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.
I haven’t written a blog post since last week. I started writing several times only to discard it. No words seemed right after the events of last week. I will say that my heart breaks for the families, friends, and community of Newtown. I decided to wait until closer to Christmas and share some of the joys of the season and to share the lessons and treasures of this past year.
However, something happened today that made me change my mind. This afternoon I saw a facebook message from a friend offering her prayers and condolences to the mother of a 15-year-old young man. As I read the posts of the past day, I realized the young man was only a couple of weeks older than my grandson. I didn’t know him but he was part of the group of boys that grew up in scouting in our community. I looked at his picture as I read the words from his mother, “The autopsy reports it was an apparent suicide by hanging. No one noticed any signs of depression. It was such a shock to us all.”
I am writing this post because I was once in a place of such darkness, pain, anger, fear, and loneliness that I tried to take my life. I was helpless and hopeless. I couldn’t see a way that my life would ever be anything different. When you are that depressed the world disappears and makes no sense. It is as if you are in a bubble and no one can see you or hear you or get to you.
I made one last phone call that night to a friend.
She said, “I can’t do this. I can’t go down this road with you anymore. I love you, but I will not go any further with you unless you get help.”
She gave me the phone number to the crisis hotline and begged me to call them. The one person I thought would care turned her back on me. After taking moresome pills and downing a half bottle of Southern Comfort, I picked up the phone and called. The woman on the phone that night saved my life.
Things didn’t get better overnight. I became part of a twelve step program. I got therapy. I eventually started on medication. I learned to let people into my life and talk when I was angry, scared or lonely. I made a mess of things from time to time, but I learned how to clean up my messes and not make the same mistakes again.
That was almost 26 years ago. Life still has ups and downs. Life still gets messy from time to time. Life still hurts more that I can bear sometimes, but I know what to do. I have repaired relationships with family and have better relationships than I ever imagined possible. I have friends that I love and cherish. I have support any time I need it. Oh, and that friend who “turned her back on me” that night is still my friend and I thank her from time to time for the gift she gave me.
If you are reading this and you have thoughts of suicide or you live with depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc.(or you know someone who does) PLEASE reach out to someone. I know it is hard. I understand it is one of the most difficult things in the world to do. I realize the phone weights two tons when you think of calling someone. I know that you believe in your heart and soul that no one will care or understand.
Just hear me when I tell you that there is hope. Even if you don’t believe me, do it anyway. There is help. Call a family member; Call a friend; Call your pastor or member from whatever faith group works for you; Call a doctor or therapist; or
Call the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine 1-800-273-TALK(8255) Chat is available. Veterans press #1 http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Online Chat support from To Write Love on Her Arms… www.IMALIVE.org The first online network with 100% of its volunteers trained and certified in crisis intervention.
The truth is, just talking to someone, explaining, sharing, venting, being listened to, can often give you a temporary reprieve. Talking to someone can temporarily change your perspective – Human contact changes the brain chemistry & opens that emotion “pod” of pent up emotions for temporary relief – and it may not be what they say, but just the exchange of emotions like empathy, compassion, & concern.
Will they cure you – no. Will they take the pain away? Maybe ease it for a little while.
Even if you know you may be upset or suicidal again soon, just give it a try.
Even though non-depressive humans won’t really know exactly how you feel — Let them try to help the best they can. Talk to them, let them listen. Most of them are not even getting paid. The only reason they are there is for you. They may not always say the exact right thing, but they are hoping that somehow they can help you make it through a difficult time, to live & fight another day.