Before You Google 'Borderline Personality Disorder,' Read This

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Let’s just say you are sitting at home. It’s an ordinary Saturday morning. Except this ordinary day has changed. It’s not the normal day you had planned and your anxiety is acting up because you are concerned. You put the phone down and your friend tells you they have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Let’s say they have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Before you think of anything related to BPD, let me give you a few things to think about.

Firstly, our first automatic response in a society driven by technology is to research something on Google we know nothing about. Everyone’s guilty of it. Even I have been in the past. What happens when I tell you there are other reliable sources out there that are more reliable than Google itself? I know, crazy to think. But please listen to some valid points I am about to raise when it comes to the dangers of resorting to Google when it comes to mental illness.

Wikipedia’s facts about diagnoses of different mental illnesses are accurate, but don’t always give you answers you need to help someone. I am presuming most people look up things on Google with the intention of understanding and helping others, rather than to boost and comfort their own egos. You might find the symptoms and such attached to the disorders can be a positive start. But an hour later, you are knee deep, scrolling and you have found the “I hate you, don’t leave me” type articles written in the late 80s. These are outdated representations of borderline, as it’s the year 2017 and a whole lot more research and steps forward have been put into place.

A few minutes later, you are finding articles written by ex lovers of people with BPD and reading comments like: “the best thing to do is to never contact them again!! They are crazy.” You see, it’s these attitudes that contribute to creating stigma and barriers to the understanding of BPD and mental illness in general. When people read things like that on the internet, they can become convinced they can’t offer anything to another’s recovery. So the offer you then give them becomes negative in your eyes. Please know this is not true and you can contribute positively. Mental illness needs a better understanding from the community in whole. The more people start learning, the more a positive ripple effect can be built.

You are probably wondering how to achieve this or how you can possibly help if you can’t rely on these outdated articles and narrow-minded comments. If you are someone who cares about every individual’s feelings and well being, then you will consider these following options:

1. Listen.

By now, I am hoping people who read this can agree not everyone’s mental illness experience is exactly the same. Behaviors can be similar and they can relate, but no one person’s experience is going to be the same as the others. So the key to helping is to listen attentively to the person who may be experiencing an episode or opening up to someone about their struggles and what helps them. Usually someone who is in that state is petrified of the other person seeing them like that, so this is the next step to helping someone.

2. Have no judgment.

You have now seen a side to your friend you didn’t know was there. You can be the human being who throws up their arms and rejects the idea of even considering helping this person because of x, y or z. But you could instead be the strong person who sits with them regardless of the fact they have had a change in behavior. Talk them through it, ask them what they are experiencing to change like this. Some people may be experiencing psychosis. If you feel in danger, then medical professionals can assist. If you can stay with them and calm them, then that will help them. The next day, still treat them the same. You may be scared, but you have to remember in these moments, their behaviors are beyond their control.

3. Don’t let them isolate.

I think this is an important step to make someone keep going, especially after a suicide attempt. I have had people cut me off after my own suicide attempts and it was incredibly hurtful. You may never know the pain you will leave someone in if you leave them behind in this way. The way you leave situations is a show of character. To not acknowledge the devastating impact a suicide attempt can have on an individual is hurtful. Be a genuine and authentic person who checks in on someone after they have tried to take their own life. This creates relief for the individual as well as support. No matter what circumstance, sometimes all it takes is a small gesture to make a huge and effective impact on someone in need.

Not letting someone isolate means making them feel included when they are ready to be discharged from hospital after an attempt. Organize time with friends to take them out for food or coffee, go for a walk or just visit them at home. Small things like this aren’t hard to organize. No one should be treated differently after an episode has happened when they have a mental illness. Google may tell stories of people who try to die by suicide to “manipulate” others, which most people with mental illness are not capable of.

These are just small steps you can start applying to your life any time. The main point I am trying to make is Google isn’t always right about everything. If you live by the motto “Well, that’s what Google told me to do, so Google must be right,” you won’t have any room in your mind to help reduce stigma and myths surrounding BPD and other mental illnesses.

Here are some links to helpful websites that can assist you in expanding your perspectives when it comes to mental illness. The Mighty is one I write for and I find comfort in a lot, as the writers are speaking about personal experiences. The more you read up on individual experiences with illness, the better understanding you will have.

Australian BPD Foundation Limited

Project Air Strategy for Personality Disorders

Sane Australia

Suicide Prevention Australia

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via golubovy.

