My Brother

-Warning! This page contains photographs and descriptions of items taken from the scene of Ryan’s death as a testament to the severity of the disease at hand.

 Born October 22, 1993, Ryan James Cummins was my youngest and only sibling. As children, I remember him following me into every bit of trouble and adventure our young minds could think up. Though Ryan always seemed to get the brunt of all of my “genius” ideas, he still followed me with the utmost confidence. When I was around the age of seven, I recall asking Ryan to get into one of those large plastic Fischer Price cars so I could drive him up and down the grassy hills of our backyard. At the top of the hill, I decided to push him down at top speed with no consideration of the five-foot wall dropping off at the bottom. As he soared down the hill and off the ledge, the final things I could remember were the shrieks of my father from our deck and, to my surprise, the hilarity of Ryan’s voice upside down in a set of bushes. Though I regret using my brother as a crash test dummy, I will never forget hearing his laughter as the end result of a potential tragedy.

As we grew older and into our teenage years, we both began to develop our own perspectives on life and grew apart as we made new friends and pursued different interests. As I entered my junior year of high school, Ryan had just entered the eighth grade, which he later referred to as “the prime of his life.” He had grown to 5’8” at the start of the year and his stature towered over the majority of his class. I remember how many people looked up to him that year both literally and figuratively, for Ryan carried himself with a sense of philosophical wit that could challenge even the brightest of minds. He became active in football and track and became interested in the world of electronics. At the age of 14, Ryan successfully built a computer from scratch and was the only one in our family who was technologically literate; in fact, his idea of a light read at the age of 15 was a textbook he purchased on basic computer programming. It simply amazed me how quickly Ryan could be presented with a problem, analyze it, and solve it.

By the time Ryan reached his sophomore year of high school, he became an active trumpet player in the jazz, symphonic, and marching bands. He also joined the cross country team and elected to take several advanced placement courses to put his brain to a healthy test; however, this bright period was sadly the start of the inevitable. By April of his sophomore year, Ryan began actively expressing feelings of anxiety and gloom. He would contrast this new mental state with the way he used to feel in middle school- the so called “prime of his life.” Though Ryan still stayed focused on his social life and schoolwork, he was actively pursuing ways to remedy his negative emotions. He started altering his diet by measuring portion sizes and cutting back on “unhealthy” foods; however, after going from 130 pounds to 110 pounds over a month and a half, our family knew that this “diet” was no more than starvation. Following his weight loss, he agreed to receive psychiatric help. Following his evaluation, he was started on Zoloft and by late fall of his junior year, Ryan had nearly regained the weight he had previously lost, yet his mind continued to deteriorate. He had stopped taking Zoloft, went on Effexor, PRN (as needed) Vistaril for anxiety, and taking a combination of herbal and synthetic supplements. In the winter of 2011, Ryan had made the first attempt to take his life after drinking ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) and taking a slew of over the counter pain relievers. Following his attempt, he immediately threw up the medication and voluntarily admitted himself to Western Psychiatric Hospital of Pittsburgh. During his admission, Ryan was loaded with a higher dose of Effexor and discharged three weeks later. He remained on the new dosage until about the fall of his senior year when his psychiatrist believed Ryan may be suffering from Bipolar disorder. He was treated with Lithium carbonate and Pristiq (anti-depressant). After six months of being on the medications, Ryan had voiced that he was feeling worse than ever before. He said his thoughts were becoming foggy and he was unable to concentrate. Again, the medication regime was discontinued, and upon graduating from high school in the spring of 2012, Ryan refused to take any more prescription drugs.

Ryan James Cummins

In the fall of 2012, Ryan attended the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg free from prescription medications as he pursued a degree in software engineering. During move-in day, my parents and I were a little worried on how Ryan would adapt to this new stage in his life, but he did so with little difficulty, or so we thought. He pulled A’s and B’s in all of his classes, found a wonderful girl, and tried to surround himself with positive energy to outweigh the negative feelings that had simply become a part of his everyday life. In his second semester at school, he went to his psychiatrist unable to focus. With another diagnose of Attention Deficit disorder (ADD) on the table, Ryan was placed on two amphetamine class drugs: Adderall and Vyvanse. In the fall of 2013, Ryan transferred to the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus and commuted to class from home; however, it was not soon after he started that the pain returned. The disease was driving him mad. He told me, “I feel burned out. I can’t concentrate and retain any information like I used to. I can do the work, but it means nothing to me and I am tired of the medications. They only temporarily numb this feeling and it always comes back worse than before.” He tapered off the amphetamines, switched his major from engineering to information sciences, and got a job at a local electronics store. For the days to follow, Ryan appeared to be zeroing in on his school work and job. He would keep to himself and spend hours a night trying to focus. I can remember coming home from work to see him sleeping in his work clothes on our basement couch with his course materials close by. In his final months, I rarely saw him smile, become angry, or even sad. He simply existed in a world he felt little purpose in.

