Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of suicidal ideation. If you or someone you know is thinking about harming themself, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. You are not alone.
In an earth-shattering interview this week, Meghan Markle was searingly honest with Oprah Winfrey about the toxic dynamic which prompted her and Harry to step away from the royal family. Watching them dredged up difficult feelings for me. You see, I too felt forced to leave my family for the sake of my wellbeing.
Meghan and Harry got married in the spring of 2018, just a few months before my husband and I did. As her own family dysfunction became tabloid fodder, I remember being oddly comforted by the thought that our soon-to-be princess came from a family as broken as mine. I too, was estranged from my parents and my siblings were soon to follow.
In the interview, Meghan revealed that prior to parting ways with the royal family, she was devastated by her public persecution. Her mental health declined and she thought about suicide. Reaching out to senior members of the royal family, she appealed for help but was refused.
Two years before the big break with my family, I could feel my mental stability dangerously wavering. My equilibrium was slipping away. Soon enough, suicidal thoughts kept me company, like an uninvited house guest who simply wouldn’t leave. Like Meghan, I became convinced that no longer being here would solve everything.
I remember telling a relative that I was struggling with this particular darkness and that how I was treated by my family drove me to the brink of despair. I’ll never forget how I was blamed for my depression, how I was told that I was the cause of it. That I myself was the very problem. I later learned that another family member had expressed the belief I was making it up for attention.
That’s the thing about scapegoating: Nothing you do or say is taken at face value. You are never believed, and you are never believed to be good.
This kind of toxicity within a family is often about control and compliance; falling into line. When Meghan and Harry fell afoul of the Royal family, they were stripped of their patronages, military titles, financial support and even their security. That essentially put their lives–and the life of their son–at risk. That’s not my world, but with my family, the premise was the same. When I fell afoul, love and support was abruptly withdrawn and I was alone. Just like Meghan and Harry.
It seems Meghan and Harry felt pushed to the edge, but they decided to take the leap. That’s the way I feel. For a long time, I was bitterly angry. I hadn’t been loved fully enough for my family to surround me with gentle wisdoms and bring us back together. Instead, they had driven me out against my will.
But if every family is a system with rules and beliefs, then even if the choice to leave is a horrible one, it is still a choice. And like Meghan and Harry, my husband and I made that choice. Eventually, we decided to take back control and throw off the shroud of victimhood. We decided to close one door so that others could open for us. We decided to walk away, for the sake of my emotional wellbeing, and for the sake of our marriage.
It didn’t happen overnight. I had tumbled in and out of estrangement with my mother for years, and the ostracism and scapegoating I experienced within my family had reached its climax. I didn’t really know how to live life on my own terms, but I was desperate to learn how.
A time of sad reflection came when I became pregnant with our twin daughters. I longed for my own mother to take care of me, and I envied my friends; their mothers often coming to live with them during pregnancy and the first months of their children’s lives. But like Meghan and Harry, I looked to friends and chosen family for support.
And we had a lot of support. My husband’s family was quietly accepting, never doubting us and always ready with food, clothes for our babies and advice. My godmother was with me nearly every day towards the end of my pregnancy. She attended obstetrician appointments with me, helped me move home, and ready the nursery. My friends showered me with reassurance. The bitterness was there, but it swelled in and out of focus. They shored me up with her love, and their love gave me strength. My strength gave my husband some peace. Perhaps he knew I wouldn’t fall apart—again—after all. And as I prepared for the start of my new family, I quietly grieved the end of my old one.
That doesn’t mean that door we closed will always remain shut. It only means that life is for living, not just surviving, and that is ultimately what we’ve chosen to do.