It has been quite some time since my last post and this it not going to be one of my fun entries either. Even though I initially did not want to address this as publicly as this, current circumstances seem to leave me with little other options.
My younger brother, Alexander, took his own life on May 14th 2017 in the home where he was living as a student. He was 26.
Now, one month later I am having some problems in my own life related to that event, which are one of the main reasons I decided to write this blog post:
- Social Interactions with friends who did not know what happened, have become really awkward:
Having to drop this little bomb in the middle of a lighthearted conversation because I get asked about how my brother is doing, can be quite the mood killer as you can probably imagine … Not nice for them or me. That is where the dinner conversation goes to die.
- Very dear friends of mine stopped talking to me:
My better friends who have learned of this late via a different channel and not through me, have decided to drop communication. Why? After talking to one or two of them, they told me that they felt embarrassed or even guilty for not supporting me and standing by my side when it happened. They are not sure of how to approach me anymore. Hard to start a conversation I guess when this topic has somehow not been discussed yet …
- Some “friends” blame me for not telling them:
‘Oh my god, why did you not tell me? I would have been there for you. I am your friend you know?’ … seriously? You wanted me to call you up and say ‘Hey mate, just for your information; my younger brother committed suicide. Nice talking to you’. Do you guys even think before you say stuff like that? Idiots.
Anyway, with this blog post I hope that I can inform group 1 and 3 about what happened and to encourage group 2 that you do not need to feel bad about anything; Unfortunately, many of my friends live in different countries and time zones. I could not find the appropriate Facebook status either … So it is not your fault!
To all my friends who feel awkward, guilty or embarrassed and are trying to avoid me, because you did not make it to the funeral or whatever; don’t be. I am not mad at anyone for not having called or not having sent condolences. How could I be? No one is keeping a list here. Believe me.
But for the ones who need to know first what my current state of mind is before they can approach me again, the short summary is: I am okay.
The long version follows from here… As I said; I am okay … at least as much as I can be.
I have been dealing with it in my own way. So let me give you a wrap-up of what happened.
First, I started with anger. I thought of my mother, my father, my youngest brother. How could he do this to them? My anger got even worse because I felt so powerless. I could not be there immediately for my family! It took me over a day after it happened to get to my family. My family is half a world away from me! I am in Thailand an they are in Germany! You cannot imagine the rage I felt at the beginning, no place for sadness.
I did not know – and I still don’t – what my brother’s specific triggers were that drove him into doing this, but the only thoughts that went through my head were at that time: ‘You little coward only thought about yourself by taking the easy way out of your problems. Did you even think one second about the grief and pain you were going to cause to everyone else who loved you?’
My parents of course, blame(d) themselves. I guess that is the logical next step if you lose one of your children. You will ask yourself: ‘Did I push him too much?’, ‘Did we make him feel unloved?’, ‘Should I have seen the signs?’.
First of all, these are all questions you will never get any answer to. Asking them is natural, but useless and too late. They will only cause pain and emptiness.
So, how am I dealing with it? More than anything; I educated myself.
Let me drop some knowledge on you; people that commit suicide, usually suffer from depression, which is one of the most common mental illnesses known to mankind. 1 in 4 people suffer or have suffered to some extend from a mental illness. Crazy right? The image of mental health patients in movies is very misleading. You do not have to look like a ‘crazy’ person, stuttering, talking to yourself and eating your fingernails to suffer from a mental illness.
Did you know that Elton John and Billy Joel both had suicide attempts? Robin Williams, one of the funniest people on earth suffered from mental illness and took his life. Does any one of them look like one of the ‘crazy people’ from the movies you watch?
I have read by now many reports from suicide attempt survivors and listened to interviews, podcasts, etc. and one interesting point caught my attention; mental illness will contort your way of thinking. People who suffer from a mental illness sometimes build a complete new framework of what is logical and what isn’t.
One of the reports I read was about a mother with THREE young children, who was suffering from depression and had to be hospitalized due to her many failed suicide attempts. You might think; ‘What a monster, leaving her little children behind’ right? Wrong. After she got the help she needed and improved, she explained that while she was at the peak of her disease, she was completely & utterly convinced, that her death would be the best for her children. Can you imagine? She thought they would be better off without her.
People with a mental illness – especially depression – are suffering. Suicide is not a character flaw or a weakness, it is the result of the suffering. Unfortunately I cannot remember anymore who gave the example during a TED Talk (watched and read too many), but the speaker himself had attempted a suicide. He described and compared the feeling of his depression to what the people during 9/11 must have felt. Maybe you don’t remember, but people on very high floors in the World Trade Center jumped out of windows to their death. Where they suicidal? No. They had to choose between the fire burning them alive and a free fall from a building. He says that at some point, people who suffer from depression have to choose between excruciating pain and death … it suddenly becomes a viable option in your mind.
The question to ask he says is not ‘Why the suicide?’, but ‘Why the pain?’.
I understand now, that my little brother, suffered from an illness that he kept concealed from all of us. His family, his best friends, the people he lived with. Asking the question now of how he got the illness, is also too late. The reasons can be genetic, biological, environmental … many factors that can contribute to the manifestation of such kind of illness.
This experience has been a wake up call, that for me and my family, unfortunately came too late. After my brother’s death I learned many things I did not know about him before; a part of the little money he got from my parents or made from working as a waiter, he donated to the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations. He had been doing that for years and never told anyone! He was doing good. With the little means he had available, he was trying to make the world a better place.
I believe, that my brother would not have wanted our lives to stop because of what he did. Maybe he thought it would be the best for everyone or maybe it was just a way to end the pain he must have been feeling; I will never know. Despite all our differences, the fights we had, and insults we threw at each other; every day I will remember him as one of the smartest people I have ever met. Rough on the outside but on the inside with a pure heart of gold… and I am so sorry that I didn’t see what was happening.
Everyone who is still reading this, please remember that saying ‘I love you’ is not enough. If love were enough, there wouldn’t be that many suicides in the world.
‘Reacting’ to signs, is not enough. Be there for your loved ones and friends before something happens. You do not wait for your children and friends to experience heart failure before you tell them to eat healthy, do you? The same goes for mental health. We have to learn to be pro-active:
- Listen to your friends and family, ask them how they are doing & what their worries are
- Make sure the people you love have all a clear purpose in life that they are also aware of
- Offer help and mentor-ship for any area in life, to help them find their way if they are struggling; work or personal, it doesn’t matter. Show that you want them to grow and flourish
- Show them what it means to you to have them in your life. Don’t just say ‘I love you’. Tell them how important it is to you that they are in your life and why
Giving your friends a feeling of belonging and importance is crucial for pro-actively fighting depression. Just because someone looks happy does not mean they are not suffering from depression; the opposite of depression is not happiness. The opposite of depression is vitality. The power and energy to want to live. You can give that feeling to friends and family, and they need that support.
Not having any of the support I mentioned above, can lead to loneliness and then isolation. Isolation has been identified as one of the most commonly believed causes of mental illness, especially depression.
I hope I didn’t go on for too long. But again, how am I dealing with it? For my brother I will try to be better. Share the same love he shared with so many people. Help others to feel valued and needed in life … tell them what they need and should hear. And you should too.
Alexander, this is my goodbye to you. I will always love you from the bottom of my heart. Every single day I will try to fill the hole that you left by helping others the best I can.
Rest In Peace
Beloved son, brother and friend.
(20th August 1990 – 14th May 2017)
P.S.; For the ones of you who just learned of this and know my parents, please respect their privacy and feelings, no more condolences needed. They do not need to be constantly reminded. Thanks.