years with depression. And this is not the first loved one I have lost to suicide. My brother died by suicide in January 2001. And I handled dealing with my brother in the same way- I couldn't handle his illness and there were times when I just avoided talking to him. So selfish -or self-preserving - whatever.
But others didn't avoid James. In fact, he had some really good friends who reached out to him and refused to let him self-isolate. They worked on bringing him back in to the fold, trying to get him out and socialize. And it worked sometimes.
The thing is after my brother's death, I swore I would work on mental health issues and helping others. I don't think I really did. Perhaps I was so wrapped up in my grief and my family's healing that I just couldn't. Perhaps it was that vulnerable thing about truly sharing what was going on in my "self" - or maybe it was a feeling that this story wasn't actually mine to share. I mean, my brother had parents and other siblings and children who were really in pain! Would it be exploiting my brother's pain and illness? I still struggle to talk about it.
But James wrote about his father's suicide in a blog. And that's when I discovered that we had a unique connection - a kind of club no one wants to be in - that he and I belonged to. We spoke about it briefly. But it was always there between us and we knew we had a shared pain. But James never healed. It lived with him. His father's suicide lived with him. And while my brother's death never left me - for James, it was different.
James spoke often about love. And I think it wasn't only about love of others, but love of self. I think that was something he tried. I can't say he didn't love himself, but when someone commits such an act, I don't think it's a lack of love but perhaps (as expressed in the opening scene of The Big Chill) it was a lack of hope - "where did his hope go?"
Who knows. I think it's difficult to get into the head of a person who decides to end their life. I can only imagine that it is some form of desperation to leave whatever it is that they carry behind because the weight is so much that it's completely unbearable. And despite the fact that they have so many who love them, it's not enough for whatever reason. I have always wondered if there was really any way to save my brother or James or anyone else who has committed this act.
People post things about mental health and suicide prevention all the time. I honestly don't know if it makes a difference - I mean if you are willing to end your life, does a post really matter? But if it does, if it could then it's worth a shot. So here it is. If you or anyone you know is thinking about suicide, below is a suicide hotline you can call. OR CALL 988. Or call a trusted friend who will come and get you and do whatever it takes to help you.
But really what I would like to say is - think about the people you love and the mess and sadness and lives wrecked that you leave behind. Do you really want to do that? Because it's awful. Beyond awful. I don't know that I have the words but it's like having the fabric of your entire life ripped apart and completely rearranged into something you don't recognize and it sucks. Because your loved ones have to go on living.