I was sitting in a large pink leather recliner in my t-shirt and blue basketball shorts, a wall of lockers to my left, a stack of Parents magazines to my right. Outside of the hospital window cars drove by and people passed oblivious to the bizarre nightmare that my life had become. Hours before, I had stood on the edge of life contemplating the abyss and a friend had pulled me back from the edge before I could take the plunge. I survived.
September is suicide awareness month. Today, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. In years past, this information would have had absolutely no special meaning for me. Here is what I knew. Suicide is tragic. It is a thing that no one really talks about except in whispers. It is a thing that many suicide survivors (those who live on after a loved one dies by suicide) try to hide. No one knows what to say. Some people judge the victim. “How could they be so selfish?” Some people judge the survivors. “How did they not realize what was going on?” But for me on any other year, suicide awareness month would have meant a moment of silence, perhaps reading an article on the subject and a quick silent prayer to God to comfort those who are so afflicted. Any other year. But not this year. This year, this is my month.
After the birth of my second child, post-partum depression struck a mighty blow to my psyche. Like a pot of water set to boil, it moved in so slowly to take up residence in my mind, that I could not tell how bad it was until it was nearly too late. My husband was the first to recognize the signs. They were the same as with my first child but exponentially worse. Anger. Detachment. Emptiness. Lethargy.
This time I didn’t even try to fight it on my own. I did all of the right things. I got a therapist. I started taking antidepressants. Then the side effects started. I gained weight. I started forgetting things. Consider the joy of adding memory problems to the anger, detachment, emptiness, and lethargy that you are already experiencing as a depressed full-time working mom with a newborn and a two year old. No good.
We made a med change. Then the side effects started again. This time my energy improved and my mood did not. I felt great and horrible at the same time. I started fantasizing about how I could end my life. I won’t go into detail here, but imagine the horror, the fear, and the shame that accompanies thoughts like that. Someone once said that depression is different from sadness, because it is despair that you feel even when everything in your life is going right. How do you explain a desire to end your life when you have everything to live for? You don’t. You hide it because you are afraid that if anyone finds out, they will think you are crazy.
I hid it for weeks and the temptation became progressively stronger until the pull became nearly irresistible and I (thankfully) told a friend. This friend had been open about her past history with attempted suicide and bipolar disorder. I knew that if there was anyone who I could talk to, anyone who wouldn’t judge me it was her. I called her on the day that I made a plan. I had a window when my husband would be out of the house and my kids would be at daycare. I called her because she would understand and because I didn’t think she could find me.
My friend called the police and they took me to the hospital emergency room for psychiatric evaluation. I promise, nothing will ever make you feel crazier than being in a locked ward, having a security guard wand you for weapons, and having a psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse nod in knowing unison and asking you bizarre questions like, “Do you have bad teeth?” Folks we have a long way to go when it comes to psychiatric treatment in this country. I will save my long list of grievances for another post.
I am still early on in this journey and it is a rough one. But I want to offer hope to those of you facing the temptation to end your life. Please know that with help it can get better. You can get better. Choose life, even though it may not be what you want most right now. If you need to know that it is possible to go from wanting more than anything to leave this life to being okay with still being here, I’m living proof. Please ask for help. Please don’t give up. Your brain may be telling you the lie that the world doesn’t need you. It is wrong. We need you here. We want you here. Call a doctor. Call a friend. Call the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255). Call 911 (in the US). Don’t fight this battle alone. You don’t have to. If nothing else, know that I’ll be here cheering you on.
There is so much more to this story as you might imagine. We have found a medication that works for me for now. We will save the rest of the story for another day. But here is what I want you to take away today: Suicide is not something that crazy people do. It is something that overwhelmed people do. It is not as rare as you might imagine. It can happen to anyone. It could be anyone. In the right circumstances, it could be you. We need to talk about this. Problems don’t get fixed by ignoring them. Suicide will continue to steal the lives of our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters, our cousins, and our friends until we remove the stigma and start a conversation. This is something we can talk about. It starts with me. It starts with you. Light the darkness my people.
Disclaimer: I am obviously not a health care professional. If you feel like you need help, please call a doctor. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911 or the equivalent emergency number in your area or go to your nearest emergency room. Please?
Here are some mental health resources for those who would like more information on suicide and suicide prevention:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or Call 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours everyday
NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness – www.nami.org/
Metanoia – www.metanoia.org/suicide/
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – www.afsp.org
LDS Mental Health – https://www.lds.org/mentalhealth
LDS Suicide Prevention – https://www.lds.org/preventingsuicide/
Please share if you think my story or this information will help someone!