“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
Albert Einstein said that.
Since Abensan’s passing, this quote has gone through my mind over and over again, almost on a loop, not so dissimilar from the wheel of a bicycle going round and round.
No one can truly know who you are when you are here and once you have passed. The best person to represent yourself is you, and always will be. However, we all have characters that shine through. We all have eyes that peer into the depths of our souls, and we all have smiles that give a glimpse into what truly makes us happy.
In the middle of my home is a stationary bike. Admittedly, I have only used it to exercise a handful of times so far, but it’s journey here and bulky place in my apartment is not without incredible meaning.
About two years ago, I began receiving alarming text messages from a close friend of mine, Harenssan. I could recognize some of the signs in what he was saying and began feeling triggered about my own past.
He was trying to get in contact with me but was limited for time. His messages were short, and to the point, and it was clear that a crisis was going on in his world. When I would finally connect with Harenssan in person to discuss the situation, he revealed that he didn’t know my past but just thought that because of who I was that I could help.
Harenssan then told me that his brother Abensan was in a psychiatric ward. He had tried to commit suicide.
My heart was broken for Abensan. I immediately went into problem solving mode and began informing my friend of how best to advocate for his brother within the mental health system, and also what to look out for.
My heart was broken for Abee not just because he wanted to depart this world, or felt like he had no options, but because now he was without question not going to get the help he really needed. And I knew this because I myself was forced into the psychiatric system, except I was there based on a lie that I was suicidal.
Abee truly was.
What broke my heart about Abee’s situation was what I knew about truly suicidal patients. I had seen with my own two eyes patients come in because they had tried to take their lives the night before and be released from the hospital the next day. And so, I knew that there was a high chance Abensan might not receive the support he needed at that time.
The confines of a psychiatric ward act much like a cast for a broken bone. Except the methods are abusive, archaic, and for some reason the medical system treats the mental health sector as though it is the enigma of the field, when in fact, it is not.
Once you have been identified as “suicidal” in society, there is a terrible taboo and stigma that follows.
A psychiatric ward environment often does not help a situation, but worsens it. I know it did for me, tenfold. No matter what your reason for being an inpatient in psychiatry, you can almost guarantee that if you were struggling before being hospitalized, you’re definitely going to struggle for a period after.
The hospital itself is a trauma.
After a recovery that was nothing short of miraculous, a struggle to reintegrate, and navigating the ups and downs of having been diagnosed with Bipolar Type I Disorder, Abee died at the young age of 30.
A couple of years before Abee’s death, and about one month before his first suicide attempt Harenssan began to recognize that something was wrong. Harenssan says of that time, “I see that he’s really depressed, I saw it. He wasn’t able to sleep. He was writing notes all of the time. He was debating whether to leave from Montreal to go to Manitoba to work. He couldn’t sleep. He shaved his head. He was getting skinny because he wasn’t eating much.”
Abee was going through many changes and according to Harenssan they were noticeable. By this point, majority of Abensan’s friends had cut ties with him and so had his longtime girlfriend.
When Harenssan asked Abee what was going on he said that he was thinking of going to Manitoba for his CBD business because he got offered a good job.
Abee decided to take the position.
Harenssan wanted to rally some of Abee’s friends for a proper send-off before he left Montreal. He organized a party over the weekend, and within a day or so Abee was off for Manitoba.
When Harenssan woke up to go for work on Monday morning, May 8, 2019, he had a suspicion that his brother was home, but he let the moment pass. Their father then called Harenssan while he was at work and he heard his dad’s voice screaming:
“Your brother suicide! Your brother suicide!”
Abee had left for Manitoba and within 24 hours come back home and tried to take his own life.
Harenssan describes turning into a zombie at work and then his boss telling him to go home.
Harenssan drove home, praying the whole time.
Abee made a miraculous recovery.
The recovery was arduous for Abee but he beat the odds, healing quicker and greater than doctors anticipated.
While recovering in the hospital he kept saying, “That he wanted to die. That he didn’t want to live with the shame.”
Abee would beg Harenssan saying, “Please let me die.”
Harenssan recounts that Abee “didn’t want to live the life of a mentally ill person, being a patient…he didn’t want to be known as someone who was mentally ill, and that’s a real shame.”
