Trigger warning: This post discusses depression, drug use, and suicide.
Since early adulthood, my little sister and I have always been very close. She and our middle sister were best buds growing up, and I was the older mean sister who wouldn’t let them borrow my clothes or hang out in my room, but when I moved back home after two years of failing at state college, our relationship bloomed into that special kind of friendship that only two sisters can have. We loved each other fiercely, stood up for one another, celebrated each other’s successes, and supported each other when we failed. We also fought like animals, screaming and scratching at each other. My mom had to physically break us apart one time, but like sisters always do, we quickly reconciled as if nothing had ever happened. When she moved south to the city by the sea to go to college, I followed her the next year, enrolling in the same school. We got a house together, worked at the same pizza place, and hung around in the same social circle. We depended on each other for security, for help, for friendship, for relief from the stress of excelling at a prestigious art school. We loved each other dearly, and the relationship that we’d built over the past five years was something special and couldn’t be dampened by new boyfriends, my moving in with Sir, and my eventual marriage. My sister and I were a team that couldn’t be destroyed.
Then I moved to the mountains and it got harder to keep in touch. The distance between us and our changing lives meant that we didn’t see each other as much, we didn’t talk as much. She got a new job, made some new friends, and started abusing drugs. Our middle sister moved down and was living with her at the time, but she didn’t notice the change in behavior. She didn’t see that our younger sister was struggling. She’d broken up with her long time boyfriend, she was sleeping all the time, staying up late, not paying her bills. She was a mess and I had no idea. Until her ex-boyfriend called me to tell me that she’d called him several times, threatening to kill herself.
I didn’t even know how to react to this news. Was she being dramatic? She has a tendency to be quite dramatic, and Sir often says he thinks it runs in the family. How could my beautiful, smart, happy sister get to this point? Why didn’t our other sister see the signs? Well, she had called me to tattle about late nights and cocaine binges, but I’d brushed the accusations aside, thinking she was just annoyed with her little sister. The signs were there, and we all just ignored them. We talked about them a little bit, but in the end, we just brushed them under the rug like that would make everything better. Like she would be better, but she wasn’t.
I hung up the phone with the ex-boyfriend and paused. My heart racing, my hands shaking. I called the middle sister. No answer. I called the little sister. No answer. I’m hundreds of miles away, and I’ve just gotten this terrible news and I feel helpless. I call my mom, trying to keep the tears out of my voice, trying to remain calm. I’m so glad she answered. She told me she was getting in the car right that minute to go get her. She told me to get someone over to her house, to get my little sister on the phone and keep her on the phone until she could get there. It takes four hours to get from my moms house to the city by the sea. I called everyone I could until on friend finally picked up, and I begged her to go knock on my sister’s door.
My friend called me back as soon as she got to the house, banged on the door, but no one came to the door. The dog was barking, I could hear my friend’s fist pounding ferociously. I’m holding my breath, trying not to completely break down, wondering if it’s too late. Wondering if I’ve sent my friend over to find a body. All of these terrible thoughts are spiraling though my head, when I hear a noise. It’s a croak really, and then I hear her voice. She says my name and it sounds like a question, and then we both just burst into tears. I’m sobbing uncontrollably. Why? Why? Why? I just can’t wrap my head around it. I need to know why she would want to do this, why she would do this to me, but she can’t tell me why. She can’t even really speak, she just cries and cries. I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!
My little sister calls me from her own phone so that my friend can leave. And we talk for hours, we cry. She tells me exactly how she’d planned to do it, down to every awful detail. Hearing her say these words feels like she’s ripped my heart in two with her own tiny hands. She tells me that she’s been doing cocaine every day, spending so much money that she couldn’t pay her bills. That she’d borrowed thousands of dollars from her ex-boyfriend, that she hid her drug use from him until he found out and left her. She tells me that she doesn’t want to live any more, that we’d all be better off if she were gone, that she can’t do it anymore. It’s hard for me to even get the words out of my mouth, it’s an odd statement for me to make because it seem so obvious to me. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I would be less if you weren’t here anymore. I can’t believe that she can’t see that, but I’ve learned when the dark hole of depression takes over, it isn’t always obvious how much value you have to the people who love you.
My mom finally sweeps in and takes everything into her highly capable hands, scooping up the dog and all of her necessary belongings and whisking her back home. My sister is enrolled in some kind of out patient drug counseling, therapy, and put on anti-depressants within a couple of days and it seems that she’s on the mend. Three weeks later, she and her dog move in with Sir and I in the mountains. I hover, I peek, I worry, I wonder if she’s sleeping too much. We talk a lot, hashing and rehashing over the small nuances of her feelings, of her depression, of her wish to end it all. I do the only thing I know to do and I feed her, keep her busy, make sure she’s getting exercise, make sure she’s getting outdoors. I see so much growth in just a few weeks, and I start to think that she’s going to be okay.
The truth is that she will be okay, but she will never be fixed. It’s not something that can be fixed like a leaky faucet. Her depression can only be managed. She had some really bad relapses, she got sad or angry and used cocaine as a crutch which sent her spiraling back into that black hole again. She called me though and told me. I went to her house to find her in bed crying, a heavy weight that couldn’t be moved. I forced her out of bed, dragged her, made her drink tea, fed her, and put shoes on her feet. I forced her out the front door and made her go on a hike with me, crying the whole time, sniffling snot, eyes red and puffy. I don’t think it helped, but I didn’t know what else to do. I still don’t know what to do.
It’s been almost three years since she threatened to kill herself, and her life has completely changed. She’s regularly taking her meds, she’s held onto a great job, she has a group of friends who are positive influences in her life, she’s going back to school for another degree. She still lives nearby but we don’t get to see each other as often as I would like. Our relationship isn’t the same as it was when we were younger, before the darkness changed her, but we still love each other fiercely.
I wanted to write this post to let anyone out there know, that no matter how bad it gets, no matter how dark you feel, that if you were gone, someone would miss you. Someone’s life would be less without you in it. You matter.