On the evening of November 7,2013, I had just arrived home at 8:00PM from a 12 hour shift at the hospital. Nearly passed out on the couch after the long day, I remember seeing Ryan walk into our living room with the same flat expression on his face I had learned to accept. Not really knowing what to say, I cracked a joke in hopes that it would lighten his mood. He took one look at me, rolled his eyes and walked away; this was the last time I saw my brother. After our encounter, Ryan asked my parents if he could use the car to meet up with some students from the university in order to work on a group project. Following the project, he indicated that he was going to a party and would not be home until the following day. This was typical for Ryan to do; however, he would always keep in touch with his family and friends when going out for an extended period of time. When the morning of November eighth came around, neither my parents nor I had heard from Ryan, but we assumed he was away from his phone or sleeping from the night before. It was not until roughly 2:00PM on Friday that my parents began to worry. Trying to get a lead on his whereabouts, my mother contacted Ryan’s girlfriend to see if she had heard from him. Apparently Ryan was supposed to go up to see her at school Friday afternoon, but he had not shown up or responded to any of her recent messages — worry had now turned to panic.  As I left work at 7:30PM, I was unaware that my family was in crisis. My mother had texted me a few hours earlier to see if I had heard from my brother, but I had not. On the ride home, I made several attempts to call Ryan, but his phone just kept ringing. I thought, “Is he ignoring our calls? Did he just drop his phone or is he in desperate need?” Before thinking the worst, I first wanted to get home and gather all the facts. As I stepped through the door at 8:00PM, my parents and the parents of Ryan’s close friend were gathered in the living room. They informed me that the police were now involved, and it was only going to be a few hours before his photograph would be shown on the evening news.

  Ryan’s photograph run across the news

For the next two hours, I sat on the same couch from where I last saw Ryan, anticipating him to stroll through the front door. As each minute passed, the pit in my stomach became deeper and my mind raced as I tried to think of ways to bring him home. I asked myself, “What if I didn’t make that joke? What if I talked to him for a few extra minutes yesterday? Would he still be here?”  At 10:00PM his photo came across the television and without a minute to spare, I got back into my car and began a search of my own. I went to his favorite coffee shop and various places Ryan liked to walk to relieve some stress; however, every destination I could think of was a dead end. By midnight on November 9th, it was impossible for me not to think the worst. Instead of searching for Ryan in places he may want to go to relieve stress, I began searching in places he may want to end his life. I looked under bridges and in parking lots hoping I would find him, but deep down praying that I would not. As 2:00AM rolled around, the final place I looked for Ryan was in the parking lot of our church in Dormont. “Maybe, just maybe, he was looking for spiritual guidance,” I thought; however,  after driving to the church with high hopes, I ended my night at 3:00AM still unable to find him.

I can remember crawling into bed feeling like a failure for not finding Ryan, but this failure gave me a glimmer of hope. I believed that his cunningness and wit were keeping him safe somewhere that nobody had thought to look. With this sense of comfort at hand, I was able to fall asleep only to be awoken two hours later by the screams of my parents. I ran down the stairs to the sight of my father staring off in the distance and my mother crying on the bottom of the steps. An officer from our borough had come to tell us that Ryan was found dead in a church parking lot inside the car he drove the night before. He had taken his life by mixing together two household chemicals in the enclosed vehicle to produce the volatile gas hydrogen sulfide – a substance so deadly that it could have harmed even those trying to save him. However, even in the end, Ryan’s selfless attitude was still looking out for those around him. He posted notes on all of the car windows to warn those who would find him to stay away for their own safety.

One of 3 warning signs posted on the car windows

A rescue team works to open the vehicle

With only the images of my brother’s final moments ingrained into my mind, my emotions were that of sadness, rage, and despair. Ryan had so much talent and was always putting others in front of himself. Even in his darkest moments, he believed that there was always someone out there who could use a bit of guidance. Seeing the potential in those he surrounded came to him more naturally than the way he envisioned himself. How can somebody have the capacity to make so many positive impacts on so many lives without having a clue on the basic fundamentals of his own existence? It did not make any sense to me and I fear that it never will. Although I may never know what compelled Ryan to succeed in his final act, I gained solace in an object found in his possessions from the car. In the front photo pocket of his wallet rested a small card with a quote by Mahatma Gandhi. It was not a quote about the anguish in his life or even an answer to the “whys.” On that card was a wish never answered — a light that reminded me what Ryan and those like him were fighting for.

