an array of differently colored and shaped beads in a tray

As I lay on the floor with sobs wracking my body, I hear myself uttering the words, “Why is this so hard?” I was trying to do something my partner Steve and I had done together in the past and, of course, he would always make this mundane chore fun for me. It was something many people might take for granted and may complain about (myself included), but it’s also something I can struggle with due to a movement disorder.

I was trying to change the sheets on the bed. After about 15 minutes of frustration and tears, I was finally able to figure out how to put the contour sheet on the mattress. It was something as simple as that which brought me to tears.

It is the unseen symptoms of my neurological issues that sometimes cause me the most distress and frustration. After Steve took his own life in 2015, I was left with many responsibilities to do alone. Not having Steve to make me laugh while doing them has made it so much harder for me to get through some routine tasks. These tend to be very simplistic in nature, things we learned as children while developing our cognitive and fine motor skills, such as tying shoelaces, wrapping food in Saran Wrap or trying to put an item in a knapsack or box. Ironically, some of my physical therapy exercises make use of childhood development tools like peg boards and necklace beading.

Sometimes I am so puzzled as to what is physically happening to me. I never know which body I am going to wake up in. One of the things I find so hard to comprehend is my loss of strength in doing certain activities, like lifting the mattress corner to make the bed, or turning a door knob. Yet I am doing the same weight workouts in the gym (without reducing the weights) I have done before my movement disorder symptoms started manifesting themselves. The medical professionals tell me it has to do with different neural pathways… Go figure.

However, I have hope. I will continue to fight my neurological issues with my diet, alternative medicine, meditation, yoga and physical therapy. I truly believe my body is temporarily out of balance due to the extreme trauma of losing Steve and the stress-filled years before and after his death. As Steve would always say, “The beauty is in the balance.”

I will continue to strive to find that balance once again.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

Follow this journey on Slipped Away.

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In 1998, I was a 27-year-old, Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Notre Dame who had recently become the youngest Principal consultant in American Management Systems’ Manhattan office.

Shortly after receiving a seven percent off-cycle salary increase due to exemplary job performance, I was found unconscious inside of a running rental car in a parking lot of a warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey.

After losing consciousness in the rental car and prior to waking up in the hospital, I had what is commonly referred to as a near-death experience, and if I had not survived, the cause of my death would have been listed as suicide. As accurate as that description would have been, I’m compelled to share about how my lack of experience with the thoughts and feelings I had leading up to my suicide attempt, and my fears about what other people would think about me if I had revealed the struggle I was embroiled in, dissuaded me from getting the help I so desperately needed. As a suicide attempt survivor fortunate enough to have a second chance at life, I hope others struggling as I did will benefit from the lessons I’ve learned over the last 18 years.

In late 1997, while on a challenging work assignment in Toronto, I began to experience insomnia for the first time in my life. My mental health deteriorated quickly over the next few months as my five closest friends all coincidentally moved away from New York City, and I began to ruminate over what I was doing with my life. Up until when I began to have suicidal ideations, I would have described myself as confident with respect to my intellectual abilities, but the personal crisis I became involved in, stemming from difficulties encountered on the project in Toronto, shattered my self-confidence and stripped away my self-esteem. In their place was an overwhelming sense of self-doubt followed eventually by self-loathing. Hope and excitement for the future were replaced by fear and apprehension. Night after night of getting between zero to three hours of sleep at most, the relentless barrage of dark, automatic thoughts bombarding my consciousness ate away at my sanity. Over the course of only a few months, I was lost in a seemingly inescapable, abysmal black hole of simultaneously self-defeating and self-fulfilling thoughts.

I wasn’t familiar with the diagnostic criteria of major depressive disorder at the time, but I learned after the fact I was a textbook case. I had persistent feelings of emptiness, hopelessness and worthlessness. I lost interest in activities I normally enjoyed, and my appetite all but vanished. It was challenging to concentrate and to make decisions, even simple, inconsequential ones. Not surprisingly given how little I was sleeping, I was perpetually tired and lacked energy. Recurrent thoughts about dying, the first was imagining that my Friday afternoon flight home from Toronto to New York City would crash, eventually evolved into persistent thoughts about intentionally ending my own life. The long, sleepless or nearly sleepless nights took the greatest toll on me. I was unable to quiet my sleep deprived, addled mind from producing a non-stop stream of negative, hyper-critical thoughts, as overpowering feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment consumed me. I was ashamed I needed help to deal with how I was feeling. I felt guilty I was having suicidal thoughts considering my life of relative privilege and my knowledge of the depth and breadth of suffering experienced by countless others in the world. I was embarrassed I had ever considered myself intelligent and capable of attaining any goal I set my sights on achieving. I was ashamed I was considering suicide out of a fear that I would become completely incapable of doing my job. I felt guilty I hadn’t achieved more in life considering my talents as well as the advantages and opportunities afforded me. I was embarrassed to be in a position where I obviously needed help and was mortally afraid to admit that fact to anyone. I viewed my deteriorating mental health as a character flaw, because I believed other people would see it the same way, and I believed asking for help to deal with what was going on in my head was a sign of a personal weakness.

