Zzyzx Rd.

“I’m only here for a while,

But patience is not my style,

And I’m so tired that I got to go.”

I first heard the song by Stone Sour 10 years ago while listening to the radio at my first job with someone very dear to me at the time. His demeanor seemed to fall while the song was playing, as if it brought back unpleasant memories. When the song had ended, I asked if something was wrong.

“After a friend took his life last year, I listened to this song over and over and over again, on repeat, curled up in a ball on my bed. I have never felt so hopeless.”

There could have been no possible way for me to understand exactly how he felt, or the depth of a darkness he now knew. I had known a few individuals in my life up until that point whose lives had been affected by a loved one who took their own life, but no one near or dear to me. I calmly shook my head and tried to understand the sadness he must feel each time the song played, or any time he was near something that reminded him of his friend. I tried, but it was similar to how someone feels when they are at a funeral and are not sure what to say- if anything at all.

My sister ended her life last August. I feel a sense of closure from the grief and despair. I have had time to grieve, to weep uncontrollably, to wonder why, to curse at God, to question why I did not check in on Sarah more often. I have battled guilt- an emotion that does not seem to accompany the griever when a life is taken by an unexpected tragedy or old age. No, that grief is of a different sort. Grief that goes hand in hand with guilt is a pain I do not wish on anyone, and I am very grateful for the many times those close to me have helped me excuse my guilt. But am I excused? I am not so sure.

Sarah’s situation was at least twofold. While she was currently being treated for a mental illness, she additionally became violent with the law in an incident towards the end of her life. This incident came hours after a threatened suicide attempt, when police arrived at her home. It was very clear that she needed to be admitted into the hands of those experienced in caring for the mentally ill, and this initiative was not taken by our law enforcement. In Milwaukee County, there are certain policies in place that allow state facilities to discharge individuals back to their homes- regardless of what their situation may be- while they are still in danger of taking their own lives. I have done research on the laws in the city of Milwaukee, and have even been contacted by a few social workers in the process. There are many gray areas as you can expect, chief among them being “we cannot hold an adult against their will.” How then, are we to force help upon someone who does not want to be help? I admit I do not have that answer, or even an idea of how we could arrive at a solution to that dilemma, but here is what I do know: the fight against suicide starts with us. 

At this point you may be asking what my point is. Well, it’s quite simple, really. If you have even the slightest hint that a loved one may be going through a depression, acknowledge the problem. Be kind. Be persistent. NEVER dismiss a suicidal act or word as a cry for attention or an empty threatAssure your loved one that they are never alone. I understand that my experience may differ from that of other individuals who have had a loved one end their own life, but I am speaking from my own experience. Sarah desperately needed help, and I knew it. I did nothing about it and brushed all of her issues under the rug because I thought she was being selfish when she would start drama at family gatherings, or that she was being inconsiderate when she would go for months without contacting anyone in our family. She needed someone to come to her. I had for so long dismissed her problems because she preferred to act as if nothing in the world bothered her, that she was not afraid of anything or anyone, when in reality she needed someone to just be there for her. To love her when she was the most unlovable, and to hold her hand when she was pushing you away. 

Along the same vein, everyone you meet is fighting a war you know nothing about. I have always liked to think of myself as a genuinely friendly person, but it is very much intentional now. Never underestimate the power of a smile or a kind “Hello, are you enjoying your day so far?”. What I am asking you to do is take notice of other people’s feelings. Pay attention. Be kind. Reach out. Your words may be exactly what someone is needing to hear. How could you possibly know if a stranger you’ve met or an acquaintance has been talked back down from the ledge? You couldn’t, so treat everyone with gentleness, respect, and kindness. I promise, you will not regret it. 

Each year, 700 individuals die from suicide, and an additional 5,500 are hospitalized due to self-inflicted injuries. That is just in Wisconsin.

Per year in the United States, 42,773 people take their own life. 117 per day. I am not excused. WE are not excused.

