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What Happens When You Don’t Know

I guess I’ll start with the things that bother me the most: I am an ex-crack addict, I was homeless, I have a panic disorder, I talk to people who don’t exist, my brother hanged himself, and I was nearly killed by an abusive ex-boyfriend.

I know I have a better life than a lot of people, and I try to be grateful for it.

I feel guilty when I dwell on my problems: other people have it so much worse: how can I complain? How can I mope around or be depressed?!

Oh how I wish I could talk to someone, to sit in a group and swap stories about burning the inside of our mouths, or panic attacks, or how much it sucks to have to lug all your belongings around in a garbage bag.

But I just can’t.

I have walked past the building where NA meetings are held probably a hundred times, looked at their website again and again, memorizing their schedule, but I can’t bring myself to go.

I’m afraid that people won’t like me because I’ve been clean now for four years, that because now I have a car and an apartment in a slightly decent area of the city, I’ll be told to get over it, to stop whining.

On the other hand, I think, what if I go to a regular counselor and I scare them? What if, when I admit to the time I smoked crack with my pregnant best friend, it’s too much and they kick me out?

What if I get the cops called on me when I admit to all the illegal things I’ve done?

Either way, I’ve never felt more isolated and alone then I do now.

I desperately want to be an addict again. When I was addicted, we had our own world; it was nothing good, but everyone was on the same level.

Now I’m surrounded by people that, if they knew what I used to be and what I still am, would go running in the other direction.

I even tried to become an alcoholic for a few months; I drank myself into a stupor everyday, forced it into me until my brain chemistry was so out of whack and my kidneys hurt right through my back.

I still drink – get drunk – by myself, but I have to be careful because it makes my panic disorder worse. I drink just until I feel myself going crazy, stop for a few days, then back at it.

It’s funny, when my brother hanged himself, I was kind of mad that he took that option away from me: you can’t have two kids from the same family both kill themselves!

I’m okay with his suicide, though. I understand it was a planned out thing, so things were obviously pretty bad to get to that point. My brother didn’t speak, though; I was the only one he spoke to until he was about 17, and then he even shut me out.

After a while, I started getting paranoid that he was going to kill me, so I distanced myself from him even further.

I’m pretty alone now.

I lost most of my friends when I got clean, and I’ve moved to a different city since. I hate it here a lot, and most people here are way out of my league education and status wise. I have a few friends from work that I go for drinks with on the weekends, but I can’t really connect or open up with anyone.

I’m afraid to date again; my ex is still too fresh in my mind, and the thought of having to have sex again makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like being touched sexually.

It’s a shame because I would love to have children – they would give me something to focus on, to love and be loved back, without having to be in a relationship.

But I guess as of right now, it’s me, alcohol, and my two darling cats.

How sad.

Ask The Band: My Abusive Husband Threatening Murder & Suicide

 

I’ve been with my husband for eight years – married for five of them. We have a beautiful four-year old son, three dogs, and a cat. For the most part, we are a happy family.

My husband has been diagnosed with ADHD, borderline personality disorderbipolar disorder and, most recently, major depressive disorder.

He has been treated with different medications for all of those things. The latest diagnosis we are treating is his major depressive disorder…

…but there’s something else there, aside from the depression.

There is rage– an all-consuming rage.

As long as I’ve known my husband, he’s had these episodes.He loses control, and snaps on everyone and everything in his path. He’s broken windows, phones, end tables, lamps – the list is never ending.

When these episodes happen, the man I married isn’t there.

He’s gone, and something else takes over. He’s told me on numerous occasions that he doesn’t remember what occurs during these episodes.

He can remember the episode, but he doesn’t remember his words or actions. He told his psychiatrist that he almost blacks out when he gets to that point in his rage.

She gave him some more medication, and basically said, “See you in a month.”

He feels worthless, and that makes him angry. He isn’t a talker, but when he does talk I can hear the anguish in his voice.

He says nothing happened to make him the way he is. Nothing terrible – nothing worthy of the rage inside him.

He doesn’t want to be this way, he doesn’t want to be anxious and hopeless and angry and sad.

But he doesn’t know how to stop.

It used to happen when he couldn’t find any weed. Then someone would come through with some, he’d smoke it, and the world would right itself.

