I’ve been asked several times now why I wanted to kill my wife.
It comes from readers of my recently released book, “My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty and Racism in the American South.” In the book, I share some of my darkest moments, including my bout with increasingly violent daydreams that grew in intensity and frequency and featured my wife and two children. They were the result of a PTSD I had been struggling with since I was a nine-year-old boy who watched his oldest brother hauled off to prison for killing a man. It went undiagnosed and untreated for 25 years.
That’s why I understand the question. But want is the wrong word. No one wants to have to contend with the kinds of ugly thoughts that nearly forced me to leave my family. No one wants to have to struggle with mental health problems. Many who are forced to contend with such things hardly ever want to admit they are struggling – especially not publicly – that they don’t know what to do or where to turn. It makes you feel inadequate, abnormal, a potential danger to yourself and possibly others.
They feel alone even while laughing with friends and absorbing compliments from admirers.
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That’s why I feel particularly lucky during times like this, as the public still processes the recent suicides of beloved public figures such as Anthony Bourdain of CNN and fashion designer Kate Spade, and lesser-knowns, those who take their own lives but never show up in the headlines. I feel lucky because I survived my darkest days without hurting myself or anyone else. Bourdain and Spade and so many others weren’t as fortunate. A growing number of Americans are experiencing dark days, which has resulted in a 25 percent increase in suicides since 1999.
There are many theories as to the cause of the spike, as well as a corollary with the gun debate, given that roughly half of successful suicides involve guns. I won’t get into those, because no one really knows. But I know there can be a thin line between suicide and homicide. And no matter how many supposed warning signs we discern after the deed’s been done, no matter how many times we remind ourselves that death is coming for us all, it shocks our conscience and saddens our souls. Then we look for simple solutions even though we know there is none. A muddled mess of factors the most learned scientists can’t fully explain leads to the taking of a human life.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t more we can do.
After spending years denying and downplaying my struggles – which included my literally trying to shake the bad thoughts out of my brain – I came clean with my wife and got professional help even though I didn’t want to. Until then, I had convinced myself that true strength was evidenced by a person’s ability to overcome every obstacle placed before him, never shying away from a fight, and going it alone. Real men and women don’t give an inch, not now, not ever, I thought.
I was wrong. I recognized my mistake and did something about it before the worst came to pass. Now I get to enjoy my family. I’m no longer cowed by the shame thrust upon those wrestling with private demons, which also manifests as police violence and overly harsh punishment in schools.
I didn’t want to come to grips with the truth, that my refusal to own up to my struggles made me a threat to myself and those I loved. I’m glad I finally did.