Ever since the first time I heard the song “Why” by Rascal Flatts I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about it. (If you haven’t ever heard the song before, you can listen and read the words here. It takes just a few minutes, and it is well worth your time.) The first time I listened, I cried. Deep, sobbing, heart-wrenching tears. Because this topic is very very close to home.
I have put off writing this post for a long time. The first time I heard the song, I was in a pretty good place. It didn’t seem like the right time to bring up suicide. Not the right time to share my personal struggle with the world, my family, or my friends. And the last thing I want is pity or worry from other people.
But recently, a person I knew and respected committed suicide, leaving behind a family that my heart breaks for. At roughly the same time, I picked up a flyer from the psychologist’s office about a walk here in Boise for suicide prevention, sponsored by the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). (I’m planning to do this walk, and anyone who would like to join me (or donate) is more than welcome. There is no charge to participate.)
The stars seem to be aligned just right, and I’m feeling a strong desire to make my voice heard. So bear with me, and please understand that I’m not asking for your pity or your worry or your help. I’m in therapy, I’m on medication, and I’m working through my issues. My goal is to help people become more aware that suicide is a very real, very scary, very personal struggle for a great many people.
I first encountered suicide as a teenager. A boy I knew, who lived in my neighborhood and went to my church, began writing me letters talking about killing himself. I was young, and scared, and unwise. I kept this information to myself, and did the best I knew how to help him (which meant I tried to be his friend and wrote him letters back even though he was considered “weird” by all the other kids and I was embarrassed to have other people think I might actually like this guy). His suicidal letters to me continued off and on for a number of years. I never did tell anyone but my (at the time) best friend. She didn’t know what to do either.
Another teenage experience with suicide came at school, as a friend wrote a note that a teacher found in class, which had the letters “DBWB” at the end. He’d been dumped, or his advances had been spurned, or something along those lines, by a girl we both knew and were friends with. The note was very depressing, very desperate, and the teacher handed it over to the school counselor who called him, the girl, and me in to talk. “DBWB” stood for “Don’t Bother Writing Back”. It was taken as a thinly veiled suicidal message. I recall the counselor showing the boy this note, and then watching him as he took it from her hand and proceeded to eat it. It was surreal.
Several years ago, my life was coming apart at the seams. So many things had happened over a short period of time and I was feeling desperate and hopeless, worthless and depressed. I found myself face to face with suicide. If I hadn’t been so scared, I think I would have gone through with it. I was in a very, very dark place. But fear, guilt, and obligation kept me alive that day.
My oldest child has voiced suicidal thoughts and intentions many times over her short life. She has expressed her frustration with herself, her life, her feelings, her actions, and her circumstances in ways that have been very frightening, especially coming from one so young. She is in therapy and medicated, and we are working on her issues, but the words still come from time to time, and my worry for her is very real.
A few weeks ago, I found myself again staring suicide in the face, thinking to myself that it just wasn’t worth the effort, the pain, the work, the worry, the misery any longer. It was a fight deep in my soul between the part of me that wanted to give up and the part of me that didn’t want to cause pain to the people who love me, the people who count on me, and the people I care about. The struggle was intense. The sense of relief suicide posed to me was almost too much to ignore.
But I’m still here. Am I happy? Sometimes. Am I well? I don’t know. My life is again being turned upside down. My world has crumbled and I’m trying, again, to rebuild it. But it is work – slow, hard, exhausting work. And there are days when I don’t feel like going on. Days when I think it would be better and easier for everyone if I wasn’t here any more to cause pain and hurt, or to feel those feelings myself.
So what keeps me here? I guess the first reason is I have an overdeveloped sense of obligation. That my needs are less important than the needs of others. That my misery is less important than my children having a mother or my husband having a wife. This obligation and strong sense of guilt have driven me to do many things over the years, many of which I detest, but I realize that I may owe my life to that obligation and guilt. The next reason I’m still here is that I’m in therapy again. I’m trying to learn that my feelings are valid, real, and acceptable, even though they’re not good, happy, or pretty. But probably the biggest and most important reason is that I have people around me who care. People who have listened to me talk about these difficult times in my life, who have heard me relate my suicidal days, who have seen me when the depression was overwhelming, and who still love me, associate with me, and treat me like a regular person. Those people – my family, my friends, my doctors and therapists – have been a lifeline to me.
I’m working every day to rebuild myself and to become truly me. Trying to find a way to start again when I feel so much like giving up. And some days are really, really terrible.
My point in telling these stories is to make it easier to see that people, all kinds of people, struggle with suicide. You might never guess it from the outside. I seriously doubt anyone who knows me would suspect I’ve been suicidal (aside from the few people I’ve talked to about it), even so recently as two weeks ago. For some people it is easier to put on a facade. For some people the thought simply comes and then goes, before it really even registers. But for some, it’s more lingering. For some like me, it comes and goes, varying in intensity and duration. And for others (these are generally the ones you know about) the thought comes (often over and over) and eventually they act on it and that’s how you know they were fighting.
Mental health is a real issue. Mental well-being is every bit as important as physical well-being. Suicide in particular is a very real problem, and one that I suspect many more people struggle with than most of us realize. As the song above says, often we “have no clue” people are “masking a troubled soul”.
So what does this mean for you? What does it mean for me? What can be done, what should be done, what needs to be done? Love, acceptance, understanding. And support. Come join me and walk for the cause. Donate some money. Reach out to someone. Tell people you care, and mean what you say. Be a real friend. You can’t save everyone – our choices belong to us alone – but maybe you could be the reason someone hangs on just a little longer.
If you are suicidal, there are people who can help. There is a hotline (1-800-237-TALK (8255) I wish I had known about this years ago!!!) staffed by people who will talk, listen, and help you. Call them. Call a therapist. Talk to your doctor. Life doesn’t have to be all misery. And it really is worth living, despite what you might feel. Your life is meaningful, your existence is important. Please feel free to talk to me should you find yourself in need of a listening ear. I understand that dark place all too well.