6 Ways to Help Someone Who Is Thinking About Suicide

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

When people talk about suicide, it stirs up something deep in us. It is incongruent with our biological instinct for survival. We know something is wrong.

If we love the person or even care about him, we may start to panic. What if I lose him?

We may not trust ourselves to help lift him out of the pain. We feel worried and helpless up against darkness he is facing. We don’t know what to do or what to say, but we know we have to do something.

As a therapist, I have talked to thousands of people about suicide over the 20-plus years I have been practicing. I haven’t lost anyone to suicide, but I stay vigilant and meet each new disclosure with my full attention. Each person is incredibly valuable and I don’t want to lose anyone.

I’ve seen people in the most intense pain you can imagine and I see them afterward, when they feel better. Seeing this process so many times, I have the retrospective view of the next person coming in. Things change. People get better.

I know you want to help your friend/child/lover/parent get to that “better” place, and there are things you can do that will be invaluable to helping them and bring the two of you closer together. Thank goodness.

Here are seven ways to respond when someone tells you they are thinking about suicide.

1. Stay calm.

Suicide has a way of freaking people out. But when we freak out, it becomes about us and not the person who is struggling. They feel lost, invisible and shamed when we freak out.

Unfortunately some professional questioning sounds more like concern for liability than compassion for the person. Most of my clients who have been suicidal have had experiences with people freaking out. They are afraid they will be put into psychiatric care and so stop talking about themselves.

I’d rather keep them talking.

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Call 911 only when the person is in imminent danger. Your friend texting that she “doesn’t want to live like this” does not need the police to barge past her parents, cuff her and take her alone in the back of a squad car to the hospital.

If you are a teenager and your friend tells you she is suicidal or thinking about suicide, see number three on this list.

2. Understand.

Loads of people think about suicide. First and foremost, it is an expression that you don’t want to feel this pain anymore. That is a normal response to pain. It would be weirder if someone wants to feel this bad.

When you were in pain, haven’t you ever thought about escaping somehow? Maybe you never said it out loud, but this person feels the same. Surely, you can understand?

People who think of suicide are usually scared by their thoughts because they think it is “messed up.” This entices fear and shame on top of what they were already feeling, making them spiral further down and intensifying everything. We want to ease this fear and shame immediately. Tell them there is nothing to be ashamed of. Understanding and staying calm will go very far in helping them begin to feel better fast, so you can get to the reason they were upset in the first place.

Assuming they want attention misses the mark. I don’t think in these terms. This person probably feels invisible and isolated. Please give them attention, right now.

People don’t want to feel bad. I think about what is absent but implicit in people wanting to escape pain: They want to feel better. It’s very understandable.

Acknowledging and validating that they want relief will help them feel understood and this makes so much difference.

3. Touch them (if they’re OK with it.)

Sometimes a kind word and a hug can do wonders. Being close to another person can feel so good.

Many people who are overwhelmed by their emotions can use a good cry in caring arms. They desire this, but they might not ask.

Being overwhelmed by depression can make you feel so alone and disconnected. Touch grounds us and makes us feel connected. Don’t hesitate.

4. Stay with them.

Stay with your lovey or arrange for someone to be with him or her until they let you know their desire to die passes.

Listen to them, but also distract them. Try to get them to laugh. Among my clients, laughing with a friend is the most common way to pass out of thoughts of suicide. It may not make the problem go away, but it helps pass the time until a mood can lift.

Let them know there is nothing more important than being with them in that moment.

Let them know you love them and what you love about them. Make a list.

5. Ask why they haven’t.

Most people say, “I want to die, but I don’t want to die.” This makes so much sense to me. They just want to feel better.

When someone talks about suicide, before I ask about a plan, or whatever, I ask why he hasn’t.

This is really what we need to know. People who think about suicide don’t attempt to die by suicide for a reason. And you bet I want to know that reason. When I ask this question, I find out the most fascinating things that all touch my heart.

Their response says something about what is important to them — what is important enough to live for. This is what I want to bring out in the open: their love and commitment to this priority. There’s a story about this important thing and I want to thicken it up and make it shine so they commit more fully to living.

Maybe it is not wanting to leave his family. This is beautiful and noble. This tells me so much. I don’t invalidate this gorgeous love by telling him that he needs to want to live for himself. Or that he has to find out why he wants to die. I know why he wants to die. He doesn’t feel good.

