a group of people running

October 23 was the second AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) “Out of the Darkness” Walk held at Jones Beach I have attended since my partner Steve took his own life in 2015. This walk is aimed at bringing awareness to suicide and mental health issues, a cause near and dear to my heart.

A group of people smiling for camera in coats and hats

The event is especially poignant for me since it starts not far from the spot I first met Steve in 1981 and the turnaround is at Field 1, where Steve worked as a lifeguard for several years and where I have so many memories of times spent with him. Now, I walk without him, at a place we both loved so much, celebrating his memory, surrounded by close friends.

There were two other suicide survivors who I know and met there, who were walking for their moms lost to suicide. One of them shared with me that as the years go by after her mom passed, there were fewer and fewer people attending this walk with her each year.

I can see that happening already with Steve, as there were already fewer people with me on the walk this year. I get it. Life is for the living, and people are moving on with their lives. I am starting to realize, though, in the case of suicide survivors, we will never move on. Our lost loved one will always be with us, and we will always struggle to keep their memory alive.

I get the feeling I may have worn out my welcome with many in trying to keep Steve’s memory alive. People do not like to continue to be reminded of the tragic circumstances of his death. However, this will not stop me from keeping Steve’s legacy alive, and I will continue to tell his story to anyone who will listen.

One thing I do know for sure is that I have an inner circle of friends and people whose lives were profoundly impacted by Steve, and who will be with me for the long haul. I am so thankful for that. I am also so thankful to those who reached out to me this past week, telling me they wish they could have attended, but their circumstances did not allow. However, they were there with me in spirit.

Although, I had multiple meltdowns today and was highly emotional, I had an amazing moment. A woman I did not know, who lost her husband to suicide, shared with me that she read my article in Newsday about not hiding Steve’s cause of death and that it gave her the strength for the first time to talk about the cause of her husband’s death. She told me the story allowed her to lift such a heavy burden she had been carrying. I have always said, I will have accomplished my goal of helping others by telling Steve’s story if I could help just one person.

On such a sad day for me, it became bittersweet when this woman shared her story with me. I succeeded in accomplishing my goal.

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.

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Recently, a dear friend asked me, “What’s it like to be you right now? Help me understand.” It’s complicated. And dysfunctional. And messy. And I want to help you understand. It’s hard, though, to explain to someone who doesn’t have a frame of reference, some kind of language, for this experience. Let me try to explain.

It used to be that when I had strong and/or violent suicidal thoughts, I mostly just had thoughts. There was maybe a sense of sadness, and a desire to be done, to rest, but not really a lot of emotion or a lot of pain, or even much sense of what I wanted to be done with.

Now, probably because I’ve gotten better at feeling, in general, there’s a lot more to it. There’s a constant, nearly intolerable, burning pain. Think of the pain of burning yourself on something really hot, like the heating element in an electric oven, or a soldering iron or a bit of molten solder dropped accidentally on the skin. Imagine not having access to water to cool the burn and prevent it from continuing to damage the surrounding skin. That pain grows and grows, and soon it feels like it’s throughout your whole body, not just in your hand or arm or knee. (When I used to build circuit boards for my dad’s business, I always dropped solder on my knees by accident.) It hurts so much you feel shaky, feel maybe like you want to cry or scream. That’s like my normal, everyday pain level. When it gets bad, like it is right now, it feels like that pain is increasing exponentially every day. Sometimes, every minute. I’ve had the thought many times recently that even the most violent and deadly ways I’ve been thinking of hurting myself would hurt way less than what I’m feeling now.

When you injure your body, you can sometimes take medicine that helps separate your thoughts from the feeling of pain, or use activities to distract yourself, or human touch to comfort, or, at the very least, use language to help create some distance between you and your pain. (You say, “My arm hurts,” and it does. Using language, however, is a way to remind yourself that “I am not my arm,” or “My arm is not the whole of me,” and so you realize, “I am not my pain.”) When the pain is in your thoughts, it’s hard to create that same distance, because most of us define ourselves by our thoughts. We use thoughts to tell ourselves stories about who we are and what we are and where we come from and where we’re going. When our thoughts are injured, so to speak, the pain is everywhere, because it lives in thoughts and therefore touches every story we try to tell ourselves and distorts them all. As far as I can tell, the only way to not think is to die. Therefore, suicide starts to look like the only way out of the pain. For me, at least, it isn’t even about the permanence of suicide. I just want an hour, a minute, a second of escape from the pain.