Thoughts and beliefs like these lie at the heart of the stigma surrounding mental illness, and explain why many people struggling like I was back then never seek help.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2014 an estimated 15.7 million, or 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults, had at least one major depressive episode in the preceding year, making it the leading cause of disability in this country for those ages 15 to 44. Sadly, it’s estimated that only about half of Americans who have depression ever receive treatment for the disorder. Over 90 percent of Americans lost to suicide each year have depression or some other behavioral health condition. In 2014 alone, 42,773 Americans, or about 117 a day, died by suicide according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. The tragic reality behind these statistics is that a great majority of people have depression could be helped by one or a number of different treatments that help people return to living full, productive lives.

Immediately after my suicide attempt, I began taking an antidepressant medication and seeing a psychologist twice a week. Within about three months, I was well again. I lived with my parents during that time period, and my mother had bought me a small stack of paperback books to read while I convalesced. While most of the books were novels, she had also bought me a copy of David Burns’ best selling book “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.” It was the last book I read out of the stack, and although I was still too depressed when I read it the first time to appreciate the significance of the ideas it contains, over a decade and a half later, it’s clear that what this book taught me about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) comprises some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned during my 18-plus year journey as a consumer of mental healthcare services.

In the book, Burns summarizes what he refers to as, “the powerful principle at the heart of cognitive therapy,” by writing “your feelings result from the messages you give yourself. In fact, your thoughts often have much more to do with how you feel than what is actually happening in your life.” A few years later, my psychologist introduced me to a related idea called mindfulness — the practice of being aware of the present moment and your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way. Both CBT and the practice of mindfulness helped me to be more reflective about my thoughts and feelings as I was experiencing them, helping me to consciously respond to them in a more discerning and intentional way instead of impulsively reacting to them. I have never taken an antidepressant medication since the time immediately following my suicide attempt, nor have I ever had a recurrence of a depressive episode as severe as the one that I had in 1998. By no means do I believe that I am “depression-proof”; no one knows what tribulations may befall them in the future, but it’s clear to me that years of reflective introspection and personal growth have equipped me with valuable insights, habits and tools that help to safeguard me against the self-defeating thought patterns that led up to my depression and suicide attempt over 18 years ago.

I have developed other habits over the years that have also helped me to remain well in a sustainable way. I transformed my diet to consist mostly of plant based foods full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I became an avid distance runner. I worked to cultivate a habit of unconditional self-acceptance as well the practice of consciously acknowledging things in my life that I am grateful for on a daily basis. Recognizing the dangers inherent in becoming isolated, I committed myself to remaining connected and communicative with my family and close friends. Maybe most importantly, I have promised myself and those I love that I will never hesitate to ask for help from them or a professional caregiver if I need it.

Unlike when my silence about my suicidal crisis over 18 years ago almost led to my demise, now I view the act of asking for help as a sign of courage and strength. This belief led me to join the Speakers Bureau of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention where I deliver talks at area high schools and colleges about the warning signs of suicide with the aims of reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and lowering the suicide rate. I see making myself vulnerable to the potentially negative judgments of others by publicly sharing about my past as a powerful way to offer hope to people who are suffering, and to encourage them to seek help.

Follow this journey on Frank Talk About Mental Health.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Sitting in my basement in 2007, I was numbing my brain surfing the internet. I was trying to fight the thoughts I had in my head. I had been in great emotional pain for a while, and I could not find any relief from this mental, emotional and spiritual breakdown.

I didn’t want to live. I was angry.

I was angry I couldn’t kill myself because I had three children, and I know what it’s like to be left behind by suicide. My mom took her last of many overdoses and died six days before Christmas in 1997. I could not fathom burdening my children with the guilt and pain that they didn’t do enough, like I had felt for years about my mom.

My daughter walked downstairs in the basement, where I sat staring at the computer screen. My back was turned to her. She said hi, and I said hi back. There was silence. She then reminded me — that day was her 12th birthday.

I was so completely absorbed in my own pain, I momentarily forgot. I will never forget that day.

In that moment, I realized I was already living like I was dead.

I don’t know where I gathered the strength to get through the guilt of that day, but it’s something that weighed heavy on me for a long time. At the same time, it was the day I said, “No, this is not how my story will end.”

