The first suicide attempt

In the summer of 2006 I started working at a Dry Cleaner’s. I had just turned 19. The job began at the front counter accepting items and handling cash transactions. I worked with a Middle Aged woman who was sweet and patient with me while I learned the ropes. I found out that her husband had commited suicide and, after a period of grieving, she found herself back in the workforce as she now needed the income. I remember her telling me about her addiction to shopping during the period after her husband passed. She would shop and shop, hoarding piles of clothes in her closet, until one day she realized her home was predominantly pants and blouses with overpriced tags still attached.

It was a coping mechanism for what had happened to her. She was distracting her mind with temporary bursts of happiness everytime she would purchase another item. But the feeling didn’t last. And the clothes kept piling up. She knew she had a problem and started to purge the items. I had so much admiration for this woman who survived this tragedy.

My job started early in the morning. I was living in a basement apartment with my boyfriend and a friend just outside of town. Every morning I would wake up at 6am, and dread the thought of waking him up. He was not a morning person… He would stomp and slam doors, and make it clear that he was not happy with having to drive me in to town for work at this ungodly hour. We would fight about it every morning, even though the schedule never changed… I’d sit in the passenger seat, staring out the window with tears in my eyes, wondering if this was really the life I was destined to live.

My mother was living in town, just up the street from my work, in an apartment with the same boyfriend who made his way back into her life yet again. She had decided to return to school to become a Pharmacy Technician at a college in Toronto. My boyfriend would drop me off at their apartment, and I could kill some time before having to go to work.

This one particular day was normal. My typical fight with my boyfriend in the morning, and a typical work day with my coworker, chatting and laughing and telling stories about life. I heard the door open with the ding of the bell, and I went to serve the customer. But it wasn’t a customer. It was my mother’s boyfriend.

“Meli, did you talk to your mother?”

“No…?”

I hadn’t. I was working. I was still trying to figure out why he was standing in my front entrance, and now my head was spinning with “what-ifs”.

“Did you see the letter…?”

“No.”

What letter? What is going on? My heart was in my throat and I was starting to sense this was not going to end well.

“Meli, I think you need to call your mother. She left a letter saying goodbye and I don’t know what’s going on…”

I looked at my coworker and told her I needed to go. Like, now.

He drove me to their apartment and explained that she left for school and the was a letter saying goodbye and sorry and to take care of her girls. I started frantically dialing her number. No response. I called the school, and spoke with someone – I don’t remember who – and demanded that they track down her class schedule and make sure she was there.

“I’m sorry miss, I can’t do that for you.”

I didn’t want to give details to the school but I felt that this was the only way she was going to comply.

“No. You don’t understand. My mother left a suicide note and she won’t answer her phone and I need to make sure she’s there”

Her tone changed instantly. She said she would investigate and call me back.

I waited. My heart was beating so hard it felt like I was having a heart attack. What did I do wrong? Why weren’t we enough to keep her here, earthside?

My phone rang – it was the school. She was there. And she was in class. The lady said that she would have my mother call me.

Relief.

My mother called me and was silent. I could hear her crying on the other end. In my mind, once I saw this letter, I had assumed she was already gone. And hearing her on the end made me feel like I was fighting to keep her alive. I was mad. Mad that she would put me through this. But also sad. Sad that she felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I made her promise me to come home.

I waited.

She came in, and couldn’t speak. Just tears. She looked at me and begged me not to call the police. Apparently when someone makes a suicide threat, it’s mandatory to call 911 and have them admitted to the hospital for watch. But I didn’t know this. Why would I know this?? They don’t teach this in school. I was still basically a child and had literally never experienced anything like this before. I had no clue what to do.

There was a knock and the police came in. I guess her boyfriend had called them. My mother wailed, big tears pouring from her eyes. She begged them not to take her, assuring us she was fine and nothing was going to happen.

They took her away and I just sat there and cried on their orange Value Village couch.

The next morning my mother’s friend – the one we lived with during our great escape – drove me to the hospital to see her. She was in a small room, with no windows, and just a bed. There was a police officer standing outside her door. She was huddled on the bed with a red housecoat. The red was to allow for hospital staff to identify her, should she decide to run. Her eyes were red and her face swollen from crying. It was the saddest and most heartbreaking state I had ever seen anyone, let alone my mother,  in.

My mother would be admitted to the psych ward for the next three months. We would visit on occasion. I left my dry cleaning job and moved to Barrie and remained unemployed for some time. My sister lived full-time with her dad. We would meet every once in a while and go visit my mother. It was hard to see her like this, with all the other patients in the ward. Some were schizophrenic, wandering aimlessly and snapping at nothing. No locks on the bathroom doors. No mirrors.

I felt like I lost her that day. The day she went into the hospital. Something changed going forward. I mourned her loss and kept her at a distance from my heart, for fear that it would happen again.

My mother was released in December and her family in Quebec was there to swoop her up and bring her to safety, far from the boyfriend and our hometown. My aunt and uncle collected her belongings from the apartment and took her 7 hours away to start fresh.

Relief.

I felt relief knowing that she was finally away from the boyfriend. Relief that she was finally “home” with her family.

At the same time as her release, I found myself pregnant. I was living my own chaotic, whirlwind of a life with no direction or ambition. I was self destructive and lost. And then, a positive on a pregnancy test – and it was a pink plus sign that meant a positive in my life. My daughter was my saving grace.

The first suicide attempt was the hardest of them all. It was the hardest to process as I had no idea what to expect. It was the hardest because I was face to face with what was her lowest point, in the red robe, with an officer outside the room. But there would be more.

My mother has received a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. And it’s something that she can manage, as best she can, with therapy and medication. She has her challenges, and life can truly take you for a ride sometimes… but I am proud of her. And she’s still here. Even though she’s far away from me, she’s here. Alive.