When asked about how Abee responded to mental health treatment Harenssan says, “I don’t think he responded properly, but I feel like he was in the battle on his own. I don’t think his family and friends were educated enough or knew how to help him regarding mental illness. I was doing my best, but it was just my word, against everybody else’s word. Essentially, that’s what it felt like. I would tell them, do this and that, but if nobody else is helping me in that support, it makes me powerless essentially.”
Harenssan continues, “the medications never actually worked, I don’t think.”
“The healthcare system was overwhelmed, he should have been in the hospital, it was clear he was suicidal. So, if somebody’s suicidal, essentially the law says they should be hospitalized until they get the treatment to not be suicidal. But this guy, whenever he was in the hospital, the psychiatrist doctor would try to keep him there, put an order to keep him in the hospital, he would go to court and he would win because the judicial system is broken. Or, they just didn’t have the resources to keep him there…”
According to Harenssan everyone knew he was suicidal, but “there was no way for us to keep him hospitalized because he didn’t want to be hospitalized.”
There is uncertainty surrounding how Abee died. In Harenssan’s words, “We don’t really know exactly how he died, or why he died. We know he drowned, because he was found in the water.”
Harenssan continues, “At the end of the day, we know he didn’t want to live. Right? So whether this was accidental or not, doesn’t really matter. The point is that he’s gone and he felt like he didn’t want to live. And the reason he didn’t want to live is because he didn’t want to manage his mental illness. That’s something we need to change.”
My bereaved friend continues describing his brother’s experience saying, “after his first suicide attempt, it was too much for him.”
In spite of everything, Harenssan says, “we just didn’t have the right cast around him you know? The right support system…we needed the support of the family, we needed the support of the friends. And unfortunately, the way people live their lives, they live their lives, everyone has their own problems, and their own issues and they need to take care of themselves first before helping other people, and just bad circumstances.”
Harenssan feels strongly about suicide prevention. He says, “There were so many things we could have changed, you know. And for people to say, ‘this was his destiny’ or ‘this was his outcome’, no there’s nothing like that. We could have changed his outcome by the choices we did or decisions we made. And it’s just a shame for him that this ended up being his outcome.”
Harenssan’s message is simple: it’s okay. He wants for people to know that “no matter how bad it is, there’s always a way out.”
Ambitionz Az a Ridah
In 2018 Abee disconnected from a large group of friends, a brotherhood that he built. I spoke with Abee’s “right hand man” for 17 years Ghost who describes the Abee he knew as an enigmatic leader not so dissimilar from legendary figures like 2Pac.
I personally only had the honor of meeting Abee one time. But that one time will always stand out in my mind. In the short few hours I spent with him and Harenssan, Abee and I spoke at length about 2Pac. Most people who love 2Pac the way we do will get into a lengthy discussion about him if given the chance. 2Pac was a soulful warrior who’s life was taken too soon. That kind of loss has a ripple effect so large it can be felt for generations.
Ghost says of his late friend, “When anybody looks at Tupac you see this brilliant guy with passion and energy and he’s real with his emotions and how he speaks and…when Abee would look to 2Pac, and he would take those qualities and bring it to his own character.”
Ghost continues likening Abee (who he affectionally calls AK) to 2Pac saying, “he was so generous, and he wanted so much for people. He didn’t care if you were popular or a loser, rich, poor or whatever, Abee just loved everybody. And he stood up for everybody. Anytime he’d see somebody getting harassed or something, he would step in, and I can just picture shit like that with 2Pac.”
While Ghost compares AK to Pac, he makes it clear that Abee was a rare individual. He says of AK, “There’s nobody that I’ve ever met in my life who can go in any single room in the world, and everybody just gravitates towards them and likes them. He’s the only person I’ve met that’s able to do that.”
“I’ve tried to see if there’s other people that I have personally met in my life, that’s not on TV or anything… or that I’ve heard rumors of, or celebrities or this and that. But personally, in my lifetime, meeting someone personally, I have never met anybody who can go in any room, and everybody just loves the guy.”
“He gels people together.”
Ghost continues describing Abee saying, “There’s so many people that I know because of him, so many people know me because of him, and everybody is gonna say the same thing…”
According to Ghost, Abensan had, “like a really kind energy, but he was also no punk, he was no sucka.”
