This blog post is being started with a warning. It will be long, and it will likely be pretty personal. I aim to share some personal thoughts regarding the topic suicide, and specifically this week. Monday was World Suicide Prevention Day – where people around the globe stood together to raise awareness. Similarly, this week is national suicide prevention week. It bothers me that there is even the need for such a day, week and month.
If there is one thing I am learning, it’s that NOTHING will change unless we are honest about it…unless we talk about it. The ONLY way we can diminish the stigma that surrounds mental illness and suicide is by talking about it. This is the first time that raising awareness and prevention hasn’t personally taken a depressing toll on me. Previously, it would depress me more than it would do good (for me) by raising said awareness. This year, through much of life’s circumstances, and with God’s help (and the help of the people He has blessed me with) I am experiencing peace and more strength than I can imagine by sharing my own story, by talking about it, and by reaching out and walking this life with others.
I was recently posed a question that asked what I was doing in my community to raise awareness, and to bring hope. This is urgently on my heart. So, I’ve started talking about it. I may be just one person, but I am going to start a revolution. Not really – but as just one person, I CAN make an impact. I plan on approaching our city to see if we can schedule an event to talk about it – to bring awareness – and be proactive with prevention. Also today, I spoke randomly with six different people. The people I talked to had varying occupations, ages and were both male and female – from stay at home moms to corporate executives. (And, no – I’m not exaggerating.) The first person is a grown man who first experienced suicide the end of 2011, just after Thanksgiving when his friend took his own life. The next person knew people who struggled with suicidal thoughts, and had experienced a loss to suicide during high school. The next person was a young college student who had a really good friend (one known since kindergarten) commit suicide just after high school graduation. This person also said goodbye to a friend in college – another suicide. The next was a grown man who still showed much emotion over having lost a really good friend in junior high – also to suicide. He still grieves. He has never forgotten. The next is a sweet young college student who has struggled with depression since a young age – and was finally diagnosed at the age of 14. She struggles with suicidal thoughts, and has attempted suicide before. The next was a college aged young man who said he had experienced suicide way too much. Too many people he has known or been acquainted with have taken their own life. One is too many.
My point of the last entire paragraph is that I am ONE person. One person who talked to six people I’ve never talked to about this topic. And, I learned that six out of six people have been in some way affected by suicide. That, alone, is a pretty staggering statistic to me. I know that many people (thank God) have not experienced suicide, or anything related to it – and you cannot imagine how happy this makes me. I’d also like to tell you my story – as it relates to being affected by suicide specifically. In high school, I had a really good friend who was suicidal. I did not k now at first. We knew she was not happy. It was not until my mother called me at work, and told me that she needed help in a desperate way, and her family had reached out to ours to see if I could talk to her. I spoke with my boss, who was really awesome about it, and I left to just go be with her. She was in a really dark place, and was literally at the brink of taking her life. I’ve been told later in life that, had I not been there that day, she would not be alive today. I smile, knowing I made a difference. She has three beautiful children, and is still alive. About a year later, a friend in high school took his own life. The odd thing about him (or at least it was odd to me at the time) was that no one knew. Outwardly, he was successful in school, popular, had a good home life, and many people who loved him. So, his suicide was heartbreaking and definitely unexpected. About two years later, I had joined the military and was serving overseas. I had a really good friend, and a member of my unit commit suicide. I knew that he was hurting. I knew that he was dealing with things on a personal level, and at home. I knew that he was struggling – having gotten disciplinary action in the military. What I did not know, was how much he was hurting. I believe I did what I could do. I was a friend, and cared about him very much. But, there is always going to be that part of me that always wonders what I could have done differently.
In the coming years, I began volunteering with suicide intervention and prevention – reaching out to people in crisis. I had training, and had been certified to know how to react. Let me tell you, though, that there is nothing in this world that can adequately prepare you for when someone close to you is suicidal, or takes their own life. Nothing. It’s not possible. I believe that is a good thing though because I do not want to see the day that suicide just becomes and accepted problem. That said, one of my very best friends struggles with mental illness, and has attempted suicide multiple times. It breaks my heart watching her hurt. It breaks my heart when I have more faith and see so much in her that she’s blind to – that she’s unable to see herself. There were times that she was closer to death than she realizes, even today. It hurts to think about it, but it hurts worse imagining if she had succeeded. She has told me many times before how she wouldn’t be alive if not for me standing by her through the thick and the thin. What she doesn’t realize is that I need her as much as she needs me. I need her to stay alive. Well, truth be told, she does know this – because I’ve told her. I cannot imagine life without her. Through my own struggles over time, I know I have a friend in her.
In time, and in a different post, I will share my personal story. I will share some of the struggles I’ve gone through, and the ways that I have found grace, love and hope.
I just said all that to say that this is real. Suicide is a growing epidemic. It breaks through all barriers. Man, woman, young or old – or anywhere in between – are all affected. It is my belief that if we begin talking about it, there will be less of a stigma related to depression, mental illness, suicide and addiction.
One thing I want to reiterate. Your past does not define you. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, or what brings you to where you are today, you are loved. You do not have to walk through life alone. We were created as community people. People need people, plain and simple. Do not sell yourself short. Realize that hope IS real, and it is for you. Don’t ever give up. Your life is important, and your story matters. More than that, your story isn’t finished being written yet. Never for get that hope is real.