I began this day like most others, pulling my laptop into bed with me, scrolling through emails and social media, slowly waking up and trying to gather enough motivation to start the day. One of the tweets that crossed my path was a chart about suicide awareness, listing many of the contributing factors. As I looked through them, though only one was labeled directly with mental illness, the majority of the others could be linked to depression, as well.
Half-awake, I hit the button to share and added in my own two cents: We need to stop treating mental illness like a dirty secret that we can’t talk about. Depression is killing people. Silence is killing people.
I continued my scrolling, continued waking up. I grabbed a leftover piece of Texas Toast to take my pill with and continued on with my day. I changed out the cage set for my sugar gliders, cleaned their cage and continued on with my regular routine. Yet, this post about suicide risk factors lingered in the back of my head, drumming along, refusing to be silent or to fade away. My mind kept going back to it and my sleepy response to it. Sometimes, those thoughts that form when my mind is still muddled with sleep are clearer than anything I think about when I’m wide awake.
I think back to when I was a young teenager. The son of one of my father’s friends killed himself. He was in his late teens, a popular kid who played sports and had a long-term girlfriend, who everyone assumed he would one day marry. He was a few years older than me, around my brother’s age. I didn’t know him well beyond the fact that our fathers were friends, and we both were involved with sports at school.
He seemed happy enough. Nobody saw it coming. It blind-sided everyone, especially his father. I always remembered his father as being this sweet, goofy guy who was always joking with my dad. The last time I saw him, his eyes had a hollow, empty look to them, like part of him had died and would never fully recover. It was my first exposure to suicide.
I’ve known many people who have walked that ledge and attempted to take their own lives, myself included. I remember my mother taking too many pills and my father frantically pleading with the emergency room to let her come home. He said it was an absent-minded mistake, not an attempt, as my mother kept repeating, “Jim, you can’t leave me here. You can’t let them keep me.”
I sat quietly in a row of chairs they assumed was out of earshot. Pills would be my choice, as well, the first time I tried. Nobody wants to talk about struggling. We make excuses and minimize situations. We don’t address the gorilla in the room because it’s a hard conversation nobody wants to have.
Someone dear to my heart almost lost his mother to a suicide attempt. He was the one that found her, had to call the ambulance, pull her out of the tub, try to revive her and wait, praying someone came in time. It scarred him for life and damaged their relationship beyond repair. She had been struggling but, like many of us parents, always put on a brave face and pretended things were OK because no parent wants to appear weak in front of their children.
This is no excuse. No child should ever have to see their parent like that, to fear not only for their parent’s life, but theirs, as well. Every time I walk that ledge myself and consider giving up, I think of him and how that experience still haunts him years later and it snaps me right back.
Not too long ago, I found out someone who had been a close, dear friend and much more years ago had died by suicide. He was an incredible man with so much passion, so much to give the world. He was the type of person who lit up a room just by being in it and made my life brighter just for knowing him. He will forever be my one who got away.
He was struggling hard and couldn’t take the weight of his life pressing down on him. He felt lost and alone, like he had no one, even though he had a brood of children who loved him to death and friends who adored him. Everyone knew he had been struggling here and there, but figured that everyone struggles sometimes. So nobody gave it a second thought.
I receive letters and emails here and there from people who have read things I’ve written and related enough that they wanted to reach out and say something. I always try to respond because I never want anyone to feel they have to struggle alone, that they reached out but were unheard.
I never spend as much time, though, as I do with people whose messages talk about being affected by suicide. I’ve spent entire days messaging back and forth with complete strangers because they lost a loved one, a spouse, a sibling, a friend and just can’t seem to get past it. I find myself going back and forth, trying to help explain everything from both sides, as the one who wants to die and as the one left behind, because I have been on both sides of that fence.
It destroys people on both sides of that fence because, whether or not someone dies, nobody on either side will ever be the same. Walking that ledge and wanting to die kills a piece of you, whether you actually die or not. I know how it feels on both sides. Yet, some things aren’t able to be explained. Even if you know how it feels because you’ve been there, some things will never make sense.
Every now and then you see stories in the news about celebrities killing themselves. Whether it was a direct act or labeled as an “accidental overdose.” It seems to always be followed by some vague statement about a “history of mental illness.” Memorials are set up. Posts are made. The world seems momentarily heartbroken because someone in the spotlight has died. Everyone remembers fondly their lives and mourns their death. Yet, it seems everyone avoids focusing too much on what snuffed out so bright a light.
Mental illness is uncomfortable to talk about, even when viewed from a distance. It forces us to consider how it may be affecting our lives, as well. It sits there, the gorilla in the room. We all know it is there, but we are afraid to address it.
The fact is that people are dying because of mental illness. Whether their depression is caused by the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship or job, bullying, struggles with physical illness or whatever other reason, it is there. It is agonizing, and it is unbearable.
People are struggling through life, feeling completely lost and alone, feeling like they have nobody to turn to, no one who understands. People are struggling in silence because we’ve made them too afraid to speak up. They’re afraid of being labeled or seen as weak, a danger to themselves or others or as a joke. We’ve told them too often to suck it up and reminded them that others have it worse rather than acknowledging and addressing their pain.
These are people who are loved, cherished and adored, even if they themselves cannot see it. They are our parents, our siblings, our partners, our children, our friends and our co-workers. They are faces we see every day and names we carry imprinted on our hearts. They are people who should never have had to die, but they’re too afraid to speak out and we’re too uncomfortable to have that hard conversation. So nothing is being said and the body count keeps growing.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
This post originally appeared on Unlovable.
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