But more recently, it’s been for no reason I can understand. A month ago, he put a loaded shotgun in his mouth, and he told me, “Good-bye.”

That ended with a police escort to the local hospital.

He spent three days there, changing his medication and talking to someone for ten minutes a day. He attended group sessions, and when he came home, he was ready to be better.

It was a week before he had another episode.

And since then these episodes have been happening every 3-5 days. Some are more serious than others. The last time, he threatened to kill himself.

Unfortunately, that isn’t anything new, except that, this time, he also threatened his mother and I.

We’re going to try therapy, but right now, it feels like he’s a ticking time-bomb, set to go off at any second. From the outside, I know it doesn’t look like he’s trying but he is, he really is.

So this is where I need help, The Band: 

Do I stay, or do I go?

Do I walk away from my husband because he’s sick? Or do I stay, even if it’s to the detriment of my sanity, and my child’s well-being?

I don’t know what to do and I have no support network.

My son’s father was never in the picture, and my mother is a recovering addict – currently incarcerated. My godmother, the woman who raised me, is dead. I have a brother, but he has no job, and no home.

My best friend was witness to the gun incident, and has mostly given up on me. She told me that I’m codependent, and making terrible choices for my child. She thinks I should leave my husband, like she did. But her husband was an alcoholic – mine isn’t.

My in-laws have been terrific. Any time we need somewhere safe, their home is always open. But they are elderly – one of them is in a wheelchair. I feel I can’t burden them with this. I feel I am making them choose between their son, or their grandson and I.

Where can I go? What should I do? Please, The Band, help me. I feel so alone. I’ve prayed to every god I can think of, and I still feel so lost.

There is no handbook for when you marry someone with mental illness.

A Letter I Can’t Send: Dear Littlest Sister

Dear Littlest Sister,

I wish, for so many reasons, that we were closer. It seems that all your life I’ve watched you hurting, and I’ve never been able to help you. Either it was out of my hands or you wouldn’t let me close enough to be any good.

I know I’m a disappointment to you, and that there are times you wish we didn’t share a name. I’m sorry. As difficult as our relationship has been, I have always been proud to call you my sister.

When you were five and our parents divorcing, I should have been more sensitive. I should have seen the Little Sister that needed reassurance.

Looking back, I don’t know why I minded it when you followed me around – you were so darn cute!

When you were playing softball, I wish I hadn’t been so wrapped up in my teenage-self. I wish I’d praised you for all your hard work; told you how great you were. Had I praised you, would you have felt shadowed by our middle sister’s spotlight? Would you still have given up sports?

Maybe it would have changed your future to hear how proud I was of you.

When you were experiencing your own depression, I wish I hadn’t been thousands of miles away. I’d have held you as you cried. Maybe then you wouldn’t have tried to overdose. If I’d been there to listen, would you have started cutting?

When you enlisted in the military, did I tell you how my heart swelled with pride? When you came back from your basic training and tech school I was, once again, wrapped up in my own stuff.

Did I tell you that I loved you?

Did I tell you that I missed you each day you were gone?

And now, when you’re hurting – when your life is spinning- the distance between us is more than the five-hour drive. I want to call you and listen to your tears. I want to to tell you that broken hearts hurt worse than childbirth, but that you’ll heal and be stronger.

I want to comfort you and give you the compassion and support that I know you won’t get from our mother or our middle sister.

It’s silly, really. We’re so much alike, you’d think we’d be closer. But, as I look back, I can see all the wedges I drove between us.

And so, I’ll write this letter to you; a letter you’ll never see. I’ll keep you in my thoughts as I wait to hear news of you. And I’ll pray that this isn’t the thing that causes you to hurt yourself again. 

You are such a beautiful person.

You give so much of yourself to everyone. You, who never wanted children, are my son’s favorite aunt. He glows when he talks of his time with you and he tells anyone who will listen that he wants to join the military, just like his heroes. Do you know you’re one of his heroes?

Do you know you’re one of mine?

I love you to the depths of my soul. And no matter what, you will always be a part of me.

I am so infinitely proud of you.

Love,

Your Big Sister

Talk About Suicide

Like a whole bunch of people in the Chicago area in late July of 2017, when Mike Malinowski completed suicide, I was crushed.

