Disclaimer: This story contains details of suicide and depression that may be triggering to some.
“We were born in 1978, identical twin daughters to Sam and Debby, who already had a 2-year-old girl named Suzanne. My dad thought for sure one of us would be a boy, but he ended up with three darling daughters. We grew up in a suburb of Youngstown, Ohio. Our parents were hard-working people who did the best they could and provided a perfect balance of everything we needed and only a little bit of what we wanted. Our dad was a mailman, and our mom was a teacher.
My twin sister Nicole and I were inseparable from day 1. Although we had separate cribs and beds, we shared a room all the way into our college years. One of my favorite memories of us is when we would ‘meet’ in one of our beds at night to chat and giggle before going to sleep. I remember hearing our mom yell from the living room, ‘Girls go to bed,’ long after we should have been sleeping.
To us, being twins meant you always had someone with whom to do EVERYTHING; there was always someone to help you button your dress getting ready for church. There was always someone to hug you when you felt sad. Mom always said, ‘You have a built-in playmate.’ We had an amazing childhood. People were in awe of the twins with the big brown curly hair! Sometimes we would switch seats in our classes to play jokes on our teachers. We had such a good time together.
Nicky and I loved music. We developed an obsession with Karen Carpenter when we were young. We listened to our parents’ records for hours and would sing her songs, working the harmonies together. In middle school, we both became active in the band: Nicky played the French horn, and I played the oboe. We loved our instruments but continued to sing at home and continued collecting our Carpenters albums.
One thing different about us was that in 7th and 8th grade, she also became a cheerleader. She had the confidence and rhythm to do those choreographed cheers and dances, and there was no way I could even fathom getting out on a dance floor in front of people like that! She amazed me with her cheering. In high school, we continued with music, marching band, flag line, and even worked twin jobs at a local gas station.
Once we graduated high school, we continued to be close but started to separate a little. Both of us had boyfriends but started college and continued working. We always made time for each other. Having coffee was a big thing for us. We used to love to sit and chat with a cup of coffee. Nick ended up getting a great job as a full-time 911 dispatcher, got engaged, and married by 2003. She was the ‘put-together’ twin. She seemed to have everything going for her, and I was struggling to make ends meet working as a paramedic and playing the field in terms of dating. I truly envied her at that time. She and her then-husband were trying for a few years to have a baby. She had to go through several rounds of infertility treatments and in 2006 when she finally got pregnant, I was ECSTATIC. Before that baby was even born, I knew there would be a special bond between us.
When ‘the boy’ was born, I was in love. Identical twins share the same DNA, so the children of twins are genetically like half-siblings, and the closeness I felt with her baby was like no other. My twin had wanted to be a mommy so badly, but within just a couple weeks of having her baby, she changed, and things went horribly wrong. Nicky started suffering from this crippling anxiety and depression to the point of wanting to hurt herself. Thankfully, she never tried to hurt her little son but was soon diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, a severe form of postpartum depression.
She was hospitalized three times after the birth of her son after making suicide attempts. Our family and her husband’s family were in despair. We had never dealt with anything like this. I felt completely detached from my twin during this time. For six long weeks of my life and for the first time ever, I felt like I didn’t know her. My mom and my sister’s husband and other family members took care of the baby and helped get my sister back on her feet, and after some therapy and the right medication combination, a few months later my twin seemed to come around.
She seemed to get better and had her second child, a daughter, in 2009. She suffered from postpartum depression again, a milder form, but when she recovered this time, she just was not quite the same. In hindsight, I feel like we never saw the same Nicky from before she had babies. She became separated from her husband and, sadly, went through a divorce in 2012.
From this point, I remember feeling like things slowly and steadily declined for my twin. Her health suffered, physically and mentally. She had physical issues I think were exacerbated by her mental condition. She dealt with ongoing anxiety and depression. She started to rely on medications to feel good; buying medicines online or taking medicines in ways they were not intended to be taken. I remember at one point being so disappointed in her because she bought some pills online including Darvocet, and I, as a nurse, knew it was something we didn’t even use anymore.
My family and I were concerned about her with the children of course so I, or my mom, was always around to keep tabs on things and stay put if she did not seem to be in the right frame of mind. She would have these mysterious fainting spells at work and test negative for drugs at the hospital, but I knew my twin. I always could tell when she was taking some sort of medicine to alter herself. Heck, I knew she even took something like Benadryl to make herself feel different at times.
