National Suicide Prevention Week, September 10-16, 2017, is winding to a close. Why would I give a damn? Because I’m no stranger to depression and fully understand the desire to die. For all its reasons, and in all its varying degrees of severity, depression possesses the alarming potential to swallow lives whole. It’s time to say something.
In the summer of 2010, the temperature in my Texas-home garage was 86 degrees. I know this because that’s what my car’s thermometer registered as I sat there with the car running. Windows down. Garage door closed. The motion sensor soon stopped detecting movement and the overhead light turned off. A soft glow from the car’s dashboard accompanied the engine’s gentle purr. This was it. I was ready to go to sleep and never wake up.
Almost laughable now, I also discovered that it takes longer than three hours to succumb to any effects of carbon monoxide poisoning from a sedan parked idling in a two-car garage. That’s how long I laid there alone before deciding to reach up and turn off the engine.
The Short Story
I would love to tell you that my life has taken a 180-degree turn in the seven years since that evening in 2010 and that life is grand. However, in 2012 I lost my Mom to a dual diagnosis of Amyloidosis and Multiple Myeloma (yes, that’s cancer). Through 2014-2015, I separated from my then 20-year-marriage, ultimately divorced and lost more than a few so-called friends and pounds. I subsequently lost my job (and essentially a 10-year career in church communications) in 2016. I have unsuccessfully searched for a new job with these “transferrable skills” for over a year now and am currently self-employed with sporadic income that doesn’t even remotely pay the bills. Metaphorically speaking, one could argue that I’m up Shit Creek.
Yes, I fully realize that these circumstances – death of a parent, divorce, unemployment, financial pressure – are all rather common and simply that: circumstances. And before you go believing that this piece is all “woe is me,” my goals for emerging from the shadows and sharing my story are three-fold. One, to continue dismantling the stigma surrounding depression, anxiety and mental illness by simply talking about it. Two, to inspire those not suffering from depression to recognize the signs in others and learn how they can help. Three, if just one person contemplating suicide reads this, decides to stay and musters the courage to ask for help, I’d weep tears of joy for you. I would. Despite the pain, my dear friend, we belong here.
I don’t necessarily know what’s next for me, but I do know that I’m not alone among scores of invisible people carrying a sometimes impossibly heavy burden. People perhaps too ashamed, scared, timid, beaten-down, overwhelmed, exhausted or even too proud to speak up and reach out for help. Some severely depressed, anxiety-riddled or mentally ill people are just one trigger-pull away from ending it all. Deep down, most of us otherwise rational, intelligent people know that suicide isn’t the answer, but it will sure as Hell stop the pain.
A Preventable National Crisis
While every instance of suicide is unique, here are some quick stats. According to the AFSP, 44,913 Americans die by suicide every year, a Top Ten leading cause of death. For every suicide that occurs (men 3.5x more often than women), there are 25 known attempts. Simple math reveals that’s 1,104,825 people. Over a million people. Every year. That’s just the ones we know about. How many more people are suffering in silence and are poised to leave this life?
Severe depression may be inevitable for some, but suicide is completely preventable. I thought it was time to dismiss the discomfort, risk being vulnerable and simply share my story. This needs to be said. But not just for me.
My story is for you. The you who suffers in silence and feels so small and insignificant. The you who copes by working long hours or running in the rain or sleeping in all day or smiling on the outside while screaming on the inside. The you who responds with, “I’m fine,” yet muzzles the pain with alcohol and cigarettes and drugs both legal and illegal. The you who isn’t perfect but you’re doing the best you know how.
The same you who is unquestionably worthy of unimaginable love. The you who has a reason for being here because you have so much to give. The you who is beautiful and creative and sensitive and compassionate and intelligent and spiritual and loving and hard-working and dreams big dreams and laughs and cries and gives and receives good hugs and who has ups and downs and who is only human and sometimes hides the pain extremely well behind a mask of strength and got-it-togetherness. I see you.
My story is also for those who find all this hard to understand but knows a precious person like this. We don’t need you to understand. We need you to begin caring enough to care. We don’t need you to have all the answers. We sometimes just need you to ask questions and listen over coffee or a meal or a walk through the neighborhood or through a text exchange. We certainly don’t need your in-passing sympathy or pity or well-meaning-but-meaningless platitudes on social media (such as, “I’m praying for you.” Don’t even get me started).
We need you to reserve an empathetic and non-judgmental and warm and safe space for us to regularly visit and talk and experience some hope and heal and plan next steps and remember what the sun on our face feels like. We’re not asking for a handout. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that you care and that storms are only temporary and that everything is going to be okay. Though it sometimes requires your patience, we need your unconditional love.
Depressed? I get it. Hard to talk about it? I get it. Thinking about killing yourself? I get that, too. Please don’t. Stay. Find what you were made for. Talk to someone. This time next year, I genuinely believe we’ll both be telling a different story.