Just like you can sometimes manage physical pain with medication and diet and exercise and meaningful human connection, you can often manage psychological pain with similar techniques. Sometimes, though, the pain gets too bad, too quickly, and one of two things happens: either all the things that usually help you remember you are not just the pain stop working, or the pain is so great it prevents you from thinking of what you can do to feel better. You know you are near to being overwhelmed by your pain, and you don’t know what to do.

Imagine you’re trapped in a burning building. The fire is everywhere around you; it seems to form solid walls. The firefighters are still 15 minutes away, and you’re sure you don’t have 15 minutes. You know that when you catch fire, you should stop, drop and roll. You know you need to get down low, under the smoke. But the smoke is everywhere, and there’s nowhere to roll to smother the flames on your body that isn’t already ablaze. The people you love most are outside, calling your name, trying to help. Some of them want to run into the building to rescue you, but they don’t have the equipment or the training to do so. If they come inside, they’ll also be overcome by the flames.

This is part of why it’s so hard for me to ask for help and support. I don’t want you to come into my personal inferno and be consumed. I don’t want to burden you, even though I know I tend to feel better when I’m not alone. I’m still operating in the world I grew up in, a world where asking for help brings a horrifically painful response.

I’m also acutely aware that if I took the action my thoughts urge me to take, I’d be hurting the people I love most. So I feel trapped. There is no way out for me. Just more of this pain. In lots if ways, I’m doing better than I was six years ago. I’ve worked hard, pushed hard, done everything I know to stay alive. It’s exhausting, and the more exhausted I get, the harder it is to find ways to fight to stay.

I have no intention of giving up the fight. But in some moments, my feelings tell me it’s not worth it.

Feelings lie.

If you are struggling and you feel like you can’t go on, find something true. Something you can hold onto, to show you the way out. It could be a quote, or a message from a friend, a picture or the feeling of having a hand to hold. That something can be your beacon to follow when the smoke is too thick to see the way out.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Suicide. Suicide. Suicide. Suicide. Suicide.

How many times do I have to say it before it makes you uncomfortable, before you get squeamish, before you want to run away and leave this word in a room bursting with shame, misconceptions and ignorance? Saying suicide even just once is more than enough to evoke extreme discomfort from many.

As a suicide attempt survivor, I’m speaking out about what I and others I know dislike hearing after people learn about our attempts. This is how you shouldn’t react when learning someone has attempted or actually died by suicide. All of the following contribute to the blanket of shame and embarrassment that can envelope suicide attempt survivors and follows those who have fallen to suicide.

1. Don’t start by asking why.

This is the most common question I’ve encountered once people find out I’ve attempted suicide. Why did you do it? The nurse in the emergency room actually asked me why, and then reminded me how young I am. I can’t give an external reason for why I overdosed. I didn’t attempt suicide because I got in a fight with a friend, because I failed a test or because I lost a game. It’s called an illness. Mental illness is a real medical condition. I was tired of the emotional pain I was in. Did I really want to die? No, I wanted the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, emptiness and despair to go away. Don’t minimize my pain and pretend it doesn’t exist. I didn’t ask for this illness. Nobody asks for any illness.

2. Don’t call them selfish.

Another common reaction to someone attempting suicide is calling them selfish. “Don’t you realize there are people who love and care about you? Don’t you realize how many people you would’ve hurt if you had actually died?” When you’re about to attempt suicide, you’re likely not thinking about yourself at all. You’re thinking about how everyone would be better off without you, how you’re a burden to everyone, how you’re doing everyone a favor and how you’re undeserving of life.

3. Don’t say, “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

This has thoroughly annoyed and irked me. A temporary problem? My documented medical condition of bipolar disorder is clearly a temporary problem. Right now, many mental illnesses are treatable, but it’s often a lifelong journey. Maybe if there wasn’t such a stigma around mental illness, I would’ve gotten help sooner and found additional ways to manage my suicidal ideations. My attempt was at the time the only way I could acknowledge I actually needed help and get that help.

4. Don’t say, “It’s the easy way out.”

Suicide is anything but the easy way out. It’s the last straw after battling and fighting your own thoughts for so long. It is succumbing to the illness and cancerous thoughts that have consumed you. You’ve tried to fight it for so long, but just can’t handle it anymore. You’ve had enough of being miserable.