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What Dialectical Behavior Therapy Has Taught Me So Far

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Official diagnosis by the good doctor: borderline personality disorder (BPD). And yes, I am in fact a good candidate for this special type of therapy, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

The instability of my moods and self-worth are (partly) to blame for my unstable relationships. The abandonment. The people I’ve lost who I agonize about.

To say this diagnosis changed my life would be an understatement. I have others, but this one is different. Bigger.

Sometimes, when I think about what all comes with living with BPD, I get so overwhelmed at how hopeless it all seems, that recovery was never a road meant for me. But more often than not, I know that’s just the disorder talking. And they all do it.

And I couldn’t decide on the drive to the hospital… Is it better or worse not to have it? Because if I don’t then what is wrong with me and if I do, well, the mess that is my life makes much more sense. But I also don’t want this. It’s so much bigger than just depression or anxiety. It’s overwhelming and required a huge change in my life that, yes, has been for the better (for the most part) but certainly hasn’t been easy.

But I understand myself a little bit better, I think, learning that I have BPD. I guess that’s the silver-lining.

Unstable, unsure, abandoned.

It’s the most frustrating, helpless feeling. It’s exhausting – for me, for everyone in my life. But I can’t help it. And I don’t want to apologize for my mental illness, in fact I am done apologizing for it, but getting the people in my life to understand has been the biggest challenge that sometimes seems hopeless.

Before starting DBT, I first had to understand what BPD was.

Here are my symptoms:

  1. Fear of abandonment.
  2. Unstable or changing relationships.
  3. Unstable self-image, struggles with identity.
  4. Suicidal behavior or self-injury.
  5. Varied or random mood swings.
  6. Constant feelings of worthlessness or sadness.
  7. Problems with anger and loss of temper.
  8. Stress related paranoia, loss of contact with reality.

My “co-morbidities:” depression, severe social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, ADHD, self-harm and various sleeping problems.

So that’s more than a lot to deal with. But as I learned about the disorder, recognized my symptoms, identified my co-morbidities – it all made sense to me.

All I knew going in to DBT was that it’d be around five to six months and that it’s a group setting – which immediately caused a reaction in me. I worried about someone I know being in the group, if my anxiety would even cooperate and all sorts of other things… Turns out, it was probably the best thing I could do for myself at the time, and I actually found myself worried about when group would end.

It’s a strange feeling — being in a room of strangers who know you in a way that probably nobody else ever will. We knew nothing about each other’s lives, our personalities — but we knew what we were all going through was very similar. The first 20 minutes it was clear we knew and understood each other like nobody else in our lives.

DBT is made up of four modules, and each has specific sets of skills to go with them.

Mindfulness was first. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware fully and present in the moment. It’s called One Mindfully.

Emotion Regulation was next, which is a guideline of how to change emotions you want to change.

Third was Distress Tolerance — how to tolerate pain in difficult situations, not change it.

Lastly, Interpersonal Effectiveness – how to ask for what you want and/or say no while maintaining respect for self and others.

The Middle Path was the unofficial fifth module, I guess. The gist of it — two things can be true at once.

I struggled, and continue to struggle with Mindfulness. But I committed myself to at least try. It’s surprising how difficult being one-mindful can be; putting everything else in your mind aside for just this moment and focus on this one thing. This is where my ADHD puts me at a disadvantage in a big way. Judgments were another big part of mindfulness — on others and yourself. For me, it wasn’t so much about other people, it was how often and badly I was judging myself. I will always struggle with this, I think. An important quote I learned from this: “Don’t judge your judging.”

Emotion Regulation might be the most important one for me, personally. The most challenging. A particularly difficult part is having — trying, to incorporate Mindfulness into it. Being mindful of your emotions by identifying them, know what they do for you. And most importantly, for me, letting go of painful emotions using mindfulness, remembering that emotions are not facts.

Parts of distress tolerance and emotion regulation are interchangeable, I think. Part of one of the skills for emotion is called Coping Ahead, which is to have a plan; rehearse it ahead of time so that you’re prepared for whatever outcome. It’s very relevant in Distress tolerance. Experience your emotion; do not try to get rid of it or push it away, but also not to hold onto it. Remember you are not your emotion, remember when you felt differently. And do not judge your emotion. This, I feel, is important. Every day it’s a struggle for me but I really do believe it – it’s OK to feel however you’re feeling. Invalidating your own emotions only does more harm to you.

