*Trigger warning – suicide.
In four days it will be a year since I lost my only brother to suicide. The past year has been the most excruciatingly painful of all my 23 years. I was naïve to think I had ever known pain before April 8th of 2015. The days, weeks, and months that have followed that day passed agonizingly slowly and implausibly quickly. The waiting periods between first holidays, birthdays, and experiences without Jesse stretched out ahead of me for what seemed like small eternities, eternities that I spent in a prison of my own thoughts and fears for what the event would be like without my brother.
The anxiety I suffered from weeks of my own mental torture was probably more devastating than the hollow emptiness the once enjoyable events brought. At the same time, months passed by so quickly that I felt like I was falling further and further behind where I should be progress-wise, recovery-wise, I don’t know what you’d call it, but I knew I felt like I should be further along than I was. I felt like 9 months later I shouldn’t still be bursting into tears suddenly when a memory or thought hit me. I stopped feeling like I could confide in others about my feelings, for fear that they would be exhausted after so much time had passed and for fear that they would think I should be “better” by now.
The first three mornings, I would wake up after about an hour or hour and a 1/2 of sleep and I would just know that it had all only been a prolonged nightmare and that after shaking off the momentary horror of the terribly vivid dream, I could go about my life as usual. I could take the dream as a lesson learned to value my family more and make the hour and a half hour drive to see them more often. But, it wasn’t a dream. It was a living nightmare. That third morning was the morning of the funeral. It was a day I had been dreading for many reasons. First and foremost, I would be seeing my brother for the last time and in a state that I already knew I wasn’t ready for. Then, the social cynic in me was already dreading the terribleness of condolences. It was everything I hoped it would not be and more.
Now, that is not to say that I don’t appreciate the kind words or fondly remembered stories that the people who loved Jesse had to share with me. I loved, and still love hearing those things and welcome them anytime anyone wants to share them with me. But I knew that I would have to fake a smile and use every bit of patience within me for completely well-intentioned, but, to be totally blunt, ignorant phrases like, “I know how you feel” “I completely understand” “If you ever need anything you can call me.” Okay, that last phrase I’m sure people genuinely feel that they mean, but realistically, I vaguely remember meeting you once when I was 6, I don’t have your number, you know that, and more than likely you would not know what to do if I out of the blue called you crying hysterically. I managed to smile and fake it through most of them, but was completely caught off guard when a woman asked if the dark area on his temple was where he shot himself. That was an actual question from an actual person who I know to be a genuinely kind and well-meaning individual.
I didn’t think it was possible, but life after the funeral only got worse. It wasn’t until about five or six months after, that the initial shock even began wearing off and it started feeling real. Every point in moving forward from Jesse’s death just seemed to be another, “Well, just when I thought this couldn’t get any more unbearable…” moment after another. How I managed to pull myself out of bed the countless mornings that I was absolutely sure I didn’t have the strength to do something as simple as take a shower much less function ”normally” at work or school, is beyond me. To be fair, many, many showers were skipped over the last year. I should probably be much more ashamed than I am to admit how many times I went 2, 3, sometimes 4 days on dry shampoo and deodorant alone. Some of my fears about my overwhelming emotional baggage being too much for the people around me were realized.
I’ve had people that I trusted with my life tell me it was too much for them. While I appreciate the honesty and know that it is too much for anyone, it’s too much for me and it’s my own problem, the pain of losing close confidantes during the darkest hour of my life was devastating. Some friendships I fatally damaged myself with erratic and unpredictable behaviors, misplaced anger, seemingly sudden emotional outbursts, and long periods of isolation from anyone who I did not have to see for work or school. Even as I recognized so many of my self-destructive behaviors, I felt powerless to stop them.
Coming up on the anniversary of Jesse’s suicide, I am taking back my life. I am taking back what mental illness took from my brother. I am taking back what mental illness, and trauma, has taken from me. This year was the first time I’ve seen a doctor in 5 years and the first time in my life I have seen a therapist. For the first time in my life I am confronting and treating the depression and anxiety I’ve dealt with since I was 12. I’m not ashamed to say that I struggle with mental illnesses and I am not ashamed to say that I am medicated. In spite of my struggles, I am still here. And as long as my story continues, so does my brother’s.
My name is Valentina Cedillo, I’m a 23 year old social work student at the University of Montevallo. I am passionate about destroying stigmas surrounding mental illness and our ability to openly discuss mental health struggles. I also enjoy laughing until I snort laugh, Bob’s Burgers, and taking pictures with my super chubby cat, Sylvester.
Valentina can be found on Twitter.