Three years and two months after Harry’s death, I decided it was time for me to tackle the final box of Harry-related stuff. Amongst all of the stuff, I found a list Harry had written and it broke my heart all over again.
Over the years I’ve come to know what depression feels like. Situational depression after my mother was killed in a hit and run when I was 16, when I was all but broken in a very unhappy marriage and now, working through what life feels like since the loss of my beautiful boy to suicide. They sap my soul, these dark and lonely feelings. I have dreadful insomnia. I struggle to get out of bed and I get lost in the heartache. I contemplate what life could look like if I had been the one to leave. But through it all, I fight and keep walking forward , even though at times the ground beneath my feet feels like shards of glass. I keep moving forward.
The depression my son struggled with was on a completely different scale, one I struggled to comprehend. I wanted desperately to fix him, to pull the confident, clever, charismatic Harry I knew back up and out of the dense, black cloud that engulfed him. I tried too hard at this. I reminded him constantly it was OK. I asked him to just be Harry. I hugged him, I told him I loved him, I cried with him. And my heart broke, each time I recognized all my efforts were skittering off the edges of the darkness that consumed him.
One of the most heartbreaking moments I remember with Harry was sitting with him on the back doorstep. He was outside smoking, his lanky body slumped forward, elbows on knees, wracked with sobs. Gut wrenching sobs, with tears and snot leaking from his face, splotching on the ground in front of him. He was drawing lines in the dirt for me, to explain how he felt. This was normal for us. Below the line was how he felt when he attempted suicide and right now, he was below that mark. The medication he had been prescribed wasn’t working. It was slowing his mind, making him sluggish. He saw no way out of the blackness. And I sat there hopelessly, watching the depths of his despair, letting him know I too had been depressed and everything has a season and there would be sunlight again. And my words pinged off his despair and disappeared into the atmosphere, swirling around with his cigarette smoke.
The list I found today, written by Harry as he struggled with his illness, draws a picture of what depression looked like for him:
• Can’t concentrate
• Never have any energy
• Nothing I can do to make my head better
• I’m becoming more of a burden to Mum
• I sleep far too much or far too little
• I have no purpose, I feel worthless
• I derive no pleasure from dancing or friends
• I’m indecisive and f*cking hate it
• I forget what I’m saying half way through a sentence
• I’m drinking too much
• I’m smoking to try to regulate my mood rather than for enjoyment
• The pills aren’t f*cking working
• I’m a hopeless wreck
• I’m never hungry
• I don’t like being so skinny
• No one can understand my head – so how do I fit in?
• I get agitated and annoyed at the stupidest shit
• There’s nothing to look forward to
I’m not sure what I would have done with the list if Harry had shown it to me while he was still living. At the time, I felt so utterly hopeless, I couldn’t understand what was happening to my boy, why it was happening. I was beyond distressed seeing him in so much pain. I suppose my catch phrase at the time would still have prevailed, much as I knew he hated it: “It is OK just to be Harry.” Whatever version of Harry was present in any given day was OK with me, because nothing is permanent in life. As black and as ugly and as deep as Harry’s hole was, it wasn’t meant to be forever. There would have been sunlight again, if he had just managed to hold on a little longer. The warmth of love and sunlight would have seeped through. It would have.
My skinny wee boy had a challenging, exciting fulfilling life to lead. The world lost the massive potential that was Harry when my heart was broken. Depression is an utterly devastating illness. It is not a weakness. There was nothing weak in the way my son fought the blackness inside of his head and tried to rationalize it with his list. He knew full well what he had lost and he was as devastated and heartbroken as I am now.
My picture of depression will always remain with me: Harry slumped over and broken. There was no weakness in his collapse, no blame, no stigma. My boy was simply exhausted from the battle waging inside of him. Every time I sit on my doorstep now I remember Harry, in the fight of his life. How he opened my eyes to a pain beyond all measure. How he has reminded me, every day since he left, that love is also immeasurable, that love can be felt beyond the grave, that love does have the power to conquer darkness, if we can just hold on a little longer. Love never dies, sunshine boy. Love never dies.