seven weeks before his thirteenth birthday, timothy o’clair completed suicide. the youngest of three children in his family, timothy hanged himself in his bedroom closet on march 16, 2001.
i do not remember much from my childhood (or recent years for that matter…) but certain memories will never be erased completely. i remember thirteen. i vaguely remember my thirteenth birthday party… my friend of 29 years recently told me i was extremely depressed that day, i remember my parents bought thirteen gifts. as i opened each gift and saw it wasn’t what i REALLY wanted…i was upset. many tears i think. anger. i imagine i glared at my parents as if the presents were wrapped by satan. i have no idea today what it was that i wanted…i think, a diamond ring. and i think…it was the last gift i opened. but it was too late…the day was a disaster and i made a scene in front of friends and family. and then the guilt and shame hit. i probably spent the rest of the day, crying, in my room…embarrassed. i spent many days like that in my room. a bright yellow room with rainbows, colorful posters on the wall and every toy a girl could dream of. and me, so very dark.
that year my parents drove me to a psychiatrist’s office ten miles away (there were no head docs in our small town and people whispered about people like me in that town…shhhh…she’s depressed.) i remember i was in the backseat of the silver plymouth turismo that would be mine in three years…on the floor behind the passenger seat, crying, screaming….no, i don’t want to go. i can’t imagine their pain…i know now my mother saw her mother, who had a mental illness, she saw her mother in my eyes. she heard her mother in my voice.
my parents heard (over and over…) “i want to die.” “i don’t want to be here.” “you would all be better off without me.”
they were trying to save me and i was pushing them away. i remember sitting at the doc’s office. i remember big headphones over my ears, sitting in a large brown leather chair, listening to soft, soothing voices, bird chirping and whatnot. i remember telling her i wanted to die but thinking i did not want to die. i was not suicidal. it only appeared that way. i was crying for help. i was screaming, someone please listen to me and understand me! someone please make this stop! killing myself was not an option. i secretly hoped (and believed) that the pain would eventually go away. and i always, as soon as the darkness lifted, got busy…busy seeking the beauty in life.
there were many days like my thirteenth birthday to follow. i remember banging my head against a wall on several occasions (those were the…please make it stop moments…) curling up on the bathroom floor or in the tub…locking myself in a room for hours, crying. always escaping but never going too far…always pushing but really wanting someone to hold me and tell me…it’s ok, i understand. you’ll get through this. after those moments, i remember my head feeling very heavy. but soon, the clouds parted and i could see the sun.
two years after my thirteenth birthday and a lifetime of living with a mental illness, i was raped. three years later i remembered that night. not every detail but enough to frighten anyone and enough to shut me down for many years. i asked a friend for details (she was there that night and found me in a bathtub, bleeding…wearing only a tshirt) the rape was so brutal that i actually erased that night as if it never happened. the day i remembered was a painful day. a very sad day. for years i felt worthless. i felt unworthy of anything good, anything beautiful, anything real. and yet, i kept going. i continued living. when i saw the sun, i embraced its warmth. and the sun embraced me.
i am thankful for that. i am lucky…lucky to see the sun. timothy o’clair did not. the darkness, the very real illness… destroyed him. and so i write about this because it’s healing. and i hope to open just one set of eyes. a mental illness is complicated, yes, but it is an illness. like any other illness. it is an illness of the brain. it should be treated like any other illness. people need to understand this in order for the stigma to be erased. we must understand this to prevent the countless suicides per day.