He continues, “Anytime he would see some foul shit he would act on it and be really aggressive about it. He really wore his emotions and passion on his sleeve, a really complicated character, because you can say all these loving things about him but then somebody can tell you ‘Oh but, we weren’t on the best of terms’ but that’s only because that person would have done something wrong to someone else to receive that energy back.”
“So, you know he really wore loyalty, passion, on his sleeve, and everybody gravitated towards him. He was not shy, he would talk to anybody, ask them questions, be friendly with them. And, he always told me to make sure that I would treat people right no matter what. Make sure you treat them right all the time.”
“I feel like that’s such a rare person.” Ghost says. “You know, the thing that pains me the most about this whole entire thing is that the world did not get to experience it. That’s what really kills me about this whole thing. He’s not here to live his full potential.”
Ghost expresses, “In a way I feel like I failed because I was aware and I knew the type of potential and energy that he had and I just couldn’t do anything for him to still be here.”
Ghost then goes on to discuss a moment of self-reflection he had just weeks before Abee’s passing. He contemplated the parameters of cancel culture and how we often treat people as though they can easily be discarded. He then reached out to his brotherhood, the group that Abee built in high school, expressing his thoughts about reaching out to Abee to try and be a voice of reason.
Ghost never ended up reaching out.
He describes a time where he, Abee and their friends were driving in the car with Abee at the wheel. Ghost says Abee was talking to his friends and began speeding recklessly, “That’s the first time that I felt scared in the car, because it’s like, he was driving with rage while he was saying that speech, like I said the passion on his sleeve? That can go either way.”
“So, you know while he’s driving it’s like he was raging and speeding and the way his mannerisms and how he was talking was super aggressive. I was like “Oh, shit!”
According to Ghost, when he attempted to reason with Abee in this state, “after that, he just yelled and let out a roar, and just like, you could feel the emotion and the pain from that roar. And he punched the steering wheel so hard, and I was like, ‘We’re just gonna die now.’”
“He punched the steering wheel while he was driving and he let out that roar and he started crying, and he’s like “you don’t know how much I’ve been through, everybody keeps fucking me over, he’s talking about all of these other situations that had happened…he just went off…”
Ghost tells me that it’s a “mystery” over what Abee was going through in 2018. Ghost describes some of the last times he saw Abee and how he knows that he felt like he was under a lot of pressure. In one instance, when Abee felt down and concerned about where he was at in life saying to Ghost, “I really need you to be there for me,” Ghost spoke logic to him, and it was “a complete 180.” At first he had urgency in his voice then AK took in Ghost’s words and calmed down.
Abee held a weed conference at Concordia University in mid-October 2018, and Ghost felt as though he should show up. And he did, he wanted to encourage Abee’s passion. He was so proud of his friend. It was a full capacity event with politicians, mayors and so many different people.
About one week after the conference Abee had messaged his brothers in the group chat that he wanted his boys to meet up that night at a club. People didn’t respond. At around 10 PM he sent a message to the group saying that he was disappointed because no one was showing up, that they were being “cowards”, and that he didn’t feel like they were his brothers anymore.
Abee then left the group chat.
Ghost had been napping and woke up at 11:30 PM and saw all of the messages including the original one from AK asking to meet up. Ghost felt slighted, he had been there for Abee in recent weeks supporting his business with last-minute funding, supporting him at the conference, and displaying loyalty.
Ghost says, “The way that I felt inside me when I had seen that, those words coming from him, him saying that? At that point that was like done for me.”
Ghost had always been one to look past whenever Abee got into those moods, saying hurtful things like this, but on this one he couldn’t look past it. He felt as though he couldn’t forgive him for that one.
In the time since then, once Abee showed up unannounced at Ghost’s home when he wasn’t there, and his mother let him inside to see if he was home. Ghost was furious when he found out later that Abee had been in his home.
A few days after that Abee sent Ghost a message telling him he had passed by, and then included a cryptic message about how he is going on a journey in his life, and he wanted to let him know so he could have his blessings and be in good spirits and that he wanted to see everyone one last time before he leaves.
Ghost didn’t think much about it, he was also admittedly still very upset about the incident.
A few days after that Ghost received a message about Abee attempting to commit suicide.
