This month’s Woman of the Month is a very courageous person that we have the honor of spotlighting- Denise Malave
I first came across her story while scrolling TikTok where she shared her journey of becoming the primary care taker of her mother after her failed suicide attempt.
Read below to see what she had to share.
How did you first feel after your mother attempted suicide?
At first I felt completely broken, like the air had been knocked out of my chest. I felt a strong sense of fear grasping for my breath. Then, the anger came. It came pouring in like a volcano had suddenly erupted. I felt so angry towards my father for allowing this to happen. It was an argument they had where her attempt followed after he stepped out of the room from the argument. She was riddled with so much pain and suffering for many years, she just wanted to end her suffering. While in the hospital I remained at her bedside around the clock until another family member relieved me to rest and shower. I was insistent on staying at my bedside, because after losing my three year old nephew at a local John Hopkins Children’s Hospital. I felt it was imperative to monitor every medical professional’s care plan, and routine while I was there asking questions every second of the way. It was the guilt I felt overpowering my every move, the guilt I felt for not being able to prevent this experience from happening, the guilt I felt that I was unable to guide my family when my nephew got sick, the guilt I felt for not asking her more questions or seeing the signs and acting on them. It wasn’t until a month after she had come home from the hospital where I began to process some anger I had towards her. The anger I felt was the hurt from the abandonment I felt, the empty wound that was suddenly taking up so much space in my heart, but hollow at the same time. It’s taking me 6 years since this has happened, and I am still processing this traumatic experience.
Did you see any signs leading up to it?
Yes, she was crying a lot more than usual, and calling me almost every other day to tell me about the arguments she was having with my father. I realized she was seeking emotional support and validation of her feelings. She would never tell me as much details about her arguments with my father until the week leading up to it which was a sign to me. She had also heavily thrown herself into her religion, incredibly more than usual which was out of character for my mom. It was like she was seeking salvation from the intrusive thoughts she had about taking her own life.
How has your personal life changed because of it?
I have a hard time forming attachments with people. I felt a lot of shame at first when it happened, and in the past I would tell people my mom had a stroke to avoid talking about what actually happened. It was the judgment we would receive about the whole experience because of the stigma mental health and suicide brings. Judgement about why we chose to save her instead of letting her fulfill her choice. The judgement of the horrible stigma attached to Suicide as it being “selfish” as if individuals battling untreated mental illness can truly have blame for their brain being chemically imbalanced. My family and I have been characterized as being “Selfish” for performing CPR to save her, and also my mother being “Selfish for doing that to her family.” I also found myself in situations where I worked with women, and I looked up to them desperately seeking to fill the “mother wound” I had for guidance in life despite if it was healthy for me or not. It made it hard for me to get close to anyone or let anyone get close to me for fear of abandonment. It also got me into therapy. I had met with several therapists to help me process, emotionally regulate, and establish healthy coping skills I needed to process this traumatic event. My family dynamic worsened as we all had to process and deal with our own level of self awareness to help care for my mom. My father threw himself into work and in the last couple years felt abandoned by him and he was very avoidant. He was no longer fit to be around my mother during 2020 as the pandemic took a toll on everyone during shutdown. This situation to care for my mom has been left to myself, and my two younger siblings, as our older sibling lives out of state. The three of us are struggling to care for her because I had to quit my full time job in order to help care for her. My father has also not been able to provide any type of support as of March this year. I live in a constant state of hypervigilance for the signs of distress for anyone close to me now because of this. I am deeply saddened with grief and sadness trying to make the best decision not only for myself and mental health but for everyone else affected by this situation.
How would you describe your own mental health before and after your mom’s incident?