i also write about this because last night terrified me. sitting at the dining room table playing 80s trivial pursuit with my swain and two friends. of the many questions, i knew maybe one answer. the defining moment was a question for someone else—about the film “spaceballs” this is a film i probably saw twenty plus times in the 80s. i didn’t know the answer and even more so i couldn’t remember a thing about the film except that rick moranis and daphne zunica starred in it. during the game, when it was my time to read the questions, i couldn’t pronounce several words and i was uncomfortable the entire evening. and yet, i didn’t quit. and sat there paralyzed by my insecurities. i felt stupid and worthless. and with every minute that passed it got worse. the voices in my head telling me…they think you’re stupid. he is going to leave you because you are an idiot. i was cursing my small town education and the meds that slowly cripple my brain. i feel like a 33 year old woman with alzheimer’s disease on nights like last night. but…again, i am lucky…because i let those moments pass, with the help of others…i let them in…the compassionate ones….my swain, who even after i told him to leave me alone, telling him there was nothing he could say to make me feel better or smarter….his hand found my leg under the covers as my back was to him (tears streaming…) and his touch made the pain seem so small. my friend, that friend of 29 years, today on the phone, reminded me were are all unique. she helped me find the humor in the situation (telling me, next time you’re playing trivial pursuit do what i do….stop mid-game and start playing cards, solitaire or something…laugh at the situation…) because, yes, i do know…i know there are many qualities i have that others don’t have…those that are unique. those that make me…me. i know my heart is good. and kind. my intelligence lies elsewhere, and which wkrp actor was later cast in some commercial (i already forget which one…) is trivial. and i remember words…from a scene in basquiat… what my swain sees in me, what i know to be true:
he’s jealous of the moon
because you look at it
he’s jealous of the sun
because it warms you
we need more compassion (and compassionate people) in this world.
today i am angry, thinking about last night and the loss of so many memories…history, films, facts… thanks to, i believe, the medications. most insurance companies, governments and pharmaceutical companies ignore the mentally ill. i’ve been medicated my entire adult life, fifteen plus years. many medications. all approved by the fda but most we know very little about. we don’t know the long term side effects because there is little or no research.
but even in my anger, as i type, i have been listening to the amelie soundtrack. it’s the simple things in life. it’s seeking the beauty in life whenever possible. loving and being loved. understanding and feeling understood…compassion…it’s these things that keep me going.
timothy was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a week and a day. after that time, the insurance company stopped paying for the hospitalization, and he was sent home. the medications worked temporarily. he would become violent, and it all came to a head the night he died. he refused to take his medications. he broke all the trophies he had received over the years, which he’d collected in his room. he dumped all his dresser drawers and the clothes in his closet on his bedroom floor. he told his brother he’d kill himself, as he had threatened suicide many times before. the family did not know how serious he was, as he had claimed this so many times in the past. while his father was working and his mother was out with his brother, timothy was in his room. when his mother returned home, she found that timothy hanged himself in his bedroom closet.
we need research. we need drugs that work. we need compassion. (i also believe patients need to take control, it’s their body and mind…)
and now we have timothy’s law…named after timothy o’clair, his parents believe his suicide was attributed to the discrimination that he faced at the hands of his their insurance company, discrimination that exists throughout every private insurance plan in new york state. in order to help prevent other families from having to live through this scenario, they have taken on a personal crusade to change the laws as they relate to the provision of mental health and substance abuse services in private insurance plans throughout new york.
yesterday in new york, after years of resistance, the republican-led senate unanimously passed legislation to require that insurers provide equal coverage for mental illness as for physical ailments. “if you have a cancer, if you have a serious heart condition, there is no question that you get treated from the ailment to getting better or going on with your life,” senate majority leader joseph bruno said. “with mental sickness, that has not been the case. some companies cover for limited periods. some companies cover more broadly and some companies for insurance cover nothing, none of it.”
the bill, which passed 55-0, provides for a minimum of 30 outpatient and 20 inpatient visits a year for mental illness, and the state would pick up the extra cost of premiums for businesses with fewer than 50 employers. large employers would have to provide additional coverage for adults and children. the law would not apply to companies or governments that are self-insured.
new york gov. george e. pataki, who has vetoed other mental-health laws this year, was noncommittal friday. “we’ll need to see what happens with that and then take a look,” said the republican, who is stepping down at the end of the year.
“mental illness is a common affliction, but many people can’t come to terms with it,” said timothy’s father, tom o’clair. the law would correct the disparity. “it will help eliminate the discrimination that is faced by those seeking treatment for a mental illness by evening co-pays, eliminating the arbitrarily set disparities in co-pays,” o’clair said. “because somebody has a mental illness doesn’t mean they should have to pay more for care. … because somebody has a mental illness doesn’t mean they should be treated any less than somebody with a physical illness.”
this is a step in the right direction. i can only hope we see big changes soon.
to read more on timothy’s law click here.
timothy o’clair (may 5, 1988- march 16, 2001)