To most, Steve appeared to be “on top of the world.” We now know this wasn’t true. Steve struggled so much in his final years, especially the last six months of his life.
He was a firm believer in expressing gratitude and living in the moment. Perhaps if he didn’t follow these principles, he may have left us sooner. In many of his writings I have found, I saw his expressions of gratitude for many of the same things time after time:
“Love from Jean.”
“Successful business built from ground up.”
“Prospect of creative projects: writing, coaching, events, athletics.”
“Ability to spend time with family.”
“Some disposable income.”
“Family; all healthy at the moment.”
In addition, Steve tried many things that allowed him to live in the moment; yoga, teaching himself to play a keyboard, writing and exercising. In the end, nothing seemed to help him anymore, his pain was so deep.
After Steve took his own life in March 2015, and because of my current health issues, I too, now believe how important it is to live in the moment and be thankful for what I have. These principles do not come easy to me. I have always been grateful for what I have, but now I have to make conscious efforts daily to repeat that mantra to myself.
As for living in the moment, this is so not my personality. For 37 years, I had a successful career in Information Technology due to my ability to think about the future and what could go wrong so I could devise contingency plans. This trait does not help me in my current life situation as it only creates worry and stress.
I have been told by many I am brave and strong for my efforts at raising awareness for mental health issues and continuing Steve’s legacy by writing his memoir. However, nothing could be further from the truth; I am torn apart inside, feel weak, lacking in self-confidence and I struggle every day. When people ask me how I am doing, I usually say fine. No one wants to hear my truth. Everyone has their own crosses to bear.
November 18 marked three years since I saw you last, hugged you, or kissed you. It has been three years since the day you took your life. At times it feels as though you have been gone for while, and other days it feels like just yesterday.
Although I was only 13 at the time, if I knew what I do now, I would have done so many things differently.
I didn’t understand what you were going through. I would get angry at times because I didn’t understand why you didn’t want to get out of the house or do something with me, and I regret all of the opportunities I turned down to be with you because I was angry and confused. It is weird how much clearer things look in hindsight.
I would tell you that even in the hardest of times, you were not a burden. Those times made me realize just how much life means to us, and it made me want you to stay even more. Now that I understand a glimpse of the pain you experienced, I would tell you there is light even in the darkest of times. I would have played “Undefeated” and “Witness” by Chris Daughtry and told you to take the words to heart.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you and long for you to be back with us, but at the same time all I want for you is happiness, and then I ask myself, “Would you be happy if you were here?” and “Would anything have changed?”
While I know I will never have the answers to those questions I can hope that you are happy, even if it means we are apart. We will see each other again.
I would have asked you to let those around you help and to give therapy a try. Although I am not the best at this, I know when I have let those around me in, the world got a little brighter.
I would have asked you to show us your pain and to be honest. When you didn’t, we simply could not help you. The pain that engulfed you was far stronger than anything else, and you wanted it to go away. I did too, and while I will never know if it would have, I can tell you there was hope, even in the darkest of times.
I would have let you see how I felt, in hopes it would make you realize just how much you meant to us. When you were in the hospital, I would have cried in front of you instead of holding it in.
I would have reminded you of the joy you brought everyone, how much you were loved and your infectious smile that seems to be hidden beneath the darkness. But I knew it was still there, as we could see it begin to shine through on certain occasions.
Mom, if I had the chance to say anything to you, I would tell you how loved you were, and I would say over and over again that I needed you. This world needed you.
While I do not know if any of it would have made a difference, Mom, I can only hope.
But I am left with so many questions and unspoken words. There was no goodbye, only a goodnight. I didn’t get to hug and kiss you one last final time before you left. I want you to know not getting to do that haunts me and will hurt me forever.
I wish I could go back to when you were here. I wish I could say all of these things to you, Mom, but now I can only write and say them out loud in hopes you hear. I wish I knew what I now know. I miss you. I love you more than you will ever know. I wish you knew this world was not better off without you. Everyone wanted you to stay. We needed you.
