ali and his brother

It starts at home. I’m doing the dishes and listening to a podcast. I’m about to rinse off when my brother walks through the front door. “About time,” I think. Salman’s been gone for a while and I was beginning to wonder when he was coming back. We put on some tea, sit down and watch an old episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” making fun of Worf during the commercials.

That’s when I wake up.

I have this dream every other week. I hate it – not the dream, but being ripped away from it. Waking up is like finding out my brother died all over again.

birthday-coming-home

On May 19, 2008, Salman took his own life, following a long battle with bipolar depression. He was 36 years old. Salman suffered in silence – his illness wasn’t diagnosed until he was 34, after a very public manic episode that tore my family apart.

The dreams are always the same – I’m living my life right now in New York City and then my brother appears. Life has continued as if he never died – he was just away for a while. I’ve come to think of these dreams as a parallel universe where he never died by suicide, an alternate timeline in which he lives.

Waking up reminds me of how I found out. I got a call from my dad at 4:46 a.m. that Monday. I can hear his trembling voice – “Ali, your brother is no longer on this Earth – he committed suicide.”

I remember my guilt – Why didn’t I do more to help him?  What did I miss? Why wasn’t I there for him?

I get out of my bed, run through my morning routine, but the pain lingers. Listening to music and checking the news helps me bury my memories.

I could be having a normal day, then someone says, “My boss makes me want to shoot myself.” It feels like waking up again. How dare you joke about that? You have no idea what you’re saying! But it’s just a figure of speech to them; what can you do but shove the anger down and get out of there as quickly as possible.

It’s worst when I physically can’t get away. Days after learning about Salman’s death I flew back to visit his grave in Pakistan and shared the seat with a man my father’s age. He looked easy to talk to.

“Are you on your way home?” he asked. brothers3

“Not really, I’m going to visit my parents.”

“Ah, good for you. I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you. I was here for my daughter’s graduation – she just finished med school.” He was beaming with pride.

We talked about the medical profession and my training to become a psychologist.

“How’d you get interested in that? Were your parents psychologists?”

“It’s what I loved most in college, honestly.”

“What do your siblings do?”

“No…no siblings,” I lied, “it’s just me.”

“Oh, an only child,” he nodded. Now he wanted to talk about it! “Growing up, you must have had all the pressure from your parents.”

I had to get out of that seat. I said “excuse me,” tore off my seat belt and went into the lavatory. Not to pee, just to stand there. My heart was racing. I couldn’t tell him the truth – that I had a brother and he just died. I didn’t know why, I just knew I couldn’t do it.

When I returned to my seat, I put on my headphones to block out the older man. Despite his efforts, we didn’t speak for the remainder of the flight.

I don’t remember much from that visit. I know a lot of people came to pay their respects, but the rest is a blur. What sticks out vividly is seeing his grave for the first time. I stayed with him for an hour. I promised Salman I would keep his memory alive with his son and pass on what he had taught me. In that moment, I was overcome by the smell of fresh jasmine, as if his spirit was trying to embrace me.

After returning home to Washington, D.C., I grouped people into two categories – those who knew me before my brother died and those I met after. Friends and family gave me a wide berth, avoiding the topic of Salman’s death. With new people, I pretended to be an only child. I hated myself for lying, but the last thing I wanted was to be the guy – the therapist – with the bipolar brother who killed himself. Denying Salman’s role in my life was the quickest way to avoid the pain. With the exception of my dreams, Salman never existed.

That year I spent Thanksgiving at my friend’s home and met her sister’s future fiancé, Karl. The two of us hit it off after we discussed a mutual appreciation of Batman and Iron Man. After dessert, a few of us played board games. Karl and I joined forces and declared ourselves “Team Awesome.”

“It was weird growing up,” said Karl, “My brother was 10 years older than me – he was a friend and a bit of a dad.”

I wanted to say “me too,” but didn’t. I deflected and asked, “What was that like, being so far apart in age?”

“We did a lot of things together – sports and all that stuff, but he let me hang out with him and his friends, sometimes even sneaking me into rated-R movies.”

“Sounds like fun,” I said, but nothing more. In fact, Salman did the same. He took me to a bunch of movies I wasn’t old enough to see – “Terminator 2,” “The Rock,” “The Matrix.” My favorite thing was to tag along with him to Galactican, our local arcade. He knew everyone there. It made me feel so cool just being around him.

