Alone after the home run

I thought we would have learned how to live with each other now, this alien band of brothers that have come to visit. I knew it would be an extended stay but now I fear my guests are bent on overstaying my forced welcome. I’ve tried to get to know them all, they who have come knocking at my door. Grief, Depression, Guilt and Loneliness. They’ve hung around for so long I swear their faces had begun to morph into one another. I can hardly tell them apart and it hardly mattered, given that they’ve all wrought the same devastation on my once peaceful spirit. I’ve engaged with them, maniacally so, trying to understand how they’ve managed to convince my husband that he had nothing to live for. As the days passed I’ve come to understand the conversation they had with Beau and where it brought him. But the longer they stay with me I am beginning to dread where I would be, if, when and how I manage to push them to leave.

I’ve let myself go because I could not let him go. I drink too much coffee, smoke too much, exercise too little. I eat nothing but indulgent poison — the most luxurious of desserts, laden with gargantuan amounts of sugar, chocolate and butter; evil disguised in swirls of happy colored icing, beautiful bronze baked goodies that promise familiar highs, only to be sunk back into an even more dismal abyss when the sugar rush disappears. I need a haircut. I’ve moved back in with the ‘rents and need to start organizing the mess of my life which I had brought with me. I am on a deadline, the time I’ve borrowed from sympathetic employers was running out too fast for comfort and I seem to be on pause. Indeed, time waits for no one and life is in an ironic rush. What does it matter that life as I knew it had changed drastically and without warning?

In the beginning I had gotten on that same train of mad, frantic activity. And everyone was there, cheering from the bleachers as I rushed to cover all the bases. And I did just that.

I tried to understand what happened. I researched, read, consulted, conversed and concluded. Beau was a victim of suicide. The end result of a long fight with major depression likely caused by a genetic predisposition. He could have possibly been bi-polar or had borderline personality disorder; complicated by the trauma of losing a father at an age when he was only beginning to learn about the relationship of “cause and effect”. Freud had discovered it, the construct of “learned helplessness” where a child, unable to process the traumatic event, learns that there are things that happen in this world that are beyond our control and therefore, when challenges come up, no matter how small, he would be powerless to fight it. He told me once before that he had watched his father burn. A child watching a cremation is a nightmarish tableau. Whether it had actually happened is of no consequence. For Beau, it was his reality. Had he agreed to seek professional help he would have discovered he was suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome as well. My own therapists say it would have been a textbook diagnosis, what with the death happening the day after his birthday and the constant reminder of his father’s ashes in the family home. There were other reminders, other questions, too private to share, that had left wounds that festered. He had grown into the body of a man and yet, somewhere inside him, an 11 year old boy continued to stare into the flames.

Apparently there had been prior attempts to take his life before I had even met him, usually triggered by a relationship gone awry. He feared rejection and magnified abandonment, attaching all sense of hope to relationships that he perceived in his mind to be all that he had in his life. I had saved him twice he said, having talked him through the demise of two of his past romances. He had always threatened to end his life at the end of his relationships. I had always thought he meant I had saved him figuratively. Now I know better, too late.

Even if I had known his threats to be true, I would have thought marriage would have put an end to the suicide ideations. After all, the promise of forever keeps the threat of abandonment at bay. And for all intents and purposes, as far as I knew, we had been the giddiest kids on the marriage block. But I suppose all marriages have its own challenges, and the monster that lay dormant inside him waited for the opportunity to rear its ugly head.

I had always envied him for his freedom of spirit. I was jealous that he had built a life of simplicity doing what he loved. But even before we had gotten married he had always talked about wanting to do something else, to find his fortunes elsewhere and to keep climbing as a hobby rather than his career. It had been frustrating for him, and I knew that the conservative man that he truly was, he wanted to prove that he could provide for me somewhat. There was never any pressure on this front, at least not outwardly, and not that I was consciously aware of, although I know that sometimes circumstance itself could create them. I had tried to control the situation at any sign of insecurity, although if there were any, he was such master at keeping them from me that despite my vigilance, it was only in the last three months of his life that I recognized any discontent. I had supported him by asking him to simply pursue what he was passionate about. There was much trial and error but in the end he had still hoped against hope that he could make something out of the sport that he loved. I believe it was his failure to make this happen that was the trigger for his last and final episode.

