When Suicide Hits Home. The topic has received much attention these days. It seems suicide and the accidental overdose of substances are what people who suffer from Depression have turned to for ending their pain and suffering. Clinical Depression and Anxiety has alerted us all in that these individuals are not just having a bad day. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I often share my personal experiences (self-disclosure) with my clients to help them get perspective on their own situations. As a Marriage Counselor, I share ongoing challenges about my own relationship and how I manage them.
Last year this particular situation hit home for me in that my younger brother, Sal, died of an accidental overdose of prescription medication. At the end of his 55th year of life, this is his story.
Sal was my younger brother, by three years. He was the youngest and I was the eldest of three. As long as I can remember Sal suffered from anxiety. He displayed much discomfort as a grade schooler as the anxiety presented itself with constant worry, fear, and depression. As all families are dysfunctional to some degree ours had its own set of circumstances that eventually normalized out throughout the course of life. With the personal issues we all carry from the “baggage” of our upbringing I, too can say, I have a certain amount of anxiety. Sal was bullied by classmates at school and at home by his older sister (yours truly). I’m not proud of my behavior as a grade schooler. As adults, Sal and I concluded it was my “acting out” the frustration I had with our parents as they were always hard on me and took it out on my little brother. Not excusing my behavior, I did make amends, however, this bullying added to his already sensitive state of being. Meaning it aggravated his anxiety and didn’t make homelife feel very safe.
We managed to survive our childhood. Entering each developmental stage was difficult for Sal as there were cultural and social expectations made of him. As he was going through his own evolving process he “came out” to the family (disclosing being Gay) and his anxiety and depression were even more affected. As the family didn’t know much about anxiety professional intervention was not utilized. Parents are limited with parenting skills and ours were no exception. As a parent myself, we do the best we can, and my parents, being immigrants from a developing country were concentrating on providing the basic needs of food, shelter, and education. Psychological well-being wasn’t appreciated until we all got much older.
Without professional help, my brother used alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. His addictions made his anxiety even worse. But while “high” or “drunk” anxiety and whatever else ails you can be suppressed. Anxiety affected his ability to maintain a significant romantic relationship, seek higher education and enjoy his job.
He was a creative artist that made him a successful Graphic Designer. He had a talent for fashion and a good ear for cool music. He was handsome (some of my girlfriends thought he was a “hotty”) and the life of the party. Despite his demons, he was funny, personable, witty, and kind. He was thoughtful and generous. We traveled together to fabulous vacation destinations and he always brought back a little souvenir for co-workers. I thought that was a little much but later appreciated his kind spirit in making others happy. Sal and I had this affinity for one another and knew how to talk in our own slang cracking each other up whenever we were together. He didn’t seem like a brother but more like a best friend and confidante. We were a lot alike minus the confidence and focus I possessed. We even sounded like each other and shared mannerisms that were uncanny.
As a psychotherapist, I did help him with his addictions and his in and out of recovery processes. Throughout our adult lives, he shared how his anxiety and depression was keeping him from living a life he wanted. As a Gay man, Sal was not able to embrace his true self. He was torn between living a life he thought he needed to live opposed to a life he wanted to live. He let the “shoulds” about living his life affect his happiness. I believe his anxiety negatively affected his ability to live the life he desired.
So, on April 28, 2017, my brother took one too many painkillers and died alone in his condo. Some thought it was a suicide but the coroner’s report stated it was an accidental overdose of Vicodin. To our horror and disbelief, Sal became part of the statistics regarding prescription drugs. It felt like a suicide as I knew at one time he admitted taking way too many meds one night and was surprised he woke up the following day.
Suicide is continually making the news with the death of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Each of us can do our part to help reach those at risk and those left to mourn the loss of a loved one. What will you do? I wanted to write about how becoming part of this statistic hit home for me.
If you’d like more information on clinical depression and anxiety and what to do about managing it or if you know someone who suffers from this debilitating problem please contact me at (858) 735-1139.