María Robertson Justiniano by El Claroscuro Fotografía y Vídeo

To the Survivors

Survivors of Suicide

September is suicide prevention month. 5 years ago, I didn’t know that. Unfortunately, Lucas and I became “survivors” on April 7th, 2018. Now, I not only know that September is suicide prevention month, but I know what it means to be a survivor. The trauma left for the members of a family that survives a suicide is painfully etched in the body. It stays in the body and either you deliberately and actively do things to work through the trauma or it wreaks havoc on your system (my hair fell out for example and is still falling out). It manifests in various unhealthy ways. I have always been extremely active; however, after Ale, the physical work required so that I could function initially was overwhelming.

Trauma shuts down your brain

My trauma took part of my brain and shut it down. In retrospect it was a way of protecting me from something much too horrible to interpret. I needed time to process that day; if I looked at it all at once it could potentially harm me. The brain shuts down in order to protect by denying access to that which is too painful to process. On one hand the partial shut down and the shock was welcome to protect me and keep me safe in my bubble.

However, eventually the system must function at full capacity and when the brain starts allowing you to feel again the protective bubble bursts and you are left feeling extreme pain. That is why the second year is often the worst time for survivors. I remember the second year of grief being the most painful and devastating. I had to face the raw facts without the protective cushion of the shock bubble that kept me safe from feeling anything.

Dangerous moments for survivors

The moment when the shock fades and survivors are faced with the brutal reality of the truth is when they are most vulnerable. Some turn to alcohol and drugs; they use destructive behaviours in order to mitigate the pain of the loss that is unbearable. Exercise became my addiction of choice. I workout to not feel. I put myself through hours of exercise a day in order to just feel right. Slamming the medicine ball 100 times against the gym floor was never enough to rid myself of the anger and pain ( yes, at first there was anger, a lot of anger).

As a result of needing to do this trauma work, I could barely function in my job. The trauma leaves confusion and brain fog ( I didn’t know that at first). It was devastating to not be able to focus long enough to read a newspaper article. I have a doctorate in Spanish Golden Age literature and I could not read the newspaper.

Loss of brain function

As a result, I couldn’t properly perform my duties as a professor. I had to take a leave from my job and thankfully I worked at a place that not only supported my leave emotionally, but financially. Being a survivor comes with an entire host of difficulties. All of the sudden I was a single mother who couldn’t function. The devastating and lasting effects of trauma caused by suicide for the survivors are rarely addressed. We must start talking about them because the survivors are also at risk for self harm.

Stop the Stigma

As painful as this process is for me personally to relive the events of Ale’s passing, I speak and I will shout if it means breaking the silence of the stigma and saving a life. On April 7th, 2018 I became a survivor of suicide (since that day I have met many); I never wanted nor anticipated being a survivor of suicide. Now that I have become a member of this “club,” I want to tell my story, say it out loud and even shout it in the hope of healing myself and other survivors. Unfortunately, we are a big group. Each day, every single day, many members are added. Let’s work together to diminish those numbers.

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