On the outside, if his social media activity was our only peek inside his life, the guy looked like he was living the dream: expensive cocktails and smiling ladies and fun looking vacations and hip hop shows and live music and a stable full of friends.

However it looked on the inside, I don’t and won’t know, but it was obviously a shitshow that none of us were invited in to witness.

I was 37 at the time of Mike’s death by suicide, and what’s weird about the whole thing, is that it’s almost like I don’t remember who I was before he died.

That morning, I remember, was eerily gorgeous. It was a Saturday or a Sunday, I had nowhere to be, but I woke up early anyway. It must have been close to 5am, which sucks because I NEVER get to sleep in and here I was waking up when I didn’t have to. I did what most people do, I grabbed my phone and headed to the bathroom to start my morning.

Within the first five seconds of opening social media while on the toilet I knew something was off. I had like four facebook messages, and no one ever wants to wake up to that shit in the first place, but these were from people I hadn’t talked to in a decade or more. Like everyone else would, I ignored the fb messenger notifications and started scrolling.

There it was. Mike’s final post. He had typed, just a half hour earlier, maybe 40 miles from the toilet I now sat upon, that he wasn’t a pussy and that he couldn’t take it anymore and that he loved his friends. But he was out.

That was it.

Of course at this time of the morning there were only maybe a dozen reactions, and I did what I bet everyone else did, I went into fb messenger and typed out “what did you do?” and sent it to him.

No response. Ever. Still.

I checked those messages I had tried to ignore. Every single fucking one said “what just happened?” or “is this fucking real?”.

My friend, hell one of my favorite pint sized musicians, had completed suicide and left his note as a post that I would morbidly stalk every few months just to remind myself that it actually happened.

Mike’s fucking gone, he peace’d out just after he said goodbye to everyone, on FACEBOOK no less, and here I was thinking I needed to be more like Mike, more in tune with what’s right in my life, more aware of how awesome the shit and the people around me are.

At 37, with the most beautiful woman in the world as my wife, and with three incredible, healthy, energetic children all still asleep in my house, I was fucking devastated.

Like, punched in the stomach, dragged through the streets, every ounce of everything inside of me depleted, just, devastated.

I remember returning to bed and sort of sniffling a bit and my wife turns to me and says “what’s going on?” as she’s still half asleep.

“Remember Mic One?” I say through ragged breaths.

“The littlest rapper?” she jokes, because it’s true. We fucked with Mike so hard, everyone did, because we loved the hell out of him.

My wife knew Mike, the rapper, because he was the sole reason why we postponed our first wedding anniversary trip waaaaaay back in 2005, all because he offered my band The Cankles an opening slot at one of his shows. His shows were epic sold out parties, every time, and his support to any artist on the come up in Chicago was huge, if even only on the inside. Mic One shows were where any musician in the indie hip hop scene wanted to be. My wife knew Mike as the guy who said shit no one else would even dream of saying on the social medias, he was the guy your wife rolled her eyes at. Always.

“Yea.” I responded. “He’s dead. Suicide. He posted about it on facebook about a half hour ago.”

Julie went up on one elbow, seeing my face as it dove for her chest, she didn’t say anything.

I spent the better part of a half hour just sobbing. Not just because he was gone, but because I felt like his taking his own life was sort of a kick to my own stability. If Mike couldn’t handle this shitstorm, how the fuck was I going to?

The rest of that day and the week to follow all went by in a sort of blur. I was communicating with friends I hadn’t seen or spoken to outside of social media in over a decade. Everyone was fucking hurting.

How did we not see this?
Why didn’t someone say something?
Why didn’t he ask for help?
Now what?

I was a pile of absolute shit.

I should tell you, because it matters in this here story, that I’m an “elected official”, an alderman, in a small city in the Chicago suburbs called Yorkville. There’s 19,000 people, it’s rural-ish, but with way more suburban folk who wanted less people and bigger yards, it has all the comforts of a larger suburb closer to the city, without a lot of the noise.

Anyhow, my mayor at the time, Gary Golinski, got word of what had happened and, because he’s fucking awesome, he called me to check on me. I told him I was a pile of shit and I didn’t know how I was going to bounce back from this sort of blow. He listened to every mumbled word I said one night and asked me, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” to which I responded, “I don’t think there’s much I can do, he’s dead.”.

