Today, September 10, 2019, World Suicide Prevention Day, we take the time to face a cause of death that is all too common, especially with our youth. Between the ages 15 and 19-years-old, suicide is the second leading cause of death in girls and third in boys. By the time you’ve reached this sentence (every 40 seconds) another human being has lost their life to suicide. (World Health Organization)
90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. (NAMI) To help shine a light on this tragic epidemic, let me tell you my story. At age 19 I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, later followed by a Major Depressive Order diagnosis. After nearly a decade of therapy, medication prescribed for panic attacks, hundreds of hours spent journaling, practicing yoga, breathing exercises, countless home remedies, a laughably large tea collection, to finally taking a daily medication to stabilize my brain chemistry coupled with a vigorous self-care routine, I want to live. But that was not always the case.
I used to hope for death every time I got in the car. Passive suicidality is a tough subject to broach, and it affects our youth, our staff, our friends, passersby, people all around you. Even for me, a passionate communicator, a proponent of talk therapy, I hesitated to talk about my own feelings around suicidal ideation, anxious about how I would be perceived by loved ones and doctors.
It is difficult to explain the daily fear of living when I was suicidal. Mind you, I am not immune today, it could (and if I’m being honest, probably will) happen again one day, because that is the nature of the illness I live with. I will build a tolerance to the medication I am currently on and will have to reevaluate my recovery plan. Not to mention if I forget to take even one day’s medication, I’m sent right back to a paralyzing multiple-hour-long bawling session feeling like I will fall right back down that dark spiral of despair. But I am in this for the long haul; recovery is a lifelong process I’ve learned, and I am dedicated to the cause.
When I was at my lowest, no one knew. I didn’t want anyone to know. I was ashamed. I felt devoid of energy. I used up every ounce I had in the façade. Like trying to put a fresh coat of paint on an abandoned house every morning, I would get out of bed at the last second possible, cry, probably deal with gastrointestinal issues, check the bandage on my right hip (an easy place to cut yourself without anyone knowing), and maybe wash off the sweat from the night terrors, if I could stand the effort it took just to perform daily functions. Forgoing breakfast, brushing my teeth, things that would matter to someone who cared about living. I would show up to class or work, I would smile, listen, tell jokes, do anything to hide the way I was feeling inside, doing anything to make sure no one around me felt the way I did. All to get back in the car, let out the tears I’d been holding in all day, and hope that someone would run right into me, ending it all, relieving me from the daily fight. My wish of passive death never coming true, I felt like I wasn’t even good at being suicidal. I didn’t even have the chutzpa to properly kill myself.
Day in and day out I fought, finding little reasons to keep myself alive: I told my best friend I’d call her on Tuesday, there’s no one to cover my shift, I want to find out what happens in the next episode of Orphan Black, I never did get around to reading that latest Sharon Olson collection of poems. It really is the little things that kept me going. That still keep me going.
In this process, I have found that there is a difference between not wanting to die and wanting to live. Not wanting to die was a step in the process, but what it’s really about it is looking forward to life, to the future! Recovery is a long road, it’s full of setbacks, judgment, heartache, relapse, tears, but this road of mine has led me to the amazing of experience of being excited about life. A feeling I didn’t know really existed. A feeling that has led me here, to be the person I love completely, to be the person who looks forward to tomorrow, rather than dreading it. I still battle every day. Some days are easier than others, but every day I am alive, I celebrate. I am proud to say that I am over one year clean, free of self-harm—one year and three months today, in fact.
For those who consider suicide selfish, I challenge you to take a step out of your neurotypical shoes and try on, just for a moment, the feelings of hopelessness, despair, failure, misery, and pain that a person suffering with suicidality faces daily. If anything, for me it felt selfish to continue living, to continually subject those around me to my worthless, miserable existence, especially the ones who love and care for me. But it is through this pain that I found resiliency and strength like never before. It’s allowed me the freedom to choose compassion, having the empathy for those in similar situations. This is what I believe we must do to combat this epidemic. Choose compassion. Choose kindness. Choose understanding. We must make these choices every day.
I urge you all to check on your loved ones. You truly never know what is going on inside their heads. Check on your friends who are bubbly and exuberant, check on your funniest friend, check on the friend who seems to have it all together all the time. Reserve judgment and listen. The more we talk about it, the more we can end the stigma.
Are you or a loved one struggling with suicidal thoughts? Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741
Rachel Tullius is the Communications Coordinator at The Florida Network of Youth and Family Services and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org