In our neighborhood, people walk their dogs, kids play in the streets and everyone greets each other as they pass. We haven’t lived here very long so I don’t know everyone. While walking tonight, I approached an unfamiliar couple and we started chatting. Before long, the inevitable question was asked,“How many children do you have?”
I answered with my usual response, “We have two but one of them died. She took her own life three years ago. She was 15.”
As is always the case, they were nothing but kind and compassionate. They shared their thoughts on mental health and how important it is and how many lives are touched by it. I have had this same interaction on literally hundreds of occasions and they’ve always been met with compassion and kindness.
I give a similar response when I’m asked what my kids are doing now. “My son lives in New York City and my daughter took her own life three years ago.”
My thought process is that, if someone asks, they must need to hear Ana’s story. And frankly, I think everyone needs to hear Ana’s story, so it’s never hard to make the decision to tell it. After all, it’s the story of an illness. A mental illness. It is not the story of a weakness or a deficiency. It’s the story of a disease. A disease that changes the format of a person’s brain. It alters the part of a person’s body that is responsible for thinking and problem solving. It tricks that brain into thinking it doesn’t need help and isn’t worthy of help. When a person has a broken leg, that person’s brain is still working, so it says, “I need to fix my broken leg.” When your brain is the thing that’s broken, though, it’s not as easy. Broken brains are more likely to say, “I might be broken, but I might not. I bet if I try harder, I can think my way out of this.” So obviously telling people about my daughter’s broken brain is no different than telling them about her broken leg.
As I write this, I can’t help but think about Ana. How she must have suffered with that broken brain telling her things that weren’t true about herself. Telling her she wasn’t worthy and she wasn’t good enough and that her broken brain couldn’t be fixed anyway. My heart breaks a little more for her, if that’s possible. She tried so hard to get through it, all the while having that brain telling her she wasn’t worth fighting for.
Ana’s birthday is July 19. She would have been 19. For 15 years we celebrated her by having at least one (and often two) birthday parties. And now until the end of forever, we will never have another birthday party for her again. And so, in honor of that little fighter, that determined little soul who tried as long as she could, please join me in wishing her a very happy birthday.
Happy Birthday to my daughter, the one who took her own life. You will live on as long as we tell your story. We wish your brain hadn’t been broken.
Toni Plante grew up in Wayzata. She lives in Minnetonka with her husband, Al, and their two dogs. Her remaining child, Leo, lives in NYC. She, her family and extended family all miss Ana terribly. Suicide prevention and mental health are her passion. She is not a therapist or a counselor. She is a parent who is committed to making a difference by sharing her experience.
This column is meant to offer insight and awareness, not advice. If you have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.