“I just didn’t want to be alive any more”

If you have not seen the Oprah “Meghan and Harry interview” (actually, “infomercial”), watch it.

If you have already seen it, watch it AGAIN.

Whether it is the first or second time, pay the MOST attention to the mental health issue. Note EVERYTHING – from the “interview’s” start to finish – that the duchess says.

[Washington Post, March 9, 2021. From Instagram.]

Because that MENTAL HEALTH issue is MORE important than anything else that was discussed because it is tied up with EVERYTHING else.

This is central to that: she says at one point that she had not wanted to live anymore and went on to claim she “couldn’t” seek help because it was said it would not be good for “the institution.” (I believe that was about 6 months after she married the duke.) I don’t like The Sun newspaper, but it transcribed the “interview” and here is exactly what she said:

And, look, I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry, especially, because I know how much loss he’s suffered. But I knew that if I didn’t say it, that I would do it. And I . . . I just didn’t . . . I just didn’t want to be alive any more. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought. And I remember — I remember how he just cradled me. And I was — I went to the institution, and I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help. I said that, ‘I’ve never felt this way before, and I need to go somewhere’. And I was told that I couldn’t, that it wouldn’t be good for the institution…

I mentioned this in 2016, but did not go into detail. However, I am going to tell you a lot more now. Because THIS is how I see that entire “interview” – through this upsetting personal prism.

* * *

My sister – with multiple graduate degrees and scarily articulate – could have been sitting there giving that “interview” because THAT overly careful and affected manner is how she too usually carries herself. I had seen aspects of that resemblance to my sister in the duchess before, but was not sure if it was a “mirage” perhaps because it was all mostly only seen in short news report spurts of a sentence or two. This, though, was different: it went on for over 90 minutes.

I cannot hope here to go through all of my experiences and all that I witnessed that went on. I will try, though, to hit what I think are the most vital points. It must also be noted that I know I was not told many things; and indeed I know I was at times deliberately kept out of the loop because I was informed it was “not my problem.”

About 15 years ago my sister – six years younger than me – began to claim she was being bullied at work. She lived at home. She had never lived outside of my parents’ house – aside from four years of university, a summer at Yale, and another summer in Paris at the Sorbonne taking Medieval French literature courses in French. (She was THAT sharp.)

She worked at a New York university – a place which takes this stuff VERY seriously. A decade before, I had worked at the same university. I knew her dean, worked with and been friendly with his late wife (who also worked at the university), been a graduate student alongside her immediate boss, and knew some of the other staff she knew (although I did not know her immediate colleagues). I knew the overall workplace culture well: it was “genteel” and bullying was definitely NOT tolerated.

Her immediate boss and her dean listened. Her dean in particular told my mother that he could not understand what was happening. In her talks with him my sister shared with him the likes of someone going through her desk, but she supplied him with nothing concrete of truly egregious behavior she was clearly implying, he said; yet she was also, he thought, clearly upset and felt threatened and he wanted to help. He was frustrated because he had spoken with her immediate colleagues too one at a time (without telling them why) in order to try to develop a broader picture, but he could uncover no evidence from any of them that anything nasty was going on.

She had also had relationships issues, including a break up. But I could not discern what they truly were. And she would not confide in me.

Not long after we learned to our horror that SOMETHING was REALLY not right.

* * *

In the summer of 2007 she was hospitalized briefly in a psychatric ward out of fear she was possibly suicidal. I heard about it by phone from my father. I was also updated that it was not a complete surprise, that there had been developing “problems” (crying, “temper tantrums,” and repeated calling in sick) and an earlier “lesser” incident in April – that I had NOT been told about. (At the time, they did not want to “worry” me.) I was furious I had been kept in the dark and nearly flew over to the States on the next flight I could get, but he talked me out of it by pointing out there was nothing I could do and she was under observation for days anyway.

For weeks, he added, she had looked increasingly terrible. She had always been obsessed with clothes, but had turned in recent weeks and months into a “slob.” She had not been to work in over a week. Apparently she may not have slept for days either.

