I was only 8 years old when my father killed himself after a long struggle with mental illness. The effect it had on me was profound and long lasting. When I
was 12, it hit me very badly. I started having nightmares I had terrible insomnia which went for a long time and I was depressed I was really struggling and my confidence was really low and I felt ugly. The future looked bleak I was in that dark place acutely for a few years.
It was a taboo in my family to talk about my dad’s suicide, like a door that was closed and it created a bit of distance between us. Now I can understand why they found it hard to talk about it. As an adult, after some therapy, I was able to bring up the subject which helped to open that door and break the silence. This was tough but very healing, and I got to learn more about my Dad.
What helped me get out of that darkness and heal was finding a church and developing a strong Christian faith and having my church family at that point. But I moved from that because they were very restrictive in terms of what you are allowed to believe or not believe. Another positive thing in my life as a teenager was art and sketching.
Openness and the chance to share this with others has played a crucial role in my healing journey. The shame and stigma of suicide can cause us to hide our own suicidal impulses and attempts, or the loss of someone close to us by suicide. It’s as if we fear contaminating others with our grizzly secret, or that we will be dropping a bomb that will injure and disturb those on the receiving end.
But suicide isn’t like a fatal, contagious disease or a bomb. Isolating it doesn’t solve the problem but perpetuates it.
Talking about suicide if done sensitively, will promote healing and build hope. After many years of hiding I now permit myself to discuss my father’s suicide openly and through this have been surprised by how many other people’s lives have also been affected by suicide. I have particularly valued the companionship of others who have lost loved ones to suicide or made attempts themselves and found new hope.
I see suicide like a shard of broken glass. If we clutch it in our fist hidden from view it will cut us, but if we hold it in our open palm and expose it to the light we may discover the beauty in it. For me the beauty is in my ability to connect with others in pain and the intimacy I can share with others who have endured similar loss.
My vulnerability also connects me with what I experience as divine healing energy. When I encounter a wall of grief so high, thick and menacing that I fear it might totally engulf me, I feel the protective power of this divine energy and I am no
longer afraid of drowning in my sadness. One of the things I like about having faith is it gives you access to a divine love which is there for everybody, should they be able or choose to connect with it and I think that is very powerful.
The ingredients of hope for me have been friendship, connection, community, and faith. Sharing my experience and connecting with others gives me hope. Feeling isolated is like being some kind of alien. It is very important to have someone who gets you and most of the time that someone isn’t necessarily in the family.
I have been on a long spiritual journey. It’s huge and it is the most reliable place to go to if I am struggling. I feel fortunate that I have a faith, I am Buddhist and a Quaker, and this combination works for me as it feels meaningful and real and it has grown stronger through my suffering. It’s in my vulnerability that my faith grows and I know lots of people in mental health who have faith and it seems it is kind of essential in the depth of suffering to have something divine or beyond beyond that you can call on.
This artwork came out of a powerful meditation I did thinking about my dad and the words that came to me were the words are written here: I see a big red heart, big enough for everyone, I want to guide you into it enveloping you in love. This is a figure walking up into the heart, this is me I guess talking to my dad and it can be a message for those who are suicidal. I want them to feel love. It is important if people feel loved and my feeling about this artwork is that I am sending out that lifeline for people to climb into love.
Artworks by Chrissie
September 15, 2023