He loved bouldering. And the competition which had been named after him was his pride and joy. He had attempted to put up the event a year into our marriage. It had pushed through but at great cost. He had taken it hard, given that I had to step in to bail him out. He declared he was done with the competition, done with climbing in general and moved on. or so I thought. A year after he announced he was going to try to put the event up again and against my better judgment, I supported him once again. This time, despite his constant assurances that the postponements and delays with sponsorship contracts were just minor snags, the event did not push through. We argued about it for a day or two and I thought that was the end of it. But apparently he had again talked to some people about taking his life out of shame and embarrassment. I thought he had gotten over that particular hill, he had decided to embark on a new challenge — to get certified as a personal trainer. But now I know this only added to the weight he carried. He had put all his hope in that basket, telling me repeatedly during those days when his frustration and stress were poisoning our marriage that it was all he had going for him. I tried to refocus his thinking and emotions into positive things, to the dreams we had created together for the future, but he was incapable of looking forward and insisted on collapsing into the past. In retrospect I know now that nothing I said would have made a difference. Unless he was given the medication he needed, he was spiraling out of control towards his own self destruction.

You would think that all of the above would absolve me of my guilt. It does not. A psychiatrist would describe him as a textbook case and any diligent researcher armed with an internet connection and a laptop would agree. The illness is what killed him. It was not anybody’s fault. He was psychologically disturbed and did not have the skills to deal with life’s challenges. Cerebrally it all makes a lot of sense. But as his wife, I look at what happened with different lenses. And what a different story my heart can see.

I remember a man excited for a future. I remember a husband narcissistically proud of a happy marriage. I remember conversations about the children we were going to raise, the trips we were going to take, the long bucket list of things we needed to do. My heart cannot accept what all the research and professional consultations have logically confirmed. I have hit a home run with all the bases loaded. But now the bleachers are empty, the game is over. Everyone has gone on to their homes and life continues on. The numbers on my blog have dwindled. The hundreds of likes and comments of support on my Facebook page have all but disappeared. Very few ask how I am anymore. And I sit in the ball park alone, enveloped in the blackness left by the shut down of the stadium lights.

They wait for me, my unwanted guests. Grief, Depression, Guilt and Loneliness. They took my husband away and now they await me. I am beginning to dread where I would be after all is said and done. Because as of now I am back on first base. Bleachers empty. Alone after a cerebral home run that has done nothing to heal the pain in my heart. Beau is gone. Game over.

Biology, Psychology and Depression: An explanation on why depression is one of the most dangerous diseases in the world

Robert Sapolsky is one of the leading neuroscientists in the world. He is currently a professor at Stanford University holding joint appointments in several departments: Biological Sciences, Neurology and Neurological Sciences and Neurosurgery. He graduated with a Summa Cum Laude in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University and received a Phd in Neuroendocrinology from Rockefeller University. No question about it, even without understanding all the big scientific words that define his credentials, this is definitely one smart guy.  While I was researching about him I found a transcript of an interview with him by Brainconnection.com, which is a website dedicated to providing accessible high quality information on how the brain works.  I found one of his answers particularly interesting:

BC: When you encounter something in life that is immediately too complicated to understand, what is your response?

RS: For the most part, not so much a sense of frustration as a sense of hang on. Science doesn’t explain everything, but depending on the priorities it could provide significant insight into anything, and if this “something” I encounter is one of those “anythings,” there will be more information.

Although I am far from being a genius, his words resonated with my own search for meaning. I’ve heard many well meaning loved ones tell me that to move on i needed to let go and that acceptance is the key to healing. But to heal I need information and in the case of what happened to Beau, I needed Science. Apparently, Mr. Sapolsky has an “outstanding reputation as a dynamic teacher and lecturer. In addition, he is also an accomplished writer and communicator of science to non-scientists. His field studies are composed of extensive behavioral observation combined with physiological measurements of stress.”

PERFECT. I found a guy who knows his biology, knows his psychology and has spent a lifetime tying it all together. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. One of his lectures on depression was uploaded to Stanford University’s YouTube account. What an eye opener it was.

For those who don’t have the time to watch the video since it is an hour long, I’ll be condensing the information into digestible parts in a separate blog entry.