The lowest point was a “2 AM” confrontation in the kitchen that included her babbling incoherencies including about death, and she pulled a knife from a drawer and waved it at my mother. My father said they calmed her down, she put down the knife on her own, and my 30-something sister ended up in parents’ bed with my mother cuddling her as if she was 4 years old. My mother later said neither she nor my sister slept much if at all the rest of the night.

First thing in the morning, they got her over to an urgent care. A woman doctor examined her and spoke with her and then told my mother she was going to have my sister admitted on the potential for danger to others or herself. “She grabbed a knife,” the doctor summed up.

“I never thought she was going to harm me,” my mother replied.

“I want her seen to,” the doctor came back. “They will see her immediately because I am going to say she was going to use it on herself.”

“No, no, I would never have hurt my mother,” my sister, apparently barely with it, softly told the doctor.

After several days under a suicide watch (including a drugs test that found she was not on anything and nothing was in her system) and starting counselling, my sister was placed on anti-depressants by a psychiatrist. Upon her release from the ward, my parents were told by the psychologist: “Gently challenge her always. Whenever she says anything that sounds bizarre to you, you reply: ‘That sounds odd to me. Can you explain more?’ Do not allow her simply to spout unchallenged. She needs to be made to face reality.”

She went off sick from work, and various staff, my mother said to me, repeatedly rang asking about her. (They could not be told specifically, of course, for privacy reasons by the dean why she was out.) The doctors did NOT appear to believe my sister was being truly bullied. Based on what I was told by my parents they seemed to feel she genuinely believed what she was saying, but what her mind was telling her was happening around her was NOT the same as what was actually happening. One result was often she was misjudging social interactions and had become, in short, paranoid.

It was not easy for my parents to confront my sister at times about what was reality. My sister was VERY well educated and eloquent; she could dazzle them. More than once in the years that followed, my baffled high school educated mother showed me things she had written or told me what she said, and I replied to my mother, “Mom, this is not true. She’s making this up.”

* * *

The most “normal” I have seen my sister since probably 2004 was several months after her 2007 post-hospitalization therapy began. I was visiting and she came home to my parents’ house exhausted after another hour session with the psychologist. Why was she so tired? Because, my mother told me, she was being made by the woman to confront reality – and making her brain do so was exhausting. Yet it seemed to be helping her. She was showing flashes again of being the brilliant and fun sister – my only sibling – I recalled knowing BEFORE all of this began.

But it does not have a happy ending (at least not yet). Over my vehement objections, eventually my loving parents allowed my sister to stop seeing the psychologist and to stop taking the anti-depressants. My mother gave me various inane justifications, and when I disagreed I was told they had to live with her and the decision was theirs. Subsequently, in 2009, after another period of disturbing and increasingly bizarre behavior (in one happening, my mother later told me, she had cut up most of her clothing) and once again my sister declaring she was being bullied at work, she was by now also stating she was being stalked. More sick leave followed.

My parents allowed her to quit that university job. But she refused even to go in and resign properly. When I begged them over the phone even to drive her in themselves and make sure she do at least THAT much (I said something like: “She’s been there for years. She can’t just not turn up. She’ll never get another job!”), again I was told angrily to mind my own business.

One example of what my sister said around that time: she insisted to me two lesbians had cornered her and threatened to beat her up in one of the library’s bathrooms.

Now that was certainly not impossible, yet I did NOT BELIEVE it. I had learned by then that just because she said something that that did not make it TRUE. I tried to do what the psychologist had urged 2 years before: “What do you mean lesbians were going to attack you?” I probed. “Who were they? Did you tell your boss?”

“Oh, you just don’t understand, you weren’t there, and they were going to Las Vegas,” she offered in a condescending (my sister can be as condescending as they come) and quite calmly stated reply that honestly I could not really contradict.

In a sense, she was right: I had not been there. But what the hell did Las Vegas have to do with anything?

I warned my parents: “Mom, when you talk with her, after about three sentences she is speaking gobbledygook – but she apparently thinks she is making sense. You must have noticed. Something else is very wrong here.”

* * *

Mental health treatment is NOT always about you sitting there holding their hand and sympathetically saying, “I believe you. I believe it all. I am here for you.” That is often exactly the WRONG approach. The last thing the person may need is to be provided with unconditional assurances that what they are saying is true… when it is nonsense.

