By: Cassie Jackson
Looking back at my youth I was surrounded by many people suffering from mental illness, but I didn’t really know what it was at the time. I saw people around me suffering and feeling hopeless. I always felt so helpless, afraid and confused. I saw this suffering in my own home. My sister struggled with finding happiness on a daily basis. Why couldn’t we just talk about it? Why did this have to be such a taboo topic? I knew she was hurting and all I could do was be there. We were living in a small community where the general attitude was to just get over it and toughen up. There weren’t any resources readily available to us which hindered the conversation even more. Even if we did muster the courage to talk about it we didn’t know where to go to find help. This went on until I graduated from High School. I remember being so excited to get out of my home town and try something new. I was also terrified to leave my sister behind. She often came to me when she was really suffering. She knew I would not judge her and I would happily offer a distraction from whatever pain she was in. Despite my reservations, I decided I needed to leave. While I was away, I experienced high levels of anxiety when I wasn’t able to immediately get into contact with my sister. My mind would race with worry that she was suffering and didn’t have anyone to reach out to.
On the evening of March 8th, 2008, the fear was overtaking me again. I received a text message from my sister telling me that she loved me. This wasn’t that unusual, but the anxiety started to kick in when I could not get her to respond to me after this message. Soon after that I received a phone call from a concerned friend. They were also worried for my sister and wanted to know if I was in contact with her. At this point, I was in a full panic. I had been here before, so I convinced myself she would be in contact with me soon. She always came around eventually. I was calling anyone who I thought may have talked to her. I was begging for her to call me back. My mom was the first to call me back and tell me things were not good. She could not bring herself to say the words that my sister was gone, and I refused to believe what she was insinuating. I spoke to my dad next who was on his home phone with the police department while on his cell phone with me. He said she was gone and everything around me went blank. She had shot herself in her home and she was alone. I heard screaming but I did not realize it was coming from me until I tried to speak. I couldn’t. Noise was coming out of my mouth, but my dad couldn’t understand my response to his request to come pick me up. I rode home through the night and arrived at my mom’s house as the sun was rising. I didn’t sleep or eat for 48 hours. I couldn’t believe my best friend was no longer here. The person I always reached out to when I wanted an unbiased, honest option. The person I would laugh with until tears were rolling down our faces. It still hurts every day. The year following my sister’s death was the worst of my life. I struggled to sleep at night. It was a common occurrence that I would be lying in my bed as the sun came up having never closed my eyes the entire night. A year and a half went by before I made it an entire day without crying for her. I would randomly burst into tears while at work or waiting in the teller line at the bank. I isolated myself from some of the people closest to me. Many nights as I laid in bed, I wished I would not have to face the next day. It was like my life was in black and white. I experienced what she had to live with every single day and that was when I realized how truly strong she was. I also realized that so many other people are suffering in silence like she was.
I want to live in a world where they don’t have to be silent. I want them to be able to talk about it and not be judged. I want them to know that they matter and it will get better. I truly believe that there is a lot of healing in telling your story whether you’re currently suffering or have overcome it. Let’s suffer out loud so that we start the process of putting an end to our suffering.