Perhaps this is why my life’s work is to help people feel healthy from the inside out. Heath is not fat loss. It’s not just macros. It’s being comfortable inside your mind. You can be the skinniest, most beatuiful person on the outside. But what about your head? Your heart? Are you ok inside?

Maybe instead of coaching people to eat properly, we need to coach them to be truly happy their your skin, and then add some muscles.

I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer a world full of happy people, instead of fit UNHAPPY people.

Just my thought for today

Divorce, drugs, and a midnight escape plan

I was about 12 years old when my mom and step dad announced they were getting divorced. It hit me HARD. Being 12 is a pivotal point in one’s life – hormonal changes, body changes, mood changes, self esteem related issues, heads too small for all those adult teeth – and experimenting with thick, black eyeliner and baby blue eye shadow.

Me, my sister, and my mom in ‘97

My biological father and my mom divorced when I was a baby, so that was nothing weird to me. My step-dad, however, made an entrance into my life in the toddler years, and he married my mother when I was four. She had full-custody; he was a constant in my life. My mom and step dad had my little sister when I was 8. She is the only child from their relationship. A mom and dad, with two little girls – we were perfectly happy. Or so it appeared.

Me and my dad in ‘87 or ‘88

I remember sobbing uncontrollably into my step-dad’s chest. I felt like my heart was being ripped out. What would happen to our family? Where would we live? What do I tell my friends? It was the single most life-changing event in my life, even to this point. Everything went haywire following their divorce.

My step father continued to live in the home while the divorce took place. My mother, who had been a stay at home mom, running a home daycare, was forced to join the workforce. She started doing shift work at a local car factory. Honestly, this point in my life was blur. Maybe it was coping thing, but I don’t remember much… I remember graduating grade 8 and wearing this god-awful red dress. I remember looking at pictures of myself thinking, “My own mother is prettier and skinnier than me…”

I remember my mom moving out and getting her own apartment. I was allowed to choose my room colour – I chose a bright sunflower yellow. I put pictures up on the wall of friends and pictures of things I liked that I cut out of magazines.

My mother started seeing a guy she met at her new job. He was younger, and made her laugh. He drove a small truck, and he drove way too fast. Likely to show off, but it made me extremely uncomfortable. I wasn’t a risk-taker… I liked the comfort I felt from staying inside the lines and following the rules. Her new boyfriend seemed to be around more and I saw less of my step dad. He moved in with his parents out in the country. My sister and I had bedrooms there and we would spend time with our dad/step-dad at my grandparent’s. It was beautiful property, forests to explore and trees to climb. I was welcome, but it never really felt like “home”. Looking back on it now, it was likely a way for my mother finally be free and kidless.

Things started to change.

Her boyfriend was a drinker. He was mean and spiteful. He worked late and relied on sleeping in. If I made too much noise, he would get the vacuum out and vacuum outside my room in the middle of the night, slamming the appliance into my door to make it known that I was doing something wrong.

Some nights he would drink so much that he would start going off on emotional tangents, slurring and leaning into me, to tell me how much he loved me and that I was “the closest thing to a daughter” that he would ever have. I remember the smell of the alcohol on his breath, and the creepy vibe he’d let off when he said “I love you..” with his eyes barely open. He didn’t know what love was. He barely knew me – how could he “love” me?

He would have friends over and they would party. Some mornings I would wake up and my couches would be full of strangers. I’d get my toast, and step across them gingerly as to not wake them up, and I’d watch TV.

I remember my mother telling me she tried drugs at a bar. She didn’t mean to, but “someone offered it to her” – and she instantly regretted it. I don’t think I believed her… But it was at this moment that I realized I was no longer the child, and she was the mother. We became equals – or even more – I became the guardian, and she was the lost child taking part in re-living her youth.

One Christmas we received a charity hamper full of goodies. There were little trinkets and toys for a “teenage girl”. I knew what it meant – we were a poverty case. This was a handout. We were the family you hear about on TV and commercials. “Make a child’s Christmas this year by sponsoring a family in need!” Me. That was me. I was “in need”.

One day I came home from school and my mother pulled me aside.

“We need to pack our things. And quickly. He’s at work and I have a friend who is going to help us. But we need to be fast!”

I grabbed what I could and we loaded it into a truck, trip after trip until all of our things were moved out. I didn’t understand why, but I knew it had something to do with the boyfriend. We stayed in captivity with my mom’s friend while life seemed to spin out of control. I started working my very first job at Tim’ Horton’s and met a whole new group of friends. I felt comfortable and safe with these new people. They also came from lost and broken homes, and, they too, just needed acceptance. Together we coloured outside the lines – we weren’t alright. But we were alright together.

It wouldn’t say it was divorce that impacted me. I was a child of a divorced couple. A divorce that was messy, drawn out, and just plain awful. But I survived. I saw my biological father on the regular and we had a great relationship. My mother remarried and I survived. Divorce is a new “normal” nowadays – it doesn’t have to greatly impact the outcome of our children.

What impacted me was the loss of a family and the poor re-creation of one after the fact. When the kids get put on the back burner, and too much chaos is introduced – it becomes a problem. The new boyfriend was a problem. He was mean and unstable and an alcoholic. The very mention of his name makes me shudder to this day. He brought more problems to ones that still needed solving. I often think about how my own divorce impacted my children. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s amicable. I am constantly analyzing my every move, wondering if I’m paving the way for a meth addict, or if my kids will be content with their lives and themselves. I’m certain no single life event can change one’s course drastically, so long as they have the tools to effectively navigate the storm. Maybe that was my problem? Maybe the blame isn’t on the boyfriend, but more so on my lack of skills to handle the change?

Either way, I made it. The journey was long and not without challenges, but I made it – eventually…