After 16 years, she was asked to resign from her 911 job. A job she had once excelled at but now was a liability because of her issues. If she had been in a better frame of mind, she probably could have fought it, gotten some help, and stayed, but she didn’t have the strength. She was tired and depressed. She did not want to fight for anything. She did not have a college degree but ended up getting jobs in the medical field as a scheduler at a few different places. She shared her kids with their dad, and in her off time, she would try to date here and there.
She ended up being diagnosed as bipolar II at some point, and the doctor explained that it probably stemmed from a traumatic event such as the postpartum psychosis. It made sense to me because she was never the same after that. She was once the put-together twin; organized, financially stable, happy, confident. Now she was alone, unhappy, broke, always desperate for acceptance, looking for any type of medicine that could make her feel good. She never seemed to be into illegal drugs but was always looking for things like Xanax, Ativan, Ambien, etc. My mom always urged my sister to follow through with counseling. She offered to pay for it, but Nick never ever followed through. She would go to an appointment or two and then just stop going. She’d just want the meds.
Fast forward to 2018. Nick was officially diagnosed as bipolar. She was going to a psychiatrist we didn’t like because he always prescribed her so many pills even though she misused them. Her kids were spending most of the time with their dad because Nick was struggling. She saw them once a week and every other weekend and then also at their sporting events and such. She was engaged to a man who was living with her, and she was working for a local ophthalmology group.
I had just earned my Master of Science in nursing and was finishing an internship and would soon test to become a nurse practitioner. I, myself, was divorced but in a good place working as a pediatric RN and had a 3 ½ year old son. Overall, Nicky and I were still very close, but our lives were on different paths for sure. We would often have coffee and watch Jeopardy together or go out for dinner or drive up to catch a Lake Erie sunset together. She loved my little boy Luke so much, and I know she enjoyed spending time with him.
Her mental illness was a lot to take sometimes. I sometimes dealt with my own depression and had a touch of postpartum depression after my son was born, but nothing close to what my sister dealt with. I was so busy with grad school that summer, and I was working full time, so even though I knew Nick was struggling with some things, I just had to push through my own things and get them done.
On July 26, 2018, I had worked a 12-hour night shift and was done at 7 a.m. I had slept for four hours and then was with my son for the day. We had some appointments, and I remember going to the mall together. In the evening, after dinner and after putting my son to bed, I was sitting on my recliner studying and must have fallen asleep. My phone rang, and it was about 12:05 a.m. on July 27th.
It was Nicky. She was crying. She had had a fight with her fiancé Mike, and she was out driving around in a panic saying she just could not do life anymore. She said she knew she was a burden to everyone, and she was just done with it all. She had called to say goodbye to me. She told me she was so proud of me and she loved me. I was shocked and, of course, didn’t believe her at first. She had made suicide attempts before. I tried to reason with her for a bit, but she wouldn’t tell me where she was. My son was sleeping so I could not just pick up and leave. I was afraid to call anyone because in my head I thought, ‘what if this is just attention-seeking like before?’ I did not want to wake my parents and worry them. So, I tried to keep her talking.
I was exhausted, and eventually, I snapped at her a little. She hung up on me. It was around 1 a.m. when I last spoke to her. She had texted me and told me right before she did what she was going to do she would send an email to all of us (the family) telling us where she would be. She said she would leave her phone and some other belongings under the front seat of the car. Of course, I started to panic and feel guilty for snapping at her. Over the years with all the attention-seeking, how was I supposed to know if this was real? I was so tired, and of course, I wanted to help her. But I couldn’t leave my baby, and she wouldn’t tell me where she was. I kept trying to call her over and over. She would not answer.
At 1:36 a.m. she sent me a text that simply said, ‘Email soon.’ I tried calling again. No answer. At 1:38 a.m., I received the email. The first line said, ‘I am about to jump off the Market St. bridge…’ I called the number of a local ambulance company I knew worked in that area (I was in a different township) so hopefully, someone would get there quick enough. The dispatcher surprisingly said he already had a unit heading that way because someone else had called it in. He also patched me through to that local police department and they advised me to start heading to the local hospital where they would take my sister.
In the meantime, I had texted my ex-mother-in-law to come to sit with my son, and she was on the way. I also called my mom. She was not completely surprised Nick was in crisis because she had spoken with her earlier and knew she had been having a rough evening. Once my son’s grandma arrived, I went to get my mom, and we started driving to the hospital, but the police department called me back. They told us to just come down to the police department instead of the hospital. My heart sank. I knew what that probably meant.
