Recently, out of the blue, I found myself writing about my sister Lucy. Again. As always. I’ll never stop. Having spent the last 31 years reflecting on her suicide and the suffering that led to it, I write because I miss her and I want to make her real. I write because I want to understand what happened, forever grappling with the complexities and outright horrors of her experience with psychiatry.
I write because I grieve—still—and because the urge to share this grief with others is so profoundly human, bringing us together in spaces real and virtual as we tell our own stories and those of people we love.
Few comprehend this better than members of the Mad in the Family community, so many of whom are helping loved ones in the midst of their own struggles with psychiatry. This urge to share, to make real, to make known, is foundational to both Mad in America’s platform for personal stories and its parent support groups, which provide online gathering places for family members in the United States, Canada, and Europe. It’s also foundational to other, like-minded support groups—including the freshly reactivated Family Alliance for Humane Mental Health Care Advocacy and Activism. (For information, email [email protected].)
It can be nerve-wracking to do this, peeling back layers of skin and revealing to others exactly where you hurt. At the same time, it helps us heal: By speaking out, reaching others, and listening to what they say. It’s helped me heal, incrementally, on the journeys since Lucy’s suicide and then my husband’s in 2011. I’ve received so many emails and messages, over the years, from those in the grips of suicidality or in mourning over someone who was. Such missives are extraordinarily heartbreaking to read. But at the same time, they make the world a little smaller, just as support groups make the world a little smaller.
Working for MIA these past few years, the world has continued to shrink—or grown, depending on how you frame it. I’ve pondered my sister’s life and death again and again, seeing so many parallels with those who share their stories here. After becoming family editor in March, I’ve observed similar parallels with the family members and caregivers who strive to help their dear ones just as I strove to help Lucy, whose death followed a long, agonizing ordeal of endless misdiagnoses, more than a dozen hospitalizations, and a never-ending stream of drugs.
I describe all this in my new blog post, dwelling on the fact that not much has changed over the past few decades—neither the dehumanization of those in psychiatric care nor the frustration of loved ones by their sides. I also describe a bonkers little novel I’ve been writing in which I track Lucy down in heaven and try to bring her back: Yet another way for me to share her story, and my own. Yet another stab at trying to make sense of all that happened to her.
We all carry burdens in this life, most of them invisible to others, and we all do our best to understand them. The DSM-5 might instruct us that grief should be linear and tidy, tied up in a bundle after a year. But anyone who’s loved and lost someone in distress knows that isn’t true. They know that processing their death, and all that came before it, is a lifelong proposition.
The responses to my piece about Lucy have been profoundly compassionate and affirming. Each time I tell her story—and each time I write about my husband—I feel a power of connection and support that carries me through. Even if I can’t see the faces or hear the voices of those emailing me, messaging me, commenting on the story with empathy and affirmation, and embracing me through the ether, I feel a little less alone. I feel a little more seen and heard. I feel a little more supported. And I feel my absent loved ones, too, are a little more present and known. This means everything to me.
Thank you for letting me share.
—Amy Biancolli, Family Editor
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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
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