He would hear about him over the next few years that he had been in a mental hospital, that he had prescriptions, that he tried to overdose on those pills, that he wasn’t really speaking that much anymore… Ghost says it was “nothing Abee like basically. Those are the things I would hear about, things that are not really like him to do.”
Abee made an “empty threat” to Ghost over social media, but Ghost took it in stride.
The last message Abee sent him was to “lead the crew.”
Ghost felt as though Abee was sending mixed messages, Harenssan told him that Abee was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
When Abee died, Ghost says “It was really painful for me to get that message.”
“The last time I thought about him was a thought about reaching out to him, and then me thinking like, ‘if I had just acted on that then this could have been completely different.’”
Paranoia in him held him back, “I don’t wanna get used again,” Ghost says he thought. “I don’t wanna be manipulated.”
“He’s really misunderstood. I understand all of the trauma he went through. He went through a lot of trauma. I look back at all those things, and I’m like, ‘fuck man, you went through a lot.’”
“At the funeral, when I seen him, the only two things I could say are ‘I’m sorry,’ and ‘thank you.’ Because those were the two things going through my mind and I verbally said it when I seen him.”
Ghost doesn’t want to reduce a permanent change such as a death to a lesson, but he knows that Abee’s death is to be learned from. He says, “when you see somebody with that type of potential and it’s objective, like I could objectively tell you that if that type of potential was unlocked or untapped and groomed the right way, that potential could have like changed the whole world.”
Ghost continues driving the point home saying, “That’s like a 2pac, Barack Obama, Malcolm X type potential. It’s just that it wasn’t realized. So, when you’re aware a person’s special like that, you gotta protect them.”
“He’s a leader…he didn’t even have to call himself the leader, he didn’t even have to say it, he’s actually never said it actually, we just knew. Everybody just knew.”
Harenssan described Abee as someone who was, “universally loved because he always wanted to do good.”
He says of his brother’s condition, “it was clear to see that he was battling an illness, probably his whole life. And the only people I would think saw the, I would say ‘demons’ or the bad of his illness, was probably his ex-girlfriend and his high school best friends. Because they’re the only ones that stopped talking to him in probably 2018. And they probably got fed up with bailing him out, or dealing with whatever he was lashing out about or anything, but in terms of the family… he wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t the perfect brother or the perfect son, but he was good.”
As kids, Abee would sometimes take fights too far, which Harenssan reflects on as potential “telltale signs” of his disorder.
Harenssan tells a story of when they were both being bullied by a neighbor and Abee snapped, taking things too far to the point where his parents had to hold him back.
Much like Ghost says everyone was going to say, Harenssan says of his brother, “He was kind of like, a leader. And, he always tried to unite people, no matter what it was, he was always trying to unite people.”
Harenssan believes unity to be Abee’s legacy.
Picture Me Rollin’
Abee was the kind of guy who went out of his way for people. And, when Harenssan told me a story about Abee showing up at a high school peer’s birthday party. I reached out to Kanon, the birthday boy, to talk about the night.
Kanon describes the evening telling me, “…He came to my birthday party in 2019, it was in February, and it was a bit of a surprise. I think I had posted it publicly on Facebook or something and he showed up pretty late.”
“He told me that he remembered that I was a bit of an outsider in our secondary school. Compared to everybody else I had very few friends. I was very defensive, but near the end of high school I decided to be more myself and it put me on a good direction. And he told me that it had been a long time, and he was interested in checking in on me and seeing how I had turned out and he brought a big bottle of wine, it was really nice of him.”
Kanon was diagnosed with ADHD, which he says helped him immensely. Putting a name to the face of how his mind functions was a pivotal moment for Kanon who discussed this openly with Abensan.
“He listened to me with a lot of interest, he actively listened with quite some interest about my self-discovery and understanding aspects of mine that didn’t quite make a lot of sense until I had a framework for seeing how I was different.”
“And some of the ways in which he responded was kind of like, not that he had ADHD, but that he could relate to some of the things that I was saying. He talked a little bit about ways in which he has focus or attention issues, or how he thinks outside of the box, and it doesn’t quite match the way of thinking that people around him have.”
Kanon tells me, “He was really relying on his cannabis business, he’s kind of investing a lot into it, and he wants for it to bring positive change to people’s lives…he talked a lot about that.”
