Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tears on my laptop

On Fridays, I work at home. This past Friday, I fired up my virtual connection to the office, opened up my work email and learned that a coworker had died. The email had been sent on Thursday after I left, and immediately, I called in to try to learn what had happened. Suicide. It goes without saying that the day went downhill from there. I spent the remainder of the work day in a mental fog, crying intermittently as I tried to write. When I wasn't crying, or reading the email traffic about the availability of EAP counselors and the all-hands meeting for my office, I was on the phone with people from the office trying to make sense of what had happened.

There's no way that Jane's (not her real name) death makes sense to me even now, and at present, I'm mad at her. When I'm not crying, that is. And I'm spending a lot of this weekend doing just that. I've known other people who've committed suicide, but I was closer to this woman than I was to those people. I can't say that we were close friends, but we were friends and had been colleagues for nearly six years (I was hired at my current job in July 2002). Jane was actually one of my peer-interviewers when I applied for my job, and perhaps one of the reasons I accepted the job when offered. And Jane and I shared some important commonalities. We both struggled with depression, and we both battled eating and weight issues. It's the commonalities that make her self-induced death harder to accept, and like a lot of those left behind in any suicide, I wonder what might have prevented it.

A couple of people I know have told me not to think this way. One told me that Jane's passing was her choice and I couldn't have done anything to stop it. The first part is definitely true, and I suppose that a person absolutely set on ending her life would be pretty much impossible to stop.

The second friend, a colleague, told me that I shouldn't be angry, that I should understand why she did it because I too suffer from depression. That doesn't work for me. Even in the worst of my own depression, and I've had bouts of it since college, I've never been suicidal. Sure, I had some minor suicidal ideation in my mid-twenties, but it was mainly drama queen stuff in response to a job that was harder than anything I've dealt with in my life, and frankly, for which I was emotionally unsuited.

That pain was pretty bad, but it did end, by the way. My employer soon realized I was unsuited, too, and terminated me. Looking back, that was a humane act because it caused me to leave a career that would have been soul-crushing and strike out for something better. It took several years, but the road eventually led to law school. That was probably the road I should have taken in the first place, though at the time, I was probably too immature and perfectionistic to have survived law school.

Since that time, I've had ups and downs. My bouts of depression have mainly involved extreme lethargy, overeating, weight gain, poor sleep hygiene, a messy house, crabbiness, and tearfulness, but not losing my will to live or purposefully trying to die. I know my strong religious convictions have played a part in this, but beyond that, killing myself just doesn't compute. At some point (in my late 20's or early 30's), I realized that things usually do get better if you give them time. I've never gotten so deeply mired in depression that I haven't found something good to hold onto ... a hug from a friend, a call from a family member, an unexpected check in the mail. I don't know what it's like to lose all hope. I'm surprised that Jane did know that.

I'm not just saying this because she's dead, but Jane was a terrific woman through and through. She was unfailingly kind, endlessly caring, utterly decent, and a damn fine lawyer, too. Jane was the type who'd organize the office baby showers, retirement parties and welcome receptions for new employees. I'd worked closely with her last fall on our agency's Unity Day observance, which is an annual celebration our varied personal histories and origins. Jane always had a kind word and a good suggestion for resolving the sticky legal problem currently on my desk. Beyond my individual sorrow, Jane's death is a huge loss for our agency. And it begs the question: Did she even know how much we all loved her? I suspect she did, but the depression monster was stronger than that love.

Despite my anger about the emotional chaos her passing creates for us all, I pray she's found the peace she was seeking. Requiescat in pace, dear friend.

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Anonymous said...

Oh Edie, I am so very sorry that your coworker chose this method of resolving her pain. She probably had no idea how much it would hurt her friends and coworkers. She can't tell anyone why, and that disconnection along with the terrible loss is often why those she left behind become angry. And anger is quite reasonable - she essentially abandoned everyone as well.
I wish you wellness and eventual acceptance of Jane's decision - though it may be considerable time before that acceptance is possible.
My thoughts are with you.

Anne Hendrix said...

I am so sorry for you and your colleagues in the loss of you friend. I am praying for all of you to feel God's comfort and peace.

Anonymous said...

Please accept my thoughts and prayers for you during this sad time.

I found you through Therese Borchard's Beyond Blue blog, and felt an immediate connection with you because I worked for lawyers most of my career. Peg in Denver