Queen’s faces of mental illness: Strength, suffering & suicide

As part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Lifestyle is featuring personal stories from Queen’s student each day from Oct. 6-10. We'll be continuing the initiative throughout the year with monthly stories. If you’re interested in submitting a story, please email journal_lifestyle@ams.queensu.ca.

WARNING: This piece talks about suicide and may be triggering for some readers.

February 12, 2011 11:23 AM: “I have to do it now. I have no time. I am so sorry and I love you.” And that was it. I still can’t believe it.

That was two years ago.

It was my first time with a new volunteer position and I had never been more nervous. Everyone around me looked so confident but that wasn’t how I felt. “Why am I here?” kept running through my mind and I could feel the panic and stress building up inside me.

“Nope. Can’t do it,” I thought to myself as I reached down to grab my things and leave. As I sped away, I heard someone call after me. “Where are you going so fast? You didn’t even introduce yourself.” That was the day that I met my best friend.

Fast-forward two months.

We grew a connection so strong, so fast. Through the endless conversations and laughs, I grew to know so much about him. We would stay up late talking about the latest reruns of our favourite television shows and venturing off into dreams about the future. I was going to take over the world, and he, my trusty sidekick.

With my brains and his good looks, we would be unstoppable, he would say. Every person that knew him would agree that he was the one who always had a smile ear-to-ear and laughter so contagious that we swore the birds were laughing along with him. Fast-forward another ten months.

Our conversations became consumed with stories about her. She was beautiful and perfect for him in every way. They quickly became consumed in each other, spending every moment together. Our conversations began to be pushed later and later each day, but they never shortened.

I quickly saw my best friend’s future filling up with images of them together – I was excited. A year later, and everything was falling together perfectly for him: a wonderful girlfriend, a loving family, a newly licensed G2 driver and huge plans for a future career. The positives began to escalate. It was the calm before the storm.

It was February 11, 2011.

Something felt off. But I ignored it because tonight was my school’s semi-formal event and it was nearing the second anniversary with my boyfriend. I decided that nothing was going to ruin my mood — tonight was my night.

He had gotten into another fight with his girlfriend and my phone was blowing up text messages. Between consoling him and preparing for my night, I decided that their fight would blow over in no time. I promised him that I would visit first thing in the morning, and as the night progressed, I quickly forgot that my phone existed.

Mistake number one.

The next day: February 12, 2011.

That morning, I remembered to text him and follow up with our arrangement to get together. But even that day, everything seemed different. His carefree and optimistic spirit was replaced with hopelessness and withdrawal.

He spoke of suicide, insisting that everyone’s life would be better when he is gone. My words of encouragement were rejected by a calm solemn disposition. He spoke with urgency. I pleaded for him to be patient. My pleas were dismissed.

I asked for an explanation, and his response: “I have to do it now. I have no time. I am so sorry and I love you.” And that was it.

I went about the rest of my day having convinced myself that he simply needed space to calm down and think things through. I promised myself that I would stop by later that day to check on him, but until then I would focus on the tasks at hand. His middle name was optimism – there was no way that he would break that easily.

Mistake number two.

Later that night, I received a message from a friend: “Did you hear?! Call his sister now.” My heart sank. My head began to spin and a lump formed in my throat. No.

In what felt like slow motion, I fumbled with my phone and dialed those ten numbers that I knew so well. No answer.

Panic arose inside me, as I dialed his sister’s number. “He’s gone,” her voice quiet. “I found him. He did it with a tie. He hung himself.” I felt my phone slip from my hands and tears stream down my cheeks. I could have stopped him.

It’s easy to shoulder guilt for a loved one’s suicide, but remember the decision for suicide is not a joint one: it’s individual.

Please educate yourself on the warning signs of suicide. If you have a hunch, act on it. No matter how likely or unlikely it may seem — a life may depend on it.

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