You were the glue that held this family together, and when you left it shattered into pieces, and still today pieces are put back into place while other continue to fall.
As I write this letter you, “Open Up Your Eyes” by Chris Daughtry plays in the background, and I realize how much his lyrics spoke to you and now me:
“But as they laid him in the ground Her heart would sing without a sound For the first time you can open your eyes And see the world without your sorrow Where no one knows the pain you left behind And all the peace you could never find Is waiting there to hold and keep you Welcome to the first day of your life Just open up your eyes, eyes”
I met you the day after my suicide attempt seven months ago. I was sitting in a bed wearing orange, paper-like clothing, which showed everyone else why I was in the hospital. I felt disgusting, and my hair was a greasy mess. I was alone and fidgeting with the hospital blankets. I was barely mentally aware of what was going on.
You sat next to my bed and proceeded to rattle off questions on a form that would somehow tell you whether or not it was OK to discharge me. You asked about what I did the day of my attempt, how I felt about it, how I was feeling now. You asked if I thought I would do it again and if I felt safe. You asked about my history of mental illness and what my everyday life was like. I answered everything like I had become accustomed to answering questions from the string of doctors before you and during regular therapy sessions.
Then you asked me something that stopped me with my mouth agape and no response readily available: “What do you like to do?” I mumbled something about reading, going outside or handing out with friends — activities I knew interested me before depression took over, but I couldn’t remember the last time I felt like doing anything. I could barely remember a time I didn’t feel down, anxious, or numb. I hadn’t looked at you since you came in the room. I barely looked anyone in the face that whole day. But then you told me it was OK that I didn’t feel interested in anything, because depression can take these things away. I looked at you and immediately felt comforted and understood.
In a way, you told me it was OK not to be OK. And I’ll be forever grateful for that. You didn’t tell me to do something that would make me happy. Or to do something to distract myself. You let me know I am allowed to feel like complete sh*t. I do not have to put up a facade every time someone asks me what I like or want to do. Sure, efforts to feel better are important, but in a moment when I needed to know how I felt was neither my fault nor something I had to hide, you were there for me in a way no one else had been.
You were in my room for only 30 minutes, but you helped me more than you could have possibly imagined. It is partially because of you that I’ve decided to share my story and let other people know it’s OK not to be OK.
I think you’ll make a pretty badass doctor someday.
We’re taught to call 911 when we need help. We’re taught the emergency room is the place to go for medical emergencies. So when someone is suicidal — and has either attempted or is really struggling with suicidal thoughts — the ER is often the quickest way for that person to get help.
But the stigma we see in society sometimes seeps into the emergency room, and people who work there aren’t adequately trained to talk to or treat someone who’s going through a suicidal crisis. This isn’t true for everyone or every place — but enoughnegativeexperiences have emerged that we wanted to open the question to our community: If you’ve been to the ER for suicidal thoughts or after a suicide attempt, what’s one thing you wish the staff and doctors there understood?
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “I obviously need help. Despite the fact I’m cooperative, despite the fact that I have my master’s degree, I can’t control my suicidal thoughts. No, I don’t want to be here; yes, I’d much rather be at home and in my own bed. Clearly I can’t be safe at home. I’m too impulsive. I understand I’m not fun to deal with. I don’t like it either. But please, please, please, be kind because I don’t believe I deserve the help, and you brushing me off just reinforces the thoughts that brought me here.”
2. “Stop being condescending… I’m irrational, not unintelligent. Stop being rude and assuming I’m on drugs because even if I was, I would still need help. I’m just as worthy of your time and patience as someone with a physical ailment. Just because it’s in my brain doesn’t mean I’m not suffering immensely.”
3. “It’s not a cry for attention. Honestly this applies to everyone. Having suicidal thoughts is not fun, it’s not to ‘get your attention.’ Think more about the person who is so clearly hurting. Don’t call them selfish.”
4. “Please look at me as a person, not just another number on a statistic. Please don’t label me as the ‘suicidal one’ because those words hurt. I’m only human, my brain is sick — but I’ll be OK will your help.”