I also spoke with Alex, a high school and soccer friend of Abee’s. Abee loved soccer. He was a Brazil fan and Manchester city fan as far as club teams go. He was passionate about being on the field and according to Harenssan cardio was one of Abee’s “gifts”. In high school Abee would win these long-distance Halo runs and he could even outrun his older brother Harenssan on the soccer field.
Alex describes Abee as someone who will “go to great lengths for people he cared about” and “he would always make that extra effort to show up for things.”
Since Abee’s death Alex has been inspired to journal. He says that his passing was a “wakeup call to me…you never really know what people are truly going through…”
Alex also shares the same sentiments as Ghost and Harenssan saying that people will remember him as a true “leader” and “uniter.”
Alex says when Abee had his troubles in 2019 he “was not even aware of what was going on.”
In trying to describe Abensan Alex says, “he has this aura about him, or had I guess I should say. He had this aura about him.”
Keep Ya Head Up
In the middle of my apartment sits a bicycle. It is a stationary bike that belonged to my grandparents so it’s a little dated but, either way it gets the job done.
This winter Harenssan said that he would help me move it to my apartment from my grandmother’s home. Then, one Sunday, I asked if we could pick it up. He said he would ask his brother when he woke up if we could use his SUV to move the bike to my place. Not only did Abee agree once he woke up, but he came to help himself.
We spoke about 2pac, almost immediately. We spoke about my theory for the promotion of children’s rights. We spoke about homelessness and how Abee was doing runs regularly to feed people living on the streets. I commented on his gloves, because they were lit. He looked just like Harenssan to me, except with a beard and differing demeanor.
I knew details of Abee’s situation and wanted to tell him I understood certain things others could not. I wanted to relay to him how things could get better and offer my support. I appreciated the huge favor he had just done for me, a complete stranger to him, and did not want to use that first meeting as the moment to speak with him about his mental health.
I never received another opportunity.
When Abee died I was angry. The finality of what suicide truly means angered me to my core. I was angry because I wasn’t able to reach out to Abensan as Harenssan and I were trying to plan to take place soon in time. I was angry because the system couldn’t give him the support he needed to heal when he was so clearly crying out for help.
I was angry because I finally realized in that moment what suicide actually means, and then I connected the dots about my old friends and support system. I realized that the claim was made on my name that I was suicidal, and so to those people who were supposedly my friends, they did not know whether it was true or not. But there was a chance that I was. Which means that there was a chance that I could have taken my life, or attempted to.
I never have attempted to. But they don’t know that.
I am still processing Abensan’s death.
When I interviewed Harenssan so that I could write Abee’s story he biked here on a hot summer day from across the city. The bicycle belonged to Abensan.
According to Einstein you have to keep going in order to maintain your balance on a bike, but what that quote doesn’t account for is the importance of pause.
The importance of taking the time to recognize what you have been through.
The importance of taking the time to recover from what you have been through.
The importance of taking the time to process what you have been through.
Yes, life will always be in motion but that does not mean that you should not set the bike aside for a period of time to prioritize your mental wellness.
We all have inner worlds that we are entitled to as a right of being humans with freedom of thought. That world that we have that resides inside of our minds is ours to regulate, monitor, enjoy, build, nurture and trust.
In the dedication of my book Do You See You? I wrote, “Your mind is your home, and you have the master key.”
Make your mind beautiful as you know beauty to be. Make your mind comfortable as you want home to be. Make your mind kind as you believe human beings should be.
Abee was a true leader not because he had a high-profile job, or a management position, or even a celebrity status. Abee was a leader because he actively brought people together. He included others when he saw that they were left out. He reached out to outsiders and brought them in.
Those qualities in an individual are precious entities to be cherished and can be felt beyond their lifetimes.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou said that.
In the brief moments I spent with Abee he called me a survivor and said that I was like 2pac. I remember how he made me feel.
He made me feel seen.
Thank you Abee. I think I can say that on behalf of a lot of us.
I’m sorry that we weren’t able to do enough.
Your life matters beyond a lesson.
“Keep ya head up.”
Tupac said that.
Words to live by, and to always remember when the war inside rages on.
Rest in peace.