I want to know why he wants to live. I want to hear more about it and let his words and his care for that thing float around the room, come around him in a big hug and make him want to live even more. I want to be in awe of why he wants to live, so that awe is reflected back and he is in awe too.

This will stop him faster than any safety contract that focused on disembodied, imposed skills.

6. Make a plan

Rather than a safety contract, I make a plan of what to do. This plan includes:

1. Distraction: have something enjoyable to do to pass time.

2. Company: tell someone immediately and spend time together until it passes.

3. Call me: I encourage people to call me when they feel like dying. Any time of day or night.

My freshman year in high school, I lost a friend to suicide. I cared about Mike deeply and reeled with shock when he died. I didn’t even know he was struggling. If fact, the last time I spoke to him, I talked about myself. Maybe if we had texting back then, or Facebook, we would have been closer and he would have shared his depression with me. Maybe I could have helped.

Many more friends in high school disclosed their suicidal thoughts to me. Thank God, no one else died. Probably more felt this bad but didn’t tell me. You never know what someone is going through since people hide their pain so well. Whether they told me or not, I hope my kindness or smiles came to them when they needed it most.

A few years ago, I made peace with Mike. Instead of feeling shame that I was so selfish, only four days before he died, to dare speak about my own problems, I accepted his message that I helped him feel valuable and loved when he needed it most. I released his spirit that was held in my shame and recommitted to standing closer to people when they are in pain.

I accepted his message that I helped him feel valuable and loved when he needed it most. I released his spirit that was held in my shame and recommitted to standing closer to people when they are in pain.

Don’t let worry take you over; choose love instead. If you seek help and that person is responding out of fear, don’t give up. Find someone else.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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

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The Questions That Flooded My Mind After Chris Cornell's Suicide

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

“Whomsoever I’ve cured
I’ve sickened now
Whomsoever I’ve cradled
I’ve put you down
I’m a search light soul
They say but I can’t
See it in the night
I’m only faking
When I get it right
Cause I fell on
Black days

“Fell on Black Days” (Soundgarden)

Today was the first day I allowed myself to listen to his music, since I learned of his passing. It made me feel super weird, but it was necessary. I had been in some serious denial, but now that more information about his final days has come out, I guess it makes sense. You don’t close a show with “In My Time of Dying,” for no reason. Maybe not when you struggle with mental illness, anyway.

I’m sure a lot of people find it silly for me to mourn him like this, but I highly doubt I’m the only one. You can’t understand, unless you have ever attached your soul to someone’s lyrics or story, just to keep it from burning out.

I think I’m so deeply shaken because once again, I’m left to wonder about a lot of things.

Tons of celebrities are advocates for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Mostly because of their own struggles. What does it mean then, when an advocate can’t hold on anymore? What does it mean, when the light is snuffed, from the beacon that once lit up your dark soul? What does it mean, when they can no longer practice their own message? What does it mean when their hope, which always gave you hope, is lost? What does it mean, when their mental demons win?

My thoughts are flooded with, When will my moment of weakness come? When will my mind want to end it all? When will the ugly monster, that is my suicidal thoughts, take over? When will my soul burn out? When will my hope be lost?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. All I know is, I cried when Robin Williams died, and I cried when Scott Weiland died, and I cried when Amy Bleuel died, and I really cried when Chris Cornell died. They were a breath of fresh air and a message of hope, for so many people. But at the end of the day, they were only human. They were not god-like creatures, superior to emotion and pain. They were human, just like me. They were struggling, just like me. That’s why their deaths scare the shit out of me.

I don’t want to give up. I don’t want to let my light die. I don’t want to lose all hope and let my demons win. My brain may tell me it would be best, but my heart is a fighter.

“You the only person alive who holds the key to your healin’
So you take it and you run with it
And keep going even when your sun’s hidden
Because the time we spent in darkness when the rain come
Is where we often find the light soon as the pain’s done”

“Battle Cry” (Angel Haze feat. Sia)

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National 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.

Photo via Chris Cornell Facebook.

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Grieving a Suicide and Obsessing About Death

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Life is a strange bird indeed.

I first heard this phrase from one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever been lucky enough to be able to know. She was the epitome of exuberant manic depression, was a grade above me before she killed herself under a bridge. I remember the day, not the date, as all of the stoner crowd that loved her was taken aback, emotionally battered and brought down into the low point of collective depression.

