group of 5k runners in front of ikea store

The weather during the 15th annual Tunnel to Towers 5K was much like it was on September 11, 2001: brilliant sunshine, blue skies, with a hint of autumn in the air. My good friend Ron from Airborne Tri Team invited me to join his team and participate in the event. The 5K was established in memory of New York City firefighter Stephen Siller, who, having just finished his shift on September 11, 2001, heard on his scanner that a plane hit the Twin Towers. Stephen returned to the firehouse for his gear and drove to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it had been closed for security purposes. Determined to carry out his duty, he raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers, where he lost his life while saving others.

The course of this 5K event retraces Stephen’s footsteps. As it probably would be for many, I knew this event would be an emotional rollercoaster for me. However, I didn’t anticipate the reasons for two of my sobbing breakdowns while on this course. As I started walking through the tunnel, my tears expectedly flowed as I imagined what it must have been like for Stephen, not knowing what lay ahead of him, or if he thought this might be his final life-saving effort.

My Steve, who took his own life on March 15, 2015, was passionate about helping others and had passed the FDNY test in the 1980’s. However, he did not join when called, probably because I discouraged him. I told him I would always worry if he would come home alive after working a shift. Steve always had regrets about not joining FDNY, and ironically, I would try to console him by saying he may have perished on September 11 if he did join FDNY when called.

Steve was a Jones Beach lifeguard for many years, so when I saw someone who could have been Steve’s contemporary wearing a Jones Beach lifeguard shirt on the 5K course, I came alongside him and asked if he knew Steve. I was hoping perhaps he had a happy memory he could share with me about Steve. When he acknowledged he knew Steve and I told him who I was (Steve’s 33-year life partner), I sensed his immediate discomfort by the look on his face, and it seemed he couldn’t get away from me fast enough. For the second time on the course, my tears started flowing.

Of course, this lifeguard’s reaction could have been my imagination, as I was in such a highly-charged emotional state. However, I doubt it, because in my experience it is not uncommon for people to be uncomfortable when they are reminded of the suicide of someone they knew. To this day, I believe some former friends avoid me for this reason.

In speaking with other suicide survivors, I have learned this avoidance is more common than I thought, and it is always very painful for us. Many of us need reassurance that our lost loved ones existed. A hug or a simple “I am so sorry for your loss” is often more than enough for us. When people avoid us, it can be so heartbreaking. Many of us want to talk about our loved ones and hear stories from others about them. I know I still cry when talking about Steve, so many people may think talking about Steve is painful for me. However, I am like many other suicide survivors who want to talk about their lost loved ones.

As I exited the tunnel and was getting closer to the 5K finish line,  for the third time, my tears started to flow. Once in Manhattan, members of the NYPD and FDNY were standing on the side of the course, each holding a banner with a photo of a 9/11 fallen first responder. So many lives were lost that day by those who selflessly sacrificed their own lives so others could survive.

My final tears fell at the finish line, but surprisingly, they were tears of joy. Seeing the resiliency and the rebuilding of lower Manhattan and realizing we will never forget those who lost their lives after such a tragic event touched my soul. My emotional experiences at the 5K turned out to be like a metaphor for me. I hope someday I can rely on my own resilience to rebuild myself after the tragedy of losing the love of my life — and that people will never forget my Steve.

balloons at the finish line of the 2016 tunnel to towers 5k
The 2016 Tunnel to Towers 5K finish line.

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.

Follow this journey on Slipped Away.


I have survived two suicide attempts. They were two of the lowest points of my life. I don’t think there is anything worse than feeling like your existence is more of a burden than a blessing. Your brain rationalizes all of the negative self-talk that occurs in a depressed person. When suicidal ideations become more of a reality, it is a serious and desperate time for that individual. Yet those are the times when we are often not willing to vocalize our pain and thoughts to our loved ones or doctors. Severe depression and anxiety isolate us from the outside world. Everyone else seems to be living happily and moving through life with an ease we cannot see for ourselves.