5. “I needed help just as much as the person experiencing a medical crisis. My mental illness might not show up on an x-ray or a blood test, but that doesn’t make it any less real. I came to the ER because I was having a crisis, and I deserve the same compassion and care as any other patient in the ER.”
6. “Just because I drove there doesn’t mean I am fine. Telling me things like ‘you are young and pretty and educated and too smart to be behaving this way’ won’t help. Oh… And things like ‘if you really wanted to kill yourself you could go down the hall to the bathroom and hang yourself with a towel’ are not helpful. At all. Let’s just say I had an epically bad ER visit.”
7. “I can hear you. When you’re standing in the corner or outside the door talking about how selfish you think I am or how crazy, please remember I’m human. I’m already in so much pain, and those words hurt worse now more than ever. Support me, don’t judge me.”
8. “I wish the ER would understand that I’m already internally beating myself up over attempting. A listening ear or an encouraging word can go much further while I am in need of support.”
9. “I’d like them to understand I am ill. I may not have physical symptoms, but I am ill. When you leave me on a bed in the hallway all night, you are confirming to me that I’m not worth anyone’s time.”
10. “Before my dad took his own life he went to the ER. Told them his anxiety was making him feel suicidal. The doctor looked at him like he was ‘crazy’ and said, ‘I don’t understand how anxiety would make you feel suicidal.’ I believe this MD should have been way more compassionate and never challenge someone when they say they are feeling that way. It’s hard enough for someone to admit they are experiencing those thoughts to begin with.”
11. “I deserve just as much of your time, compassion, patience and empathy that is given to a patient who’s come in with a physical injury. The brain is an organ, too.”
12. “I wish they didn’t see or treat me as an inconvenience or a burden. I already felt like that to my family and friends, it shouldn’t be that way with people who can potentially be there to help you. I wish they treated me like they would treat someone who came in with a broken bone, cut, chest pain, head wound, etc.”
13. “Empathy. Empathy is defined as the capacity to place oneself in another’s position… Take the time to sit and listen with an empathetic ear to a person who’s suicidal. Maybe they want to be heard and listened to and talked to. Maybe they are seeking some sort of answers to make the pain and the wild emotions like a tornado wind, calm within their minds. Maybe there is a reason behind the depression that needs to be addressed and dealt with.”
14. “I’m not a bad person. You treated me like I was a criminal, not to be trusted. You were extremely condescending and rough. You acted like I was some silly kid who was just trying to get attention and costing my parents a lot of money in the process. I had just been through one of the most traumatic experiences of my life and you spared no empathy for me. They need to realize how their actions affect those who are already scared and hurting. Mental pain is no less real or serious than physical pain.”
15. “I wish the ER staff knew I genuinely don’t have the ability to articulate my reasons for my actions. Sometimes I don’t know what or why I did it except that I hurt so bad and I think the world would be better off without me. Asking me why I did it is not the right question.”
16. “I wish the ER staff didn’t scold me for ‘doing the same thing again’ after they saved my life last time. Comments like that only increase my feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness and helplessness.”
17. “Just because I ‘did this to myself’ does not mean you can treat me differently than those there who have unintentionally injured or hurt themselves. I was treated terribly and made to feel small and embarrassed because I was clearly wasting their time because I was doing this to myself.”
18. “Anyone who walks through the doors of an ED/ER related to a psychological issue is there because they’re in legitimate crisis. People with a mental illness are human –not weak, ignorant or unable to understand what you’re saying… Don’t speak in a condescending way. We aren’t in a rational state of mind, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hear you. We come to you for help, because we are afraid and we are struggling. The courage it takes to seek out help during a crisis or after an attempt is unimaginable until you’ve been there yourself… it’s not that we want everyone’s validation or attention, or even sympathy; just a non-judgmental environment and medical treatment/admission to the hospital if needed. You may not completely understand what we are feeling or what made us attempt suicide, and that’s OK; just don’t degrade us or make the guilt worse.”
