Guest commentary: Do not give up hope on those who are struggling and struggle to take our help
One year ago, May 31, 2020, my 36-year-old sister Gianna Rizzuto parked her gray Ram truck on the side of CR 114 in Glenwood Springs. She climbed into the back seat, covered her back windows with blankets, and ingested somewhere between 70-80 prescription anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.
Gianna passed away that evening, prior to being able to fully digest the influx of capsules and pills that fatally poisoned her. She still had 30 left in her stomach when the sheriff found her body three days later. Gianna was born and raised in Aspen.
I’m going to talk about it, it’s uncomfortable, I know. The understanding of my sister’s struggle has become more distinct for me since Gianna killed herself. It’s been a year now, and the sting has dulled, but the root of the pain grows strong inside.
At times it takes my breath away, but the anxiety-ridden strain to bring air into my lungs is easier to comprehend than the emptiness that lingers. I feel it so much; but there’s a concurrent nothing. But how can there be an addition of nothing? How can emptiness weigh so heavily?
There’s a tangible feeling inside me where her life and our sibling bond used to be. It now exists in a void. Life can’t be replaced; the energy it possesses and the connections it gives us to others and our surroundings can never be replicated.
Gianna’s death gave life to an emotional torture that brought me closer to her; but without the ability to share it with her. I struggled to grasp Gianna’s despair and plights empathetically, I was always trying to make sense of them. That empathetic absence hurt her, and it hurts me now. I feel her depression, and had I been sentient of it before, maybe that awareness would have been the catalyst for the brother she required.
I, we, needed to save her life, not help her figure it out. When someone’s drowning you don’t teach them the breaststroke. You pull them out, console them and be cognizant that it’s possible they just can’t swim. But how many times do you pull someone out? When do you stop? How far under water do you let them sink before you jump in? Did they learn how to swim but intentionally drown themselves in spite only to see if you would jump in again? Would someone really go that far?
I ask myself everyday if she was waiting to be saved, again, and this time we bluntly decided to make her swim.
A look at the valley’s options for finding mental health support:
Aspen Hope Center
A crisis center that offers short term and long term mental health support.
Contact: 970-925-5858 and ourhopecenter.org
Mind Springs Health
Offers broad scope, community mental health support
Contact: 970-201-4299 and mindspringshealth.org. Mental health support line, 877-519-7505.
Connecting all of the mental health resources together, including a list of all valley providers, in one place.
Sometimes love, support, empathy, understanding and care can make things better. Sometimes there is no virtue that can resolve the fall and the inevitable comes to fruition. We can cover wounds, disinfect them and bandage them up. We can jump into that cold, dark water and guide them to shore. Eventually though, human nature assumes that a person learned to swim from all the time spent in the water. But I’ve come to the realization that there isn’t always a shore to swim to.
The struggle of mental illness isn’t one singular complication, it’s a muddling of predicaments combined together to make this mass of misery. The perspective isn’t a puddle and a snowball, it’s a tsunami and an avalanche. Each issue resolved only removes a handful from a roaring mass that’s demolishing everything in its path. It’s an all-consuming annihilation of the reasoning that some possess to move past hopelessness.
Each time I could have helped and didn’t, every time I could have responded with compassion but responded with indifference — the mistakes I made with her are consistent reminders inside me. I find peace with one, and I’m submersed in another.
I’ve forgotten all the times I was angered, hurt, betrayed, deceived or failed. The myriad instances that I felt a justification to give up on her have dissolved and evanesced. I was able to move past my own demons, but she wasn’t afforded the same fate. Her demons didn’t die with her, they persist among the survivors.
To those of you dealing with someone suffering from depression, addiction, or mental illness: do everything you can. Do it all. Because once you can’t, there’s no escape from the permanence. The absolute finality in the “nothing I can do for Gianna” lurks beside me like a shadow. For my Mom, the affliction for a parent who has lost a child, and the infinite consistency of death cannot be pacified.
Time will reconstruct the grief to something more manageable. Time will help us adapt. But time will never change the simple fact that now, there’s no longer anything anyone can do; that is permanent. Understand and acknowledge that whatever anger, pain and frustration these difficult circumstances bring you, your family and friends, there’s still a hope.
I would take each instance of aggravation, irritation, resentment, defensiveness and disappointment for just one more opportunity at hope. I’ve been told that the mentally ill and addicted need to take the first step to recovery, but not everyone can muster the strength to stand with that weight on their shoulders. Some people truly need a hand, and sometimes they fall down right after you pick them up, over and over again.
Not everyone bears the strength to stand on their own. Life is a skill, and some are simply better at it than others. An effortless, uncomplicated relationship with Gianna Marie Rizzuto was an insurmountable summit, but my Mother, myself and Gianna’s loved ones would take back the turmoil for another opportunity.
Hope is never truly gone until you can never try again. So, if you still have a chance, take it.
Anthony Rizzuto, who in light of his sister’s death, has started a counseling and wellness practice in Basalt called G Code Recovery. He can be reached at email@example.com or 970-309-9349.
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