A few months ago, I shared a very important piece of my life with you: My brother’s suicide. For those of you who may have missed that article, the short version is that, five years ago, my little brother killed himself, and I found him. What I endured that night changed me.
For the first year, I was fine. A few months after he died, I started college and excelled there. I committed to a happy, fun relationship with a man I thought I would love forever. I grew closer to my parents and friends. Admittedly, I was on such a high that first year that I actually felt guilty for not grieving harder. I thought I should be crying all the time, making sad posts, and going to a therapist, but I also believed that I was completely healthy because I felt okay at the time.
Then, I transferred schools. I moved to mid-sized city in southern Missouri and enrolled at a state university (which was quite a big jump from my hometown community college, might I add). Instead of living in a dorm on campus, I got my own place a few miles away. At first, I really enjoyed being on my own, but it didn’t take long for me to realize I had no idea what I was doing and that I missed home.
About three weeks after I moved there, the sadness began setting in. I felt miserable – empty, almost. My relationship with my boyfriend was suffering from the physical separation, as well as some other issues that had developed prior to the move. The stress from university combined with the anxiety that came with knowing the first anniversary of my brother’s death was approaching made me withdraw from the world. I intentionally avoided long phone calls with my parents out of fear that they would ask me if I was doing all right. Eventually, that exact scenario came to fruition, and my answer was simply, “Yeah, I’m fine.”
The truth is I was far from fine.
Two months into the semester, I began skipping classes. I chose not to participate in social events on campus. I stopped taking my friends’ phone calls. I quit exercising. I hid in my apartment and spent all my time binge watching Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix. I started eating more and sleeping less. I became dependent on caffeine to stay awake. I was really spiraling downhill at an alarmingly fast rate, and I felt like I was losing control. My quality of life was deteriorating rapidly, so I continued on with my newly formed habits and tried not to think about all the damage I was doing to my body and my mind. I attempted to live in blissful ignorance, pretending that I was not internally drowning.
Everything changed one night when I woke up around 4:00 AM in a panic. I had fallen asleep and quickly drifted into a nightmare about my brother – my first one in a year. In my dream, my brother was pacing back and forth across the house holding a gun in his hand. It seemed as if he was contemplating whether he should take his own life. He was crying, but he was also angry. He walked so aggressively across the living room that it seemed as if he didn’t realize I was watching him. Then, suddenly, he turned in my direction and glared at me. With rage in his eyes, he said, “YOU! You let me do this, Krystia! You let me kill myself! I hate you!” He put the gun to his head in front of me and pulled the trigger. I heard the noise and closed my eyes. Then, I woke up screaming, “No, Dominik, no! I’m sorry! No! Please don’t do this!” Haunting, right? Unfortunately, that was only the beginning.
Although I went home to visit my parents and boyfriend nearly every weekend that semester, I was somehow able to successfully hide all of these episodes from them. I was scared that they would think I was losing it and would force me to come home from school permanently. So, instead, I played it cool and kept everything under wraps for as long as I could.
I eventually moved back home, transferring schools again. Doing that helped ease some of my stress and anxiety, since it allowed me to be in close proximity with my family, friends, and boyfriend at all times. After the move, the night terrors subsided for a while, but I couldn’t stop thinking about them and worrying when I would experience another one.
My constant state of worry led me to talk to my boyfriend about what was going on. Getting it off my chest felt good, and I believe it was an important first step to admitting something was very wrong. However, talking about the night terrors didn’t make them go away. When I was under a lot of stress, they popped right back up, and my bad mood reflected my lack of sleep and heightened frustration. This wicked cycle didn’t take long to affect my relationships and peace of mind, and it made me feel completely helpless. Just like that, I had become depressed, and it was blatantly obvious to everyone around me.
For a while, I sulked in my misery, but even that was exhausting. Realizing that I couldn’t go on like that forever, I started changing my habits. I began eating healthier, exercising, and getting more sleep. I attended all of my classes, put more effort into fixing my broken and damaged relationships, and I started loving myself more and doing more things that made me feel happy.
It took a little bit of time and a lot of intentional effort, but I finally started seeing the light again after years of suffering (mostly) in silence. What a rewarding outcome.
I still have the night terrors occasionally, but they’re pretty rare these days. Usually, they come when I am stressed or anxious, severely sleep deprived, or when I stay overnight in an unfamiliar place. But, that’s okay. They’re part of who I am, and I am not ashamed of that.
As I have worked diligently to recover from this bout of darkness in my life, I have realized that it has affected me in both positive and negative ways. First, trust isn’t my forte. I don’t usually express my deepest feelings – especially regarding Dominik’s death – with people to whom I am not close. Although I can discuss the incident without a problem, I usually don’t open up about my feelings on the situation. Apparently, people (men I date) notice that, and they often confront my offish behavior with one of these infamous statements: “You always have your guard up,” or, “It’s okay to talk about how you feel,” or, “You can open up to me. Just relax.” (Insert eye roll here). In all fairness, I know they aren’t really wrong. My guard is always up, but isn’t that kind of warranted? I mean, I don’t really care to dump all of my feelings onto others and burden them with the task of helping me sort through my childhood trauma, and I definitely don’t want to be vulnerable with people who aren’t equipped to handle this kind of emotional baggage…can you blame me?
Secondly, I suck at admitting when I am overwhelmed and need a bit of guidance. Although I have become better at this, it is an ongoing process for me. I am so used to being the strong one among my family and friends that I never really admit when I can’t handle something. I look at every adverse situation as a potential challenge that I get to overcome. It wasn’t until recently – the past year or so – that I even became able to fully recognize my inability to ask for assistance from other people. Fortunately, changing my ways has allowed me to strengthen my relationships with my parents and closest friends, and it has also helped me become more self-aware in all aspects of my life. I don’t want to be closed off to everyone, nor do I want to be too prideful to rely on others when I actually need them. That’s just not healthy.
All of my personal growth aside, the main message I want to leave you with is that it is okay to not be okay, and it is also okay to admit when you need help. Had my brother had the same perspective, perhaps I wouldn’t even be writing about this now. However, sometimes the best lessons come from the worst circumstances, and this one is a perfect example of that.