5. Don’t say they did it for attention.

I clearly wanted all the negative criticism and reactions people who’ve attempted suicide receive. I tried to hide how much I was struggling for the longest time because I was mortified I couldn’t seem to deal with real life. Most everyone I know who has attempted suicide is ashamed. They don’t want people to know. How this seemingly corresponds to wanting attention is beyond me. There is still a stigma surrounding mental illness and an even worse stigma surrounding suicide.

6. Don’t glamorize it.

There is absolutely nothing glamorous about suicide and suicide attempts. It’s not cool. It’s not killing yourself because you can’t be with the love of your life. Sorry, Shakespeare. It’s real, and what’s real isn’t always pretty. It shouldn’t be romanticized. This is so ludicrous and creates an absurd dichotomy of glamorizing something that is so negatively perceived by society. We can’t nonchalantly throw around the idea of killing oneself or say, “Just shoot me.” That’s minimizing what suicide truly is.

Suicide is a legitimate cause of death and needs to be treated the same as any other cause of death. Death is death, a sad occasion all around. However, those who die by their own hands deserve the same respect and dignity as those who die in any other way.

Please, respect what I and many others have been through and open the door to separate shame, misconceptions and ignorance from suicide. If you know someone who has attempted suicide, let them know they are loved. Tell them that although you might not be able to fathom the pain they’re in or what they’re going through, you’re there to support them no matter what. Your love for them is not dependent on whether they’re having a good or bad day. Let them know how much they mean to you and how much they always will.

Suicide. Suicide. Suicide. Suicide. Suicide.

The more we say it, the less uncomfortable it becomes.

This piece originally appeared on Odyssey.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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It’s hard when people don’t understand. They never seem to understand. They make comments like, “You’re OK,” or “Why are you sad all the time?” They see you smiling and ask, “How could you be depressed?” They see Facebook and Instagram photos and say, “Your life is so great. Stop being sad.”

Then, the same phrase that has so many variations, “You’ll be better tomorrow. Depression is just a mind set. Get over it already.” Then, there are the nasty remarks like, “Anxiety is fake. Get over your fears,” “You’re selfish for wanting to die,” “Go to a mental home,” or “Take some happy pills and just be better already.”

Those things have all been said to me, and I bet many have been said to you before, too. It’s like a stab to the heart, and then, just when you thought your heart couldn’t be broken anymore, it shatters into a million little pieces.

I’m not going to pretend this is easy. I know it is hard. If I could, then I would reach my hand through this screen and give you my hand to hold and squeeze when times get rough. If you needed someone to wipe your tears or hold you when you felt like you had no one else, then I wish I could be that person. The hardest part is the loneliness and despair you feel.

Everything you do, everything you try, is never enough. There is this hole that just keeps getting bigger and bigger inside of you. You try to bury it with all the dirt you dug out, the pills, partying, hooking up, drugs, drinking, self-harming, overeating, under eating or sleeping all the time.

You beg and beg for help, but then you remind yourself you are a burden. So you decide not to seek help. You just wish someone would see right through you and see all the broken pieces. You wish they would just look into your eyes and suddenly see and understand the pain and despair you feel every day.

It’s hard to see the people around you loving life and loving themselves. Constantly people tell you to love yourself. Two words that at face value seem so simple. Yet, they are so hard to accept. “Love yourself?” Pssh who does that? I am unworthy, broken, hated, undeserving, emotional, the world’s worst human.”

You say this again and again, and you believe it. The depression, that damn depression, backs you up every single time, but I don’t see you that way. We have to break the cycle and stop lying to ourselves! The way I see it, you are more than your illness. You are more than words could describe, and you have every right to love yourself even if you don’t feel it now.

I am here and able to write these words because no matter how dark my days got, there was one little spark that made me stay. That little spark was hope. Hope for life, a life that one day I could look back on and love. A life where I knew that all the pain and fighting was worth it to make it to this day. There is hope, and that hope gives you something to believe in when you see nothing else.

You will find this hope and learn to be grateful for this experience. You will realize that this pain and hardship, this hell, has made you the person you are. It has taught you more than anyone or anything could teach you about the gift and meaning of life.