We went downtown. I remember driving over the Market Street bridge and seeing my sister’s car parked on it. People don’t usually park on that bridge. There were two police cruisers parked there too, and they were standing there talking. It’s a high bridge, so we couldn’t see what was going on below. Mom and I got downtown and walked inside the police department, and I remember us literally holding onto each other. I feel like we were both holding onto some hope she was going to be OK.
They placed us in a conference room. An officer sat with us while we all waited for the shift captain to come in to speak with us. After what seemed like forever, he arrived. He told us what we already knew. My Nicky was gone. She was dead. She had left me. I remember feeling so cold. I didn’t cry right away. My mom did, but I was just in a state of shock. And I felt so guilty for snapping at her on the phone and for not being there for her more in recent months.
We had to stay there and wait for the coroner to come speak to us, and I remembered when she sent that email, I saw there were a bunch of other names on it. She had sent it to other family members and friends as well as her ex-husband, his new wife, and some people who weren’t very nice to her. I was concerned about people waking up and reading their email and seeing that. So, I decided I should call some people right away, so I made the call to my father (my parents were divorced by this point), my sister, and my ex-husband just because I needed to. I also texted some of the others on the email to call me as soon as they woke up. I couldn’t imagine waking up and checking my email and seeing that.
My mom and I ended up telling my niece and nephew along with their father. It was one of the hardest moments of my life. My nephew was 12, and my niece was 9 at the time. My nephew just grabbed ahold of me and hugged me so hard when he found out.
I feel like I barely cried until the next day. I was so strong on that first day because I was so worried about my parents and her kids. I was so exhausted from lack of sleep the week before, I was able to sleep that night of the 27th. I stayed at my mom’s. I remember waking up on July 28th, and it was sunny in the room where I slept. For a moment, I forgot what was happening. Then it hit me again. My twin was dead. The tears just poured out of me. I walked out to my mom and just cried and cried.
We had calling hours and a funeral for my sister. So many people came. She was loved. I knew that. I wish she had known. I gave her eulogy. No one knew her like me. My parents, older sis, and I, along with her kids, watched them put her in the ground. It was so therapeutic. I’d never seen them bury someone before. I visited her grave every day for a month, sometimes twice a day. I was off work for a while and was able to finish the rest of my internship for school. I read the rest of Nicole’s email, and we knew she had been planning her suicide for a while. She spent quite some time on the email. Her poor tortured soul was finally at peace.
Overall, my life is amazing. My son is 6. He will start first grade in the fall. About a month after her death, when I least expected it, I met the man who I now live with and plan to marry. I passed my nurse practitioner test 3 months after my twin’s death. I keep close tabs on my parents and talk to my big sis as often as possible, but she lives 6 hours away.
I see Nick’s kids. Those poor babies. They have a dad and a stepmom; they have everything they need and want, but they don’t have THEIR mom. Their mommy had her issues, but she was an amazing woman, and she was a sweetheart. She loved those kids so much. Her brain completely changed after she had them, but I know this world is a better place because she helped put two beautiful creatures in it. And if they grow up to have half of the heart of their mom, then they will be just fine.
My advice for living with someone with mental illness is to remember it is just that: an illness. There is a chemical change that has taken place in their brain. You just have to love them and care for them the best way you know how. For those who have lost someone to suicide/mental illness, it’s natural to feel guilt. That means you cared for that person, you’re sad they’re gone, and you wish you could’ve saved them.
Early on in your grief, I advise you to just aim to get through each day. Some days, you will wake up and the grief will weigh on you so heavily, you won’t be able to get out of bed. And that is OK sometimes. You eventually learn to live your daily life without the person, but grief comes and goes and becomes a routine part of your life always ebbing and flowing like a river. It’s been about 3 years without my twin, and I still think about her every single day. I get up and go to work and take care of business, but there is always this little gray cloud over my shoulder. I push through because I know she is with me, and I know she would want me to go on and live an amazing life.
I miss her more and more every day. I sometimes have dreams about her, and I know she sends me some signs once in a while. But it’s not the same as having my other half. I feel like I’ll never be whole again. I have dedicated a portion of my life to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness, postpartum depression, and suicide. I am determined to never let her memory die and she will never be forgotten.”
[If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help is out there. You are not alone.]
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Samantha Scardina of Youngstown, Ohio. You can follow her journey on Instagram and TikTok. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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