And then he said something I’ll never forget. “Well, you gotta do something. I’ll wait.” and then there he sat, on the other end of the line, just sitting patiently. He wasn’t offering me much, but he was present.

Over the next half hour, as I sort of talked to myself with Mayor Golinski listening, I sort of went over my options.

I could do nothing, which is what I had been doing for the last week, basically ignoring everything in my life.

I could say something at a meeting some day soon, but those are just words. I needed something a bit more public and uncomfortable.

Together we decided that I needed to make this a turning point in my life, and make a public and official testament that suicide is an issue, that there are resources available to those who need help, and that just saying hi or simply being present for someone can help turn their day around. Oddly enough, that last part was a direct result of Mayor Golinski just being there on the phone with me as I worked through my shit.

That night I drafted what would become the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month Proclamation. And with the direct support of my city, the United City of Yorkville, we were going to proclaim, with Mayor Golinski as my bullhorn, since I still couldn’t talk without crying, that September was Suicide Prevention Month, that suicide was an issue, that mental health resources were available, and that a little slice of humanity can go a long way when someone is having a tough time.

We adopted that proclamation in late August 2017. The night of that meeting I went home and emailed every elected official I knew and asked them to do the same. I was hurting, but I was fucking fired up. I’m sick of people not knowing they matter, sure, but I’m also sick of that fact that whenever I say the word “suicide” people look at me like I just screamed the word “MASTURBATION” in a catholic school.

Denial about a subject doesn’t make the subject any less real, talking about it seems like the best way to make something taboo less terrifying.

Sure, I was terrified of having to talk about suicide, but I knew that if I didn’t, someone else I love might consider it their only option and then actually follow through and I’d lose someone else.

I was fucking done sitting still.

I haven’t sat still since.

In 2018, I got permission to conduct official outreach on behalf of the United City of Yorkville a bit earlier, and I ended up sending out about 3,000 emails on my own and got 234 cities, and 20 counties, in 40 different states to official talk about suicide by adopting the NSPAMP.

That same year, I reached out to a group in Chicago called Hope For the Day, a proactive mental health and suicide prevention non-profit, and immediately fell into step with their approach and knew I had found a home for the fire lit under my ass.

While working parallel in my own little suburban bubble, HFTD saw something in my communication style, and rather than them just high fiving me for continuing to talk about suicide from my position as an alderman and a dad, they nudged me to consider being more physically involved in the proclamation project than just a guy sending emails.

In 2019, along with Hope For the Day, I’ve still sent out 1,000 or so emails, but my numbers are only in the 70s as of this writing, but I don’t care, because we’ve already visited and presented in front of a handful of city councils in the state of Illinois. We’ve directly interacted with those impacted by suicide, and we’ve demonstrated to those who have NOT been impacted by suicide, how devastating the loss of one human from suicide can be.

In 2017 and 2018, I was still unable to attend many of the readings and adoptions of the proclamation, because it was still hard to talk about.

In 2019, it’s not any easier to talk about, but fuck everything else, I’m not done trying to make sure that Mike Malinowski didn’t die in vain and that I can’t do what I can do impress upon humanity how important we all are.

We’re in this shit together whether we like it or not, so I’ll be around if you wanna fucking talk about some shit. I also like tacos.

Oh, and I just got hired by Hope For the Day on August 15th, 2019, as their new Public Policy Director to directly communicate with people on all sides of government, to not only ensure the money we spend as a country on mental health and suicide prevention is well spent, but to make sure we all realize it’s human to hurt and our job is to talk about what sucks so that it doesn’t end up hurting someone or losing one more person to suicide.

So, yea, I cuss when I talk about pain and suicide and hurting and shit, but it’s ok not to be ok, and I’ll grow up someday (I’M LYING).

TALK ABOUT SUICIDE.
SHIT SUCKS.
BUT TALK ABOUT THE SHIT THAT SUCKS.

Dear Friend,

This is part of a letter to a friend in response to her mom’s suicide.

Dear Sarah,

It’s been a long time since you’ve asked me to comment on the book you wrote about your mom’s suicide. I think you are amazing to write about it and I’m glad that you did. I don’t enjoy bringing that chapter of life to mind, given the chaos of those years, but I’ve thought about it often. Especially when I think about what it means to be a mother and uncovering fresh layers of fucked up that we both learned from our mothers.

