One of the most profoundly debilitating effects of losing a child to suicide are the feelings of guilt that parents are left with. No matter how many times we hear people tell us "It's not your fault", the feeling that we could have, would have, or should have done something differently is almost unavoidable. It eats into a parent's soul, an unrelenting source of pain. My own feelings of guilt have tormented me for years. The problem is that, unlike many forms of guilt which can be alleviated or even eliminated completely by making amends or fixing the problem that caused the feeling, death cannot be undone.
The problem has become not so much eliminating the guilt as learning to live with it. For me, the worst feelings arise if I think about how alone and scared my boy must have felt when he died. Dad's are supposed to be there to help if their child feels that way, aren't they? Even strangers will usually try to help if they know a child is scared or in danger, it's human nature to do so. That's one reason why I write this blog - to do what I can to help other parents and kids deal with bullying, and the helpless fear that killed my son. The guilt remains, but just knowing that I may have helped a kid stop the torment helps me as well.
"Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief." ~ C. S. Lewis
The battle to keep my emotions in check has been long, and continues every day, but it hasn't always been the same battle. My first emotion, after the initial traumatic grief faded, was anger. Terrifying (now that I look back at it, at least), overwhelming anger. Anger at the kids who tortured and humiliated Steven, anger at the school and with myself for failing to protect my boy, and anger at the world in general seemed to be all I could think about. I was not a pleasant person to be around, but what most people, including me, didn't realise was that the anger was hiding a deep and constant guilt. As long as I had someone or something to blame I didn't have to think about the guilt, or succumb to the depression it would later cause.
Eventually, I realized that anger and giving in to feelings of violence wouldn't help, and were only keeping me from moving on with life. That doesn't mean I was done fighting, but rather that I had a new enemy to contend with - my guilt. I couldn't simply walk away from it, or just decide to drop it, that's not possible for me. Life became a constant battle between my will to carry on, and the scheming demon waiting on my shoulder, whispering defeatist ideas in my ear. Clearly not a viable situation for my mental health. As my old friend Gus recently wrote, "When the weight of life pulls at you, it is easier to stand aside and wait for the calm to return. I believe that you must stand your ground and fight because in the end there's an undercurrent waiting that is threatening to knock you down again." My guilt is very much like that, and for a while at least it had the better of me, threatening to wear me down. Every time I let my guard down, there it was, prepared to send me into another round of debilitating depression.
So I continue to fight in the hope that I can eventually gain enough insight into my own feelings to learn to live with them; enough perspective to finally forgive myself for my self imposed punishment. Unfortunately, I'm currently working through a rather severe relapse and have had to take a break from much of my life, in order to work with a therapist and my doctor to sort it out. One positive result of this has been that it has given me a chance to write more, and writing is good therapy for me. I've tried many forms of self help and have yet to find one that really works. I tried hypnosis (I'm immune to the process, apparently!), cognitive behaviour therapy (too much like homework, and I'm prone to argument, even with myself), meditation (fell asleep...) and several others. I haven't given up, I'm convinced that somewhere in my brain is a mental pathway to enlightenment, and I'll find it. There are also ways to work things out that don't have a name; more personal ways to change that can sometimes come from surprising places. Usually the trick is to recognize them when I find them. In fact, in a way, you're helping me a little bit right now by reading this, so thanks for that.