I am going to share something with you that is incredibly hard. My family and close friends know, and my children will one day hear this story as well. I realize that sharing things on the internet opens one up to harsh ridicule, so I want you to know that I am sharing my story in order to help others who are suffering. If you don’t have something nice to type, then don’t type it. I am a real person with real feelings — a wife, a daughter, a mother, and a friend. Your words could hurt not only me, but my friends and family, so watch yourself.
While I share this anonymously, it’s safe to assume that those involved will recognize details and know whom it’s about. In the interest of at least making an effort to protect those who didn’t ask to be related to a woman with a mental illness, however, I am leaving off my name.
In early February of 2001, at the age of 20, after years of battling undiagnosed ADHD, depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse (we now call that “self-medicating”), I tried to kill myself.
I called my only friend – the one who had confronted me about my drug use in the past – and left her a message saying I was done. I actually don’t remember the details of the message I left, but I do remember telling her to save me. I took a fistful of pills, chased it with whatever liquor was laying around, and laid on the bed to die. Everything is a little fuzzy from that point on, but I know no one came for me. As I lay there, I talked to a God I wasn’t sure existed and told him to send someone to help me or just let me die. He did neither.
I vomited into a trashcan with a hole in the bottom (talk about adding insult to injury) and obviously, didn’t die. I was left there alone, unsuccessful, and more desperate than ever.
My friend that I called? The one who didn’t come? She called my sister. She told her I was in trouble and someone needed to come help me or I was going to end up dead. My sister was sick, and certainly didn’t feel like making the drive, plus she had two young children at the time, but after telling my brother-in-law what was going on, he insisted they come. They called, said they were on their way, and I went about making myself appear as if I wasn’t on the edge of the rockiest of rock bottom. When they got to town, we met at a restaurant and I plastered on a smile to convince them I was fine. Years later they told me they were absolutely heartbroken. I looked terrible, and as I sat there telling them I was fine, my lip quivered and my eyes were the saddest they’d seen. They couldn’t convince me to leave. I don’t know why I didn’t go, whether it was the life I had built there – horrible as it was – or if I just wanted them to think I was tough and could handle all this on my own.
Less than a week later, after debilitating panic attacks that I couldn’t numb with any amount of drugs or alcohol, I called my brother-in-law and, crying, asked him to come get me. He did.
I spent the next week sleeping on their couch and eating them out of house and home. Again, everything is a bit fuzzy, but I remember this Chex mix my sister had made – a HUGE batch – and I ate it all! I was hungry, body and soul. They did the most wonderful thing for me. They brought me into their home and, without asking too many questions, they let me live. They gave me a crash pad.
From there I began a rocky road to recovery. There was, and still is, a stigma associated with seeking help for any type of mental illness. Inpatient treatment was out of the question because then people would KNOW. I saw a psychiatrist on an outpatient basis, tried a variety of medications, and spent many nights trying to sleep with the TV on because in the dark, quiet of night my thoughts were too loud, too scary, too overwhelming.
Slowly but surely I crawled out of that dark place.
Shortly after that I was saved (for those of you not raised in the Bible belt, that means I came to know God — truly and deeply). I stopped drugs cold turkey. I began a long, slow road to recovery and redemption. I would like to say that was the end of my battle with anxiety and depression. I would like to say I met my prince charming (which I did!) and never again saw that dark place. The sad truth is that I have been to that dark place several times over the years, but time and again I have made it to the other side.
While I have never again attempted suicide, I can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind. Not only do I now have four beautiful children who need me, but I have built a support system of people around me who know my struggles and are willing to talk me off the ledge – literally and figuratively – anytime I need them to. I remember during a particularly ugly battle with postpartum depression, my husband looked at me, sobbing in the hallway floor because I couldn’t get our second-born into the Moby wrap, and said “Sweetheart, I think it’s time we call the doctor and get back on some meds.”
After baby number four was born and my husband lost his job of 11 years, I had to sit him down and say “Please don’t be afraid, but I’ve been thinking about suicide again.” I had two other friends who also had to hear those words, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am for those who will look at me and say “It’s ok. We can handle this.”
Being a Christian doesn’t exempt you from depression. Some of our greatest church leaders, including Charles Spurgeon and John Calvin struggled with darkness that wouldn’t lift. Even though I know my life is not my own to take, there is still this ugly part of my brain that says “Wouldn’t everyone be better off if…?”
I wasn’t the one who chose to continue my life on that dark February night. God knew that my story wasn’t over. What I intended as an ending, He intended as a pause, and something that He could one day use to help others who struggle with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. On at least a few occasions since that night, I’ve had to be the one to decide that this is not the end, and trust God to carry me through as He always has before.
You may have seen someone with a semicolon tattoo or seen stories online about the semicolon movement. The semicolon represents a point where the author could have ended the story, but decided to continue on. Sixteen years after that awful night, I’ve finally reached the point where I can have that conversation piece on my wrist. So feel free to ask me about it. I still feel my heart race, my hands shake, and an awful knot growing in my stomach when I think about my years fighting this ugly disease, but what good was any of it if I can’t use it to help someone else?
As I watched the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” I found myself shaken to my core. I am so thankful that my suicide attempt was not successful and I appreciate so much the conversation this series is bringing to the foreground. In the final episode, Clay says “We have to do better…how we treat each other…how we look out for each other. We just have to do better.” Honestly, we have to do better.
To those of you struggling with depression, anxiety, and/or thoughts of ending your life, please know that you matter. “13 Reasons Why” shows so accurately what happens when someone takes their own life…there is a hole that is left. Even if you can’t see it, even if you think you are nothing but a burden on those around you, even if you know deep down that things won’t get any better…you matter to someone, and life can get better. I never could have imagined in early 2001 that sixteen years later I would be blissfully married with four gorgeous boys, living in the Scenic City, telling others about how great life can be. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Is it worth it? You better believe it. Please trust me when I say, even you can have a life worth living.
For those who don’t fight this battle, who can’t seem to comprehend a sadness so profound that someone could consider suicide, please just be there. You don’t have to get it. It doesn’t have to make sense. You can still do that one incredibly important thing that my friend, my sister, and brother-in-law did: be there. Offer a crash pad. You may have no idea who in your life is struggling, but you can live in such a way as to offer a safe space. You can offer a meal, a smile, a word of encouragement. You can offer a way out.