KT was section editor of Arts & E, bringing a fierce creativity to the media group that was formidable in content and leaps and bounds above what anyone else could have imagined. We smoked weed together a few times outside of school, and did some pharmaceuticals under forest canopy in our sacred smoking spot. Our time together was brief, and unfairly interrupted by the struggle that she was going through, making all of my experiences look like pebbles compared to the monolithic rock of ages that she was lifting. KT was the first of many People of Light I would accomplice as life rivered through its many bends and L-turns, the type of girl whose energy changes a room upon entry, always radiating this infectious positivity that even if you weren’t lucky enough to know her, you immediately
felt her presence.

She overdosed under this bridge, perhaps because of how she felt about her place in society. It’s hard to say. It came as a shock to the newspaper department, as some or most of us had developed an ethereal relationship with this P.O.L., and found it extremely difficult to remain in class. The administration felt the need to make an announcement over the intercom, in a school full of 2,400 students, explaining that her death would be remembered and if anyone needed a therapy session that resource would be available. The ones who were closest to her, if only a handful, we skipped most of the sessions that were provided to us, the ones that truly knew her, in the hopes that we would not form a death pact and all jump off into the dark to join her.

It was a weird time, feeling this impression of death and uncertainty about life and my own attempts on my life. To cope, besides skipping most of my classes for a two-to-three week grieving period, I put my depression under my bed. I wrote about death, obsessed over death and prophesied how death is healthy or hurtful to our species. The Passenger was secluded at this point, understanding somehow that now was not the time for getting angry at trifle bullshit. It was a time to mourn a fellow soldier in the war against the establishment and The Man, as best as possible while trying to resume daily life. Parents couldn’t understand. Teachers tried, even crying with some of the girls in-group to no effect.

 

I was never good at dealing with death. The future I could have in (ghost)writing elegies and eulogies only relies on how much emotional fortitude I possessed at the time. Those close enough were invited by her parents to the funeral, held on a Sunday at a beautifully-appointed Lutheran church, pews packed with a good number of adults and the afflicted in-crowd.

The best I can do to pay homage to the dead is write, either in prose, lyrics or T.S. Eliot-styled verse. This entire period of time sucked, bringing about benders across the board, inviting me into different crowds with different fascinations (e.g. hallucinogens, stimulants, downers) in different stages of life, out of school or not.

The notion of death would follow me with obsessive tendencies, loving the feeling of the lack of love derisively pushed from beyond the grave. Death did not faze me. I was unable to produce tears, apathetic in keeping my true emotions at bay. And I was doing was trying to avoid looking too emotional in public, however accepted post-humous scenarios are.

Years later I would find myself reading anonymous writer Supervert’s “Necrophilia Variations,” not because I was interested in performing fellatio on a freshly-dead corpse, but because death took me further away from my life. It was a dark place, again. Watching only horror movies because of the feeling I got when someone was offed, regardless of however deserving. Or reading Poe and contemplating on dorm ceilings how it would feel to bury a body only to hear it beating every night. The macabre was a huge source of inspiration, along with drinking alone with my thoughts, frequently. The suicidal thoughts evolved into homicidal tendencies not exacted. In one manic state I picked up dead animals and froze them in our basement freezer, for “research” purposes. The family joked about it, even if I had no idea what I was doing or why it was so important to study a dead squirrel’s anatomy hours before class high as a motherfucker on pot and painkillers, not to mention the antidepressant and anti-psychotic regime I was reluctant to force down my throat every night. The book itself served as an indicator of where my head was at, looking up murders and murderers from the past and attempting to solve a crime that had already been solved.

The manic poet was suddenly a detective in homicide, studying blood spatter and body positioning to come to my own conclusions about a case. Pointless. This is a pointless. It kept my thoughts out of school as I made the three-hour drive up to Selinsgrove in the fall of 2012. Accepting death was a large part of this transition period, even years after KT left this earth. The death of a relationship is eerily similar to that of an actual expiration; both require grievance, tears and introspection to mourn. The move itself would be a form of rebirth, as I left Northern Virginia to make the voyage to a brand new something, a place where I could reengineer, reprogram myself a new set of values and obscure feelings on life and living. Death doesn’t always have to be ever-depressed, is what this period of time told me. Would there be more? You betcha.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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

Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic

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What Chris Cornell's Death Made Me Realize About My Suicidal Thoughts

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

As I sit here listening to Temple of the Dog, I realize the reasons why Chris Cornell of Soundgarden’s death has truly shattered me. Aside from losing an amazing talent with the second most powerful vocals (Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder being first, of course), I realize it is not only sadness I feel but fear; fear because Chris’s death actually makes sense to me, and that terrifies me.

