This was the message I saw written as I entered the bathroom stall on campus:
“Why can’t I fit in anywhere?”
The next day a new message was written underneath it that said:
“I can’t do this anymore. Everyone would be better off without me.”
These messages hurt my heart because I felt helpless to reach out and let this person know that there is someone ready and willing to listen to them. Their voice does not have to be stifled inside a bathroom stall. I know this for a fact because for 18 years I worked as a phone counselor on staff at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Volunteers and paid staff work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year answering the calls and chat messages from people who are experiencing depression, anxiety, fear, rage, and suicidal thoughts.
I understand the pain and fear behind the words in the bathroom stall because I have felt them myself. I spent most of my life living with anxiety and depression without having a name for them. I grew up experiencing abuse and neglect. I used anything I could find to numb my pain-food, religion, sex, alcohol and drugs. After losing everything and everyone in my life, after becoming someone I hated, after believing all the words that had been said to me over the years, I decided to end my life. I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, and everyone would be better off without me.
One very lonely Saturday night, I tried to drink enough to kill myself with alcohol poisoning. That isn’t an easy task when you are a full-blown alcoholic. I tried cutting my wrist, but I was too drunk to do it. I couldn’t find anything sharp enough to do the job. I was even a failure at killing myself. I tried calling the one person I thought I could count on, and she told me she couldn’t do this with me anymore. She gave me a phone number to the Crisis Suicide Hotline and begged me to call them. I can’t explain why I called them, but I did.
A counselor stayed on the phone with me for close to three hours that night, listening to me cry and tell my story. She gave me some resources for help including the name of a therapist. Someone from the Crisis Suicide Hotline called me the next day to follow up. I did get into therapy, got help for my addictions, and slowly began crawling my way back out of the black hole I knew as my life.
That was in March 1987. I have been clean and sober for 32 years. I worked with a therapist and found that I was one of the people who needed medication for my anxiety and depression. Even now, life isn’t always easy. During the past 32 years, I have been married and divorced, lost jobs, had my best friend and my mother both die unexpectedly, and dealt with all of the things that life tends to bring.
What I have learned is that life is worth living despite all the challenges that come with it. I found ways to deal with all of the craziness in this world. I don’t have to hide from pain; I can handle it with the help of family and friends. There is hope no matter how deep the darkness. My voice is no longer silenced behind all the things I used to numb my pain.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide or dealing with anxiety, depression, fear or anger, there are ways you can help. Learn the warning signs and how you can make a difference in that person’s life. If you are the person who feels their voice can’t be heard, take a chance and call, text or chat with the groups below. Most colleges also offer peer counseling.
September 5-11 is National Suicide Prevention Week.
Here are some resources for help:
To talk, text or chat:
National Suicide Prevention LifeLine 800-273-TALK or Chat online
Crisis TextLine : Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime, about any type of crisis.
IMAlive : IMAlive is a live online network that uses instant messaging to respond to people in crisis.