The Card from Ryan’s Wallet

 

12 thoughts on “My Brother

  1. Thank you this story is all to familiar to myself I can see both sides of this coin.
    I too am bipolar which affects my life eben today.
    It became more apparant after my son.s death through hanging himself.
    It took away all my memories of the days we spent together and left me only with little flash backs when something triggers my emotions memories shall flodd into my mind.
    Sometimes even only when I dream can I recall the good times we had together what makes it more difficult is the fact we lost contact with each other for 7years prior to his death.
    Not a word or any idea of his where abouts I would search everywhere I went to look for me laddie Finlay Sinclair.
    He was 26yrs old when he took his own life then last time we spoke for a few stolen moments was when he was 19yrs old the day I walked out from the family home he was 15yrs old.
    I lived in a violent marraiage for 20yrs to keep beside me laddie fore I never wanted to live without him in my life I lived for him he was my life.
    I take one day at a time I write about my life before and after his death he gave me the gift to share emotions and feelings some people keep bottled up inside.
    I do this through writing, my story about my life with me laddie before and after his death also by writing poetry /lyrics and playing music and painting. I taught him to draw and paint at an early age he became an Graphic artist himself.
    I shall post this on my own website also to remind me of why I do continue to write for with bipolar I often feel I am worthless and not of any value to others. Thank you for allowing me to express how I feel and allowing me to read about your loss. well done Ian.
    Annie MItchell

  2. So sorry about your brother, such a heartbreaking story. and thank you for bringing awareness to such a horrible disease,

  3. Thank you for doing this. Your brother sounds very similar to my son. Mother’s Day was our most special day of the year and he always spoiled me. This past mother’s day my son took his own life. He left a very similar note to your brother’s on the door. You are such an inspiration.

  4. Sunday, late afternoon, I was driving back home to Durango, through Pagosa Springs and noticed something odd. There were three young men, walking with baby-buggies (the kind one tows behind a bike or one jogs with) in tandem against the flow of traffic. I travel a lot and frequently see many things that are, well, let’s just say, unique. The energy and constitution of these three men, briskly walking, with erect posture and in their strides, was clear to me, that they had a ‘purpose.’ I wondered what it was and what that was about as I drove on hwy. 160 traveling westbound, through the pine trees on that hot afternoon.

    Fast forwarding to Tuesday afternoon at 2:30 pm, I had finished my business in town (Durango) and was heading home to help my neighbor buck bales (load bales of hay) when,as I was stopped at a traffic light waiting to turn, I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was the Buggie Boys that I saw outside of Pagosa just a couple of days earlier.

    Although I had already made my way through the Sonic drive through line, just minutes before (hydro’ing up for the work ahead), upon seeing these guys again, I thought I would circle back to Sonic once more and treat them to lunch and a soda. I figured that they couldn’t get TOO far ahead of me, after all they were walking! Upon making my way through the long line (again), I purchased their late lunch and guessed where I thought they would be. I was right. I pulled over, along side the road, blocking their way, but not too close, as to freak them out or anything. With bags of food in my hand, I welcomed them to Durango and told them that I saw them just days earlier and was curious WHAT they were doing/up to.

    What came next, really touched me. As I heard Ian’s words…that he is walking for his brother, who took his own life..to spread awareness and hope for others, I instantly put my hand on my heart. As, I too, lost a brother as a result of his taking his own life. We didn’t talk much, as we were on the side of a very busy road but as I drove home…as I helped my neighbor buck bales, I thought of those three young men…and the love, the caring, the compassion and the healing that they are ‘journeying’ as they walk across America (The land of the beautiful, the home of the brave and free), my heart and prayers walk along side with them. I pray that their angels will protect them on their journey and beyond.