I didn’t tell Karl any of this. I might have made a good friend that day, but I kept pretty quiet.

“You know,” Karl said, “My brother helped me decide to major in computer science.”

“That’s cool,” was all I said, but inside I was screaming, I desperately wanted to tell Karl how my brother introduced me to “Star Trek,” how that led me to psychology, but I was too scared. I didn’t want him, or anyone else at the table, to ask questions, to judge me, to think poorly of my family.

disneyland-1980s By numbing myself to Salman’s suicide I restricted all of my memories about him – the bad and good. Remembering the experiences we shared together made me miss him dearly.

I think about that now – if Salman were alive today, he’d clear his schedule and take me to see the new “Star Trek” movie. I like to believe we’re both doing just that, in the parallel universe. Maybe in that universe he’s the best man at my wedding, the uncle to my kids and my friend in old age.

Salman ended his life to stop his suffering. By refusing to face my pain, I’ve prolonged my suffering.

Last year I was serving on the board of directors of the American Psychological Association. At our end of year dinner, I sat next to Melba Vasquez, a past-president of the association. After some small talk, Melba started a conversation about family.

“Ten siblings!” she asked one of our colleagues. “What was that like, growing up in such a big home?”

“Jennifer, what about you – how big is your family?” Melba continued around the table, one by one.

I felt sick. I was stuck – nowhere to hide.

“Ali, what about you?”

“There were four of us, my parents and my older brother…but he died a few years ago. He had bipolar depression and took his own life.”

“I’m so very sorry, Ali,” she said. “I had no idea.”

“It’s not something I talk about.” Even as the words came out of my mouth, the whole situation felt unreal – I had never publically talked about Salman’s death before.

“That makes sense,” she said. “There’s so much stigma about suicide – it’s not something anyone talks about.” Melba always communicated with compassion and honesty – it was one of the reasons I looked up to her and why I couldn’t lie to her.

“I’ve always been afraid that people would think differently of me and my family. I had this fear that people would think I’m an incompetent psychologist because I couldn’t save my own brother.”

“I’ve felt that way at different times in my life. Clinicians are just as vulnerable to these things as anyone else.”

When I accepted that fact, I felt comfortable seeking out my own therapy.

Later that night, I told Melba the things I wanted to tell Karl – how my brother taught me to build computers, our late nights watching “Twilight Zone,” debating Captain Kirk versus Captain Picard.

Yes, as I talked about it I felt that pain, the pain of waking up, but I endured it.

This way of dealing with things has also kept me away from the people I love. I rarely speak to my parents and I’ve been terrified of calling my brother’s son. I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t kept my promise at Salman’s gravesite. The last time I spoke to my nephew he asked me, “Why don’t you call me Uncle Ali?” I didn’t have an answer for him.

I want to be able to remember Salman more. It’s taken me five years, but I’ve finally put up photos of my brother in my home. They sit next to the other reminders of him that have always been there – the starships, action figures, video games.

The photos no longer just bring me pain; they remind me of the joy we shared together.

UCLA-graduation

This post originally appeared on Brain Knows Better.

RELATED VIDEOS


Kevin Hines is part of the less than 1 percent who have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. Now he’s sharing his story with the world in a powerful new video from BuzzFeed. Hines hopes his experience will help others seek help and realize suicide is never the answer.

By the age of 17, Hines faced numerous mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, and began “spiraling out of control.” When he was 19, after writing a suicide note, he took a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped. In the video above he says:

The millisecond my hands left the rail, it was an instant regret. And I remember thinking that no one’s going to know I didn’t want to die. In four seconds, I fell 75 miles an hour, 25 stories, and I hit the water. I was in the most physical pain I had ever experienced.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most frequently used places in the world to die by suicide, reports BuzzFeed, and more than 2,000 people have jumped to their deaths since it opened in 1937.

“It’s OK not to be OK,” Hines, who’s now in treatment, says in his video. “It’s not OK not to ask for someone to back you up.”

He’s currently working on a film project, Suicide: The Ripple Effect, and wants to continue raising awareness for those living with mental illness.

“Recovery happens,” Hines concludes. “I’m living proof.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.


Editor’s note: The following is based on one person’s experiences. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or consult a professional. 

I’ve been suicidal since I was 10 years old, and daydreamed of death since I was 7. Since I was young I’ve felt like death was a solution. Through recovery, I’ve learned ending it wouldn’t be worth it, my family isn’t actually better off without me and that my life is very much worth living. But sometimes, the thoughts creep back.