I have struggled with anxiety and periodic depressive episodes my entire life. There are days I still struggle, but I don’t want to die. I love my life today, and I almost missed a lot of things.

Since that day, I have graduated with two more college diplomas, gotten remarried and watched my daughter give birth to her daughter two years ago. I would have missed all those moments if I died by suicide. I have fought my way out of the pit of despair many times and continue to deal with mental illness in a positive and healthy way. It’s scary and exhausting at times, but I will not give up trying.

Life for someone with a mental illness can be debilitating, but it can also be amazing. I have become a mental health blogger and advocate. I share my stories of hope and inspiration to try and help others.

Some of us make it. Some of us don’t. Mental illness is cunning and baffling that way. Why one person can find the light for life again, while others can’t, is something I will never be able to understand.

I miss my mom, but I understand why she let go. The truth is, I started grieving her long before she died. I watched her struggle and try to hold on for years. She did try as much as she could. She tried medications, hospitalizations and electric shock therapy. All were short-term solutions that never seem to alleviate her illness long term.

She is one of the strongest women I have ever known. She struggled in silence and went through every day with little relief. She didn’t have the resources we have today.

The internet has been a huge source of support and comfort for me. I know people around the world I have not met personally, who belong to the same online support groups I do. We give each other encouragement. I run my own Facebook page offering support and hope for others.

Connection to others on my darkest days has been a gift. My mother never had that. It breaks my heart to know she struggled alone, but I forgive her for leaving when she felt so alone in this world.

She will always be one of the reasons I do this, why I talk openly about mental illness, my pain and joy through this life. I write about the times I feel defeated and the times I get super excited about life.

She never got a chance to tell her story. I want a chance to tell mine.

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. 

Image via Thinkstock.

I know this letter is late. I cannot undo what has been done. But if I could have met you in your lowest moment, I would have. I have spent the last two months trying to find peace and going over again and again what I would have said if I’d been given the chance.

I would start with, while I don’t understand the circumstances that brought you to this place, I understand this place very well. I never told you. I never told anyone of the darkest time of my life. I was afraid you would all think I was weak for being weary and wanting to be through with the pain. I had a plan. You know me and plans… Thankfully, the two most important aspects of that plan didn’t come together and life changed before I was able to. But I know what it’s like to get on my knees and cry out for God to just take me home. I know what it’s like to feel alone surrounded by people. I know what it’s like to think that the world would be a better place without me in it. And I know what it is like to crave the peace of death more than my next breath.

I would be crying as I assured you that life would get better. In that pit, it seems like it never will. But I’m living proof that if you hold out long enough, the whole landscape of your life can change. Am I still in pain every day? Yes. Do some days take everything I have to offer and then some? Absolutely. Have the people in my life become any more accepting of my disabilities? Unfortunately not. But the little things have changed. I think maybe I changed along this path. I am stronger for having survived that, and you would be too.

I would remind you of the cost of suicide. A cost I didn’t know then. Not the price of the casket, or the beautiful service we had for you. Not the cost of the 10 pounds I gained because everyone wants to feed someone who is grieving. I am speaking of the human cost. A father and mother who should never have to bury their son, and now have buried two. An infant son who will grow up without a father and his mother who will now raise him alone.  And sisters and brothers who will grapple with “why’s and what ifs “of this decision.

I would hug you, like I used to when you were young and promise that eventually it would be OK. I would tell you how many people love you. And I would promise I would fight with you. On my knees, every night. But this letter is too late, so instead I will say these things to anyone who can still listen. I love you very much and miss you every day.

Love You,

Big Sis

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 or text “START” to741-741.

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

There are so many things to consider when dealing with the chronic illness of a loved
one.  Medications. Lifestyle changes. Alleviating the physical suffering. Balancing employment with doctor’s appointments. Home schooling vs. brick and mortar school. The decisions can seem endless, but has everything been considered?

How about: Is my loved one at risk for suicide?

Increased suicidal ideation has been found in chronic illness populations like chronic fatigue syndrome, myalgic encephalomyelitis, fibromyalgia, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Many people with these medical conditions also have chronic pain and sleep disturbances — also known risk factors for suicide. What’s scary is that in chronic illness, your loved one doesn’t have to be clinically depressed in order to contemplate suicide.

Special issues that increase suicidal thoughts in those with chronic illness: 

– Lack of quality medical care to treat complex, chronic illnesses.

– Physical illness that leads to decreased mobility, poor memory, confusion and overall poor quality of life.

– Claims that the illness is “all in your head” by friends, family and healthcare practitioners.

– Withdrawal of love and/or support due to the impact of chronic illness.

