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Why I Took Part in the AFSP Virtual Overnight Event

As June comes to a close, so will the fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I have mentioned many times that while I normally do not ask my readers for money, or share anyone else who does either, I make this one exception every year. Normally, it is just a birthday fundraiser each July, but this year I moved it up a bit so that I could take part in the virtual community. I did this for a number of reasons, some more well defined than others, but as the week of the event came and went, and I saw the various messages shared on Facebook, and the MoveSpring app we were all using to track the physical activity we were doing instead of the overnight walk, one reason became clear that wasn’t before.

It was the stories. It was all of those people doing this in memory of someone they lost. Or, like me, in memory of the fact that we are still here instead of leaving others to tell our stories. In our day to day lives, it’s too easy to forget how many people are impacted by suicide each and every year across the country, and the world. The further in time I get away from that time in my own life, the easier it can be to put it behind me and forget about it. But, that is something I never want to do. As painful as it is, I want to remember what it was like to no longer want to be alive. When someone is in that place, I want to be able to say, “I’ve been where you are”, to recall all of the details, and be able to sit and understand. Because that is how we save people. Not by talking in hushed tones about depression, or mental illness, but by sharing the stories of people who survived and healed, and of those we’ve lost.
 
Let’s face it, if you spend much time considering those losses, and listening to those stories, it is impossible to walk away without realizing that we have lost a devastating number of people to this disease. Many more than some of the diseases we all gladly talk openly about every day. Yet somehow, maybe because we don’t understand it, or are afraid of it, we keep silent. After all, it might make someone uncomfortable. Even I have, at times, kept the details to myself in fear of making other people uncomfortable, or risk having them worry about me. The more I read and heard these stories though, the more I realized that I needed to share my story, if only so that anyone who reads it would know, and maybe even understand a little bit, what it’s like to be so far down into the darkness of depression, that you don’t want to live any longer. So, with that said, let me share my experience with you, now that it’s been some 25 years, and maybe now people won’t worry so much about me. (Warning, this is about to get dark, and we will talk a bit about suicide, though I will keep those exact details out)

The question of where to begin is always a troubling one. The tech consultant in me wants to make it a neat timeline, but the part of me that lived it knows better. I was probably depressed for years before I even knew what that meant. Did it start during the years of abuse in childhood? Probably. Was everything that I wrote off as teen angst at the time really major depression? Were the thoughts of wanting to die, even plotting it out, in my late teens and early twenties just part of being a somewhat troubled soul, or was I really suffering from un-diagnosed depression?

Does it really matter? What does matter is that somehow, I got to my late twenties, and I was absolutely in poor mental health, despite the fact that I was rather high-functioning. (Ever the typical abused child – so talented at hiding what was wrong.) It was dark. As all of my childhood issues came to the fore of my bad marriage and other struggles, I was in a much darker place than I let anyone, even myself, believe. Then came the dissociative episodes, the therapy, the drugs, the various efforts at somehow being normal. And it would help, for a time, but then I would end up back in the same place eventually. It went on long enough that I’m pretty sure most people who knew me, had given up on me.

Including me. I had given up on myself too.

If you’ve never dealt with major depression, or other mental health issues, and want to truly understand what it is like to be suicidal, pay attention here.

As many others have said, I didn’t necessarily want to die, I just wanted the pain to stop, and nothing stopped it. I couldn’t see a way to stop it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it to stop. I was comfortable in my pain, and in my darkness. It was familiar, I felt like it was mine. It belonged to me. My history, and all of the damage done by it, belonged to me. There was no “me” without it. That darkness, that sadness, that pain, is who I was in my head. It was my destiny. It was what I brought with me to every relationship I had, darkness and sadness. They would all end that way, one way or another, but I was the only one who knew this. I hid it, fearful that if other people knew too much about my darkness, they would stay away. On the other hand, when it got really bad, toward the end of 1996, beginning of 1997, I used it as an excuse to disconnect from everyone, and everything.

I’ve seen many people say that the most exhausting part of being depressed is that everything, even little every day things like showering, or eating, seems like an overwhelming accomplishment. I felt that, for years. That was part of being depressed, but this? This was more than that. Not only did it seem like an overwhelming thing do to, but my life wasn’t even worth doing it. I didn’t deserve to have a job, or nutritious food, or friends. So, I didn’t. When I wasn’t actively trying to make a plan for dying, I was, at the very least, simply waiting to die of something, and doing nothing to prevent it. In my lighter moments, I even joke that I saw such little value in my own life that it wasn’t even worth taking, but there is nothing “light” about that statement. There were absolutely days where that made perfect sense to me. Making suicidal plans took more effort than my life was worth.

Maybe, in some sick way, that kept me alive for awhile. Long enough, even. Maybe, but that also eliminates another large part of the story, luck. In all those stories I read, and all of the stories of other people I know who’ve either been lost, or lost someone they love, there is the constant reminder of how much luck played into my still being here. That’s the other part I never want to forget.

  • When I had actually gotten sick, passed out on the streets of a city I had never been in before. someone spotted me and called 911.
  • They took me to a hospital that not only treated my physical illness, but because it was a teaching hospital, they also had interns studying mental health treatment, one of whom spent time with me during those 9 days in the hospital. Seeing me. Listening to me. Connecting me to the people in the hospital, and the world outside the hospital. Giving me a small glimmer that maybe I wasn’t hopeless.
  • I had parents with the means to come get me from a hospital hundreds of miles away, helped by the fact that they had a friend who had moved to that city willing to help them navigate getting me released and home. Parents with the financial means to take me in while I healed physically.
  • I had a retirement savings from my former job that I could cash out to help pay for therapy for a time.
  • I had a brother who worked in the Insurance field who helped me get my paperwork for not yet expired eligibility for COBRA coverage from my previous job which helped prevent me from being under never-ending debt from hospital bills. (There was still some, but not nearly as bad as it could have been.)
  • And, I was lucky that some therapy was available to help me see value in myself and my life instead of being wait-listed for months. A therapist who further connected me to the world, and helped me be curious about what could happen from here, instead of dreading what could happen from here. (No small feat)

Those are just a few of the reasons why I advocate the way I do, and why I a program like the AFSP, who are trying so hard to make sure there is help in a crisis. We need those resources to be available, for all the people who weren’t as lucky as I was, and I need the reminder of how many people don’t have that kind of luck, who fall through the cracks of our current mental health system, and who leave behind devastated family and friends. They are the motivation to keep going, keep sharing, keep telling my own story.

I can’t do everything, but I can do this. I bring more to the world than darkness now, and I need to do what I can to help others see that there is a way out of that darkness, because I have been there, and I know how hard it is to see when you’re buried in it. I also know that the only way to repay the people who helped me, or even just tried to help me, along the way, is to pay it forward. It’s also for all of the people I have met since 1997, my wife, her family, all of our friends, etc. The people who have been part of the tapestry of my life over the last 25 years and the new ones I will meet in the future. The life I came fairly close to not having. The life I am lucky to still have.

I also use these stories to remind me of that time in my own life for my own safety. As much as I want to forget that darkness ever entered my life, I need to be reminded of it. I need to know that during difficult times in my life now, the lurking darkness is still something I need to be wary of, but with that, I also need the reminder that I have overcome it before.

I have been lucky. Not everyone faced with that darkness gets out. I want to make sure we can help others be lucky too. How do we do that? How do we look out for one another, and help people stay connected to something, anything, that will help them see something beyond the darkness? If we want to stop losing the people we love, and stop watching people we care about grieve the ones they love, we need to do this work.

Because every life is worth the effort.

 

 

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