In Beau’s Shoes

It’s 5am and I’m up again. My heart is beating so fast my chest it feels like it is about to explode. Its been happening everyday now, these panic attacks.  A month after I heard the news that my husband hung himself on a stairwell I am still sleeping in my parents’ room, much like a child afraid of a visit from the bogeyman. But the night holds no terrors for me now. It is the dawn of a new day that is paralyzing. 5am is a particularly cruel time to begin the day. At this time, Beau had walked out after a night of relentless pacing, walked to the stairs, tied his bombproof knots and lowered himself down from the bannister until he choked. Tomorrow I finally get to see a therapist. I am not sure if that would really help but I sure as hell want to try.  I could have post traumatic stress syndrome. I read about it immediately after experiencing the first few panic attacks. Perhaps that is where the fear is coming from, knowing that I am about to live another day without him. Another day of questioning why he did it, what we could have done, how we will survive this and when it will start to get easier.

You see, that’s the way I’m wired.  I need to understand what is happening to me. It all needs to make sense.  I need to understand why, because in knowledge and awareness would lie the power to create a solution. How indeed would you solve a problem you could not identify? How do you begin to address a situation that does not make sense? Perhaps an irrational situation also requires an irrational response, which is why Beau felt pushed to do what he did. My despair gives me a glimpse inside his head, an idea of the torment he must have been going through.

He could not figure it out. I thought it was because he was less eloquent than me. I tried to figure it out with him, tried to put into words what it was that he thought was eating at him. He would agree halfheartedly to many of the things I pointed out: pressures from within and without, stresses from work and from married life, childhood experiences that may have carried on in his psyche that needed to find healing. In his sagacity he knew that there were answers to these issues, if issues they even were. He thought them small and inconsequential. In the beginning he had looked for problems within our marriage to explain his unhappiness and even those he pinpointed were found wanting. They did not explain the suffocating Cimmerian shade that enveloped him. In his rational mind he knew there were easy solutions to the problems he was able to identify, and so it frustrated him. The enormity and colossal weight of his sadness seemed unjustifiable even to himself. Only a few weeks after the onset of his erratic behavior, Beau had sent a text message to a friend of ours. He was asking if she thought he needed professional help. He said he had no idea what was happening to him and that our marriage was getting affected. He said our relationship was so important to him and he desperately needed to save it. Oh how I wish Beau that you had taken her advice. How I wish you had listened to any of us and sought that help. If you cannot identify your problem, how can you have found a solution? I wish he had accepted his weakness. He had apologized for it many times. Ironically I think it was his strength of character that could not accept what he believed was a weakness of his soul. He refused to accept the possibility that it could be a physical ailment. He was defensive at the mere mention of illness. For this I blame ignorance and society, myself included. If only we humans had more compassion and understanding. If only we did not paint insanity as a person’s fault! If only mental illness was accepted as a disease just like any other.

We were happy. I keep going back to that, perhaps a bit too defensively to be honest. I do it not really to convince others but to convince myself, so I can be vindicated from any fault in the matter. I look at our pictures, the hundreds of pictures of us taken during three years of marital bliss. In all of them we were hugging, kissing, unashamedly displaying our affection. They were tableaus of happiness. It was impossible for them to be for show, there were no lies hidden behind those smiles. Mama Nancy asked me repeatedly in the days after the wake why her son would take his own life when all the images told the story of a man happily married, content with his lot in life, living it up in fact! What a full life those pictures painted — romance experienced, adventures cultivated, luxuries enjoyed. A mother has to believe that a son would not put to waste the blessing of family, the love of siblings, all the hardship and sacrifices endured to empower a future that, if the pictures speak true, lay ahead of him; shining so brightly it was impossible to ignore. A wife has to believe that a husband would not opt out of a lifetime with her, when there were no signs of marital decay. I believe Beau could not deal with the sudden drop. He may have felt so frustrated that he had, so quickly and without warning, jumped from the clouds to the bowels of the earth.  In a twisted way, his happiness made it more difficult to deal with the onset of sadness. No matter how minuscule and atomic the sadness was, in his mind it was a bomb waiting to explode. And explode it did.

In the wee hours of the morning, when my subconscious rudely awakens me to my present reality, I end up putting myself in his shoes trying to make sense of this nightmare. I can only hope that wherever he is now, he has been given peace in the knowledge that his dying was really not of his own doing. It may have been his own hands that had tied the noose around his neck. But the choice to do it was most definitely not his own.

To save other lives a mother needs to know that. A wife needs to believe that. And a society needs to embrace that.