In less than two years, the university I attend has lost two student-athletes to death by suicide.
Two thriving souls with hopes, dreams, fears, friends, family and a community.
Every time I see the news of someone prominent or someone locally known dying by suicide, I’m brought back to the harsh reality that those once smiling faces on news releases and GoFundMe pages could have been me.
I distinctly remember the first time I had suicidal ideations, which is common for sufferers of depression at “low end of the risk spectrum” to have suicidal thoughts without intent or plan.
I never directly planned to kill myself, but at thirteen years old I didn’t understand I was suffering at the hands of chemical imbalance and these violently compulsive suicidal thoughts weren’t necessarily an attempt. To say it scared me is an understatement.
I remember sitting in my Pepto-Bismol pink room tucked between polka dotted black sheets staring out the window crying so hard I was dry heaving. The overly bright walls sickened me because I wanted nothing more than for the world to turn black.
I remember fighting with myself over and over because I had no idea what was wrong with me, where these thoughts were coming from and why it was happening to me.
I had no reason to suffer, no reason to cry. I was terrified, and I couldn’t stop thinking of how to make it end, even though I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.
It would be almost a year before I learned the word I had been searching for since puberty.
I remember sitting in the worn, lime-colored desks from the 70s in my last hour religion class my freshman year of high school. The counselor was coming to do a presentation for our class, and all I wanted to do was fall asleep in the dimly lit room.
“Depression,” the projector screen read in bold black letters.
She clicked through the slides and read them off, and one by one the pieces fell into place. My chest constricted and I wiped tears off of my eyes discreetly as she continued reading the symptoms.
Even armed with the knowledge of the disease I was suffering from, I continued to hide it.
I continued to hide it even when I prayed the next morning I wouldn’t wake up. I continued to hide it, even when I thought about running my car off the road at night when no one would be around to see me. I continued to hide it because even then when I was suffering, I believed that my pain wasn’t worthy enough to be heard or felt and that I didn’t deserve help.
It was another three years after I self-diagnosed myself with depression that I even admitted to my family members that I was suffering, and had been. For a while.
I started medication and didn’t even enter therapy until a year after that.
Every time I receive news about someone killing themselves, I remember that not everyone has adequate access to mental health care, and there are people suffering much worse than I ever did.
Every time I receive news about someone killing themselves, it cuts deep, but I remain silent. Even now, comfortable with my reality and experiences, I don’t want the attention. I still don’t believe my story is worthy, because my story is just one of the millions, with many of those millions suffering much worse.
What I do want though is the conversation to start here. I want people to share their methods for healing. Their stories, their successes, and even their downfalls.
I want people to have tools to help themselves instead of an “it will get better,” quote, because to someone suffering, that is complete bullshit.
What I’ve learned through years filled with ups and downs, is that healing isn’t linear.
There isn’t a one size fits all for recovering and coping with mental illness, and the sad truth is that it won’t ever go away. But, it can be managed.
Put Yourself First
It’s important to put yourself first when things seem rocky. I know it isn’t possible for everyone, but de-committing yourself to things is a great place to start. Doing the bare minimum for others at this time is crucial, and it isn’t selfish to put yourself first. It might require sacrificing an extra hour or two every day to do what feels right for you, but it will help in the long run.
Give Yourself Space
It’s also important to give yourself space to feel the wide variety of emotions you might be experiencing like sadness, guilt, anger, shame, or any other typically “negative” emotions. The great thing is, hurtful thoughts will come and go, and not trying to squeeze them with your fist until they “go away” will allow you to feel more “in control.” Throw a pity party for yourself, eat ice cream and lie around in sweatpants, but don’t let it become a permanent pity party.
Make Small Goals
Not every day is easy. Goals can be as small as getting out of bed that day, or as large as going out with friends that weekend. Set goals, and achieve them. It will boost your sense of self-worth if only long enough to give you the energy to seek help. If you feel overwhelmed, take a step back and say no, and return to putting yourself first.
Possibly the hardest step of all. Speaking up is the last thing I would ever think to do when I’m suffering. If I ever return to a challenging space mentally, I don’t even know if I would have the bravery to speak up. For me personally, I’m the “strong” one in a lot of scenarios, and to be truthful, I’m usually good. I still find trouble talking about myself because it can be deemed as “selfish.” It might hurt, it might feel uncomfortable, but say it. Say it to someone. Talk. Let it out. If you can’t say it yet, journal it. Then keep journaling it.
Know Your Value
There were times when the last thing I wanted to do was get up and see another day. I believed my entire existence didn’t matter. At the root of it all, I doubted my value. Even if I was alone (which I wasn’t) and even if my life was crumbling apart (which it also wasn’t) I am still valuable and worthy of life, and a happy life at that. Even on the hardest days, I cling to the idea that nothing is permanent and that my life matters. My life, and the billions of other lives on this planet all matter. It might be impossible to look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you matter, but you do. Say it every day and every time you see yourself in the mirror until something takes hold. Know deep inside of you that the fighter still remains.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, and chances are I never will be. But coming from someone who has suffered through mental illness, these are some of the tactics I have found are helpful. The sneaky thing about depression is that it isn’t “one size fits all” and symptoms that I have, someone else may never have, or they might have in varying degrees/intensities.
Please, reach out to your friends. If you notice someone’s behavior isn’t on par with their usual demeanor, start the conversation. Ask (gently) if there is any support they want/need from you, and be comfortable with accepting their response whether you like it or not. But also, know when to step in. If someone you love exhibits signs of suicidal ideation/planning, REACH OUT. There are endless resources at our fingertips to handle unique and difficult situations, but it could potentially be a life-saving difference.