If you are interested in joining a growing force of people in our community in the fight against suicide, please contact me! The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Wisconsin chapter is holding its annual “Out of the Darkness” walk in Humboldt Park on October 2nd. When you walk in the Out of the Darkness Walks, you join the effort with hundreds of thousands of people to raise awareness and funds that allow the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss.

 *The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has advanced its efforts aimed at bringing awareness to the nation, and in this instance Milwaukee, as well as much-needed help to those suffering from a mental illness or a past suicide attempt. In Wisconsin, 50% of all people who ended their life had a known mental illness. The AFSP focuses on eliminating the loss of life from suicide by: delivering innovative prevention programs, educating the public about risk factors and warning signs, raising funds for suicide research and programs, and reaching out to those individuals who have lost someone to suicide.*

Sources:

https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/injury-prevention/suicideprevention.htm
http://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/
http://afsp.org/chapter/afsp-wisconsin/

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New Beginnings.

Today I’m ready. Ready to feel.

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Sarah Rose Budney left this earth on August 9th. Cousin by blood, but raised as sisters, Sarah has been a very special person to me for my whole life; beginning, I imagine, the day I held her after she was born.

As the oldest of all of my sisters and cousins, I always felt the need to be bossy and call all the shots when we were very little. And everyone would go along with whatever I said, and not question it or bicker with me, as little girls often do.

Except Sarah. We fought all the time.

Even from such a young age, she was the most independent and strong willed person I had ever met (besides myself), and it infuriated me when she wouldn’t do what I thought everyone should be doing, or when she wouldn’t go along with whatever my plan was. And then we would scream. And pull hair. And bite. God, Sarah. I hated you sometimes. I hated her pink Barbie doll dream house, her red velvet dress, her cozy bedroom, her two-piece swimsuits, and her blonde hair.

I remember being so jealous of the fact that she lived with Grandma and Grandpa, though I was too young to realize why she had to. And though my Grandma doted on all of her girls, Sarah was special to her in a way the rest of us weren’t- she was a daughter to her. I think Sarah envied the rest of us for the fact that we didn’t live with our grandparents.

She was always the different one. Sometimes she was negative and mean when the rest of us were having the time of our lives. Sometimes she was crazy and full of life when the rest of us were tired and quiet, and that was just how it was. You never knew what you were going to get when it came to her. She was deep and spiritual and very, very scarred emotionally.

Sarah joined me at my high school for her freshman year. It was also the year that I lived with my grandparents and her. We would ride to school together, spend the day together, do our homework, watch tv, and laugh together. I think that was when we were the closest in our lives.

Since her death, I have had a very hard time wrapping my head around the things she went through in her short life, and the mental torment she endured, even as a child. Though I saw her struggles with my own eyes, I almost didn’t take them seriously because she was always so strong. She was the one who we were always sure would pull through. She cried wolf and threatened the most ridiculous things.. and she would cut everyone off. For months at a time. And then she would breeze back into my life as if nothing had ever happened. She didn’t like to bring up the past when that would happen, almost as though she was embarrassed by it.

I think things were at their hardest for her when she had her daughter, Serenity. Living as a single mother, I do believe she did the best that she could, even though all odds were against her. I also believe that one of the reasons she ended her life was that though she fought hard for her daughter (even after messing up in the eyes of the law so many times), she knew that in the end knew that she would not be given another chance to try again. I can’t imagine how much that must have hurt her. I am not saying that I excuse her faults, but I also have no right to judge why she made the choices she did.

I miss her so dearly. There is not another person in this world who is like her, and I mean that wholeheartedly. Her zest for life was contagious; it was always a party when she was around. She is one of the few people I know who can say that they truly lived life to the fullest. She lived in the present, never considering the consequences. She just enjoyed and indulged.

Her demons became to great to bear. I have battled with guilt since she passed. I know that there was more I could have done to help her face her life when it became to hard to handle on her own. I cannot live with guilt forever. It’s a heavy cross to carry, and it’s not for me to say why she decided she needed to go. For now I will live with her memory in my heart, and always remember to live my life to the fullest, laugh hard, be strong, and try again.

I love you, Sarah Rose. Be free.

xo