Coming out on the other side of suicide has given me a lot of perspective. The lessons I’ve learned from those experiences have allowed me to gain the self-care tools to get me through those darker moments. If I could have had a talk with myself when I tried to end my life, here is what I would have said:

Dear Jaime,

I understand how difficult life has been for you. You have held a huge responsibility from a young age. Getting married at 19 and starting a family right away has made it difficult to figure out who you are as an individual. Many people have their 20s to make mistakes, learn from them and figure out what it is they want in life. You came into the roles of wife and mother still a child, and you have struggled with finding your place in the world. Being in your 30s and still feeling like you have no value or worth can destroy anyone’s psyche. On top of that, you have a serious neurological disorder that has no cure. You are in pain constantly. Your body feels broken, and your brain doesn’t process feelings and emotions the same way as others’. Life is hard. I completely understand that. But there is something you need to know…

You are not your migraine, or your mental illness, or your fibromyalgia, or your anxiety. You are blessed and uniquely made to be specifically you. You are incredibly intelligent and compassionate. You care for others with an honest and loving heart. You are worthy of love and understanding. You have immense value. You are gifted as a writer and for resonating with others in a way that comes naturally to you.

You have raised three amazing children. They never get into trouble and always respect their elders. They do well in school and behave well with you and their father. Your kids are compassionate and loving human beings because you raised them to be that way. You are an amazing mother. It’s your best quality. You were born to be the mother to your precious children.

You are a supportive and understanding wife. Through 15 years of marriage, you have made a lot of mistakes and hurt yourself and your husband in the process. But you have always loved with an open and honest heart. You always support your husband’s decisions and try your best to motivate him. You are not a bad wife or friend to your husband. He is with you because he loves and believes in you. You are a work in progress and have only gotten better with each year that passes. Your husband has supported you through your illnesses and has not blamed you for being sick. You are blessed to have that in a spouse because so many do not.

Learn to lean into your blessings. All the things in your life that give you purpose and fulfillment will carry you through the darkness. You deserve to be here, living in this space you have carved out for yourself. You owe it to yourself to come into your full potential. You have no idea the opportunities that are waiting for you in the future. You will finally be able to see how important and needed you are — not only to your family, but to the many people who suffer from migraine and other chronic pain illnesses.

You have a voice — a beautiful, unique, blessed and compassionate voice. You are valued, worthy and needed. Despite how you are feeling now, remember your view of yourself is a distorted one. Your brain does not allow you to see how wonderful and complete you are. I am here to tell you that you are everything you feel you are not. You will use these experiences to help others who are feeling suicidal. Your transparency about living with mental illness can help so many get through their darkest moments.

You will get through this and be a better person because of it. You are meant to be here. Remember to just breathe. Those feelings and urges to end your life will go away. Breathe in loving and healing light, and exhale all of the negative energy you are feeling. This, too, shall pass — as has every other bad moment in your life. Hold on, because pain ends.


Your loving and amazing self

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.

Follow this journey on The Migraine Diva.

I recently reconnected with a small handful of friends from my high school years. Though they had been amazing friends in so many ways, I distanced myself from them because they were loosely tied to a past I wanted so desperately to forget. I naively believed if I left all of it behind me, pushed it into a closet or under the bed and pretended it didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be able to hurt me anymore.

After everything happened, I was sent downstate to live with my sister for a little more than a year. During that time, I was blessed to meet some of the most incredible friends someone lost in my personal turmoil could have ever hoped for. We were an odd assortment of misfits who just clicked. Some of my happiest memories of that time were spent with them on Saturday mornings, helping them pick music to put on the air for a weekend radio show, getting Happy Meal toys with our lunches and wearing silly props from the party store.

When I was bounced back upstate, we all tried keeping in touch at first. As my life got increasingly hard, though, I began pulling away from them. In part, I was ashamed of how much of a mess I had become. Because of events I had no control over, I had gone from being an honors student to living on the street. But a bigger part of me was in full flight mode. I hoped if I ran far enough, fast enough, away from my past, I could somehow escape it. Though they were not a part of the trauma, our friendship became yet another casualty of it.

Here and there over the years, we’d connect briefly and exchange pleasantries, catch each other up on the here and now. But our exchanges were always brief, because I had never stopped running. If I stopped to let anyone in, my past might catch up with me, and I was too terrified to risk that happening. Eventually, we lost touch completely.

Life in the past year has changed so drastically, though. I have gone to the edge and lived to tell the tale. I have found my voice and begun to write, to talk about all I’ve been through and to face my demons. As fate may have it, one of these amazing friends from my past stumbled onto my author page. It was incredible to reconnect with one, then another. I had finally stopped running, and I longed to talk to them all, to reconnect, to apologize and to invite them back into my life with open arms. I was healthier now. I was no longer ashamed of my past. I had gained so much perspective in life that I couldn’t wait to share with them all.

…And then the other shoe dropped.