Interpersonal Effectiveness, though challenging, is so, so useful and important. I said it before, but trying to get others to understand is the most difficult and frustrating thing. This at least gives us a script, so to speak, to start from.

DBT is something you have to continue practicing daily. You cannot just finish the group program and forget about it, about what you learned and assume you’re all better now. It’s an on going thing. And hopefully it will become easier to manage later on, but that will only happen if you take the responsibility of using your DBT skills every single day.

Like I said in the beginning – this disorder is so much bigger than you probably realize at first. It’s going to take work and you’re going to want to give up — I know I have, but I really think it’s worth it. You’re worth it.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via OGri

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What People Don't Tell You About Living With Borderline Personality Disorder

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Whenever people mention borderline personality disorder (BPD) — or emotionally unstable personality disorder as it’s also known as — everyone automatically thinks of the negatives.

“Emotional instability,” “mood swings,” “impulsive,” “reckless,” “suicidal,” and even “criminal.” I believe this is all because of the way BPD has been portrayed in the media.

But what people don’t tell you is the positives that come with BPD. Even though sometimes I can be highly sensitive, I can sometimes read other people’s emotions really well – for example, I may know when someone is faking when they say “I’m fine.” Because of what I have been through in my past, and the way BPD is, I sometimes see the world in a way no one else does. I can be creative and imaginative. When it comes to hobbies, I can be passionate about them. Relationships and friendships mean the absolute world to me and I value them a lot.

Not everything about BPD is bad; there are a lot of positives that need more recognition.

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Thinkstock photo by CCeliaPhoto.

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A Poem for a Loved One With Borderline Personality Disorder

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Dear darling,

I know deep inside

you may think of yourself

in black and white

and you may judge yourself

unfavorably.

You call yourself

hostile names,

and you may believe

too much bad

of your mind and heart.

Sometimes you may think

you’re undeserving of love,

because you feel awful

and difficult and strange.

You may give yourself

a million excuses

to explain why

the world, your friends,

and family

are too gentle with you.

But darling,

let me tell you

how I see you.

I understand the need

to berate yourself,

but let me share a secret:

nobody is perfect.

And I’ve learned to see

that living between

my black and white,

my good and bad,

are so many shades of gray,

and a myriad of colors.

Every time you smile,

and every time you give

of yourself,

it makes you

who you are,

which is perfectly imperfect

and strikingly attractive

in its very own way.

Please,

Dear darling,

Don’t call yourself

those nasty names.

I don’t believe

you’re terrible,

and I am sorry

you feel that way,

about yourself.

We are all comprised

of black and white

and good and bad.

Instead of placing

your primary focus

on blaming yourself

and roller-coaster guilt-trips,

look me in the eye,

and I will tell you

again and again,

how beautiful,

inspiring and strong

your heart is.

Yes, including those

ups and downs.

And maybe,

just maybe,

because of it.

Dear darling,

You’re perfectly imperfect.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by gpointstudio

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I'm the One Who Feels Deeply

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Naked – stripped off of all the defensive layers.

Raw – sensitive thoughts and emotions.

Eruptive – with wavering identity and courage!

That’s what I am – a girl fighting borderline!

It’s hard – not to stop, not to think, not to feel, not to be afraid of myself and everyone else. It’s hard – to put down that bottle of beer that makes me feel good. It’s hard – not to lose temper at the loved one. It’s hard – to hide my fears under that masquerade of naiveté and cheerfulness. It’s hard – to not self-harm or tell myself, “It’s not your fault.”

A person very close to me recently said, “You’re never going to change. Because you don’t want to. Well, stay the same! Because it’s not my problem… and I’m giving up on you.” A part of me knows it’s alright as I knew I wanted to change, and that I could definitely make it through, because I always have. But all that showed on the outside were the tears, accompanied by intense the fear of abandonment. I begged my friend, much to his chagrin and disgust. Well, what he didn’t know was that I felt the disgust for myself too.

From the time I became aware of the fluctuations in my behavioral patterns, I have been trying to figure out what it was. I had felt rage, grief and elation, instead of anger, sadness and joy. It’s like my mind had a magnifying glass of its own. I am this sweet person overshadowed by madness and many other things. Then started my battle with the identity crisis – no, not the career-related one. The personal one! It began with disagreements, crying, screaming, yelling, laughing, hurting my loved ones physically and verbally, and last but not the least, hurting myself physically and emotionally. The journey went on and on, up and down a rocky road that never seemed to flatten out.

