The Lesson That Helped Me Keep Living Even After I Decided My Time Was Up
It seemed like any ordinary Friday.
A mid-September, cooler in the morning, but still hot by noon, running errands, talking with friends, glad it’s Friday kind of a day.
A day that, most likely, no one would particularly remember.
And that’s exactly the kind of day it was for me.
Only it almost wasn’t.
It was almost a day that would have been remembered by my sweet family and friends forever…
It was the day I had planned to end my life.
I know, I know. How could I? How could I possibly think such a thing, let alone plan for it?
How could I, a mother of six and wife to a loving, caring husband of almost 20 years, plan something so horrible? Something that would wound and scar them for the rest of their lives? How could I possibly “be so selfish?”
Two words: mental illness.
I have lived with mental illness my entire life. I have lived through tumultuous highs and lows since I was a little girl, but five years ago I finally had a name for it: bipolar disorder. I thought that having a diagnosis would mean life would finally get easier. I could finally get stabilized on the right kind of med and live a “normal life.” It would mean I could get rid of the incredible shame I felt for being so intense and unpredictable, and no one would ever know of the horrible things that went through my mind. I would not need to depend on anyone to care for me or check on me. Having a diagnosis would change all of that.
It gave me hope.
And so began my endless search to find “hope” in what I thought would be a cure. I bounced from med to med, from this kind of treatment to that one, seeing new therapists and doctors when the old ones didn’t meet my expectations.
But 22 psychiatric meds, 14 natural supplements, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), neurofeedback, three psychiatrists, and multiple therapists later… all I had gained was 80 pounds and a hopelessness that led me to make my final plans.
I have attempted to end my life five times in the past 16 years, but this time was different.
This time there wasn’t a surge of adrenaline and desperation propelling me to drive my car into on-coming traffic or take an entire bottle of sleeping pills.
This time I was calm. I was extremely depressed, of course, but I was eerily calm. One day I just made up my mind and started making plans in my head. This time there would be no attempt. It would just be “complete.”
I picked the date. A day close enough for me to be able to make it to, and yet far enough away so that I could “fake it” just enough to make it work. A day that was not a birthday of any of my close family or friends. I even purposely chose for it to be during Suicide Prevention Month. Yes, I realize the horrible irony there.
I planned where I would go and what I would do and how I would spend my last moments. I even began letters to my husband and children. I wanted them to know how very much I loved them and to share my dreams of who I hoped they would grow up to be someday. I wanted my husband to know how much I wanted to celebrate our 20th anniversary with him, but that it just wasn’t possible.
And as ironic as this may sound, more than anything I wanted them to know that I did not want to leave them. I did not want to die!
No, I did not want to leave them reeling with the sudden loss of their mother/wife, but in that moment, I felt that there was literally nothing left for me to do. I was in so much pain. It was unbearable. I could not see a glimmer of hope or light — darkness was surrounding me, and I did not want to drag my family through it any longer. I was convinced that because they had suffered alongside me for so long, they would eventually be better off starting a new life without me in it. I knew it would devastate them, and yet in my darkness, I truly believed that suicide was the only sure way to be “cured” of this illness.
So I made my plan. I would end my life on that September day.
Nothing would stop me this time.
Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans…
In a way that I truly cannot explain, I believe that God “interfered” with my plan. Little things kept happening. I would be in the middle of a suicidal thought, and a friend I hadn’t heard from in ages would send me a text at exactly that moment saying she was praying for me. Or I would be crafting one of my letters, and my husband would come bring me chocolate cake in bed and tell me with tears in his eyes how much he loves me. One friend came and sat on my bed and sang to me for almost an hour while I cried and cried. And even on an incredibly horrible day when I had broken out in a rash after starting a new med and declared myself done, I got an email out of the blue from someone wanting to donate to our nonprofit organization, Break the Silence.
This was a prestigious leader who was thanking me for speaking up to break the silence in the church about mental illness. And here I was planning my death!
From texts and emails to suicide prevention resources showing up in my mailbox to something as silly as a fortune cookie, I could not stop these little encouragements from happening.
I have always believed that God has had a plan for my life since the beginning of time. I was just convinced that my time was up. I had done what I needed to do.
But apparently that wasn’t His plan.
I believe He used seemingly random people at seemingly random times to very gently let me know that my life had value and I still had a purpose. I had a story that was being written, and it wasn’t time to close the book just yet.
I now know that it wasn’t just “random.” I see now that people need other people. We cannot go through this life alone. I needed those people to show up, and they may need me one day, too.
Only a few days before my plan was to be carried out, I saw just enough light to tell myself that I would hold off. I would see what happened and keep it all in my head just in case. No one would have to know.
But I couldn’t do it.
So I sat my husband down and told him everything.
Every last detail.
And through tears, he held me as we thought about how different that day could have been. And we were both incredibly grateful.
For these past five years, I have resented my diagnosis. I have hated the stigma that comes with having a mental illness and have felt I am an incredible burden to my family and friends. But this experience has taught me something I have never been able to see before:
Mental illness is a life-long journey, and it is not just one-sided.
While, yes, I may need people surrounding me with love, support, meals and prayers during my journey, I can also bring something to the table.
Instead of hiding in shame and resenting my story, I can begin to speak up and share what I’ve been through. I can bring the message of hope to those who feel hopeless — because I have been there many times myself. I can be real and authentic and help to stop the stigma.
Because on a seemingly ordinary day, I had planned to end my life, but a few random people brought me a flicker of hope… And so, I kept living.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.