by Sheila Hamilton
I missed much of the unfolding of my husband’s mental illness. By the time I’d pieced together the puzzle of who David actually was, he was falling apart. My once brilliant, intense, and passionate partner was dead within six weeks of a formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder, leaving my nine-year-old daughter and me without so much as a note to understand his decision. He’d left us hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and with no plan for helping us recover from the profound grief of his suicide.
On this Father’s Day, when I celebrate David’s unique and brilliant life, when I mourn the loss of his warmth in my daughter’s life, I remember the David I fell in love with, the sparkling, super-intellectual, blue-eyed beauty whose fire burned too bright.
When people ask me what happened to Sophie’s dad, I explain he likely suffered from “too much bandwidth.” David understood too much. He saw and heard too much. He had enormous intellectual capacity and had suffered several brutal, early traumas. He refused to share his concern about his brain functioning because mental illness was viewed as a weakness in his family, a moral failing of sorts.
I miss him. Horribly. Every day.
Mental illness, unlike breast cancer, isn’t celebrated with big marches or pink ribbons. The stigma is stifling, and it prevents most people from seeking help. David refused to accept the label of bipolar disorder. He could not imagine a life of medications and therapy, which had helped him so little. David’s path is not unique. Suicide is now the ninth most common cause of death for men and women. This year, America reached an embarrassing new milestone. Our suicide rate is the highest it has been in the past thirty years.
For suicide loss survivors, the questions are the same ones I focus on as a reporter. Who, what, where, when, but mostly, why? We are at a loss to understand our loved one’s decision to die of their own volition. But, I’ve learned some things about suicide that have helped me understand this: people may die by suicide, but they die OF mental illness.