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?”
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…?”
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.
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.
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.
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