man watching the sunset

It’s 1:34 a.m., and I’m awake with allergies.

This is nothing new. I’ve had itchy eyes, a scratchy throat and stuffy nose for two weeks. I grab a glass of cold water and open the cabinet. Benadryl is good because it will help me get back to sleep, as well as deal with my symptoms. I slide my thumb under the arrow on the cap and pop open the little white bottle. As I tip the bottle over into my left palm, pink and white capsules spill into my hand.

Then it happens.

For the first time in a very long time, my mind flashes back to that dreadful and desperate night when I nearly died. It’s literally just a flash — a blink — and the image is gone. But in the midst of the shock, I close my eyes and as I shake my head to try and bring reality back into focus, I lose my footing and then catch myself on the island in the kitchen. Thankfully, everyone else is asleep upstairs.

For half an hour, I reel from the effects of a glimpse back into the night when my life hung in the balance. I can see the dingy maroon carpet, the bed behind me, the Bible on the pillow. I can feel the queasiness and the rush to just get it over with.

What do you do when the flashbacks still come? How do you respond when they’re more stubborn than you ever imagined? When you’ve done everything right — you’ve been to counseling, taken your meds, surrounded yourself with supportive people — and they still show up?

I would never tell anyone else what to do when a flashback comes, but for me, once the shock wears off and I begin to realize what is happening, I have to acknowledge it before I can ever move on. I hold on through the roller coaster of memories and emotions, and after a while, I do what I can to process what has happened. For me, that means writing about it.

In my life, all of my flashbacks have the same predictable elements of fear and surprise, but no two are exactly alike. In the moment, I’m not sure there is anything I can do to stop them. But once reality begins to come back into focus, and I can remember who I am, I try and breathe deep, grab the nearest seat (often the floor) and tell myself I’m OK.

Because I am OK.

I can’t stop a flashback or prevent a panic attack, but by doing my best to process what has happened, I am learning to handle them a little better each time they come up.
The truth is, I am not the same desperate guy who once tried to attempt suicide in a hotel kitchen. The power of a second chance has changed my life. And for me, maybe the most important thing to remember is that a flashback is not a setback.

I’m thankful that flashbacks aren’t real. Most often, they are the darkest, scariest portions of our trauma. They are unpredictable and unfair, but I choose to keep living. Rather than allow the fear of the next flashback to hold me captive, I am choosing life.

Come what may, life goes on.

Follow this journey on I Am Steve Austin. Click here to sign up for his free self-care e-book.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


Dear self,

Listen to me, to us, for a moment. I know how much pain you’re in. I can still remember it even now. And I know right now you’ll do anything to make it stop.

You’re so empty right now, so hollow, and you’ve stopped caring. What has always held you back before, the affect your death would have on others, no longer matters. But you know, behind the pain, your friends and family would be brokenhearted and distraught, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve talked. They still love you.

And I know you’ve gotten to the point that that doesn’t matter anymore, but please listen to me. Go downstairs and tell Dad. Break down and pour all of this out to him and Mom because they love you more than anything, and I promise you they will help the pain stop, but only if you stop carrying it all by yourself.

You are not nothing. You have never been nothing, and you never will be, despite what anyone says. You are the stars, you are the moon, you are the sun burning with all of this emotion, you will become a dazzling galaxy. You are going to grow and flourish. You are going to get a new diagnosis that will explain everything. You will find out your depression is not permanent. You will realize none of this is your fault. You will start healing. You will change medications a few times. You will start to get better. You will relapse, but you won’t let it stop you because you are strong. You’ll find a treatment that unlocks control in you. You’ll realize you know who you are, that you have always been who you are at your core, and you will love yourself. You will realize one day that you haven’t been suicidal in months.

You will start to explore new passions and talents that will lead to so many more options for your life that you adore. You will become even more brave. You will stand up for others. You will fall for others. You will end relationships and have them ended. You will meet someone by sheer luck who will become so much to you and further your life. You will be happy.

You will learn to ask for help.

You will have this amazing future if you stay.

Your pain will end without your life having to.

Now go downstairs and ask for help because your future is waiting.

I’m waiting for you.

I love you.

~ Me

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Image via Thinkstock.

