If you are thinking about suicide and have a plan, please call or write: (800) 273-8255 www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
The first time someone made me feel totally loved – no strings attached, no parenting obligations, just completely cherished – was after all the rigmarole I went through to finally “land” Derick as my boyfriend. It was 1991 and I was sixteen years old. Derek was an older man of nineteen. You might say that was scandalous unless you knew Derek.
He was sweet – so sweet. And gentle. Kind of a buck of a man: strong, yet skittish. He seemed afraid of most people and the ideas in his head unless he was on his skateboard. There, he was fearless. He would take down that vertical ramp like it was nobody’s business and then he would have a beer with the other young men who were also defying their deaths. I thought he was beautiful. Tall, longish dark hair, and a muscular build kept me staring from the picnic table adjacent to the ramp. I had sat and made myself a skater betty on that bench months earlier. Derek would eventually teach me how to skate better. He was the most patient teacher imaginable, but he could never get me to ride down that vertical. But skating wasn’t what I had on my mind in those days. He was.
Derek was my first real boyfriend. My father loved him, I think, like a son. I loved him with the madness and abandon of first love. My relatives loved him. If the truth is to be told: everybody loved Derek. I knew him for a year and never heard him mention an adversary. However, what made the most impact on my sixteen year-old mind was the way he loved me.
We spent as much time together as possible, wandering the OSU campus, looking for warm and sheltered spots to cuddle and smoke our cigarettes. I was still in high school, so I would hurry over to his economy apartment as soon as my day was done so we could watch re-runs of M*A*S*H and Cheers while reclining on his bed. Sometimes we lapsed into a round of awkward lovemaking, but that wasn’t much of the focus of our relationship. As it turned out, what illustrated the Erin/Derek combination better than anything was our absolute devotion to one another (or in our case, codependence).
Most of the time, we indulged in marijuana, but not alcohol, because we were both still too young. Sometimes we would have a friend buy us liquor, but Derek didn’t enjoy it like I did, so there weren’t very many times of drinking. One time, his much older brother brought us some cocaine. I guess Derek had done it with him before and didn’t like it much. I tried it, so he did some with me. We ended up staring at one another all night and it wasn’t that fun. There were definitely drugs involved in my relationship with Derek, but I’d bet everything I have on the fact that drugs and alcohol are not the reason for this story.
Some doctors say that you don’t develop bipolar disorder until your late teens and twenties. Looking back, I would say I came down with it around twelve years-old – right after my mother left. It was hard to pinpoint the mania, because mostly you just feel good, but the depression was brutal. I was feeling this when I started to notice changes in Derek’s behavior. He wasn’t up for going for walks with me or playing around while I learned to skate. He never wanted my best friend to come around. He just said he wasn’t in the mood to see people. I would come over after school and he’d be in bed. I knew what I was looking at. After all, I was depressed too.
I decided to take action. I consulted some teachers and counselors at my school that may have some ideas about relieving depression. I emptied “I’m O.K., You’re O.K”, “Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy”, and “Codependent No More” on top of Derek’s prone body. “Please read these, Sweetie,” I would say. He wouldn’t. I would come over again and get in bed with him, trying to sweet talk him into coming to my house for dinner. He wouldn’t want to. I knew I was losing him to the same thing I was losing myself to. I was scared. I wanted out of the depression that clouded me.
My doctors didn’t know at the time that I was having some manic episodes as well, so my diagnosis was depression only. I was given antidepressants alone, which made me very, very unstable. During the next six months while I nursed Derek’s depression and then my own, I became tired and crazy. I worked at an optical store and one day my dad came in to see me. I probably looked like crap, because he didn’t question anything I had to say. I told him I’d been using a lot of marijuana and that I wanted to go to rehab. He said “O.K.” and I went to treatment for a month.
It was wonderful. It was the first time I had been given permission to whole-heartedly look at what made me who I was. I read books and watched seminars. I was happy because now I would have the tools to help Derek and we could live happily ever after.
But a month later, very little had changed and that was only for the worse. Derek was now nursing a broken collar bone (yes, from the vert ramp) and his morale was terrible. I don’t remember being savvy enough about these things to ask him if he had medical insurance. I’m sure not. His parents weren’t the real protecting types. Either way, I know Derek never sought psychiatric help, which might have changed his story.
I’ll never feel right about this, but I had to start keeping my distance from my loved one. He was beginning to be so negative in his thoughts. He was not the strong buck I once knew. I had tried to help him: talk to him, read to him, laugh with him, but nothing worked – he was slipping fast into clinical depression. I loved him so much, but I had to finish high school and attend to my employment before I could nurse him back to health. The decision to stay away more often was like a dagger in my ribs. It hurt, but I felt I had no choice. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to be around his attitude when I was working so hard on mine.
One night I went to coffee with some friends and came home around 9:30 p.m. Derek had been trying to reach me on the phone, so I called him back. He was drunk, which was highly unusual, but even more unusual was how obnoxious he was being. I told him that I didn’t want to talk to him when he was drunk, so I suggested we try again tomorrow. He said, “There may not be a tomorrow”.
There are so many things I could have said at that moment. I don’t know what they would have been. I was so over the struggle of keeping him alive even though I couldn’t make him happy. I could have sang “Happy Birthday” or just made idle chitchat. I could have said anything. Anything but what I did say: “Then that just might have to be”.
I’m ashamed to say that I waited two full days to check on him. I called the police and met my dad at his parent’s house (they were out of town and Derek was staying there). He had shot himself and died, presumably after I hung up the phone that night.
I still love you, Derek. 24 years later I am crying as I write this. I miss you. I’m so sorry.
Sometime later, I was reminded of a middle school class where the teacher told a story similar to this one. I remember thinking, “If that happened to me, I would kill myself too”. I wasn’t far off. I’ve been dealing with suicidal thoughts since Derek’s passing.
But there’s hope. I am not suicidal, at this time I just understand suicidal thinking really, really well. I know of more things than sad stories like this one. You can consider me a friend as we wade through our suicidal thoughts together.