In a flash, my Honey was gone. The future I thought I had was gone. The hope of my fairy tale ending was done. My life was over as I knew it.
I had never experienced death of a loved one before. Friends, extended family, yes, but never up close and clearly nothing THAT close. Suicide always seemed particularly tragic as well. To be so deep in the pit that you can't see another way out was so sad to me. That summer the football player Junior Seau killed himself and I told Bret about it in tears. And when a member of our doll family, Melissa Windham, died the previous August, I cried for days even though I'd never met her. It has always shaken me in a way that I can't explain.
My family rallied around me while I curled up in bed. I managed to pull it together enough to get my son and myself to counseling. We attended all kinds of meetings and even had some volunteers from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention come and talk to the family. I was going through the motions in deep shock with a large case of PSTD as you can imagine.
Of course a number of people reached out to me. They let me know they were available to talk, to be cried on. But I was coming off a year where I basically had one adult to talk to regularly and he was gone. I didn't know how to communicate or even what to communicate other than huge amounts of pain, and to strangers? I couldn't so I retreated even further.
Everyone told me it wasn't my fault but how could it not be? I pushed him to see the doctor. I was mean to him that weekend. I didn't want to sell my doll. I was his wife, his best friend! I was the only one standing in between him and the door (as if the door would have held him back). How was it not my fault?? And why didn't I know he was that deeply depressed? I should have known! I felt I failed him on every level with every fiber of my being.
It was a few weeks before I got the reports from the pharmacies about which and how many pills Bret was taking. He was prescribed enough to cripple anyone and without a doctor's intervention he never had a chance of surviving on his own. And yet I still blamed myself for not knowing. But we trust: we trust our loved ones to be honest; we trust their judgements; we want to believe them.
Resoundingly, everyone who learned of Bret's death was in shock. No one, and I mean NO ONE, would have believed he did this if I hadn't been right there. In his right mind, he would NEVER have done this to any of his friends or family. He didn't let on to anyone that he was in such a dark place. This gave me a few things: it momentarily gave me a reprieve in knowing he hid it from everyone, not just me; it made me even sadder knowing he felt he had no one to turn to; and ultimately I took on the responsibility of his death even more because I was the one person who could have stopped it. I know now, if someone wants to do it they will do it but at the time and for months to come I would replay the incident and scramble to find something I could or should have done differently.
My own depression set in December 2012. Nothing mattered. I wanted out. And for the first time I understood how suicide isn't "personal". I was in so much pain, all I could think about was ending my life every minute of every day. I learned that tricky line of what I could and couldn't say to my therapists so they wouldn't try to talk me into commitment and oh, how they wanted to. They would bring up my son, tell me I had to be around for him. In my sickness, I was convinced he'd be okay. Of course now I see how very wrong it would have been but back then I was so so damaged. I truly thought I didn't deserve to live for letting Bret down so badly. It had nothing to do with anyone else. It was a black hole that I was ready to be swallowed up by.
Looking back, I don't know how I functioned other to say I was on autopilot. My son's 18th birthday was almost 2 months to the day and I managed to pull it together and play with him and his friends for the day. I remember going on the doll board and buying dream dolls in the hopes they'd make me "happy". Of course this was absurd considering I still had so much guilt tied up in my ultimate dream doll, the Enchanted Doll. I would get a box and take it directly to the closet. I didn't even open them. I met with friends and family but in the back of my mind it stayed...life holds nothing for me anymore.
I didn't stop being actively suicidal (I say that to mean constantly thinking about doing it) until almost April 2013. I wish I could tell you the exact formula for how I got well but I think it was a combination. I was in therapy once, sometimes twice a week; I was on a heavy dose of antidepressants; I cut out alcohol; I had an amazing friend come into my life, get me exercising and out of the house; other friends would make plans and give me things to look forward to; and very slowly, very subtly I began to feel better. I still cried a lot but I no longer wanted to die. I had hope. Tiny hopes but still.
I'd start to feel better then "first anniversaries" would knock me on my ass. Our dating anniversary, Bret's birthday, etc. It was also our son's senior year so he had all sort of milestones he was hitting without his dad...prom, graduation, first year of college. It was a never ending rollercoaster of false starts, unrealistic expectations and frustration with myself. I just wanted to be better already. I was so over being sad all the time but I couldn't help it. I had to learn and accept words which previously repulsed me: gentle...easy....patient. I had never been anything but down right evil when it came to my expectations of myself so you might as well have asked me to accept becoming left-handed. But I surrendered. I didn't really have an option.
Throughout 2013, I avoided the office like the plague. I didn't so much as look at a doll, let alone have the capability to paint. And if I got close to them, my body would tense up and I'd start to cry. The actualization of Bret's absence was never more acute than when I thought about painting because with each step I'd have to face his loss. He couldn't advise me or praise me or reassure me that I was on the right track even. Oh, how I longed to hear him say "You know what doll you need to do...". It got so bad that I thought about selling off everything and never looking back. Often. I was convinced I couldn't get back into it. The pain was too much.
In August I was finally able to say it wasn't my fault and mean it. I still carry it, ever torturing myself with guilt, but even that one day I hope to be able to put down.
The last few months of 2013 brought a turn. I started to talk to other artists about regaining my creativity and how to do so when your partner is involved in your art. My friends all gave me the sweetest words of encouragement which somehow stuck with me. And somehow I was able to remember what I loved about painting and dolls in general. After many false starts during the year I finally resolved to pick up the brushes after the first anniversary of Bret's death passed and somehow made it happen.
It wasn't the same as the last time I "came back". I didn't have to remember how to paint as much as relearn the steps...the little intricacies of brush strokes...the techniques of 3d painting you acquire over practice...and each day I was able to go a little longer. Sure, my back was aching and my hand was cramping but I was creating again and that was all that mattered. And every day I started to notice something else; a hair style that would look good miniaturized, a pretty color to work with, an inspiring spattering of freckles, a great outfit similar to something I had created once. All of the elements that made my style "mine" were coming back to me and I was finally feeling...happy.
This isn't to say I won't have bad days or that I'm "normal". Unfortunately I doubt I'll ever be able to use that word to describe me again. And I'm still not great with people, especially in large groups. But I'm on the road.
Again, I'm not sharing all of this for pity. And please don't feel badly for not knowing what to say. I wouldn't know what to say to me!! Don't worry about it. But if someone reads my story and it helps them get through a tough time then all this turmoil means something. You CAN get out of that dark place. You CAN get better. You CAN reclaim your life. There IS hope. For Bret's birthday I donated enough money to the AFSP to train a volunteer much like the ones that visited us after his death. And one day, when I'm strong enough, I hope to become a volunteer myself and help others through their own journey.