Posted by: Jack Hope | Wednesday June 6, 2012

Happy Anniversary

Dear Terry,

Today is the third anniversary of the last time I saw you.  For me, this should be a sad day and yet it isn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, I miss you terribly.  I wonder how you are doing, I wonder what is happening in your life, I hope you’re well.  I miss the sound of your voice and your laugh.  I miss your insight and wit.  I miss the things that frustrated me about you.  I feel very sad that you’re not currently a part of my life.  It breaks my heart.  I miss you so very much, today more than most.

And yet, I cannot feel all that sad about this day specifically.  I think it’s because the last time I saw you, you looked so radiant, so happy, so amazing.  You were at 120% Terry, everything that is good and wonderful about you shining through.  It’s hard to feel sad when I think of you that way.  I can’t feel sad about having that wonderful memory of you.

This anniversary also closely corresponds with the anniversary of the death of my Uncle.  He passed away just days before that last time I saw you and that’s also something that I feel sad about, although in the end his actual passing was a relief, an end to his pain.  He had suffered so much from his illness over that last year and the end had been inevitable for some time.

In many ways that was the start of my own journey.

My Uncle is one of the silent victims of mental illness.  All the signs were there, but ignorance kept us from acting on it.  Even I had my own battles previously but not on the scale of what I’ve gone through since then.  He suffered for years, alone, when it was completely unnecessary.  It may have been cancer that killed him, but I am certain that Depression is what took his life.

His passing and our last time together seem to stand out as a turning point for me.  Not long afterwards I would begin my own descent into my last major episode (my recent relapse has not crossed over into ‘major’ territory yet) which would so radically re-shape my life and my perspective.  My previous struggles, as bad as they were, did not prepare me for what was to come.  Despite everything I had gone through, I was unwilling to accept that I had a major, indeed life threatening, illness.

My family is now trying to act out the lessons learned from my Uncle’s struggles to save me from the same fate.  I am desperately trying to save myself from the same fate.

In many ways my Uncle and I are alike.  He never married and struggled with relationships, he was often socially awkward, conditions that I can relate to in spades.  We both were fascinated by science and loved science fiction.  He had a passion for travel that was echoed in my life and my sister’s life.  I think both of us were inspired by his travels to the South Pacific and New Zealand.  From an early age we were both aware of how big the world was and what amazing things could be found beyond our backyards and that led to both of us living abroad for a number of years.

He left a legacy for me that has urged me to see beyond the next horizons and encouraged me to explore the possibilities of life.  But I wonder if I will be strong enough to really embrace it, to take the lessons of his life, good and bad, and apply them to myself.

I do know this though: he never gave up.  People think that those with of us with Depression “quit” our lives because we can become withdrawn and isolated.  They don’t understand how hard it can be for us to push on with even the ordinary things and that sometimes, we just can’t.

Any person battling depression, everyday that they just keep living and breathing shows that they haven’t given up yet.  I would learn that later when I came so perilously close to truly giving up.  It may not seem like much, but sometimes, just making it to the next moment is a victory.   Now that I know what kind of pain he must have endured, without the tools or support that I have had, I know that he held on and no matter how much it may have looked like it to the outside world, he never gave up on life.

My last memory of Uncle stands out in sharp contrast to the sadness I feel from his absence in my life.  I can still remember helping him up the stairs the night before with my Dad and saying good night to him.  He died at home and with his family, in his sleep.  Given the hard life he had, a peaceful passing was a gift, and I do not feel sad about that, much as I do miss him.  I cannot feel sad about the way he died.

I can only hope that I will be nearly as fortunate in that regard when it comes time for me to exit planet Earth.

Given my own recent struggles with the healthcare bureaucracy and its machinations, I cannot help but draw comparisons between his experience and mine.  During his treatment for cancer, my Uncle received excellent and prompt care, covering a wide gamut of services.  When it appeared that conventional treatment would not help him, he was enrolled for the experimental treatments that were available.  When those couldn’t help, he was moved rapidly to palliative and maintenance care.  He had a regular home care nurse, who was even kind enough to come out and see to our needs the morning we found his body.  All of this enabled my Uncle to develop and maintain a good quality of life during his years in treatment and among other things, enabled him to be at home when he passed.

When I compare that to the nine month waiting list I am on and the fact that my Uncle was never even screened for mental illness I feel a white-hot rage at the injustice of it.  This illness has taken years off my life and brought me a lot closer to dying than I ever thought possible.  It robbed my Uncle of years and happiness, the things that make life worth living.  I cannot even begin to describe the sense of rage I feel.

Anger can be a spark that can light a fire.  That fire can be rage or hatred or violence.  But it can also light the fires of passion and drive to change things.  The choice is in my hands.

I just have to find a way to do it.  I just have to keep going, even if that comes down to just making it through moment by moment.  And I can draw strength from happy memories even when I miss the people they surround so very much.

My love to you always,

Jack

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