So, I’m writing a letter to everyone out there who’s struggling like I have and sometimes still do. To remind you that you can get through it, you will get through it and whatever you’re dealing with isn’t the end. Because sometimes we need to hear it from someone who’s been there.

Dear Suicidal You,

If you’re reading this, it means you’re fighting something inside of you that’s screaming to let everything go. It means you’re listening to that one voice inside your head that’s telling you to hold on and fight for just one more day. You’re struggling to get a grip on your feelings and all you can do is hope for it to end. And if you’re like me, you just want to fade away so you can’t bother anyone anymore. You think you will no longer be a burden.

You think you are giving up.

Even though you don’t see it right now, you are fighting. By sitting down to read this, you are fighting. That little voice inside your head is questioning if this is really what you want.

And it’s not. So listen to that voice and hold on.

I promise you it gets better. Sure, it’s cliché to say that, but it does. Three years ago I wouldn’t have believed anyone who tried to tell me that, but today I woke in the arms of the one I love. A year ago I faced the biggest heart break, and this morning I looked in the mirror and truly smiled for the first time since I was a little kid.

For eight years I’ve wanted and tried to end my life, and I’m telling you it’s not worth it.

So pick up your phone, dial the number you keep repeating in your head if you’re anything like me. Talk to someone, someone you trust and who loves you unconditionally. And breathe. Because you can and will get through this. You will come out of this as a warrior, a survivor.

You are going to get through it.

Get up. Force yourself to take a shower — it might make you feel a little better. Then go do something you know you love. When I feel like ending it all, I write. I pour my heart and soul out into a piece. Then I submit it to someone or post it on my blog. When I get comments and shares, I start to feel some worth. Someone is seeing what I have to say, and they’re valuing it. They care about what I’m saying in some way.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 12.34.51 PM
picture of the crane, taken by Courtney

Sometimes I take pictures. Selfies have made my confidence fly through the roof! Photography in general makes me feel so much better. I get to take a picture of a beautiful moment and make it last forever. Last time I felt like ending it, I went to the lake with my love and my father. I had just gotten a new camera and I was going to force myself to test it. But the moment I snapped a picture of a majestic crane, I suddenly didn’t feel so bad anymore. I was looking at this stunning thing I created and all I could think was “Wow, I did that.”

Within just a few moments I suddenly wasn’t feeling so low.

We have to hold on to moments like these. We all need someone to lean on sometimes.

And above, we need to keep fighting. Because we are worth it.

Love,

Someone who’s been there

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.


Update Dec. 7 – 9:46 p.m. PST: Brenda Angerman, co-manager of the Southside Walmart in Pueblo, Colorado, emailed The Mighty to say that they have forwarded all information to the corporate office and at this time, although it is true that Yore shopped there, there is no other evidence that suggests anything else about her story is true. Walmart released the following statement:

“We’ve been tracking this story closely and appreciate the concern shown by our customers and associates. They are great examples of the kindness we see in our stores every day. Our associate’s mother is, in fact, in good health and the discussion that is portrayed with a customer never took place.”

Update Dec. 7 – 6:34 p.m. PST: According to KRDO News Channel 13, a Walmart representative says the story below is “not true,” and that the mother of cashier mentioned is still alive. Walmart has still not released an official statement.

Update Dec. 7 – 1:40 p.m. PST: The Mighty spoke with Brenda Angerman, co-manager of the Southside Walmart in Pueblo, Colorado, located at 4080 W Northern Ave. Angerman said that she is unable to give a comment at this time other than to state that Walmart has found the information in the video posted by Paige Yore to be inaccurate. Walmart will be releasing an official statement later today. 

A Walmart customer’s shopping trip turned into a moving reminder that we have no idea what anyone else is going through.

Paige Yore, from Rangely, Colorado, was at Walmart waiting to check out when she witnessed a cashier having a difficult time with a customer. Yore did her best to help move the angry customer along, even bagging some of her groceries. When the woman persisted in badgering the young cashier about a declined credit card, Yore interjected and defended him, noting that he seemed to be having a bad day.

The cashier then burst into tears, according to Yore’s now viral Facebook post. He hugged her and told her that morning his mother had taken her own life. He hadn’t called out of work because he had bills to pay.

