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Surviving Mental Health Month

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May is the month of Mother’s Day. It’s the month to celebrate the most important person in our lives — to give her flowers, show how much we appreciate her love, for raising us and teaching us the hard lessons, as well as the smaller ones, like how to bake the world’s best cookies.

May is also the month of my mother’s birthday. She would be 55 this year. Twelve years after her death, I can barely remember the last birthday we celebrated together. I don’t remember the gift I gave her or if we ate cake. All I remember is that we went to see “Shrek II” together, she fell asleep and cleaned out her jewelry box when we got home.

May is the month my mother died by suicide.

May is tough.

There seem to be reminders of my mom everywhere this month. Some reminders are welcomed, while others I wish would just disappear. But the thing about losing someone to suicide is that these little reminders don’t disappear. They are there, etched in my mind forever. Thankfully, it is true what they say: that time heals all wounds. No, it doesn’t heal wounds completely, but they do partially heal, becoming instead scars that have helped shape who I am today.

It’s still painful to think about, but my perspective has shifted over the years. Once angry and ashamed, I am now accepting and empathetic. My mom didn’t choose to die. She chose to end her suffering. Her depression was an illness. I used to blame myself, and I thought I could have somehow saved her. Now I know I couldn’t have saved her any more than I could have saved someone with terminal cancer.

May is also Mental Health Month.

Mental illness is just that, an illness, but we often don’t treat it as such. There is a stigma for seeking mental health treatment, which is damaging on a surface level. People don’t want to go to a counselor because it might mean they’re labeled as “crazy” or “weak,” but it goes much deeper than that.

My mom did seek help. She went to her counseling sessions, she took her antidepressant medication and exercised. She seemed to do everything right. I think where the truly damaging part of the stigma affected her was in her belief that she shouldn’t need this type of help. If she needed it, it must mean she couldn’t handle life on her own, and that, as many of us know, is frowned upon in our society.

Of course, I can’t be sure this was her thinking at the time, and perhaps I am trying to rationalize something that is inherently irrational. Suicide is never rational. I can only speculate, and this is the hard part about being a survivor of suicide. I try to put the pieces of the puzzle together, knowing I only had fragments to work with at the time.

May isn’t easy, and the painful memories are still there, but I have turned it into a time to heal, reflect and help shatter the stigma associated with mental health treatment. The wounds may never fully heal, but I have learned to ask for help when I need it, reach out to the mental health community and turn my story into something that will help others. I have learned to turn the month of May into an outlet for my grief, hopefully giving others permission to do 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.

Originally published: May 26, 2016
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