The past few weeks have been spent in reflection amidst the busyness of life and work. The days leading up to that two year anniversary were the hardest. Someone likened it to an alcoholic leading up to the days of their next sobriety chip. Except there are no chips for people who attempted suicide. There’s only the memories.

I don’t think there will ever be a time when the memories of those two nights won’t shake me to the core. There are still parts I have no memories of.

How I got into the ambulance.

How I got into the hospital room.

What was said to me when the crisis counselor talked at me.

But then there are the moments I do remember.

Being pulled off the ledge.

Someone yelling.

The lights.

The dizzy feeling of the stretcher being moved.

The paramedic shouting that something was going wrong.

And blackness.

It’s the blackness that scares me the most. I remember it still today. For months after, shutting my eyes met me with that horrible darkness and it would make my heart pound out of my chest. Fears and worries evolve, just like anything else. I think what scares me the most about that blackness is the realization I was way too close to losing everything in that moment. I lost control of everything and almost lost the one thing I value the most today — life.

I was met with a choice that day. I could loose hope or I could fight my way out, kicking and screaming. I chose the latter. Believe me when I say it wasn’t easy. It took everything I had within me, and then some. I couldn’t have done it without my family. I wouldn’t have made it if they didn’t express their unconditional love. I will be forever thankful for all they have done.

Through all the memories, the good and the bad, I have learned so much. I can truly look back at those times and find it in myself to be thankful for all that I went through. Had I not went through everything I did, I wouldn’t have my site Defying Shadows. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to help others who are going through similar things. I wouldn’t have the diagnosis, help and support I needed to live my life to the fullest.

So here’s to another great year. I cannot wait to see what this year has in store.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I had so many people tell me when my daughter attempted suicide multiple times as a teen:

“She just wants attention.”

“She needs to snap out of this.”

“If you’d quit showering attention on her, then she’d stop.”

Or the kinder:

“It’s a cry for help.”

Well, yes. In a way, most suicide attempts are a cry for help. They sometimes are a cry for attention to the fact that we need help we’re not getting. Guess what? That doesn’t make them less valid.

In fact, anyone crying for help and attention that loudly needs to get help and attention. It seems pretty damn obvious to me. And every person who said those things would (I hope) have sung a different tune if it were their loved one, their child.

What happens when you don’t take a suicide attempt seriously, even a seemingly half-hearted one? Sooner or later, you might lose someone.

Suicide isn’t selfish. It isn’t about you or who they’re leaving behind. It’s about being in unbearable pain, be it physical, mental or emotional. They grasp for what at the time seems like the only choice.

I know. I’ve been there. I attempted suicide at age 19. I was lucky. I survived. But at the time, I didn’t feel lucky.

The only thing that kept me from trying again for years was the memory of the pain in my little sister’s eyes when I woke up in ICU connected to IVs and tubes. My own mental and emotional pain took a backseat to that. Years later, my kids’ struggles would shove my own issues to the back burner. They were more important than anything I felt, I reasoned. They were, no doubt.

Then, there was work. There was school.There was always a reason to keep going. Everyone gets stressed and depressed sometimes. I was fine. I was normal. I was OK — until I wasn’t.

Until suddenly, I was unable to work. I couldn’t continue college. I was living in the world of unexpected, uninvited chronic illness, and there was a lot of nothing but pain and time. Endless, endless pain, time and struggle. Treatments that were stop-gap measures at best. Chronic daily migraine is my monster, and it brought other monsters out to play.

Monsters like the depression I’d shoved in the closet for years. Monsters like suicidal thoughts, lots of them. Monsters I’d thought were dead, but were just hiding and waiting.

I’ve planned suicide twice in five years. Each time, I saw my sister’s pain-filled eyes, my daughter fighting for her life and my grandkids I’d never hold again. I got help. It’s not easy, but I’m still here.

A cry for help is just that, a cry for help. Don’t turn your back on it. Don’t turn your back on those who need it.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

The statistics are shocking. About 42,773 people die by suicide in America each year. This equates to approximately 117 suicides per day or one death by suicide every 13 minutes. For every death, 25 more people attempt.

43,000 is a really big number. I would certainly lose count trying to count that high. And while I’m not a mathematician, I do know that one is much smaller than 43,000. The number one isn’t nearly as impressive. One compared to 43,000 isn’t earth-shattering.