  5. I live here in the small town of Syracuse Kansas, I just read about you coming through town and I think its awesome what you are doing, and I would bet it might just save a life or two. I am very saddened by the torment your brother had to undergo with different diagnoses and switching medications. I myself have anxiety disorder mixed with depression…and sadly I have tried to take my own life, but by the grace of God I am still alive. I have suffered panic attacks for as long as I can remember and the bouts of depression….I really do give my being alive today as to the grace of God.. .please don’t take offence by that, I sure don’t mean it that way. I went through so many different diagnoses and medications…it if horrible! Then when my parents passed away 30 days apart, I had a nervous breakdown, and if it weren’t for my sister staying on the phone with me day after day for a week or more until I could get some medical help, I would have never made it! I honestlt thought I was losing my mind! It was the scariest time if my life….and to make a long story short, after years of different diagnoses and all kinds of crazy medication, I have finally found the right combination of medication, a closer walk with God, and with counseling I am finally delivered from the panic attacks and can live as normal of a life as ever! I just hope others will never give up hope for sometimes it takes all you have just to get out of bed! Anyway I have rambled on forever here and the main thing I want to say is first “thank you” for caring enough to do this, and I hope maybe someone if only one person is saved by this, it was worth it all. Your brother would be proud of you, and you and your family will be in my prayers and may God bless you in every step! Thank you for “waking up” the world that this is a very real and delicate matter not to ever be taken lightly. Best of luck in your travels and thank you for sharing your story. A. Morris

  6. Ian,
    Thank you for sharing and barring your soul. Ryan sounds like he was an amazing young man. Your journey is impressive. If you ever get a chance and want to look into an organization that shares your goals and purpose, look up the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) on line. There are branches in every state that you can be involved in on an ongoing basis. I am a AFSP Board Member in Tucson and I am involved because mental illness takes the people we love away from us. Only by working to solve the mysteries of mental illness can we stop this type of tragady.

  7. Ian, I was so glad to read your article about your walking for Mental Illness. When I was only 11 yrs old my Mother took her life. Back then nothing was ever spoken of Mental Illness and little known of it. That was in the 1950’s. I had a Christian Father that raised my older sister and myself. In 1968, one of my brothers took his life the same way as my Mother had. Again the Mental Illness was not spoken of and not so much known or if it was still was not publicized. I thought I had not grieved for my Mother being so young but when my brother took his life it was like a giant explosion into my world. Life does go on but in 1969 I was diagnosed with major depression and have been on medication since then. I married and had 4 children thought life was looking up. It seemed to be for a while but the ugly head of Mental Illness raised its head in the fact that my oldest daughter and oldest son were both diagnosed with Mental Illness, (Bipolar). How one exists I do not know but you do you have to or give in. Well a year ago this month my youngest daughter tried to take her life. She has been diagnosed with Mental Illness same as my two older children with BiPolar. I just pray daily that my last son will not have to have this. Some days yet it is just so hard and the tears fall but I know Mental Illness has been made more known and I THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART for what you are wanting to accomplish. May God Bless you and keep you safe on your journey.

  8. Ian,
    I want to thank you for sharing your story about your brother Ryan. I lost my only son Ian Michael to suicide on December 31, 2008. Ian was 19 and took his life by hanging himself in the projection room of Destinta Theater where he worked. He seemed perfectly fine the night before and the morning of the 30th when his actions were taken. I did not know your brother, but it sounds like he and my Ian were very much alike. Although Ian was not tormented by mental illness and or demons, he left no note and showed no signs. We believe he died of a broken heart.

    As a parent suffering the loss of a child to suicide, my heart goes out to you and your parents. It is difficult trying to fill the void this loss created, in fact, it will never heal. It scabs over but breaks open again and again.

    I also want to thank you for your selfless efforts in your journey across America to bring attention to this delicate subject. May God bless you with every step you take and in every city you venture may you find support, love and kindness.

    Sincerely yours,
    Rebecca Trusz
    Ian Michael Trusz’s Mom.
    4-20-89 <3 12/31/08

  9. I know your brother very well.. Ryan was a fantastic person. Nobody will ever know how he much he actually helped me. He’s the reason I didn’t kill myself personally. It’s been months and I still have to hold off tears. I wish there was more I could’ve done to help him. I loved him to death and he loved everyone. I can’t say enough things good things about him. And I’m so sorry.

  10. I am so sorry for the loss of this wonderful young man. The pain he must have struggled with took its toll and ended a life that had so much potential. I wish I could have met Ryan.

  11. I listened today to you at Wellstone Hospital. I lost my father and older brother to suicide so I know the angst you and your parents have felt. I have soothed my soul by remembering all the good times of which there were so many and the belief that they are now with God in a place where there is no depression or anxiety. And someday, I will see them again on the other side.

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