I was informed the third amigo from the trio of guys who made that time in my life more bearable and kept me from collapsing when my entire life imploded had killed himself a couple years ago. This news crushed me. I know I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but it ate at me just the same.

I’ve struggled with depression myself. I know that beast well. I’ve walked that line of wanting to give up, wanting to give in, wanting more than anything for the pain to stop. I know what it’s like walking through life wearing a mask, smiling to convince others you’re OK while it feels like you’re dying inside. And I know what it feels like to have only two gears — either that soul-crushing agony that rips you apart inside or a complete numbness that makes you question why you’re even bothering to hold on anymore. I’ve walked that path alongside him without ever knowing he was there.

I will always remember him as this larger-than-life, creative and passionate guy who could always make everyone laugh. I had such a crush on him years ago. He had this flirtatious spirit, these eyes that pulled you in and this smart*ss smile that made all the girls swoon. I’ll never forget one day years ago when we found ourselves making out in the backseat of our friend’s car, sure in our teenage naivety that if we did it under a jacket no one would notice. I’ll always remember the last time we talked and how passionate he was about teaching and making a difference in the world. He had such an amazing heart and such a kind soul. The world truly needed him in it.

I find myself beating myself up even though I know I’m being irrational. Realistically, there was no way I could have known. Part of me keeps thinking, though, that I should have been there, should never have pulled away in the first place. Maybe if I had been there, I would have seen something, been able to say something, made some sort of a difference. The rational side of me also knows I was in a different place a couple years ago, still drowning in my own depression. I’m not sure I could have made a difference to anyone, because I barely mattered to myself at that point. But a huge part of me is caught in that “shoulda, woulda, coulda” loop of blame, feeling like I failed in some way because I didn’t know, wasn’t there.

I know I’m taking this personally because I’ve recently been so close to the edge myself, but I can’t stop thinking this should not have happened. I feel there is no reason in this world why someone like him should have felt so lost, so alone that he felt suicide was his only option. I wish I could find a way to go back, say something, do something, change things. Save him. Let him know he wasn’t alone. Let him know I’ve been there, too, and I understand. Tell him it would be OK. Promise him I’d be there, that he wouldn’t have to face life alone.

But I know how depression works. It twists everything into absolute negatives. It can convince you nobody understands, no one cares, nothing will ever get better. It doesn’t matter if you’re surrounded by friends and family who love you. Depression isolates you and makes you feel completely alone.

The truth is what’s done is done. All the “shoulda, woulda, couldas” in the world cannot change it. No matter how much I wish I could change the past, I cannot unring that bell. No matter how much I beat myself up for not being there, it’ll never bring him back. The world has suffered a terrible loss. It has lost a man who loved music and laughter and wanted to make a difference and change the world.

Matt, I’m truly sorry I was not there for you when you needed someone. I’m so sorry you spent your last moments feeling alone and without hope. You deserved better out of life. You deserved a better friend in me.

Please know that every time I encourage someone to keep fighting, to not give up, to not give in — in my heart I will forever be speaking directly to you, wishing I could have saved you from that ledge, pulled you back in time. The world has lost too much already. It cannot afford to lose any more.

For all you once meant to me, Matt, and all I should have been there for you, I am truly sorry. Words cannot even begin to express how sorry I am. I love you, sweetie. I’m so truly sorry I wasn’t there.

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.

A version of this post originally appeared on Unlovable.

It may seem silly to think a celebrity, someone who doesn’t know I exist, could have saved my life. When I started typing this, I rolled my eyes at myself and thought, “Are we really writing this for the public to read?” I never wanted to be someone who practically worshiped an A-list celebrity. But when Lady Gaga released the album “Born This Way,” my depression no longer controlled me.

I was 16 years old when the album was released and, like many other 16-year-olds, I loved to jam out to my favorite pop star. I was also dealing with a heavy depressive episode that, at the time, I had no explanation for. I knew what depression was, and by that time I had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. But no one really explained to me what depression did to our bodies, or how often I would feel that way. I spent most of my days functioning “normally,” but sometimes I would begin to feel as though nothing mattered anymore. I got into thought processes that consisted of, “We are nothing but tiny molecules in the universe and we do not matter, therefore dying would not change anything.”

During this time, Lady Gaga released her “Born This Way” album. Excited, I hustled to Best Buy and grabbed the first copy I saw. I ran back to the car, begging my mom to hurry home so I could pop it into my laptop. At first listen, my favorite song was “Born This Way,” of course. But after a few replays, I listened to “Bad Kids” once again. Instead of focusing on the rock-and-roll tune, I listened to the lyrics this time. And I mean really listened.