Until one is your father.

Your mother.

Your child.

Your best friend.

Your aunt.

When someone you love dies by suicide, it feels like 43,000 pounds of pain on your chest.

In Alabama, where I live, suicide was the second leading cause of death due to injury for adults. Right here, among people I know and love. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death for person aged 10 to 24 in the United States. Young people. Kids. Not “crazy” people.

Suicide respects no one. It has snuffed out bright lights like Robin Williams and Ernest Hemingway. Closer to home, suicide robs families of teenagers and grandparents, steals teachers and pastors from communities and takes mothers away from their infants. It is a gift to survive it. Yet, for someone who has just survived a suicide attempt, it often feels like failure to be alive.

494,169 people went to a hospital for injuries due to self-harm in 2014. Those are just the documented cases. Thousands struggle in silence every single day. It could be the lady at your hair salon, the hero who just returned from a tour of duty, your child’s teacher, your grandmother or your pastor.

The suicide epidemic is squeezing the life out of our families, churches and communities. This is the reason I’ve written, “From Pastor to a Psych Ward.” Sharing my story always carries with it a bit of necessary weight, but I refuse to remain silent any longer as people fall victim to the lie that there is no hope or help.

I’m a pastor and I once attempted suicide because my brain has an illness no different from other illnesses. I require medication to function as normally as possible, and I have to visit a specialist to keep track of my progress. The stigma surrounding mental illness, especially in Christian communities, keeps people locked in prisons of shame, refusing to admit they need help.

I share my story not just for those who have failed a suicide attempt. My story can give hope and practical resources to anyone fighting a battle with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or paranoid personality disorder (PPD). People need to know they are not alone, and you can still be a Christian and have a mental illness.

Together we can stop the stigma of mental illness and start saving lives.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Patheos. To get a copy Steve’s book, from “From Pastor to Psych Ward” click here

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

There is no right or wrong way to heal after surviving a suicide loss. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one who died by suicide, it’s important to take time to heal and process your emotions on your own terms.

We’ve collected a number of resources to assist you as you begin to recover. The following resources are just suggestions and are in no way exhaustive. If you are concerned about your mental health, speak to a licensed professional.

For Your Mental Health

Speak to a Licensed Therapist or Grief Counselor

Speaking to a therapist or social worker can help you process any emotions you may feel after a suicide loss. Whether you chose to speak to someone days after losing someone or years, opening up can help you sort through any unresolved questions you may have. Below are some websites which can help you find a nearby mental health professional or teletherapy provider.

Join a Support Group

Meeting other survivors can help you heal as well. Try and find a group led by a mental health professional to ensure that the conversation stays productive. If you can’t find a group near you, you can try starting one with the help of a local suicide prevention or awareness organization.

Books and Workbooks

“After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief”

This handbook, written by two psychologists, is designed to help people cope with suicide loss. The book follows the days, weeks, and months after a loss, providing different ways to handle grief as time moves on. “After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief” also includes information about how to talk to children regarding suicide loss.

“Getting Through It: A Workbook for Suicide Survivors”

Written by a licensed professional counselor, “Getting Through It: A Workbook for Suicide Survivors,” provides organizational tools and guidance for processing your loss. The workbook is suitable for both adults and children.

“Someone I Love Died by Suicide: A Story for Child Survivors and Those Who Care for Them”

An illustrated book meant for children, “Someone I Love Died by Suicide” uses simple to understand language and is appropriate for younger children and families. The book was written by a licensed mental health counselor and is meant to be used in conjunction with therapy.

Ways to Memorialize Your Loved One

Add Their Name to the Digital Memorial Quilt

The AFSP offers an online space where suicide loss survivors can post stories about friends and family they have lost to suicide. Posts can include video, audio, text and photographs.

Plant a Tree in Their Honor

While not specific to suicide loss, memorial trees are an environmentally friendly and long-lasting way to memorialize someone you have lost.

Participate in an Out of Darkness Walk

Hosted by the AFSP, the Out of Darkness Walk raises money to prevent suicide. Walkers consist of suicide survivors, suicide loss survivors and others passionate about preventing suicide. There are over 350 walks throughout the U.S. for you to get involved in.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.