I stood in our backyard, looking up at the trees. It was a beautiful morning - the first of May. I could hear birds singing and feel a warm breeze rustle through the newly-blossomed leaves. Outside the world looked perfect - there was not a cloud in the sky.
The natural beauty struck me as eerie and out-of-place. I experienced it in high definition - the chirping was too loud, the sun was too blinding, the temperature too warm. I stood, rooted to the same spot, staring at the same trees, as I waited, alone, for the ambulance. I was thirteen years old.
My mom was in the basement with my father, who had just died by suicide. I had been the first to find him that morning, only 20 minutes earlier. My little sister was in the living room, watching cartoons in a stunned silence. And I had stepped outside for a moment. We had called 911. We had called our closest friends. We had about five minutes before everyone arrived.
Do you know those scenes in movies where something breaks that shouldn’t get broken? A grand piano falls from an extreme height or a car explodes in a fiery inferno? There is always a pause - almost imperceptible - before the object is destroyed. As I waited for everyone to rush onto the scene, I was living in that moment, that breath before the explosion.
I was acutely aware that my entire life was about to change. That my sense of safety and family had all been shattered. My childhood had abruptly ended and I was in profound shock.
Did that really just happen? Did my dad really just die? By suicide? Did I really find him? Is any of this even possible?
I knew that once I heard those ambulance sirens and once I saw the faces of our friends and neighbors it would all become real.
So I stood there, looking at the trees. I felt like time had been suspended, like I was in no-man’s-land between my life before and whatever was about to happen. Alone with my fear in that moment of waiting, I said out loud to myself,
Amy, you are going to be ok. You will go on.
Wise beyond my years, strong beyond my self, and courageous beyond my own awareness, beyond my own understanding. There, on that most awful and unimaginable of mornings, my brave was born.
Amy, you will go on.
And so I did.
I waited for just a moment longer, in the few final seconds of my broken childhood, and then turned around, walked up the stairs and went back inside the house.
Now, almost 20 years later, I see that bravery has run like a thread through my life. Those first steps back inside were just the beginning of a journey through the fallout of my father’s suicide and my own mental illness. On that morning I didn’t know what I would have to get myself through - the searing pain of loss, the stigma of suicide, the years of fear and shame I felt after being diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder.
But through each and every moment my brave was there, walking beside me and holding my hand. My willingness to always take one more step. To ask for help when it got too dark. To get up the next morning and try again.
More often than not I didn’t feel brave - I felt terrified, exhausted, frozen. Other people would tell me how strong I was and I didn’t really get it because I didn’t feel strong. But now I understand. I know it for myself. I have learned that being brave isn’t about being fearless - it’s about feeling tremendous fear and taking another step.
From going back inside to going forward with my life, I was brave when I kept going, and when I fell apart, and when I started over again. That morning is always inside of me.
Amy, you can get through this. You will go on.
And so I did. And here I am today: unbroken and brave and beautiful.
About the author: Amy Marlow is a survivor of suicide loss and lives with Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and C-PTSD. She is a peer facilitator of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) “Peer-to-Peer” recovery education program. She writes about mental health, falling apart and starting over at http://bluelightblue.com. You can find her on Twitter at @_bluelightblue_. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband Will and her dog Winston.