My beloved daughter Priya was lost to suicide on January 10, 2016 during her 4th suicide attempt. Priya was a beautiful girl – a quiet, introverted, brilliant and dignified child, who excelled in whatever activity she participated in. The anxiety was always there but I never knew of it.
She was bullied in school but hid it from me. When she was 15, she told me that she had OCD. My response was “you have too much time on your hands disorder.” At the time, I didn’t realize the seriousness of it.
One day in early 2009, she told me she felt hopeless, so I took her to a psychiatrist who prescribed an antidepressant. But two weeks later Priya had her first overdose.
She was taken to the emergency room and the doctor asked if she would do it again. She said “yes.” There was no bed available and after a 3-day stay, she was handcuffed and driven to Greensboro in a police car and spent 5 days in a psych hospital. I think that experience taught her not to tell the truth about how she was feeling.
After her high school graduation, she seemed to be doing better – she was in therapy and was actively involved with activities at Carolina. We thought all was ok because she never shared the darker aspects (physical and sexual assault) with us.
In February 2013 she had her 2nd overdose. This time, she agreed to voluntarily go to the psych ward. After graduation, she joined AmeriCorps in Raleigh, but 3 days after successfully graduating from that program, she had her 3rd overdose. That was when I realized that I was not going to be able to save her from herself.
Priya was able to convince everyone that she wouldn’t try to take her life again and went off to join another AmeriCorps program in Georgia. In December 2015, she came home for a week but was drained, tired and didn’t speak much. 10 days later we found out that she was missing – then I got a call from the forensic lead that she had my daughter.
Nothing in life prepares you for hearing this news – even though she had 3 prior attempts and survived them. We were numb with shock… I had said goodbye to a beautiful 24-year-old precious girl and her ashes came home in a small pink box a few days later.
I questioned my worth as a mother: What good am I if I could not help my child? Why didn’t I fight harder? How could I not know she was this sick? I remember screaming at her picture – why did you choose me to be your mother? I obviously did not protect you. Why, why, why?
I wish there was a checklist of things to do when a loved one tells you that they are mentally ill so I would know what the “steps are” and she would still be alive – maybe. Sadly, I never knew about any local resources that would have helped me help her better.
Now almost 4 years later, after attending support group meetings, walking and talking with other parents that have lost their beloved kids to this horrible disease, and reading any book/articles that I thought might help me better understand how to survive our loss, I know that she died in spite of all that we did to try and help her.
Priya had this to say about mental illness (in November 2014):
“Mental illness is difficult because it’s like fighting a battle that your mind convinces you is not actually happening. It is an invisible disease compounded by stigma and ignorance on a global level. This pushes people into dark places of shame and silence. When you get a broken leg or you have diabetes, you see a doctor and sometimes you take medication. Whatever it takes to get better. When you have cancer, people grant you wishes and bring you dinner. They celebrate your little victories. People facing suicidal depression or bipolar disorder or anxiety deserve to navigate their illnesses with the same support, understanding and care.”
I still miss her – I know that I will always be Priya’s mom and that she will always be part of me. I will spend the rest of my days honoring her fight so other families don’t lose their loved ones to this horrible disease. I share her story by attending support groups, participating in walks like the Walk for Hope, and doing all I can to help increase awareness and decrease the stigma so people like Priya facing suicidal depression or other mental illness have all they need to not only navigate their illness with support, understanding and care but to also live a life devoid of shame and fear and hopelessness.