19. “I wish they understood just how hard it was for me to be there. I constantly felt like I was wasting their time, and felt like they could have been treating patients with ‘real’ problems. Little did I know that that was the stigma talking. I want them to know I need to feel validated and like I had as many right to be there as other patients.
20. “Please know this was my last resort. Despite my life looking good from the outside circumstance wise, my mind is a war zone. Please don’t see me as an inconvenience because I did this to myself, and as much as I didn’t want your help so I wasn’t cooperative at first, the way you dealt with me at that time could make or break me. Give me hope or make me continue on the road of giving up.”
When we asked this question to our community, we were offered some other perspectives we wanted to share:
From a paramedic:
“Let me speak from the figurative other side of the curtain, as a paramedic. Yes, we care about you. We know you are human. I went into this career to help. If you talk, I’ll listen, no matter the story or tears. Just talk.
Sometimes, I do not know what to ask or how to talk to you. I smile and try to make the ride comfortable either from your home to the ER or the long ride from a hospital to a psych facility. Give you what food or drinks I can find… The ER cannot handle low to mid-tier psychiatric emergencies well. It was never meant to. After a crisis evaluation, the crisis worker calls as many psych facilities as they can to find an open bed. This may take six hours to two days. The scrubs you might have to wear are meant to protect you and staff. People hide medication and weapons… it has happened. We keep you in the hallway or in a room with a curtain open to make sure you don’t hurt yourself.
As a healthcare provider we see so much, I have to go home knowing the tragedies of others. I can’t internalize it. There are high suicide rates for people who work in Emergency Medical Services. So if we come off cold, we may also have been affected by mental illness. We may have anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, too. We may just swallow it down and keep going to help people the best we can. The ER psych treatment system is broken. We all know it and wish there was a better solution.”
From a mom who lost her daughter to suicide:
“I had four ER experiences with my daughter after her attempts before she [died by] suicide. Each time was different. Mostly, everyone was just concerned and wonderful but ultimately unsuccessful. I wish just one of them told us there was hope. That there was light somewhere beyond our darkness. I’m not sure anything said different would’ve changed anything though in our story. I just don’t know. As a mother who lost her sweet daughter who I loved with all my heart, to all of you who commented… I read and heard every single one of you. I’m going to say what I wish she would have heard…
You’re here for a reason. You’re worthy. You’re fighters. You’re amazing and strong. Please keep fighting each day. You’re worth it and I’m sure someone in your life would be devastated without you here, even if you think they’re better off without you. They aren’t. You complete somebody. Whoever that somebody is, look to them for that strength when you don’t have your own. I beg you. Keep going. Your story isn’t over yet.
Sending each of you my love and wishes of peace and strength for you when you need it most.”
From a nursing student:
“To anyone reading this, I’m praying first and foremost you know you matter. Your life has value and you are so worthy of happiness, even when the darkness tells you that you are not. You are so worthy of love and joy and the world would not be complete without you. Even if you don’t think so, there are people who need you and would be incomplete without you. And please know it will get better. I promise you that, just hold on and seek out people to help you and it will get better.
And secondly, as a nursing student please know that I hear your stories and I promise to do my very best to never let a patient get treated in a negative way like many of these stories again. I pledge to be an ally and stand with you in solidarity and do everything I can to help you overcome.”
*Some answers have been edited for length and clarity
Please don’t leave yet.
Right now, it hurts;
everything is grey and fuzzy,
and nothing makes sense in your head
except sitting down and putting pen
to paper, a martyr fighting
for her last breath.
The nights have been cold for a long time.
The days have been even colder
-the sun doesn’t shine on someone who
dreams of the type of flowers lying on their grave.
I hope they are lilies,
the kind of bud that reaches with open arms
to the warmth of a sun that never seems to
But I hope they are not lilies yet.
Your bones shake in the middle of crowds
and calm themselves in the darkness.
Your bedroom doesn’t have to be
eternal damnation. There are far better places
to pretend you’re alive.
