Since Alana Concetta’s death, I’ve felt unable to write. Yet life reminds me in so many ways that she wanted me to write. She encouraged me to write about her battles with mental illness and how I coped. She thought I could be a voice of hope in a world where too many parents ignore their child’s mental illness because they think it’s a reflection on their parenting.
She wrote “The stigma of mental illness is alive and well.”
But I have resisted writing and this resistance has made my grief even worse. Writing about my feelings helps me acknowledge and process them. Keeping them inside has made me feel like the proverbial elephant sitting on my chest.
It’s hard to breathe.
I keep them inside for fear my feelings will be used against me and used against Alana. But as the months pass, I keep going back to the fact that I raised my children in a family of secrets, of things we didn’t say and things we didn’t acknowledge. I took Nora Ephron’s advice late in life to “be the heroine in your story, not the victim.”
I left my marriage and New Hampshire after my ex husband kicked the kitchen island down and pinned me to a wall and told me I should consider myself lucky he took his anger out on the kitchen island rather than my face.
I decided I no longer wanted to be a victim.
But still I find myself eating my feelings and swallowing my words. I fear what my divorce lawyer might say when we end up in court again because my ex intends to drag this out until there is nothing left to fight over. I worry that my words will be used against me when Alana’s boyfriend finally goes to trial for her death. I ache at the thought I will hurt my remaining daughter with my words.
But I can’t keep it inside any longer.
Depression is a medical disease with a high mortality rate. Being hospitalized for depression is like being in an Intensive care unit as the person’s life hangs in the balance. These are the words Alana Concetta‘s psychiatrist at the Brattleboro Retreat told me and listening to these words gave me two more years with her.
I wish I could have had another fifty.
Instead she is dead and I don’t know how and I have accepted I never will. Two medical examiners have weighed in, both admit she was beaten, strangled, and had a lethal dose of heroin in her system. One states she died of strangulation, the other a heroin overdose.
Where the heroin came from is anyone’s guess.
The day she died, I went to her boyfriend’s house, at his request, to pick her up. She was face down on the floor, her dog, Baxter, next to her. She was the last person I performed CPR on.
The part I struggle with is that we were working so hard on her mental illness. Taking classes with NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill). Understanding that her unreliability was a symptom of her illness rather than a lack of consideration. Figuring out that her reluctance to make plans wasn’t flakiness but rather an acknowledgement on her part that sometimes she didn’t know from day to day whether she could get out of bed and participate.
I understand all of that now.
Since my daughter’s death, depression is my constant companion. Anxiety and stress visit on a regular basis. I never know when something will trigger me to tears or despair.
My mental health is dependent on medications, exercise, yoga, and keeping busy.
See, if you keep busy it is harder to dwell on the pain.
Since Alana’s death I feel her pain. I feel the strength it takes to get out of bed each day and go on with my life. I understand how hard life was for her.
She was so much stronger than any of us gave her credit for her.
And so I will try to write to honor her and her struggles. Try to feel my feelings and speak my words. Let people know that having a child with mental illness isn’t something to be covered up and ignored.
It’s the least I can do.