My mental health before my mother’s attempt was numb. The pain I felt from losing my nephew, and the lack of coping skills I had caused me to numb it and put me in a state of survival mode. I had to not think about it, in order to succeed while I was in college. I had graduated college four months before my mom attempted to end her life in September of that year. During the time I graduated college and my mothers suicide attempt I was applying and interviewing for medical schools, because I aspired to become a physician. After my mom’s suicide attempt I spiraled in my grief, grief of choosing not to go to medical school, grief of family, and grief of the mother I knew and loved. When my mom was discharged home, it was apparent her cognitive deficits and personality change were there to stay and it was like caring for a stranger in my mothers body, she appeared like my mother, but it was only her voice and some memories and not the mother I grew up with I could lean on and support me. The mother who took care of me when I was sick. The mother who called me to ask me how I was doing. It’s a feeling so indescribable. A feeling of despair to be constantly exposed to my major trigger and reminded that she is here but she is gone at the same time.
What advice would you give others who are struggling with their own mental health?
I would say the first step is to talk about it. Talk about it with someone you trust, get it out and validate your feelings and experiences. Someone who is willing to hold space for you, and for them in return. After sharing my story on TikTok I’ve found so many others in my situation that have helped my healing journey. It’s important to have support, whether it is friends, family, co-workers, a physician, or teacher, someone who you can lean on to help you in situations when you feel there is none. I would also encourage therapy, whether it is talk therapy or art therapy, a form of therapy you can release in. It does not always have to be medication, but for some it does in order to move forward and overcome the battles we face in the mind. It’s important for trauma’s that are more specialized to find a provider who specializes in your specific mental health concerns. There are also crisis centers in metropolitan areas for those who are in crisis, as well as the suicide hotline. It’s important to come up with your own self care plan and routine unique to you, and set the boundaries and time for yourself to implement it. It’s also important to be patient and kind with yourself for your healing, there is no timeline or clock you are required to follow in your healing. Healing is not linear in any form. Show yourself grace. I’ve read online that to find a hobby you love, a hobby that makes you money, and a hobby that keeps you in shape as the framework to building your self care plan. Most importantly, suicide is not that answer.
What does your family dynamic look like now?
It is just me, my three other siblings, and the nieces and nephew. Our parents are alive, but have abandoned us in a way, because they were only ever able to parent from their own self awareness. I have not spoken to my father since the beginning of 2020. I had to set a boundary to protect my mental health. I have adapted the thought that I did not have the family support system I needed, so I must create it in order to break the generational traumas I have dealt with by healing myself first in order to heal and help others. We all rotate in the care of our mom until we have more resources available to help us, someday I hope I can go back to work.
If you had the power to change one thing, what would it be?
The stigma of mental health, I want to continue to advocate for my mom and others who cannot do so for themselves. To raise awareness of the effects of suicide, and failed suicide attempts. The importance of having a living will and advanced health care directives to be the voice over you when you are incapcitated to make your own decisions like my mother was. The hope is to raise enough awareness that enough people can trust that they are worthy of help, need help, and can ask for help. Asking for help is strength, not weakness. Especially in the Latin community, in my upbringing we didn’t discuss our emotions or the things that happened. It was my father’s belief system. I really want the Latin community to understand the importance of mental health in order for survival. It’s important resources are available for all. Most importantly, to lift the dark cloud suicide itself has on the common thought most had in sharing my story on social media is that “Suicide is selfish.” Suicide is not selfish, it is not about ending life, it is about ending suffering. The brain like our kidneys, our heart, our lungs, is an organ that needs nutrients and chemical messengers to fire in good health, and when the brain is not in balance whether it is structural like a tumor, or by nature being shaped by traumatic events, that is where irrational thinking and intrusive thought become almost impossible to escape. Impaired by judgement, those who choose to end their life are not actually choosing when the brain is being impaired by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
The amount of courage it requires to be able to share such sensitive journey is incredible! We are so thankful Denise was brave and kind enough to share her story with us. You can follow more of their story on her TikTok account here.
As Denise expressed above, she is currently not working and is the main caregiver for her mother along with her siblings. HERE is her Amazon wishlist should you want to have something delivered.
For our freebie this month we decided to share some important resources that help with mental health.
Please, if you know of another valuable resources, comment down below or send us a message so we can add it to the list.