5 years. It feels like a lifetime ago, yet it also feels like yesterday. I can picture it all – the moment I was told, the mayhem that followed, the crying, the grief, the loss of innocence and everything that ensued. They told me that it would all become a blur, that I wouldn’t remember this day, but somehow it’s all so clear to me like it just happened.
5 years. I lost my sister, my best friend, my mentor, the person I consulted, debated with, the glue to my family and so much more. Batsheva was one of the happiest and most selfless people I encountered. I know I must come off as biased, as it seems unlikely that we always lose the good ones. But trust me, she was a good one, if not the best one.
Batsheva was someone who really soaked up life. She was adventurous, she was handy, she was caring, she was reliable, and she was the type of person who really knew how to emphasize what was important in life. She always found the good in each situation. She smiled, she laughed, she was spontaneous and she always went out of her way for others.
5 years. My world was shattered, pulled from underneath me and scattered into a million little pieces right in front of me. Not only was my sister gone forever, but I had lost her to suicide. The shame, the fear, the questions, the unknown, the stares, the assumptions, the judgment.
That word. Suicide. Did I really just say it? Label it? It’s nearly impossible to believe. Still hard to say. Even more terrifying to share.
5 years. It hits me hard and I don’t know how to make sense of it.
Within a moment, it felt like my sister’s life was reduced to being defined by one word: suicide.
Suicide is such a dark concept. A topic you whisper about, or better yet, avoid. It’s something you hint to, allude to, and definitely don’t publicize.
But that was not my sister. She was happy. She was my rock. I turned to her for everything. She loved to bake cookies, she loved to host, she loved to plan mischievous pranks. She was the one that saw the good in everyone, found the silver lining. How could her life now be defined by suicide?
5 years. I still struggle with these questions. I still worry that her death will blemish her name, define her life, make people look at her, at me, differently. I still fear the stigma. I still suffer from the embarrassment that I’ve worked to overcome. I have an inner dilemma each time someone asks me how many siblings I have (do I count Batsheva or not? If I do, what do I say when they ask what she’s up to in life? Will I make them uncomfortable if I say she passed away? Will they ask how?).
Sometimes I manage to convince myself that I’ve become so open and informed about mental health, but when these questions arise I realize that even I have really just scratched the surface of this deep and complex topic.
5 years. Some blurry parts are starting to become clear. Maybe Batsheva’s life wasn’t a contradiction to her death after all; anyone can be suffering from mental illness. Maybe the image of a person that we were raised to associate with suicide isn’t exclusive to the disease. Maybe those beautiful, giving and smiling individuals can be hurting inside too. Maybe those same individuals who are thoughtful, selfless and reliable have no idea how to tell us what’s going on inside; how to reach out, how to ask for help. Maybe.
I’ve had this urge to spread awareness around suicide. I’ve wanted to start the conversation around mental health with people who won’t. Why don’t we talk about this more? I’ve dreamt that maybe this could be the generation that eradicates the stigma. I’ve wanted Batsheva’s story to be known, to have meaning beyond what I’ve learned from her life. Her death does not define her. It does not erase her good-natured, fun-loving personality. How many times are we taught that people around us that seem happy can be suffering too? We owe it to them and to ourselves to make it known that it’s okay not to be okay.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about a new starting point for beginning the conversation. Perhaps we need to take one step back.
We need to spread acceptance. Then we can bring awareness.
People around you are going through different struggles every day. We have no idea. We reach out, try and connect with a “how are you”, “how’s it going”, “what’s up” but have we really created the connection with that person to know what is truly going on in their life? Are we creating a space of acceptance and sensitivity where our family and friends can be honest with us and say “I’m having a hard day” instead of the expected “good, how about you” response? Do we live in a world where it’s ok to not be thriving, hustling, and #blessed?
Now more than ever, as a global pandemic has hit our world, the need to check in and be there for those around us is vital. Whether someone lost a loved one, lost their income or finds themself faced with jarring new emotions, it’s almost impossible to emerge fully unscathed from current events. Life is hard, life is challenging and it’s okay and acceptable to struggle.
Yes, we need to spread awareness, we need to get rid of the stigma, but first, take a moment, turn to those around you, put yourself in someone else’s shoes and approach them from a new place. Be conscious of the words you choose. Create meaningful conversations. Try and be receptive to others and from there connect to those around you. We need to teach the world to be okay with vulnerability. We need to know how to accept someone who is struggling, how to respond to them with kindness and not focus on how to “fix” them right away. So many of us have a “fix it” mentality, pushing those around us to find a solution and get better so that they can already be “ok”. What if instead, we learned how to accept those around us and created a supportive environment, regardless of how “ok” you are.
I am by no means an expert in mental health, nor do I practice true acceptance.
But I have experienced first-hand how a genuine interaction with someone can simply take a foul day and turn it around. Think of the power you have on those around you and those in your life. We each hold the potential to make it a positive interaction, even just by sharing a smile or a reminder that “I’m thinking of you and I care about you”.
I truly believe that in a world yearning to be full of acceptance and sensitivity, we shouldn’t have to work very hard to spread awareness nor should the harsh stigma around mental health exist. I dream of the day where I can feel accepted. Where I won’t feel shame or embarrassment from my sister’s death. I dream of the day where I won’t feel the need to defend the realness of mental illness in our world and in our community.
5 years. I am still working to accept my sister’s death. To make peace that there was another side to her that I was not exposed to. To accept that mental illness is a real illness and should not be taken any lighter than a physical illness. I need to learn that only after I accept this will I be able to truly take the next step and spread awareness.
My hope is that in 5 years my sister’s death won’t bring the same shame it does today. In 5 years I will be able to talk about Batsheva freely. I will be able to share those hilarious stories about her, without the pit in my stomach that I may have made someone uncomfortable by telling them that this incident exists in my life. In 5 years, people will still struggle no doubt, but my hope is that we will know how to respond better so that each person can feel reassured and accepted, no matter the circumstances.
In Batsheva’s memory, let’s choose to be sensitive about all aspects of life and create an environment of acceptance no matter what each person is going through. Please channel your inner Batsheva to find the good, find an excuse to reach out and smile and, maybe even bake more cookies.