One day, I put myself in a position where life was too hard for me to deal with. I was giving up and didn’t know what else to do. There was no point in living. I felt like a burden because life was hard for me, and I thought, in turn, I made it hard for everyone around me. At this moment, I was faced with two paths, one with a field of flowers, endless love, peace and happiness. The other path with mountains, the ups and downs of life. It was my choice to decide if I wanted to take the path to end my life now — or I could choose the one with the ups and downs. Though hard, the latter had great reward at the end. I chose the mountains. I chose life and you can too.

Someday, you will be able to stand on top of the metaphorical mountain that represents all the challenges you faced, and you will see your experiences, the good ones and the bad ones. You will see all the mountains, the ups and downs of life. However, this time, instead of seeing the mountains as a strenuous path to climb, you will start to see the beauty that it has lead you to. The beauty of where you are today.

You will be able to stand on this mountain now and see your accomplishments. You will see all the trees that supported you along the way. You will see the sun that sometimes disappeared and brought darkness, but each day, without fail, brought back the light. There will be the birds chirping around you and singing congratulations because you fought to keep climbing with each and every breath. You will see the clouds covering you and protecting you. Then, it will hit you with such clarity. You will realize you, yes you, are meant to be here on this planet. You are here to live and you can do it.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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September 7, 2016 was the third anniversary of my brother’s death by suicide, and this year’s anniversary was particularly painful for me. I guess it’s because the shock has mostly worn off and living life without my brother has become a reality. I have become familiar with his absence. The first few days he was gone, I remember not wanting to go to bed at night because waking up would mean it would be another day without him. It would be another day further away from him.

My grief has been a chaotic and unpredictable string of good days and bad days. On the good days, I am able to talk about my brother without tears. I feel fully present and engaged. I have the energy to get through my daily routine. I enjoy the company of my friends.

On the bad days, every small task seems impossible. Getting out of bed in the morning is daunting. I question whether I can make it through an eight hour work day. Any tiny mishap feels like the end of the world.

Even before my brother’s suicide, depression would creep up on me and loom over me. Yet, I was always able to manage it and find a way out. I was always able to convince myself my episodes were fleeting and temporary. Some episodes may have lasted longer than others, but even on my worst days, I knew they would end.

The grief of losing my brother to suicide has made the uphill battle to manage my own depression all the more difficult. The ability I once had to reason with myself and remain logical has been replaced by a fear that I am always on the brink of losing myself. Even when my episodes subside, I am always preparing for the fog to roll in again.

Lately, I have been realizing how important it is to have a strategy to help me deal with the bad days. So I’ve been learning to take note of what makes me feel good. I am learning to be cognizant of what works and what does not in order to take charge of my grief and depression.

These are some things that have worked for me. Everyone’s strategy for managing the bad days will look different, but I think we can all agree we should all have a strategy.

1. Vocalize to your friends and family what you need from them.

I used to get so angry about the way people treated me when they knew I was grieving and depressed. I used to constantly wonder how people could be so flippant and unkind when it came to the subject of my pain. However,  then I started to unapologetically let people know what I wanted. Sometimes, I need more space. Sometimes, I just need to be distracted by a trip to the mall or a day at the beach. Sometimes, I want to sit in my living room with a close friend, cry my eyes out and talk about how hard life is. I have found that most of the time, people are waiting on a cue. Don’t be afraid to give them one.

2. Crying is not only OK, it is necessary.

Crying just feels productive, and it’s a healthy outlet for pain. Sometimes, I cry alone. Sometimes, I cry with my friends. Sometimes, I cry in the bathroom at work. Most of the time I call my mom when I’m crying. My mom and I both lost the same person, and even though not everything she says is helpful, I know she means well. Sometimes, she just listens to me cry and says, “I know.” Sometimes, I just need to hear that she knows.

3. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

I’m still grappling with this one. On my bad days, any small mistake I make sends me reeling and makes me feel worthless. I’m working on giving myself the same grace and forgiveness I would give anyone else.

4. Talk about it.

This might be one of the most difficult things to do, but it is the only way things will change. Discussing depression and defining its terms is the best way to get more people to understand it. The stigma exists in the silence. So speak up. Be detailed when you tell those closest to you how your depression feels.

5. It’s OK to be angry.

Screaming into a pillow has its benefits.

