I received the call at night on Jan. 2, 2003, while traveling in Arizona.

“Kara, your Aunt Patty is dead,” my mother’s voice cracked over the line. “She hung herself in her bathtub. The police found her.”

I had not seen my Aunt Patty in years. She had completely cut herself off from all family and moved in the late ’90s from her home state of Rhode Island out to Portland, Ore., where she ended her life. I recall stories my mom told of her older sister, the bohemian artist who traveled the world, making just enough money to go to the next country. She was a free spirit. The few times she visited us at our home in Texas she would set me up with art supplies and we would paint, play dress up, and laugh. I knew she was one of my mom’s favorite siblings (there were seven of them) and I looked up to her. In photos, she was always being goofy and smiling.

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But Aunt Patty had a dark side. When she moved back to the states in the early ’90s and finally settled down out West, her depression overcame her. She grew up in a dysfunctional family, and while many of the siblings sought therapy, she distanced herself from the past. Sadly, she was not the first in my family to deal with depression or commit suicide. My paternal grandfather shot himself with his son’s gun in the 1970s before I was born. And my mother tried committing suicide when I was a child, and was in and out of mental institutions for years looking for salvation. While she tried killing herself with drugs, pills, and alcohol, it was finally cancer that took her life seven years ago, but not before she battled some pretty strong demons.

It is no surprise, then, that with this family history, depression creeps up on me every now and again, especially around the holidays. It is common knowledge that suicide and depression increase around the holidays — a happy time for some but torturous for others. For me, it is a stark reminder of how many family members and friends I have lost. While I have never tried to commit suicide, the idea has crossed my mind. For those who have never been down that deep, dark hole, it is hard to describe. It is a hopeless and helpless place where you feel like you can’t escape, and the feeling overcomes until it seems like there is no other option. I don’t wish that feeling on anyone.

The death of actor Robin Williams in August triggered a national debate over whether suicide is a selfish act or a symptom of a greater problem. As someone who has dealt with it on many levels, I believe that suicide is not a choice. Nor is it a selfish act. While many people are left behind in the wake of someone killing themselves, that person genuinely believes it will be better for everyone if they are not around. It is typically a thought-out plan that is mulled over for a while.

It is impossible for some to understand how a person could get to the point where he would want to take his own life, but the feeling is real. If not taken care of properly, depression is a disease that can overcome a person. It is not easily fixed.

I remember my mom in the ’70s and ’80s saying that she felt alone and like she was the only one dealing with this “thing” that she did not have a name for. Today we live in a society where there are numerous hotlines, programs, and help for those suffering with depression, but the disease and suicide still abound. Locally, the Tahoe/Truckee community has been deeply affected over the years by young people committing suicide. It’s not an easy topic and there are many debates on how to deal with the issue, but I believe there is hope.

My Aunt Patty had isolated herself from all her family and friends. My grandpa was an alcoholic who lived during a time when therapy was taboo. Luckily, my mom had help to get her through the hard times. I have been able to pull myself out of those dark days with a little help from my friends, and the holidays are becoming easier to manage. I am also encouraged by the increasing local programs for youth like Positively Rolling. With continued discussion and light on the issue, I am hopeful society will stop viewing suicide as a selfish act and continue helping those who suffer from depression. As Seneca said: “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

Author

  • Kara Fox

    When she’s not writing or editing the news section for Moonshine Ink, Kara Fox can be seen hiking in the spring, paddle boarding in the summer, mushroom hunting in the fall, snowshoeing in the winter, and hanging out with her 7-year-old son year-round.

    Connect with Kara

    Call: (530) 587-3607 x4
    Visit:
    M-Tu, Th-Fr 9:30am - 6pm
    10317 Riverside Dr
    Truckee, CA 96161
    Email: kfox (at) moonshineink.com

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