How can a girl who smiles all the time be thinking about suicide?
The fact that happy-go-lucky me was ready to end her life confused people. Quite often, none of us fit whatever description the media or your imagination has created for what someone with mental illness might look or act like. My smiles were rarely real; it was a mask I wore.
What does a 15-year old have to be depressed about anyway?
That was another question people in my life asked when I was hospitalized. They looked to blame something, anything — my music, my friends, my books. If they were surprised I was depressed at 15, they should have heard what my 10-year old mind was thinking.
My family, my friends, my music or books were not to blame. It was simply a glitch in my brain. A number of factors, including my genetics, all came together and created a brilliant, creative, and sometime-disordered mind. (Sidenote: I’m a proponent of Neurodiversity, and I embrace and accept all facets of my wonderful, though sometimes self-destructive, mind.)
I felt the need to share my story for World Suicide Prevention Day. A big reason why suicide is such an epidemic is due to the stigma surrounding it. We don’t talk about it. Those of us who have contemplated, planned, or attempted our own deaths rarely speak of it. We’re told to be ashamed of it.
Throughout my life, I’ve been routinely told the dangers of speaking out about mental illness, of being hospitalized, and being suicidal. I’ve been told it would risk my career, my relationships, even that it would worsen my mental health. Yet, I’ve been free to discuss my connective tissue disorder or my back surgery. Those were allowed to be mentioned in public. No one wanted to hear about my anxiety or depression or ADHD.
Looking in the other direction and ignoring the oncoming storm doesn’t make the storm go away. I won’t pretend to have all the answers to prevent suicide, but I do know that stigmatizing mental health and never talking about suicide are two ways that won’t work. So I’m here, and I’m talking.
People who have never had depression or have never thought of killing themselves find it difficult (if not impossible) to understand what someone like me has gone through. They don’t realize the energy it can take to be alive. It can be exhausting. They don’t know how difficult it is to get out of bed in the morning, to take a shower, to speak to anyone. It is draining.
They’ve no clue what an absolute energy-suck it is slapping on a smile and going through your day pretending everything is okay. I wore the mask so well, that when I ended up hospitalized for a few weeks, most people were totally shocked.
“But she smiles all the time!”
“I just saw her and we laughed together.”
That’s the myth. People battling depression, anxiety, or any other mental disorder are never happy, never calm, never average. And people who are suicidal? Well, the public is sure they’d recognize us from miles away. Except they don’t. And that is why suicide is so prevalent, we even have a month of awareness for it and a worldwide day focused on preventing it.
The summer before my sophomore year of high school, no one had any idea of the thoughts in my head. They’d started years earlier. I felt like a burden to my family due to the medical expenses of my back surgery and other health issues while in middle school. I felt emotions heavier than anyone else in my family. My heart ached for injustices everywhere. I physically felt hurt from things that weren’t even a part of my life. For years, I bottled up all these emotions, including thoughts of suicide, and put a smile on for the world to see.
At night, I’d lay awake in bed and worry about all the horrible things that could happen to me or were happening to others in the world. I began to fear germs and had to perform certain rituals in order for my world to have any sense of calm. I started counting, street signs mostly. I also had to read all the words on every street sign, or else I’d feel immense anxiety. I had stomachaches and headaches. This was all before high school. (A note to parents: don’t ever think that your elementary or middle school aged child couldn’t possibly be dealing with depression, anxiety, etc.)
As I entered high school, I began to feel more lost. I was never quite sure where I fit in, who I was, what I wanted. I was a bystander in my life.
Sometime early on in my freshman year, I began cutting. I had this black and red triangular-shaped razor that came with a stationary set. I had it with me everywhere I went. I’d go to the bathroom during class and cut. I’d do it at home in my bedroom. I was smoking on occasion then as well, but cutting always made me feel better than cigarettes.
I hid my cuts and scars, wearing long pants and shirts for most of the year. (My wardrobe hid my body, which also helped as I struggled with body dysmorphia.) In the summer, I’d wear thick bracelets and watches to keep my marks hidden. I was fooling everyone. Including myself.
I can’t recall what the turning point was that summer before my sophomore year. I don’t know when the idea to kill myself first really gained steam. There wasn’t a single event that made everything crumble. I think it was just that one can only hold all that darkness in for so long. I was unstable, but I had no warning signs, nor did anyone around me, of what was to come.
The relief I felt when I decided to kill myself was immense. When people gripe about suicide being selfish, I want them to understand that when you reach that point, it feels like the least selfish thing you could do. Mental illness had convinced me I was a burden. I was expensive. I was dramatic. I was too sensitive. I was a bother. I was a waste of cells. I was disgusting. I was worthless. I’d imagined how much easier my family would have it without me.
I never once thought of how they’d feel attending my funeral. I never thought of how my death would effect my friends. It never dawned on me that either would be a negative thing for those in my life. I thought I’d be doing everyone a favor.
When one reaches the point of being suicidal, it’s hard to think of being worthy of anything else. Mental illness clouds our judgment, and our thoughts are filled with such pain and agony, that ideas of suicide ease all of that. I felt lighter. This is the bitch about suicide, for a lot of us, getting to a place where you begin to plan killing yourself actually makes you feel better. Life seems tolerable, finally — it’s all temporary. You can get through the school day or that work meeting or family dinner. The end is in sight.
By August, I’d been planning how I’d do it and where. Then I got lucky.
My mother, always observant, finally noticed a mark on my arm. I remember the rest in snippets. I remember crying as she asked questions. I don’t think I answered. I’m not sure. I cried because my plans were ruined. I cried because finally I could. All the months and years of shoving it all inside me, and now it felt like all those feelings were escaping me.
My mother acted on her instincts. She immediately brought me to the nearest mental hospital with an adolescent unit. She didn’t believe me when I told the doctors I wouldn’t try to do anything over the weekend. It was Friday afternoon, just before Labor Day weekend. I remember lying to the doctor, assuring them I wouldn’t hurt myself. Meanwhile all I was thinking was how I just needed to get home and get this all over with. My mom pleaded with the doctors, saying she didn’t think she could keep me safe (and the truth is, no one but a hospital could have). I was admitted to the hospital and the rest is a story for another time.
If you are suicidal, I want you to know that it is possible to get out of that pit. I assure you, the world and the people around you would be devastated if you killed yourself. I know it all seems impossible. I saw no way out. I know finding the energy to talk to someone, even a hotline, can be overwhelming. But I will repeat it again and again: it is worth it.
You are worth it.
It was work. I’m not going to lie. I needed a lot of therapy. I needed more than just therapy. I needed medication and so much more. It wasn’t instant. And it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses since I walked out of the mental hospital.
But, I’m still here.
I want you to be too. I want you to know you are not alone. There are many of us who have been where you are now. We are all supporting you.
If you are depressed or dealing with any other mental illness, please get help. Ask family, ask a friend, ask a coworker, ask a neighbor. Call a hotline. Seek online resources. It’s a good thing to ask for help. You are not weak. You are not a burden. There are resources if you don’t have insurance or lack the money for treatment.
Do not give up.
If a therapist or a medication doesn’t work, try a new one. Please don’t give up on yourself. You are not broken or doing something wrong if Plan A doesn’t help you. Do not forget that. I’m still here because of Plans B through H.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line (Text “START” to 741-741)
UK Supportline: 01708 765200
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
To Write Love On Her Arms Resource List
Do Something Hotline List