Your mother always tells you
how pretty you look in dresses as if she doesn’t know
you’ve only been wearing depression as
a thick, wool coat every day for the past three years.
Your mother always tells you
how much she loves you.
She’s right. About everything.
The way your soul blossoms in a dim amphitheater,
makes you feel again
-that’s how she feels about you all the time.
Please don’t leave her yet.
It’s cloudy today. Every time you peel back
the curtains, it’s a reminder
that the sky feels, too.
Today, you are sitting down with a pen in your hand,
and I hope you write a song instead.
There are things that make you happy;
your brain is just a bastard who
tells you otherwise.
You look for love at the bottom of
every ocean you dip your toe into.
No amount of salt seems able to wash away
a chemical imbalance. No amount of reassurance
from your sister of how cute you look
in that bathing suit will allow you
to shed that coat and dive in.
I hope you dive in.
I hope you take off the coat, and step into
a welcoming sun.
I hope your brain shuts the hell up.
I hope you dance in the rain as hard as you
dance in front of strangers in a concert hall.
I hope the flowers on your grave are lilies,
but please not yet.
The ocean may swallow you up most days,
but today I hope it spits you back out
to read this. And if for some reason
you can’t paddle your way out
of the treacherous current that is
I will be here
with a hand waiting to lift you back up.
In my 32 years of life, I have tried to die by suicide six times in a span of 10 years. And I still think about suicide every moment of every single day. It comes with the territory of my mental illnesses. I say die by suicide because commit suicide sounds like a crime, and I haven’t done any crime.
You may ask how I can say that after trying to kill myself six times? After all isn’t that the biggest crime of all? To which I would say a hard no. Suicide isn’t a crime committed by a person. Suicide is a cause of death, as opposed to cold-blooded killing.
Suicide is seen as something so negative in our society, some people who are suicidal refuse to come out and share their stories, which in turn makes them feel more alone.
It is seen as a sign of cowardice, selfishness — both of which are wrong. A person who dies by suicide isn’t a coward, nor are they selfish. It’s an attempt to release oneself from all the pain you’re going through. It isn’t cowardly to take that step to end your world. And it is not selfish. The person who makes the decision to kill themselves thinks about everything and everyone around them. They think the world would be better without them. That might not be true, but that is their truth.
Do you want to know what I was thinking in the last moments before I tried to die? I was thinking how relieved my brother and father would be if I no longer existed. You may argue that it is illogical and wrong to think like that, but see, in the state I’m in, I cannot think of a better way to end their pain and mine.
Do not get me wrong, I’m not being an advocate of suicide. I’m not cheerleading for someone who’s contemplating suicide to follow through with their plan. That’s not what my post is about. It’s about spreading awareness of the fact that people who have died by suicide, which is so many of us, and people who have tried to die by suicide, like me — these people are not cowards or selfish. So don’t judge them like that. I just want you to change your perspective of how you look at suicide.
Both people who have been victims of suicide or survivors of suicide attempts are judged rather harshly by society, and if they live, it stays with them forever. Like some of the comments I’ve heard which are still with me. And I live with them, but I didn’t have to, if the people around me understood what I went through and why I decided to end my life.
I’m asking you to open your eyes to a new way of seeing things. Maybe if you understand, then another person who is having suicidal thoughts won’t keep it from you and you can save them.
The world would be a better place if everyone could share what’s going on in their minds, and this is such a small step.
If you’re someone who’s reading this post and contemplating suicide, I will ask you to think again. You don’t have to die by suicide, there are people like you everywhere. They are survivors. You can be a survivor and share your story with the world, like me. There are endless possibilities of finding people who understand you and your illness, but you can only chance upon them if you are alive. The world will be a better place with you, even though it doesn’t feel like that now. You can trust me because I have been where you are now.
For anyone reading this post and has judged someone in the past who died by suicide, or judged me till now for what I have written, I implore you to look a little more, dig a little deeper, open your eyes. There’s more to the story than you think there is.
For any help or just for someone to listen to you, you can always find me at Hope Is Good.