Demons and Darlings

Friday, February 8, 2013

When we were speaking about her post for Life is Sweet month, my friend Shannon said
that even some of her closest friends didn't know this story. Maybe it's because I speak so openly about it, but Shannon and I talked about her experience with depression fairly early into our friendship. I am honored she would open up to me as a friend, but also be willing to share it with all of you in this post. 

I was 21, and I was having the time of my life.  I was a professional cheerleader and university student, had great friends and a wonderful family. It was everything I could have wished for when I blew out my candles that year. That was of course, until I flunked my LSAT’s. Truth be told, I don’t have the brain for it. The way I think would always need to be flipped and altered to get the answer required to pass. But I’m a “trier” and gave it a whirl anyway. The night I found out my abysmal score, I set out for a wild night on the town, and wild I sure did find.

That night I met my boyfriend, and for the sake of this story I will call him Hunter. When we locked eyes on the dance floor, it was one of those movie moments that I can still recall like it happened yesterday. He glanced over, and I, with a coy eye, glanced back, and it was as if the sea of people parted for us to say hello, which we didn’t. Instead we danced and proceeded to kiss like we had known each other for years.  Immediate passion. This lead to a whirlwind romance I will never forget. Late night conversations 3 days before Christmas, and then the best gift I could have asked for – a brand new, shiny, boyfriend.

Things quickly became tricky. He played hockey in the States, and lived about 3 hours away. We were smitten, and would Skype daily, feeling like we weren’t even apart. He came home to surprise me a few days later at New Year’s, and I got what I had always wanted, the perfect New Year’s kiss, with my perfect new boyfriend.

Then things began to fall apart.

Two and a half weeks after we met I was at the Doctor’s office with my Mom and was saying that it was strange I hadn’t heard from Hunter that day. I had sent him a quick text asking him how his day was only to later receive one back that knocked the wind out of me.

“I’m in Toronto. I can’t talk right now. We need to talk later.”

At 21, I was very inexperienced in relationships. I had barely had a boyfriend before and this accelerated version of one seemed as though it was about to come to an end.  I couldn’t help but think it had something to do with me. My insecurities, of course, got the best of me.

Later that evening, when he wanted to meet, I demanded to know the reason why.  I didn’t want to be left out in the frigid cold January night air shut down by him. He proceeded to tell me that it had nothing to do with me, and to leave it alone. He said he would tell me later. I pushed it, I wanted to know.

“My brother committed suicide this morning.”

My heart dropped. He would be over soon – he needed me.

The next 5 days felt like one big blur, except for one defining moment. He told me he loved me. For most, that would feel quick. But for me it felt right. I didn’t understand how two people could be linked so quickly, but ask anyone who was around for those moments, and they saw it firsthand.

We watched movies. We talked for hours. We went on dates and often fell asleep on the couch in my parents’ basement, despite my Dad’s disapproval. Here I was, assisting in the distraction of a boy who was mourning the loss of his younger brother. A boy who seemed even younger than he was, confused with no answers. I became his escape, his shoulder to cry on, and his rock. After 2 ½ weeks I was someone’s rock, a role I had never played before.

Within the next week, the funeral came and went, and I was asked on the spot after the large service to attend the private burial. I met all of Hunter’s family, and was thanked repeatedly for helping him through this difficult time. I thought, naively  that this would all start to fade away. I knew that Hunter would mourn, but he would go back to school and start to live his life again, the best way he could. I didn’t think that the anger would be turned towards me.

For a long time I sat in the front seat of a roller coaster – up and down, loop-de-loop, clinging tight for survival. I felt like I was dating two people, none who seemed to remind me of the person I had met, the memory of a man that still brings a smile to my face. I had surgery that summer and he didn’t remember that it even happened. He made irrational life decisions, commented to an extreme length about my weight, and isolated me from my family and friends when he was around. I didn’t once realize that the instability could have related back to the event that shook his world a mere 9 months before.

The day we broke up, he shattered me. A brief phone call spun me into a depression as he pulled back and forth with my emotions. Wanting me and then dismissing me, on repeat for 8 months.

I allowed someone to affect my mental health.

Someone who wasn’t fully stable, sucked me in, and left me in a dark corner to question all of my insecurities. It took a long time, and a loving family, to pull me out of it. I’m glad they did.

Looking back I can see how I risked my own emotional health for someone else’s. It was a domino effect. It wasn’t that I was really sad, and the break-up was hard to get over. It was beginning to make me sick, a syndrome I still manage today, and not crying prior to 10 am was deemed a successful day. I was barely functioning and I hid it well from people. I didn’t want my friends to know, I thought it would seem pathetic.
I often hated Hunter, and sometimes I still find myself angry with him. But what I have realized is that he suffered more than I did. I may have gone through a bout of depression but he lives with it every day of his life. It takes a strong and secure person to be a rock, and I did my best. He was scared to shed light on a dark issue, and all I wanted to do was hold the flashlight.

If we talked about mental illness more, about suicide and the effects it has on those left behind, I may have known how to protect myself from the vortex. I may have saved us both a long road of agony. Instead of talking, we immediately assume the worst and want someone put on medication, or simply think they are downright crazy. There is no dialogue, no conversation, and no place to turn without judgment. I can only hope that through many people opening up about their experience with suicide or someone’s emotional instability, or going through depression like I did, that the topic of mental health won’t be so taboo.

I drive by Hunter’s brother’s grave often, and give him a half smile. I’m reminded of how weak I once was, and how strong I now am. May his brother rest in peace, and may we all learn to show a little more compassion to those we don’t fully understand

Shannon wears pearls to the ballpark. A Social Media Manager and Toronto sports personality, Shannon was a Toronto Argos Cheerleader for 2 seasons, in-game host of the Toronto Rock for 3 seasons and the current Associate Producer for 3rd and Long on CBC Sports. 

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