Somewhere in the pit of my stomach when I heard another military spouse had taken her own life, what gripped me along with the sadness and anger was this tendril of fear snaking through me whispering, “That could be you.”
It still happens every single time.
The worst is when there are children involved. The anger and the blame gets slung back and forth. The furious demands of “How could she do that?”
My heart seizes up and my brain spins because some little piece of me wonders—could I do that too? Could I be the end of these little people that I love? Could I sink that far down the rabbit hole? I can only have compassion for an act so purely evil because I wonder… Could I sink to those depths, too?
Maybe it was while I was slogging through my oldest’s first year with my husband gone more than home, my life turned upside down by grief and my baby colicky and fretful. Maybe the worry first came over me the first time I had the disturbing realization that this helpless creature’s wails weren’t stirring my compassion and motherly instincts, but were instead making me angry.
Or maybe it was when I was battling Postpartum Depression… reeling at the lack of joy I had at a time when I was supposed to be cherishing every moment.
I know for certain it’s whispered at me on those all familiar days of overwhelmedness… of handling it all alone.
Days like today and yesterday when I felt like a failure as a mother—a screaming banshee or worse… someone who didn’t pay enough attention. The days when I am cleaning up poop and puke around every corner and the laundry has built up and the tired is so deep into my bones. The days when I have to slog through after not enough hours of sleep and all of my resources of calm and put togetherness have vanished.
In these moments the voices have gotten louder… The whisper more persistent—could it be me?
The truth is this life is hard and we all have a breaking point. The truth is that I have had my own moments swirling around the rabbit hole.
Moments when the voices told me, “You are a failure as a mother… They would be better off without you. Better off with someone else.”
The truth is I’ve had my moments when my being has shouted, “I hate this life and I can’t do another day.”
And moments when the pain was so intense that I hoped if it was going to continue I could cease to wake up.
I have had those moments and if I have had those moments, how far are they from the moments the spouses and mothers who have taken their own lives—and worse—have had?
What terrifies me isn’t the foreignness of these acts and the emotions that I expect are tied to them.
It is the familiarity.
I haven’t been suicidal, but I have been close.
I haven’t neglected my children or accidentally harmed them or willfully hurt them.
But I have felt the tired collide with the white hot anger and had to put myself in another room or call a friend to reset my head space.
Perhaps I am alone in that. But perhaps I’m not.
And maybe this is what needs to be added to the conversation.
We grieve about these suicides and these moments of things going terribly wrong not just because of the loss of our sisters, our mothers, our friends… Or even because of the way they crumble tiny lives (though they do that, and that is the howling wrongness that shakes us most of all)
We grieve because they could be us.
And that shattered mirror is a scary one to look into.
But if we are willing to look into it. To tap into our own darkness. To empathize with someone else in theirs…. Maybe we can reach out. Maybe we can transfer isolation into the words, “You are not alone… How can I help you? How can we make sure you stay safe?”
Maybe what scares us the most is that these women could be us. But maybe that awareness and the willingness to recognize what we most fear about ourselves in someone else could stave off someone else’s isolation. Could keep the dark from crowding in and taking over completely. Could keep someone else safe for long enough to get the help that they need.
Maybe we need to look into that mirror, to learn compassion for the reflection staring back at us, and to transfer that compassion to others alone at the edge of an abyss.
Maybe facing the scariest part gives us the strength to push back the dark.