I know it’s not fair of me to judge them now — but it’s hard not to. 

I took your mom’s suicide hard.

Talking about my relationship with your mom is hard for me because I admired her very much — I was flabbergasted by the way that she slipped back into drugs and addiction.

I was shocked that she abandoned you like that. I was just shocked.

I couldn’t believe your mom would die by suicide.

I still can’t.

I remember the first time I met your mom, I was playing in the front yard while she moved in across the street. She introduced herself from over the fence and told me that she had a daughter just my age, with my name: “I have a Sarah too.”

By the time you came to visit for the summer she had already arranged that we would be playmates.  She even arranged a phone call between us before your visit.

When you showed up at my front door, I knew we would be lifelong friends.

mom's suicide

My mom worked a lot and my dad was physically or mentally absent most of the time, so your home was like a second home to me.

During these years, your house felt like a Norman Rockwell to me, though now I see that it was far from it.  

My mom remarried a man who was addicted to heroin, while at your house, your mom packed lunches, set up the tent in the backyard for us to “camp,” and made goody bags filled with candy. She took us to the zoo, the mall, and the flea market. She prescreened movies, took us for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, and insisted that you wore a bike helmet. I remember going with her to an NA picnic in the park and how proud she was of her sober chips. We’d to admire the shiny metal coins she earned for racking up months and years of sobriety. 

I envied the amount of time and attention that your mom spent with you when she was sober  As a kid, I saw your mom as kind, fair, the type who would take the time to listen.

When your mom died by suicide, I was glad that she had doted on you those years before she started using again.

As my home life became marked by violence and fear, I began that the world was full of bad people. I quickly became withdrawn to protect myself.

Beth was a reminder that there were safe adults in the world.

When my stepfather and my mom first started fighting, I called your house in the middle of the night. I was so scared. I didn’t know what was happening or what to do.

It was very late and your mom answered the phone and insisted that I tell her what was happening. My stepfather hadn’t started hitting my mom yet, but the yelling was really over the top. She gave me a speech about how adults sometimes argue and it can be scary for children to hear and explained that my mom and step dad would never want to do anything to scare me. She told me to go downstairs and tell them that they were scaring me and I couldn’t sleep. They told me to go back up to my room.

mom's suicide

Many nights of fighting followed with growing intensity and I tried to call you but ended up talking to Beth.

Beth eventually called my mom and told her that she was concerned about me – I was in big trouble. I was forbidden to speak about “private family business.” It worked: I didn’t speak of the violence again until after his death.

The violence escalated and my stepfather began beating my mom and my brother when he was angry. We moved on several occasions to get away from him.

The emotional abuse from my stepfather became our new normal and we began spending school nights on random people’s sofas, hiding our car down the street.  

I spent as much time as possible at friend’s houses and took up babysitting to get out of the house on weekends.

Beth was the only person who knew what was happening; I’d assumed that she would be the person to help me out of that situation. I’m no longer sure she understood how bad things had gotten. She provided me a safe place to go whenever I needed one and a reminder that there are kind people in the world. She told me that I should become one of them. She affirmed that there were a lot of fucked-up things in the world and they would probably never make sense.

Honestly, I don’t know how I would have turned out without Beth as a moral reference point during those years.

Beth became addicted to codeine cough syrup and her behavior changed: she didn’t take us on outings she slept all day everyday. One occasion when she woke up, I remember her running down the hallway singing “boo boop be boo.” This is when I learned that there was something wrong. I was pretty sure that people with bronchitis didn’t do that kind of thing normally.

I knew things were coming unhinged for you, but was too young to appreciate the full weight of what was happening.

I lived in Beth’s house twice, once for a short time when I ran away after my stepfather died and for the school term after that.

By the time I officially lived with Beth she was pretty far gone in her addiction. She slept or was gone most of the time. 

It seemed that you were on your own, too.

I still cared what Beth thought of me. She seemed one of the few people who didn’t see me as a lost cause and so I didn’t see myself that way when I was around her.

On Fridays, Beth would take us to the grocery store. She taught us how to grocery shop and some very basic cooking skills.