“No matter where we or, no matter what we’re doing, we are there for a reason,” Yore says in the video below. “That just showed me that no matter what, even if your customer service sucks, even if whatever happened, somebody is rude to you, don’t jump down their throat because they are fighting a battle that none of us knows about… We have to be thankful to be alive and treat other people like you want to be treated.”

Get more from the video below: 

My Friday experience..... This will hit home.... You never know who's fighting what battle. Watch what you say.....

Posted by Paige Yore on Friday, December 4, 2015

 

Yore posted the video to her Facebook page on Dec. 4, and it’s since received nearly 800,000 shares.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.


There is one death by suicide in the U.S. every 13 minutes, according to Suicide Awareness Voice of Education (SAVE). Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. for all ages.

BuzzFeed recently sat down with 7 people to talk about what it’s like to lose someone to suicide. They spoke about how they found out, the feelings of loss and heartache that ensue and what they’ve since learned about mental health.

I think dialogue is the key,” Says Peta, who lost her daughter to suicide a year ago, in the video below. “I think conversation is the key. I think asking your friends if they’re OK and then listening is the key.”

Watch the full video below:

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


When someone’s actively suicidal, we often tell them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 9-1-1 or go to the local emergency room. These are all correct responses, but they’re also scary, big steps for someone in a mental health crisis.

To demystify what happens in the emergency room, I want to share my own experiences. Every hospital is different, but here’s what happened to me when I went to the ER because I was feeling suicidal.

1. I had to tell the ER staff why I was there. 

Whenever you go to the ER for any reason, you have to tell the staff why you’re there. You can word this however you want: I’m feeling suicidal. I have a suicide plan. I’m having suicidal thoughts. I’m feeling really depressed. I went with my parents, so they talked to the staff for me. (If you feel as though you need support, it’s a good idea to go with your parents, guardian or someone you trust.)

In my visits to the ER, a mental health crisis professional came to evaluate me to determine what level of care I needed. This means you should be extremely honest  — they’re trying to get you the help you need. I was asked if I had a plan, if I had previous attempts/thoughts/hospitalizations, what medications I was taking (if any), any issues going on in my life and other questions to determine my mental state.

2. Once my level of care was determined, they found me a place where I could receive it. 

In mental health treatment there are different levels of care, determined by how much supervision and treatment you need.

Inpatient hospitalization means you spend both days and nights at the hospital. Depending on your area, it may be a floor of a regular hospital or a free-standing psychiatric hospital. Inpatient hospitalization is for people who are deemed “high-risk.” The length of stay varies.

You also might be enrolled in an intensive outpatient program which is outpatient day treatment. Outpatient means you sleep at home, but go to programs during the day.

3. If you have to go to inpatient, it’s to keep you safe and it’s OK.

Each time I’ve been to the ER for suicidal thoughts, the evaluator decided I needed to go to inpatient. I was in the ER for several hours while they found a bed, and while I was waiting I got blood taken and they ran some tests. My inpatient program was not in the hospital the ER was in, so I was transferred by ambulance.

The rooms are usually plain looking and empty, but not scary like old photos of “psychiatric wards” you see online! I had one roommate and decorated with quotes and pictures.

I’ll be honest, inpatient hospitalization is not a vacation. You lose a lot of freedoms in inpatient treatment. In my experience, they took away anything I could possibly hurt myself (or others) with — shoelaces, strings in clothes, belts — anything sharp and anything long. But, I had to understand it was for my safety. I was monitored closely to make sure I was safe.

4. Whatever happens, don’t be scared of getting the help you need.

While inpatient hospitalization can be scary, it can also be life-saving. I’ve been in this type of treatment several times after going to the ER. Each time has been different, but each time I learned something valuable. It was there I first experienced art therapy. I played piano and basketball. I made a good friend and had conversations that helped me. Leaving everything you know and love with scarce contact with the outside world sounds terrifying, but sometimes it’s exactly what you need.

When you’re in a mental health crisis it can be hard to see clearly. Research local hospitals beforehand and find out how they handle behavioral health cases. Some hospitals may be more equipped for mental health crisis situations than others. Here are some questions you or someone you trust should ask during these times. If you’re someone who lives with suicidal thoughts, knowing what to expect can help ease some of the burden of getting help.

Don’t hesitate — you can do this!

Editor’s note: This piece talks about a specific experience regarding suicidal thoughts and hospitalizations. Not all experiences will be or are the same.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

This post originally appeared on the Active Minds blog

The Mighty wants to hear about your experiences in psychiatric hospitals. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.