6. Exercise.

As dreadful as it can sound (especially when you barely have enough energy to get out of bed), exercising can make you feel productive and strong. So often, depression makes me feel defeated and helpless. Exercise reminds me I am in control of my body.

7. Take life moment by moment.

What makes you feel good right now might not make you feel good in 10 minutes. It’s OK to change your mind and change plans. I bought my nephew a million birthday presents and then ended up bailing on his party because I was having a particularly rough day that day. C’est la vie.

8. Find balance.

Every time I am in the throes of a depressive episode, my first thought is to call in sick.  I need a mental health day. I can’t do it, but somehow I manage to pull myself out of bed and make it into the office. Usually. Every now and again, I will let myself have the day off. Sometimes, I will let myself cancel plans. Sometimes, I will let myself stay inside and watch Netflix all day. (They just added season 5 of “New Girl” after all.) Yet, it’s important for me to monitor these days and make sure they aren’t becoming the norm.

This list is mostly to remind myself of the ways I manage to stay afloat. Strategies for the bad days are paramount. They give me back my ability to cope.

I know the dangers of oversimplifying depression and suggesting there is a quick fix when there is none. Earlier today, during a tearful phone call, my mom suggested I take vitamins. “Maybe that could help you,” she said. I know her intentions were good and she was only trying to help. Yet, I also know there’s no cure for me right now. There are good days and bad days, and the bad days are manageable.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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I’m here. I’m breathing. I’m alive. This surprises me sometimes. Then I remember how lucky I am for this second chance.

When I attempted suicide I felt there was no hope left. I couldn’t imagine another day, another hour, even another minute of enduring the pain I was in. I was tired of fighting and I gave into the darkness I fought so hard to keep at bay daily.

I wish someone had been there to ask me the hard questions. I needed someone to ask me those specific, targeted questions: Was I having thoughts of hurting myself? Did I have a plan? Did I have the means to carry out that plan? I needed someone to be a bright light for me, someone to reach across the darkness of my depression that had left me numb to all emotion.

I’m so grateful I’m still alive to say I am the survivor of a suicide attempt. My experience has contributed to my passion for mental health advocacy and has given me the desire to educate others about suicide. After all, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and second among people aged 15-34 years.

Many are afraid to say the word “suicide,” especially to those they are concerned might be having suicidal thoughts; however, discussing suicide will not give someone the idea to take their life if they have not already thought about it themselves. Instead, letting go of the fear of the topic of suicide lets the person know that you are there for them.

Although I had a newfound sense of hope and desire to live after my attempt, those around me were careful to watch over me. They were unsure what to say or do. The first few days of my recovery seemed to have a strange quality to them. I felt disconnected and like I couldn’t participate in the world around me. I had all of these feelings but I couldn’t access them — I was in a bubble with my emotions just out of reach.

Although my parents were there for me, some of what they said and did was well-intentioned but misguided.

I had disrupted what was seemingly a typical Wednesday night for my parents and they didn’t know how to react. In trying to convey their love for me, they said things like, “doing silly things like this is the only thing that hurts us.” That sort of stuff had the opposite of its intended effect.

I was left feeling guilty for what I had done and that sense of guilt only reaffirmed my negative beliefs. I knew they just wanted to understand why I had done what I had, but the constant questioning about why and how and asking “didn’t you think about us — how this would affect us — it would kill us?” was too much for me. I was overwhelmed by the constant question of how I was feeling. I wanted to talk about these things at my own pace. I was surrounded not only by my own emotions about what had happened, but those of my parents as well.

My parents didn’t get it all wrong though, and their hearts were definitely in the right place. They didn’t have information available to them, but through trial and error they became a great source of support in my recovery.

When I came home from the hospital, my recovery was the focus. They took me to the movies and let me choose dinner, we played with my dog and we joked as usual. Once I was home they did their best to make me comfortable and help me return to normal daily life. I appreciated every time my mom or dad made the simple comments “I love you” or “I’m here for you.” It let me know when I was ready, we would talk about what had happened, but they weren’t going to force the conversation.

To support someone doesn’t mean you have to make some grand gesture. Instead, simple, direct words and actions make all the difference. The hardest things to say often are the exact things that need to be said. We must overcome our fear of those close to us considering suicide in order to reach them and provide support before an attempt is made; after an attempt is made we must overcome our disbelief about what has happened and simply be there for the one we love.

This post originally appeared on the Active Mind‘s blog.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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