– Financial pressures from medical bills, medication costs and the inability to work.

– Feelings of isolation and loneliness.

– Perception that they are a burden to family and friends.

– Loss of hope for recovery or improvement in quality of life.

How can you decrease the likelihood of suicidal thoughts in your loved one with a chronic illness? 

Believe them. The best thing you can do is beleive them when they talk about their symptoms or the way they are feeling. Invisible illnesses — like POTS, fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis — have the added difficulty that their pain can’t be easily measured. When most people get sick, they have a fever, swollen glands or runny nose that allows others to see that they are not feeling well. That is not the case for people living with invisible illnesses. What does it look like if a person is dizzy? Can you assess their level of fatigue without feeling it yourself? What does neuropathic pain look like to the outside observer? Believe your loved one!

Decrease loneliness. Many with chronic illness are largely housebound and isolated. This includes many adolescents with POTS who resort to home-schooling, partial days at school and withdrawal from activities due to symptom severity. Sending the occasional text message or email can do wonders. Pick up the phone once in a while to let them know you still care. Human contact is important for everyone, but particularly for the chronically ill.

Reassure them that they are not a burden. Many teens and adults with chronic illnesses want to go to school, work, grocery shopping and lead a “normal” life. If their illness makes this impossible, be understanding when you need to help with routine chores and errands. Willingly assist them with personal care, when necessary. Imagine how you would feel if the roles were switched, and reassure them that you love them.

Seek the best medical care. Finding the right doctor who listens and cares is important for both mental and physical health. If their doctor doesn’t understand their illness or isn’t actively helping, change doctors! Finding the right doctor can mean the difference between being homebound and resuming some semblance of a normal life.

Don’t be afraid to ask if they are contemplating suicide. The question won’t make them feel suicidal, but it opens a conversation about their wellbeing before they make an attempt. Many people who consider suicide don’t really want to die, but can’t fathom how to continue living like this. A good counselor who understands chronic illness can be invaluable in working with all of the feelings that accompany chronic illness.

Take talk of suicide seriously. People who talk about suicide are 30 times more likely than average to kill themselves, and 80 percent who die by suicide show some warning signs – saying goodbye, giving away prized possessions, etc. If they are talking about suicide, stay with them and call for help. Connect them with a professional who can help them re-frame their depression, anxiety or issues relating to their illness immediately.  Following up with a good counselor is imperative.

If you know someone who is contemplating suicide, it is imperative that you act now. Hoping that their thoughts will pass with time is risky. Please seek immediate professional help, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or text HOPELINE at 741741 with the word “start” to get the assistance that you need.

A version of this piece originally appeared on Standing Up to POTS.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

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My dear child,

I know you are hurting. I know you are tired. I know the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you don’t feel like you can take it anymore.

I know because I’ve been there, too.

I know the pain you feel is real. Others may not understand, no. They may be quick to jump to conclusions or disregard your suffering as “all in your head.” They may not be able to wrap their own minds around the magnitude of your struggle. They may not believe the disease you have is real.

But my darling, I understand you. I’ve been there, too.

And I know the only thing that matters to you is relief. You want to escape the anguish, the darkness, the sadness. You scream into the silence, pleading for help, but you fear no one can hear you. Your ears ache for a response, but they hear none. You feel more alone than ever. You don’t know what to do and only one option seems sufficient enough to bring you peace.

But my child, you are mistaken.

You are more than the pain you’ve endured and the fear you’ve felt. You are more than your depression. You are more than your anxiety. You are more than your bipolar disorder, or your substance abuse or whatever it might be that you feel is defining you. You are more than that. Your illness does not define you. Your illness is not who you are.

You are human, wonderfully made and beautifully flawed. You are a unique creation, distinct and gifted. You may not realize how important you are to this world, but you are. You are loved and cherished whether you think so or not. You are wanted here. We want you to stay here. We want to help you. We want to see you thrive. You may not understand your potential, but we do.

One day you will shine as bright as the constellations in the night sky. You will be a force to be reckoned with. You will change the world.

So I ask of you one thing. Just one simple thing.

Hold on, even if you have to do so one day at a time. Just keep breathing. Don’t let your pain be victorious over you. You are a fighter and you can beat this. You are stronger than this.

Reach out to others. Find help and cherish it. Victory is easier when you have an army on your side. You will be surprised how willing others are to fight for you. So let them and don’t be ashamed.

At the end of every tunnel, there is a light. There is calm after every storm. Even the darkest of nights give way to sunrise. Hope is real. It will get better. You will overcome. We will overcome.

This I promise you, because I’ve been where you’ve been and I am still here today.

And when I wake up tomorrow, I want to see you here, too.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.