Things went sour when my mom suspected Beth was using the money she gave her for things other than my upkeep. You and Beth were at odds more often than not. I decided it was best to move back home. Home was a sort of hell, but it was my own hell and I knew how to navigate it. 

I didn’t see much of Beth after that.

I’d spend weekends at her apartment while she agreed to leave us totally unattended. The last time I saw her, she’d picked me up from my house to bring me back to your house for the weekend.  I remember her being warm and chatting with me for the ride, though I can’t remember what about.

I remember her smiling and I remember that she mentioned that you were unhappy with her these days. 

The next time I saw her she was in a coma.

Atrophied hands, hair cut short, dead to the world.

No warm smile, no more sun-kissed freckles, no more frizzy bun atop her head.

She was gone to the world and she couldn’t recover. That’s the last I saw her.

died by suicide

I couldn’t talk about her death with you. It didn’t seem like you wanted to and then you were gone I knew that she let you down and ultimately abandoned you with her suicide. You have every right to be angry with her; hell I was angry on your behalf.

I was just shocked and sad. I think I felt abandoned too.

The next few years were hard for us; the one person I saw as a safe adult had succumbed to drugs and took her own life. It didn’t add up.

Suicide was cruel and yet I remembered her as such a kind person.

There was nothing I could say that would lessen the pain for you so I said nothing.

You remind me of her because you look so much like her now. If you want to talk about what happened, I’d let you start.

What is there to say now, after all of these years?

That was fucked up. There is some fucked up bad shit in the world and it will never make sense, but there is some wonderful stuff too. I think that, despite it all, we both turned out to be people who contribute more to the good than to the uglyl.

I hold you close in my heart, my sister and my dear friend.

With much love,

Sarah 

Bunnies, Huh?

When I think back through my life, I feel pretty sad. It’s been a kinda sad life – at least I think it’s been. You know, childhood can be pretty rough when you’re the Outsider. No friends to speak of – token or otherwise. You’re just alone. Your folks send you out to play every day, but there’s no one to play with. No one you get along with.

Sure, you made attempts, tried to make friends, but it never happened.

That’s how my childhood went. I just couldn’t make a single friend, not for the life of me. So I focused on alternatives to social activity. Being alone all the time, books and video games quickly became my consolation. But I clung onto my anger at a world where I couldn’t have even one friend.

I thought”

“Maybe when I grow up, I’ll be a librarian or a scholar.”

None of that ever came to pass, though. It was like I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for living after I gave up on the world around me. I never really thought about it at the time, however, I was caught up in myself. I was really, truly lonely, all the time. I didn’t think that would ever change.

Even today, I often can’t shake that feeling.

Have you ever thought about what animal best represents you?

I think most of us have. Maybe most people would think about the animals they like best and choose one of those: a lion, tiger, wolf, bear, fox, horse, something cool.

I think I’m most like a bunny: shy, nervous, and looking for social attention, cuddling, and friends. I’m more prone to flee than fight.

Earlier tonight I was feeling alone, frustrated, like my existence and struggles were all pretty futile and pointless. What I really wanted at the time – and even now – was just someone to hug me, hold me close, and be soothing and calm. To know someone was nearby who cared. What I have right now is not at all like that.

Part of the downside is that I don’t have good coping mechanisms. Talking – hoping people care, or listen – is the closest thing I have to someone being here and holding me so I feel safe. I feel like a nuisance because of my lack of coping mechanisms and because being held isn’t something that I only need a few times a month.

It’s a few times a week, at least. My anti-suicide mantra has been:

“Why bother rushing what’ll come soon enough anyway? Maybe I can use the rest of my life to be helpful, and if I’m really lucky, find some value in myself.”

I lean toward a belief in rebirth, that I have lived innumerable incarnations before this life and will continue to do so after this life. Going forward or backward doesn’t seem particularly important, it’s just a point in a stream. It’s what we do in the present that has more relevance, our planning for the future that matters.

I tend to ramble, sometimes I don’t make a lot of sense; I’m not even sure why I’m writing right now. A friend linked me here to Band Back Together, and I’ve held onto the link for a few days.

Today I felt like I needed to do something. And I didn’t want to log into a suicide chat room or contemplate means of suicide.

Even knowing I have a few folks who care about me, I just hate that feeling of being alone.