My parents did not know what to BELIEVE. Fiercely protective as a father is apt to be of a child, my father in particular had come to BELIEVE SOMETHING MUST HAVE HAPPENED to my sister; that there must have been some “trigger”; and he may well have been right. But he could not find out from her what it was of course because she would not, or more likely could not, be CLEAR. “What the hell happened to her? SOMETHING must have happened?” was the sort of thing he would ask in frustration.

My stating she obviously still needed help ran head-long into my parents’ apparent suspicion that doctors were just “in it for money” (which my mother told me at least once) because she had not been “cured” since 2007, and THEY as parents were best-suited to look after her. It got so chilly between my parents and me that after several arguments that ended up with my mother hanging up on me, or me hanging up on her, or my father and I several times hurling the F-word at each other, eventually we did not speak to each other for most of 2011. They even moved house from Long Island (where we had grown up) to rural Pennsylvania, to get her away from people who were now supposedly “stalking” her.

My sister’s mental health problems nearly destroyed our family. Only my uncle’s intervention as a go-between – he knew what was going on because both my mother and I were separately telling him; and he was also telling my mother my sister needed help and my mother repeatedly got angry at him too – saved what was left of my relationship with my parents. Finally I persuaded my mother to try to get my sister to seek professional help again… but in 2014 my father had heart failure (thankfully, he survived) and the next year my mother died of lung cancer. (In the hospital, days before she died, my mother sighed and privately told my wife: “I am leaving you a big problem.” Suddenly now, my sister’s troubles were my business? I thought: Gee, thanks, Mom.) My uncle died too.

Life has a way of “solving” everything… once everyone dies.

* * *

My father now will not even mention the subject of my sister’s condition – whatever it is. To this day while my sister can kinda function, somewhat looks after him, and she and I have a “good” relationship she remains very much “broken” and given my father’s position she will likely remain so for the rest of her life. Assuming she outlives him, what happens to her after my father dies is anyone’s guess.

[From Instagram, March 10, 2021.]

As odd as this sounds, being suicidal is not the problem itself; it is a SYMPTOM of a mental health problem. We need to know A LOT more about the duchess’s voiced desire not to live any longer. I think well-meaning people who are inexperienced with someone in the duchess’s claimed situation are drawing the wrong conclusions from that “interview.” My parents were once as inexperienced; and I was, too.

Nothing in that “interview” with the duchess was more upsetting, I felt, really, than her stating she had wished not to live any longer. That was essentially MY SISTER in 2007 and again in 2009. Near the end of the “mental health” discussion, the duchess also says:

And, you know, Harry and I are working on this mental health series for Apple, and we — yes, so — we, we, we hear a lot of these stories. Nobody should have to go through that. It takes so much courage to admit that you need help.

That is all well and good, but if she herself has not had treatment she STILL needs it. What we in the public REALLY should be asking now (which Oprah Winfrey did not, and that is actually an unconscionable omission on her part because Oprah is not stupid) is this: If the duchess had had “constant” thoughts that she wished NOT to live any longer, what professional care has SHE had SINCE “stepping back” in 2020? Does she CURRENTLY have a therapist?

Not even a loving and supportive family – as I have learned – is nearly enough. Moreover all of the “supportive” tweeting and Instagramming the likes of “I believe her! Down with the royals! #ImWithMeghan” is missing the point here, for *believing* at face value everything she says may NOT actually help her get better any more than it would have helped my sister. It may well make things even worse.

2 thoughts on ““I just didn’t want to be alive any more”

  1. The stigma associated with mental health issues still haunts, and I believe, in many cases–not all, of course–prevents those suffering from seeking help. God bless your sister and your Dad as caregiver.

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    1. They were willing to listen to doctors at first, but gradually my mother took over and she became a stone wall. The stigma issue I believe drove my parents’ reaction. I do think they were of that generation that this all utterly terrified them and they did not like to admit their ignorance. Had my sister had cancer, my parents would have pulled out all the stops to get her better; but this was somehow different, as if hugs and attention could make it better.

      Liked by 1 person

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