A while ago, I blogged about waging a war with depression. But I never realized there could be more. I felt empty all the time. Depression was just a little part of it, but not the whole. I made new friends, thought life was going to be fun now, but my inner demons were never quite silenced. They came back, hurting the one I cared deeply, and wanted a life with. I scared him away, as well as all my friends, with my irrationality.

I threatened to kill myself, I banged my head against a wall, I made a huge scene on the road in the middle of the night – my friends were still there, but I knew they were not going to be for long. I took a call the next day and went to the psychiatrist again. And boom! It wasn’t depression. It never was! It was borderline personality disorder, which was dwelling inside me since long.

For those who don’t know, borderline is all about emotional instability which can lead to other things as well – eating disorders, depression, substance abuse, addiction, self-harm, suicidal tendencies – what not?

We trust people too much, care too much, yet live in this immense fear of abandonment. We feel we’re unworthy of love or that this shrewd world doesn’t deserve us. It’s always an erupting volcano inside our heads. All we get is, “It’s all in your head,” “You’re at fault,” “You don’t want to help yourself,” “You need to be fixed,” “You’ll never change,” “You’re a psychopath,” “I’m done dealing with you.” Well, bring ’em on! Is that the best you’ve got?

I may look hunky dory and cool to everyone who just met me; but I am someone with a fluctuating sense of identity, impulsiveness, uncontrollable emotions, dissociation, distorted self-image; but deep down, I am also someone who’s brave and strong enough to get out of this mess.

Dear fellow beings, I am not the only one who feels deeply. There are thousands out there who hurt themselves and fall down a spiral of self-hatred, guilt and fear of abandonment.

And the least you could do it is to understand or support, instead of all the name calling. ‘Cause trust me, the world we live in isn’t colorful, it’s just painfully black and white.

Follow this journey on Harikalicious.

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Thinkstock photo via Natalia Kuchumova

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How It Felt to Lose My Mother to Suicide and Borderline Personality Disorder

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

Six months after my mom’s suicide, there is still a 12-pound lasagna she made in my freezer  and I can’t will myself to defrost it or throw it away.

“In case you have guests,” my mother had said, hoisting the slab of meat, noodles and cheese from her refrigerator bag into my freezer.

I took this to mean, you should have more friends over. Now that she’s gone, I realize my translation was wrong. She was saying, I wish I had more friends to feed because I feel alone. She’d had plenty of friends once, plenty of dinner parties, but that all ended years ago. Her friends had fallen from her favor over bizarre arguments of which I’d only hear the murky details or they’d been driven away by my mom’s general operating procedures: a consistent pattern of destruction to herself and others.

Some background: My dad divorced her when I was four. She tried to stab him with a kitchen knife. Her best friend became estranged and embittered around the time I graduated college. Their plan to manage an artisan cheese business went wildly astray. Her second husband, my sister’s dad, left when I was 25. She spent most of their 15-year marriage disparaging him. I don’t know how he lasted as long as he did. Actually, I do. He was well fed.

As much as she was stubborn, deceitful and conniving, my mom was equally passionate, charming and generous. I can hear her humming Dave Brubeck while dancing with the watering hose in the backyard. I can see her leaning over a simmering pot of chili, stirring it with one hand and helping me finish my math homework with the other. Even now, I can recall from memory the taste of her tiramisu, the dessert she made for my surprise 21st birthday party, an event she organized and executed flawlessly. The garden and kitchen were her sanctuaries, but they were also her dominion over which to rule. She could exert her wishes over ingredients that had no words or free will. Her cakes were never dry or burned. Plants grew exactly the way she planted them. People, on the other hand, she could not control. My mother treated anyone disagreeing with her or disobeying her wishes like an enemy combatant, especially her loved ones. This didn’t make sense to me until I realized my mom was struggling with a mental illness called borderline personality disorder (BPD).

According to the Mayo Clinic website, this is a common personality disorder. The National Institute for Mental Health estimates the number of BPD cases in the U.S. at roughly one percent of the population“Their emotions are like exposed nerve endings,” says Dr. Helen Grusd when I interviewed her about BPD. She is the past president of the L.A. County Psychological Association and a forensic and clinical psychologist for more than 30 years. “Those with BPD have a distinctively polarized view of relationships, idealizing themselves and others, but one mistake and the person is totally devalued,” Grusd says. Living with a person with BPD is, in Dr. Grusd’s words, “like living with Mount Vesuvius always on the verge of erupting.”