Now, I realize many of you may never have heard this song, as it was never one of her singles. However, if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, I strongly urge you to do so. The song is based on stories fans shared with Gaga while she was on tour about how her music helped them through a tough time. She mentions the topics of the letters several times throughout the song. My favorite part is:

I’m a twit, degenerate young rebel and I’m proud of it
Pump your fist if you would rather mess up than put up with this
I’m a nerd, I chew gum and smoke in your face, I’m absurd
I’m so bad and I don’t give a damn, I love it when you’re mad

The reason this stuck with me so much is the way Gaga begins the song with snippets from the stories such as, “My parents tried until they got divorced ‘cause I ruined their lives,” and “wish I had the money but I can’t find work.” Then, later in the song, she sings proudly about being a degenerate young rebel. The fact that a woman of her power in society could sing proudly about being disliked by her peers made me feel so empowered.

For some reason, knowing people other than myself also struggled with feelings of inadequacy made thoughts of suicide go out the door. I still get chills when singing along with this song, because I remember the epiphany I had as a naive 16-year-old when I realized I was not alone in this. Sometimes, it can take a celebrity like Lady Gaga to remind us we are all human and we all struggle.

If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental illness, make sure they know they are not alone. Share your story and empower those who need a voice.

Image via Creative Commons / marcen27.

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.

My wish is that this battle becomes real to people. That they could see this illness for what it truly is, a true disease that can be as debilitating as physical illnesses. Mental illness isn’t something anyone can choose or wish away. It affects the brain, a vital part of us.

This illness has so much stigma attached to it. People are ashamed to reach for help, and many go undiagnosed and untreated. The resources for mental health are limited and not accessible to many.

When a tragedy strikes someone we know or love, it makes us all ask: Why didn’t they say something? Why didn’t they ask someone to help them. Why didn’t they just do things to make them happy?

We need to look at this differently. When you are in a battle with your thoughts and perceptions, it is not something you can just turn off. Instead we need to ask: What can we do to help? Where are we, as a society, to help those fighting these battles? Where do we stand when someone we know is going through terrible pain?

My wish is for this battle to never have to be fought so hard. That those fighting it would be loved, accepted and never ridiculed. We need to do better to help the people struggling and fighting a battle we cannot see.

Image via contributor.

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.

My conundrum: I need Steve now more than ever to help me get through his suicide. In the past, during major emotional upheavals in my life, specifically the passing of my parents and my cancer diagnosis, I was always comforted by my pillar of strength, Steve. He was always able to gently remind me to live in the moment, show me the power of humor or just give me a huge bear hug with his massive swimmer’s shoulders that enveloped me like a protective cocoon. Steve always instinctively knew what I needed from him to help me deal with my emotional pain.

I will never forget the last time I saw my mom alive before she passed from incurable, progressive brain cancer. Steve and I were visiting my mom at her assisted-living facility in Florida and were in the community room with her, where an entertainer was singing the Frank Sinatra classics from my mom’s generation. As I watched my mom in her wheelchair, she was smiling and singing along. Of course, I started crying, wondering how many more days she had left and if I would ever see her again. Steve gave me a big hug and gently reminded me at that moment, my mom was so happy. He said when we get old and were in assisted-living, the entertainers will be singing Rolling Stones and Aerosmith songs.

Now, as I reflect on the huge void Steve’s loss has left in my life, with gratitude, I realize others have helped me fill some of that void. My good friends for many years, Judy, Kathy, Mike and Terry, have been rocks of support for me and do not hesitate to drop what they are doing to help me in any way they can. I have my yoga teachers, Gina and Lauren, to help me focus on breathing and living in the moment. There are my new friends, Anne and Joe, who can make me laugh and smile. Then, I also have my new veteran friends, Ron and his Airborne Tri Team, who continue to inspire me with their positive, can-do attitudes. Finally, my rabbits, who always live in the moment and crack me up with their antics. At times, they give me bunny kisses to soothe my tears (if it suits them.)

Yes, Steve and I will never be able to hear covers of rock and roll songs together in our later years. However, I am so thankful for the people in my life now who will hug me, give me a shoulder to lean on, make me smile or remind me to be present when I need it the most. They do have big shoes to fill, but sometimes, “it takes a village…”

Follow this journey on Slipped Away.

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.

Image via contributor.

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