"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Long Trip Alone

On May 29, 2010 my life changed forever. At the time I thought that day was the darkest of my life. In the immediate aftermath of Julie's suicide a deeper, more intense pain didn't seem possible. But, the deep, dark sadness and grief that took hold of my soul that day continued to descend, almost unabated, for the next year until I was in the depths of a black hole with seemingly no way out. For just over a year I struggled alone, trying to deal with a loss and grief like none I'd ever experienced. Finally, I cracked, unable to take the pain any more. I realized I could no longer do it alone. 

The year following Julie's death had been filled with stress and strife. My family, always fractured and with many unresolved issues, was now a house divided. Just weeks before, some of us had come together to remember the first anniversary of Julie's passing and to inter her ashes. Bitter hostility and disagreement had kept some away, my parents unable to put aside their differences and be together for the sake of their children. 

I've always been the peacemaker in the family, trying like hell to maintain civility and bring everyone together. I guess I've never let go of the fantasy of an intact family unit. I finally let go of the fantasy that weekend. Repressed feelings of anger, regret, hurt, sadness, betrayal and loss, shoved inside me since I was 11 years old, were brought to the surface again. That was the week I cracked, no longer able to tolerate the negativity, fighting and bitter accusations. The crack that appeared in my psyche quickly grew into a giant, gaping wound. Just a few short weeks later, I was completely frazzled, unable to cope and in desperate need of help, right then. I couldn't bear the thought of jumping through the hoops required by my insurance, waiting weeks to be seen by a therapist. Finally, in desperation, I drove alone and distraught to the hospital, and checked myself into the inpatient psychiatric ward. 

My official diagnosis and reason for being there was extreme anxiety and depression with some complicated grief thrown in. Really, I was there due to my broken heart, but I don't think a CPT billing code exists for that. Like Humpty Dumpty, I was completely broken and shattered, with no idea how to pick up the pieces and put myself back together again. My world had been shaken to its very foundation, leaving me to question myself and everything around me. Guilt, regret and 'what if''s' were eating me alive. I didn't know how to go on. I wasn't sure I even wanted to. Mostly I just wanted to lie down in a quiet room, go to sleep and never wake up again. I didn't want to die. I just didn't want to feel the pain I was feeling anymore.

Despite my deep longing for rest and isolation, that's the last thing they allow in the psych ward. Thankfully though, I was immediately put on some very strong anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs. Finally, after more than a year I was able to get some relief from the chaos in my mind. Yes, I'd gone 13 months trying to gut it out alone without the help of any form of medication or therapy. Until then, the strongest thing I'd taken was some Benadryl a few nights in the weeks after Julie's death when I was desperate for a full night's sleep.

I didn't stay in the hospital long. I quickly realized I didn't need to be locked up, not allowed to wear shoes or any clothing with drawstrings, belts or anything else I might use to harm myself. On my second day there I met with a therapist. After explaining to her what the last year of my life had been like, she very kindly told me, "This isn't what your sister would want for you. She would want you to be happy. You need to do whatever it takes to get better so you can live your life." As strange as it may sound to a rational person, not only had I never thought about things in such profoundly simple terms, nobody had bothered to point this out to me. I was sick, but I could get the help I needed on an outpatient basis. 

Finally, after 13 months, I gave myself permission to fully grieve. I quit pretending for the world that two weeks had been plenty of time to cope with losing my sister, mourn, and attend to all the awful details that came with her death. I took time off work, telling them I didn't know when I'd be back and not to bother me. I stayed in bed, almost catatonic, sad, crying, and physically hurting inside from my grief. My daughter stayed at her dad's so I didn't feel obligated to take care of anyone but myself. I slept as much as I wanted. I quit trying to regulate the degree to which I'd allow myself to feel my loss. 

After a few weeks, very slowly, in a way that was nearly unnoticeable to me, the darkness that had enveloped me for so long started to lift. I went to therapy appointments like it was my job. I took my medications religiously. I reminded myself daily to be kind to ME, and to not feel compelled to pretend to the world that everything was okay. Eventually, about six months later, I felt different. The sadness and pain was still there, but it was different, no longer all-encompassing and much more manageable. I was beginning to accept my new normal. 

It was like a re-birth. I'd been dismantled down to my very core and put back together. Parts of me died, forever ceasing to exist when Julie died. My psychic reconstruction meant I was different inside. My very soul is different now. I see and feel things differently, and perceive the world in ways I never did before. I look the same on the outside, but I'm a completely different Keicha now.

For the last twenty-eight months I've been on a journey that I didn't choose, and if I had a choice, would never choose. At first I tried to do it alone. My breakdown forced me to realize the foolishness of my stubborn, solitary journey. It allowed me to open my mind and heart to letting others help me, and made me realize I needed to heal so that I can help others. Thankfully, mercifully, I'm no longer traveling this hard road alone. 

Yesterday marked another milestone in my journey of healing. Together with thousands of others survivors and people whose lives have been affected by suicide, I walked. We walked - strong, proud, tearful, and brave - in the light of day, confronting the darkness of suicide. We walked for hope and healing, for my beautiful, beloved sister Julie, and for so many others.  


  1. I wish life were gentle enough that none of us every have to endure the kind of pain Julie experienced or that you experience ongoing.I don't have enough power to make that happen, but I can offer you a virtual hug. Keep on keeping on, Keicha.

  2. The journey of grief can never be done alone. I'm so thankful for all who have been there for you and for me and for all of us. I'm thankful for people who reach back to help others who are walking through this darkness after a suicide by a loved on. I'm so proud of all you do to help others. Love you.

  3. You are stronger now because of what you have endured, Keicha, and although you would never have chosen it, you have made it through to the other side and can now reach out to others who didn't choose it but are in the depths of despair. And the writing from your heart is inspiring. Out of the ashes a phoenix is arising...

  4. Keicha, I'm sorry I've been away and not commented sooner on this post. You have no idea how profoundly touched and inspired I am by your courage and your bravery in being able to share your story. You are a remarkable woman and I think you are doing exactly what that therapist said, "Getting well so you can live the life Julie would want for you." We want it for you, too. I'm glad you are on the road and through the worst part of the woods.

  5. Hi Keicha, this is Shelly from the Weber County Commission Office. We have something in common. We lost my ex-husband to suicide in 2007. Your blog is beautiful.


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