There is mounting research that those with BPD lack brain chemical functions related to empathy, the ability to relate and understand the feelings of someone else. In a study last September cited in the online psychiatric journal Helio, researchers found those diagnosed with BPD “had reduced activity in brain regions that support empathy,” suggesting “people with more [borderline personality disorder] traits have a more difficult time understanding and/or predicting how others feel.” Those with BPD are capable, according to Grusd, “of being empathetic one minute, but threatening and verbally abusive the next.” Demonstrations of kindness and love must compete with their day-to-day feelings of “chronic emptiness, rage and fear of abandonment.” BPD takes one’s need to be right to a toxic and oftentimes—as in my mom’s case—lethal level. “Rates of suicide with BPD are around 10 percent. It’s pretty high,” says Grusd.

Snapshots of my upbringing don’t look much different from plain old questionable parenting. For example, if I forgot to call my mom upon arriving somewhere to let her know I was safe, she’d threaten to call the police or highway patrol and a few times she did. As a result, I became obsessively punctual and overly attentive. If I shared an accomplishment of mine with her, she would be overjoyed momentarily, but would also tell me how she would have done it better. I became keenly observant of her methods, never questioned her authority and strived to be the best at everything, because anything less was a massive disappointment in her eyes. Any disagreement, big or small, merited a strong reproach. It could trigger her to throw something, to storm off screaming or drink even more than she normally did.

In college, I finally grew brave enough to tell her she had a drinking problem, but after three pointless attempts at an intervention, my efforts seemed futile. Her reality, no matter how factually incorrect or emotionally unjust, was all she could see. I resigned to spend my life proving I was not her. I’d place a mental checkmark in the “not-my-mom” box when I hit a milestone. Attain a college degree. Check that box! Still speaking to my dad after age 21. Check! Not addicted to alcohol or painkillers. Check. In retrospect, being on constant red alert for mom-like tendencies was concerning, but something more insidious was happening to me. The worse my mom’s situation became, the more I felt responsible for her, the more I felt ashamed I couldn’t solve her problems.

Four years ago, my younger sister stopped speaking to my mother altogether. I understood. I might have done the same had my first 18 years been exclusively under my mother’s roof. Growing up, I at least lived at my father’s house half the time. I had time away from my mom that my sister never had. When she closed off communication with my mom, I became the last relative to stay at close range.

This meant accepting her lasagnas, quiches and homegrown vegetables, managing her DUIs, her unpaid bills, her storage unit filled with canned goods and cookbooks. When she asked me to forge her doctor’s signature on a prescription pad she’d swindled from the office, I declined with my best friend in the room for both moral support and protection if she acted out. When she called the reverend two weeks before my wedding to ask him not to marry me, she told him I was too afraid to back out. This was, of course, a complete fabrication. Years before, she’d lost another dear friend in a similar clandestine maneuver when she disapproved of the fiancé. Over time, the wasteland of ruined friendships, marriages and business ventures grew as plentifully as the tomatoes in her garden and rose as reliably as her sourdough starter.

It took a long time for someone else to point out my mom might have an actual disease instead of what I referred to as her “homemade recipe for crazy.” I was 30, married, in therapy and my psychologist gave me a copy of “Stop Walking on Eggshells,” a book about borderline personality disorder. The book outlined in startling detail every dark shade of my mom’s psyche: Intense fear of abandonment, explosive anger, extreme idealization and devaluation of others and of the self, impulsive behavior, substance abuse, self-harm.

At the time, the research and advice from the book provided me with answers. Its author, Paul Mason, writes, “the sacrifices that people make to satisfy the borderlines they care about can be very costly. And the concessions may never be enough. Before long, more proof of love is needed and another bargain must be struck.” Children of BPD parents routinely become overly sensitive to the moods and needs of others, overbearing, quick to wound, overly critical of themselves. Did I possess these traits? Check.

For me, the tools I’d developed to deal with my mom cost me the ability to navigate conflict in a healthy way, stand up for myself, allow someone else to take care of me when I needed it. Educating myself about her struggles, working with a therapist and becoming aware of her effect on my behavior set me on a path to build the much-needed emotional resources I lacked. I learned to take responsibility for what was in my control and let go of what wasn’t. It was not my job to fix everything.

