When I watch a show about cooking or food I anticipate learning a new kitchen trick or laughing at the contestants as they compete in a wacky challenge. What I don’t expect is a punch in the guts.
Several months ago, I settled into the couch with my fuzzy green blanket to watch an episode of Guy’s Grocery Games on Food Network. The premise of the show is simple – follow difficult, yet hilarious, restrictions on buying food and cook a meal for judges. This was light TV. No complicated backstories or plot lines, just good old-fashioned entertainment.
This particular episode turned out to be the Halloween show and I chuckled as the 4 contestants entered the faux grocery store in costume. They shopped and cooked and battled until there were only 2 chefs remaining. The winner turned out to be a young female chef who appeared in black clothes and a cat-ears headband. Yay! Girl chef power! I prepared to cheer her on as she shopped for $20,000 but as she moved toward the awaiting cart, the words she spoke to the host reached out of the TV and punched me right in the guts.
“Unfortunately, my older sister took her own life after battling a mental illness. Any money I win today will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in her memory,” she said.
I felt the air get sucked out of my body and the television studio at the same time. I sat frozen as the expression on the host’s face said what I was feeling – pain, sadness, pity, hurt, and love. He motioned to the chef and said something to the effect of, “Come here. Can I hug you?”
My mind never moved past that moment. I have no idea if she won any money or not. Instead of shouting at the TV to tell her where to find various products in the store, I sat on the edge of the couch and calculated.
I have a younger sister.
That could be my sister.
I have a mental illness.
I battle that illness.
Because of my diagnosis, I’m at a higher risk for suicide.
She could be telling my story.
I could be the older sister who took her own life.
Oh, my God.
I looked at the chef on the screen, but now I saw my sister. It was her face twisted into a grief/sadness/happy expression. It was her tiny body being hugged by the host. It was her voice telling the world that her older sister just couldn’t manage any longer.
I cannot do that to my sister. I cannot cause her the hurt and emptiness I saw on that chef’s face. I’m the big sister. It’s my job to protect little sister – support her, nurture her, prepare her for bumps in the road – not create a giant sinkhole beneath her feet.
But I might…
The statistics about mental illness and suicide exist because of research. Those numbers represent real people who had real risk factors for suicide. Logically, I knew this information, but I never felt the risk before that moment. It was never real or personal, just a bunch of numbers and whatever. But, I literally watched a flash forward of my life if I don’t take my risk factors seriously. Thinking about the future in that way was horrifying. Devastating. Transformational.
So, thanks chef and Guy’s Grocery Games for giving me perhaps the most important reality check of my life. Suicide is real. It can happen to fun, awesome, big sisters, too. But I plan on using every tool within reach to make sure I am not one of them.