Trigger Warning- Suicide
Two years ago, May 5, 2014 started as any Monday would start at our home in the suburbs of Boston. It was a beautiful, sunny New England spring morning.
My husband Gary decided to sleep in a little later than usual and would come into the office before noon. This wasn’t unusual at all. Since he’d been struggling with depression, mornings were always hard and often he’d wake up with me, let our dogs out and go back to bed for an hour or two.
I showered, got dressed for the office then lay on the bed with him for a few minutes and we talked about the week ahead and a trip I was making to New Hampshire the next day.
I gave him a kiss and a hug, we both said “I love you” and I left for the office.
While I remember some of the details of my morning, I can only guess at what the next couple of hours were like for Gary.
I didn’t know it at the time, but he had a plan in place and this was the morning he was finally going to put the plan into action.
Did he write the note after I left or did he write it weeks or months earlier and save it on his desktop?
Did he take Harry and Torre (our beloved Welsh Corgis) to the park for a walk?
Was he anxious? Frightened? Sad? Relieved?
I will never know the details of those hours all I know is the outcome.
When I couldn’t reach him on his cell phone later that morning, I decided to drive home, wake him up and bring him into the office with me. Again this wasn’t that unusual and it had happened before. Sometimes the depression was best faced in bed – I knew that – and respected that reality.
When you love someone living with depression you expect bad days, hard days, really bad days and ok days. I assumed this was just another bad day
But this day would be a really, really bad day.
As I drove up our street I could see that there was a note taped to our screen door and at that moment I knew that my life would never be the same.
Marlin, I’ve taken my own life.
I don’t want you to find me.
I love you.
And with that the world turned upside down.
Molly was our pastor and Gary knew that I would need her by my side to face what had happened.
I called 911 as he’d instructed me and the police came to the house, they went upstairs to our bedroom and confirmed that Gary was dead.
At that moment I made the decision that I was not going to hide how my beloved had died. While he died by suicide he also died from depression.
You see Gary was vocal about his disease and would tell anyone that asked how he’d been fighting depression for years. He made sure they understood that it was an illness just as serious, real and unwanted as cancer, a heart attack or diabetes. It was not his fault and he did everything he was told to do to fight the disease. Anyone living with depression or loving someone living with depression recognizes this list: Medications; therapy; ECT: vitamins; yoga; exercise; DBT; meditation; good sleep hygiene and the list goes on and on.
Sometimes after trying a new medication or therapy there would be a day or two of a change in his mood or outlook but eventually he’d quietly break the news to me that it wasn’t working.
Often with tears in his eyes he’d say, “Honey the blackness is back…I’m so sorry” like it was his fault that the depression wasn’t lifting.
That’s part of the problem with the disease of depression.
For those that are suffering from it there is always a tinge of self-blame.
That self-blame is kind of built in to our societal views of mental illness – in the back of most of our minds there is a belief that the patient suffering must somehow be responsible for their own depression.
But as someone who cared for, lived with and eventually lost someone I love to this disease I can say without any doubt that if Gary could have simply changed his outlook, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, counted his blessings or any of the other platitudes often thrown at those suffering from depression he would have done it.
In fact he did do ALL of those things and more.
But the disease, just like the worst cancer was stronger than any medicine, any therapy or any walk in the sunshine.
His doctor came to the funeral where he hugged me and with his voice breaking said, “I’ve never had a patient that wanted to get better more than Gary did, I’m so sorry that I wasn’t able to help him get over this disease.”
We need more research money, we need much more knowledge of the brain, mental illness and how best to treat it.
We have to start treating mental illness as the public health crisis that it is; a disease just as lethal as heart failure, cancer, opioid addiction and obesity. We need to make changes in insurance reimbursement policies for mental illness.
We have to smash the stigma of depression and place the disease exactly where it belongs; among the most debilitating and deadly that any of us could face at any time.
Gary wasn’t able to stick around one more day to see if it might be different. But today my message to anyone living with depression is just that: “Stick around one more day. This disease tends not to be permanent, there are solutions that can work, you are not a burden to anyone and no one will be better off if you’re dead. Stick around. One more day. Then one more, and keep going. You are loved.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression this message is for you – from me and from my sweet husband.
In June 2015, Marlin Collingwood assumed the position of Executive Director of Families for Depression Awareness, a national non-profit based in Waltham, MA. He has over 25 years of experience in public relations, marketing, public affairs, and corporate communications. Marlin knows personally the struggles that families face when a loved one is diagnosed with a mood disorder and dies by suicide. In May of 2014, Marlin’s partner and husband of nearly 18 years, Gary Girton, took his own life after a long, courageous battle with depression.
Marlin can be found on his website.