For the first time, my mother made sense to me. And understanding her, having empathy, was something I could give her more fully, even if she didn’t have much to give in return. It allowed me to see the intellectual strengths, the silly quirks and the creativity she gave me, not just my shortcomings and rediscover gratitude for the sum total of her influence. It allowed me to see the whole her and the whole me.

That was several years ago and now she’s gone. Even with this self-awareness and insight, I’m left feeling lost again and with more questions than answers. Was there anything more I could have done for her? Did anything I do matter? Did I enable her to cause more damage? I’d spent years, after all, trying to help, to get her into AA, give her enough money to stay afloat after her bankruptcy, take her to various doctors for the endless slew of medical ailments she developed or psychosomatically manufactured. The dialogue in my head reminds me of the unending analysis surrounding the 2008 financial crisis, measuring damages, the bailout, whom to blame, whether we did too much, not enough. My mother’s death is like this, a shattering moment in my historical timeline that can never be undone, but can be forever deconstructed and reinterpreted in my mind as I look into the past or when new information emerges.

I delivered the news of my mom’s death to an old friend of hers, someone who’d known my mother in her late teens. They’d lost touch many years ago, but she was one of the few close friends with whom my mother parted company on good terms. Her reaction was striking. She said she was saddened, but not surprised. “Even then, your mom seemed troubled, off. She didn’t react to other people very well, to conflict, but she was a great friend.”

A week before her death, my mom and I assembled a small Weber Grill she brought me as a gift. Let me rephrase. My mom bought me a grill, probably with money I had given her to make rent that month and then she assembled it herself because she said I was doing it wrong. She was quite a master craftsman and tinkerer — in and out of the kitchen — as long as all of the items succumbed to her personal system of logic. She didn’t see reason to change course if her direction conflicted with the instruction manual or, say, the natural laws of physics.

“You never really need these,” she said, tossing some screws aside. I’d learned to stay quiet unless she posed an imminent danger to myself or to others. Being non-reactive, depriving her of fodder to fuel an emotional eruption was a handy technique I’d learned to keep us both on good behavior, but fear and worry still churned inside me no matter how calm I appeared on the surface.

When I look back on that day, this is what I see. The years of trying eventually gave way to the years of accepting she was never going to get better. She was not only unwilling, but also unable. I was able to find moments of joy with my mom, to give her what I could rather than giving in to her mania, to fill some of her loneliness with a daughter’s love. It was hard work much of the time, but I came to believe her work, the work of living with an untreated mental illness for 60 years, was much harder.

On a warm August day just after noon, I got the call from the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department. That morning, she had driven to her favorite place in the world, a beach in Montecito, close to the former estate of her idol, Julia Child. That’s where she died by suicide.

I couldn’t eat the rest of the day. Walking into my house that night, I wasn’t sure what to do or even who I would be in this new world where I was not fearing the call I already received, worrying what havoc she was causing. I was released by one kind of sorrow in that moment. Then, I spotted the last three tomatoes she’d given me, small and solitary, ripening in a large white pottery bowl. My mother was the only person I knew to pronounce the word, “to-mah-toes” instead of “to-may-toes” and to correct anyone who pronounced it otherwise. I would never hear that word her way again. And I was overtaken by another kind of sorrow. I was overtaken by the sadness that I would never again see the person I had spent most of my life trying not to become and without whom, I would not be who I am.

I wasn’t the least bit hungry, but I put a pot of water on the stove for pasta and cried while I sliced up the tomatoes. I mixed them delicately with basil, olive oil and sea salt and I ate them for her, digesting my loss.

Several days after the call, her suicide note arrived in the mail. It said, “I love you always and forever. I’ll be the angel in the sky listening and granting wishes.”

That same day my sister sent me a picture of the largest squash I’d ever seen. Before going to work, she’d had a casual discussion about making vegetable lasagna and hours later a coworker happened to offer up this green giant, literally the size of a caveman’s club. My sister’s next message was no surprise.

Mom is speaking to us through zucchini.

There was a levity to this moment, an enchantment specific to grief.

“I can finally talk to mom again,” my sister says.

“It’s easier now that she can’t talk back,” I say.

Then came the laughter. Then came the tears.

The Weber Grill she gave me and built for me, sits on my patio in the place where I took the last picture of her. It works like a dream. I’ve held onto the extra screws she didn’t use as if they were good luck charms.

As for the mysterious zucchini, my sister made that veggie lasagna, but that’s not all. She made zucchini bread and zucchini fritters and still had more left over. It was just too much. We didn’t know what to do with it all.

This article originally appeared in Salon.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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