He Spent the Last Night of His Life With Me
I met my boyfriend, Andrew, on a chat app in 2013. He was also bipolar and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD). His father had killed himself when he was young. And then, his brother killed himself. Andrew is the one who found his body. His mother died from cancer when he was 30. He was obsessed with the movie the “Bridge” about suicides and the Golden Gate Bridge. He loved orange pants, eyebrow maintenance and Niagara Falls. His family were Jehovah’s Witnesses, so he didn’t really get birthday cards growing up. That’s why they meant the most to him.
I was born a week after Valentine’s Day and he was born a week before Christmas Eve. I remember him pointing that out to me. Andrew would tell me how he felt like “Good Luck Chuck.” How people always met the love of their lives after they dated him. He felt like the “Angel of Death” because so many people around him had died. I could always feel the pain he carried. It was heavy and intense.
I cried after I met Andrew for the first time because I had felt so alone here in Rochester and finally felt understood. I cried when he died. He would make sure he had diet soda at his house waiting for me. That still makes me cry for some reason. Because not many people would do that for me, outside of my family. While, I was getting to know Andrew, he finally told me his full name and explained that he shared his name in common with a murderer. I was amused. I decided to Google him and his mug shot instantly came up. He was wanted for robbing a bank and featured on crime-stoppers, even though the incident happened a while ago and wasn’t a new charge. I never said anything to Andrew about what I found. I mean, how do you ask someone if they robbed a bank casually?
Despite these things, I trusted him. Andrew had so much empathy, regret and remorse, even if he didn’t tell me the full details of everything. He told me he was a recovering addict. It started with pain pills that moved to heroin. He was clean. I wasn’t so sure he was clean. I was suspicious because he seemed to nod in and out, frequently. He loved his sister very deeply. We would spend hours talking, shutting out the outside world. He told me how much he loved Marilyn Manson, and I told him about Anton Newcombe from the Brain Jonestown Massacre. Three days before his suicide, he gave me a sweet card and candle. We tried to watch “The Master” three times in a row, but talked through it every single time. I still don’t know what happened in that movie.
Andrew spent the last night of his life with me. He asked me to take him to Home Depot so he could buy something for plumbing. I knew something was off. I knew he was up to something. But, I had never seen him so happy before. Normally, I felt the weight he carried on his shoulders. So, I didn’t ask questions. And to this very day, I wish I had asked questions. His happiness was the biggest warning sign of all and I didn’t realize it at the time. They don’t mention happiness as a suicide warning sign often enough.
When I got the phone call, and found out how Andrew killed himself, I felt like Jack Kevorkian. He used the item from Home Depot, where I had taken him. I had unintentionally and unknowingly helped him kill himself. The same day I learned the news of Andrew’s death, I got a card in the mail from my biological father, who has paranoid schizophrenia. It was a will. He was leaving his house to me although we were estranged. The card said, “I predict you’ll be coming to California really soon.” A few days later, my biological father sent me an email. He listed his phone number as “976-Sew-Aside” — an alternative spelling of the word “suicide.” I was scared I would lose him to suicide, too. It felt like what happened with Andrew was going to happen all over again.
Months passed by, and I felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I continued to take my meds and go to therapy. But, that wasn’t enough. I couldn’t forgive myself for what happened to Andrew and felt responsible. I should have checked myself into the hospital, but I didn’t because of what happened to me in a psychiatric hospital as a teenager. That’s a whole other story, but patients were abused there. The staff weren’t properly trained. It has affected years of subsequent treatment for me and I was too scared to enter the hospital because of it. So, I slowly started to slip into psychosis. I had ignored my instincts when it came to Andrew, so I decided to listen to whatever “crazy” thought came into my head. That’s when things got bad.
I became convinced people in the media, friends and family were spying on me to expose the NSA. When someone on Instagram used the hashtag “SnowedIn” because they were snowed inside heir house, I thought it was code for Edward Snowden.
When I started to recover, I was mortified. Because my meltdown felt more public. Because I wrote things I would normally never write. I had my own language at that time. Every word had multiple meanings and spellings. I died inside 10 million times and was reborn. I thought everyone else around me had to “die” too. Not physically, of course. But emotionally… just as I did, so we could all become whole again. I went on a “murder spree,” only I was killing people with words. I thought God was speaking to me and through me. I made a Dexter art installment in my bathroom with mannequin heads. I felt misunderstood. It took me over a year to recover and I don’t know if I have ever felt the same.
I did end up being hospitalized twice, involuntary, during that episode. When I told my doctor about my past experiences, he said, “I”m not going to believe everything you say it about it or everything your parents say.” I might have been delusional, but I wasn’t making that up. I wasn’t confused about what happened during that hospitalization and it felt like everything that happened to me there was happening all over again. My doctor screamed at me twice. One time, pounding on my bedroom door. I wasn’t allowed to switch doctors. They wouldn’t let us. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I just couldn’t do exactly what they said. I needed to feel like I had some say or control in regard to my own treatment. Because I felt like I had no power or control in the past.
It took me well over a year to recover. It was my rock bottom. I thought of suicide all of the time. Mittens, my cat, was the only reason I kept going. She had belonged to Andrew. I tracked her down at a shelter and adopted her after he died. I made a promise to her… that I wouldn’t kill myself while she was alive. She went through the same trauma I did and she brought me great comfort and joy. I lost her a few years ago to chronic feline kidney disease and it was brutal. I wanted to do as much for her, as she had done for me.
I’m writing this in memory of Andrew, who never had a funeral, even though he deserves one. He was dealt a bad hand in life and in death. There are things I wish I could tell him. I’m writing this in memory of my cousin Laura, who I also lost to suicide. She would have been the same age as me if she were still alive right now and I still feel like I need her. I’m writing this in memory of Judith, the greatest therapist I ever had. She saved my life and when she got diagnosed with cancer, she actually helped me prepare for her death. I got the chance to say goodbye. I got the chance to thank her. Finally, I’m writing this because some people have made me feel less then. That I’m somehow less valuable as a person because I live at home with my parents and don’t have a job. It’s a terrible feeling to have someone make you question your value and worth.
I never thought I would live this long. Somehow, I never saw myself living past 30. The episode I had after Andrew’s death was a blessing in disguise. I finally got on a combination of meds that has helped me remain stable for the past six years. I facilitated a support group for young people with mental illness. I made friends. I went to college and got an associates degree in photography and TV. I dropped out of high school and beauty school, so going to college was something I didn’t think I was capable of. I recently tried full-time school and I’m withdrawing, but I’m OK with that. I discovered my love of cats. I feel as if I have lost years of my life to bipolar disorder, but I’m more functional and capable than I was for a long time and I’m proud of that.
Death can be swift and unexpected. Like with mental illness, there can be hints of it that you may miss. I didn’t know Andrew long. But he did change my life forever. Despite what has happened to me, I still believe in getting treatment and meds. I don’t know if I would have had that episode if it hadn’t been for Andrew’s death and other stress. Perhaps I would have had one and it would have been less severe. I am scared of having another episode like that again. And I hope in the back of my mind it never happens, but I try to remember if it does, I can turn things around and so can you. I’m still alive, even though I didn’t think I would make it through.
Photo by Tyler Mullins on Unsplash