Irrevocable Change by Sarah Byrne

By August 23, 2016Blog

On March 1st, my life, and the lives of my 4 children, was irrevocably changed. My husband, a handsome and successful family man that put everything and everyone ahead of himself, had just completed the most successful year of his already impressive career.  Donnie’s laugh was louder and more infectious than most. With a quirky sense of humor, he immediately put those he encountered at ease. His hugs – whether to his children, me, a friend, or an 80-year-old stranger – were filled with warmth and sincerity.  He was the life of the party. Everyone was “Team Donnie”.

Donnie also wore a mask. He had suffered from alcohol addiction and co-morbid anxiety. After a number of attempts, he was clean and sober for 15 months.  Finally, I had the charismatic man that I married back! Our family, with 4 kids ranging in age from 21 to 7, was full, loud, and perfectly imperfect. Donnie had found a great psychiatrist and was on medication that seemed to stabilize him. It looked as though we had gotten through the tunnel and could now enjoy the light. Of course we felt the normal stresses of life. On February 29th, my husband called to ask me to make some changes to a flight to Hawaii we had scheduled for late March.  He needed to take a professional course that conflicted with our travel. He had e-mailed his psychiatrist to confirm that our dates would not conflict with his next appointment. The morning of March 1st, Donnie routinely had breakfast and left for the office.  We spoke briefly on the phone.  At 10:00 am he spoke to his best friend and colleague about a business deal. At 11:00 am he laughed and joked in another colleagues office discussing business.  Around 11:30 he abruptly, and uncharacteristically, left his office without cleaning up or shutting down his computer.

As a family, we always sat down to dinner at 6 pm. My husband wasn’t home. His phone was turned off.  I was concerned. He always called or texted to let me know if he was going to be late. At 8 pm two men arrived at my door, “I am so sorry, we have the worst possible news,” the coroner said, “your husband took his own life”. Time of death 12:47 p.m.

My husband wore a mask.  I had no idea he was in crisis. He was clean and sober, and, I thought, happy. Why? We believe he started feeling so much better that he felt like he didn’t need “those drugs” anymore. We believe he abruptly discontinued his medication without consult from his Doctor. My husband felt the stigma attached to mental illness and couldn’t accept his biochemical imbalance. He couldn’t accept his diagnosis as he might have accepted any other physiologic disorder. His disease was in his brain, not liver or heart. He didn’t have diabetes. He had an illness, not unlike those that affect these other parts of the body. But, because of stigma, I believe he felt ashamed.

On my way to grief counseling with my 7-year-old twins, my son asked me if, when he had the talking stick, he could say, “My Dad died of mental illness.”  His twin sister cried, “No! That is so embarrassing.”   How? How does this seep into the mind of a 7-year-old child?  We talk at length about the fact that she wouldn’t have been ashamed if Daddy died of cancer or heart disease. There is no shame in Daddy’s illness. Only sadness.  I never want another child of a person suffering from mental illness to feel this way or a family to suffer through (a wrongful) shame. I never want another person to feel the need to suffer in silence when treatment is available.

On March 1st, our lives irrevocably changed. My work is to ensure that this change will not be in vain.

I support Bring Change 2 Mind, and hope that you will join me. Please share this opportunity with your community, and help to support an extraordinary cause – ending stigma! Treat yourself or someone special as we help raise money and awareness at the same time (10% of proceeds of items purchased from this link now through September 30th will go to Bring Change 2 Mind). Please spread the word.


  • Chris says:

    I pray for healing for you and your family. Thank you so much for sharing❤️

  • Maryellen B says:

    I am so sorry…. I have sister who is schizophrenic and called me yesterday in a very dark mood. I think she had missed a few days of medicine. When I saw India’s message, it was so ironic…. As I tried to calm down my sister, I thought to myself there is nothing worse then mental illness, not because of the stigma but because of the helplessness it makes us all feel… Both the victim and everyone trying to help them… My heart goes out to you and your family❤️

  • Paula R says:

    Sending loving thoughts to you and your family and any one else going through the effects of mental health issues and addictions. I know all too well what a difficult road all involved travel…Thank you for bringing this issue to light. So very sorry for the loss of your husband. Sounds like he was an amazing man…

  • Christina Lynch-B says:

    You are an incredible, strong and powerful woman… what you , your husband and children went through brings tears to my eyes and shatters my heart. I pray for you and for your children that the healing continues and that with time, your pain is lessened. By sharing your story with us and educating others is a huge part of your healing and moving forward… it’s amazing! You are a heroic woman and inspirational! I hope our paths cross at the next India Hicks conference if not sooner. God bless you all.

  • Lynne says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Your story touches my inner soul and my heart and stomach ached when reading it. I have gone thru a similar experience. Today happens to be 7 years as Tito when my soul mate has been gone. I would like to send you a reading that my husband always kept. It took awhile for me to really understand it.
    Thank you for your time

  • Deborah R says:

    Hello Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing your story. My father committed suicide. He wore a mask as well. Suicide awareness is so very important. There should not be a stigma associated to depression or mental illness. I too struggle with depression and a victim of abuse.

    I will pray for your family and please pray for mine. I’m here for you.

    Warm regards,


  • Mary C says:

    I have never posted about mental illness. I am so sorry for your family and for you to be so brave. Yes the stigma is very real. I suffer with mental illness myself. I commend you for bringing an invisible disease to the for front. Those of us who suffer front mental illness look and act the same as people without the disease. I think that’s the hardest part for people to understand. If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. I wish you peace, and happiness for you and your family.

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