As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, depression and hypomania, every second of every day is a struggle. Most of the time people like me present to the world as functional, personable “normal” people.

We work, we socialize, we contribute to society. We are sitting beside you at work, riding the train next to you, waiting on your table at a restaurant, running a meeting in the office.

Our outward appearance relays calm, cool and confident. But inside, oh inside, it is exhausting. With every interaction, there are constant racing thoughts: “Am I making a fool of myself? Am I being inappropriate? I would never be able to do this, that or the other. I am not good enough. Why is he or she being so critical, mean or aggressive?”

Even on our good days, our brains do not allow us to rid these thoughts. There are moments of clarity, but there is always darkness. My fight or flight response tries to take over at least once on any given day. “If I get in the car and drive, all of this will go away. If I leave, so do the problems I cause others.”

The people we love and care about struggle through our mood swings, our excessive spending, our wild ideas and of course our extensive, sometimes outlandish projects. When we want to escape our thoughts, some of us abuse drugs, alcohol, sex. Those are the good days.

Our loved ones struggle through the bad days too by watching us spend endless days in bed, crying, isolated from the world. We try to protect our loved ones from this and spend days on end without talking. We don’t want to share any of this with you because we are certain you will think we are “crazy.” You will think we are weak or we are failures. You will leave us and make all of our fears a reality.

The darkness tells us all of these things will go away if we go away. This darkness can and will eat away at you until you can’t help wonder, “Why am I here?”

Most often we are surrounded by people, friends, family, co-workers. We smile, laugh, talk, make people laugh. What you don’t see is that many times throughout the day and night, when we are alone even for a brief moment, the darkness creeps in. It sneaks up on you and takes over every thought you have.

You know what it is, you push it away and you tell yourself this will pass. Then it sneaks back in. Over and over and over again. It’s sort of like that friend who keeps pushing you to do something wrong until someday you just give in. You know it’s wrong, you know it’s ridiculous and you know what it will do to the people who love you, but the thoughts won’t stop coming.

For those of us lucky enough, we win the battle. We push and fight back, clawing and screaming until it goes away. For now, we’ve won another day. For the rest of us, we surrender. We cannot do it anymore.

What people don’t understand is this darkness we speak of just appears. There is no rhyme or reason. You can be on the highest high, having the best day you’ve had in a long time. You can be doing the dishes, driving your car on a sunny day, reading a book, watching tv and “hello, darkness.” There are no triggers, there is no warning and there is certainly no open invitation.

Because I live with this constant darkness in my head, I understand how Chris Cornell and the many others before him and the many others after him perhaps succumb to it.

To those of us who are still here, keep fighting. Talk about it, write about it. Share your story because each of us can make a difference in someone else’s life. Don’t hide it, don’t be ashamed of it and don’t ever forget that no matter how weak, out of control or afraid you feel, the light you bring to this world is far greater than what you leave behind. You are stronger than you know and although the darkness may never go away, someday it will just be a dim light lingering out on the horizon.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Image via Chris Cornell Facebook page.

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6 Things I Learned After My Father's Suicide

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I believe the only way to lessen pain is to feel the pain. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid feeling the pain after losing a loved one to suicide. The shock accompanying a loss of this magnitude allows us to delay the intensity of the pain. Oftentimes, we think we are doing pretty well, considering the traumatic experience of our loved one’s death. Then it hits us. The overwhelming, excruciating, life-altering pain. We question if there will ever come a day when the pain will lessen.

So, how exactly do we get through the pain? We learn from it. Here are a few things I learned from the pain I experienced after my dad’s suicide.

1. What I didn’t do then, I can do now.  

My pain taught me a lot about regret. I regretted not calling my dad more. I regretted not telling him how much I loved him. I regretted not telling him what he taught me about life. Then one day, it was simply too late. For a long time, I beat myself up for not doing and saying more. I learned my regrets kept me in the pain. I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t change the past. But what I can do now is make a conscious effort to tell the people I love how much they mean to me. I no longer wait to tell them tomorrow, because I now know there are no guarantees of tomorrow. This has made my relationships stronger and more authentic. Most importantly, I am doing now what I didn’t do then.

2. I learned to live in the present.

For me, a great deal of time was spent in the past after my dad’s suicide. I combed through every moment, trying to figure out how and why this happened. I think we need to spend a little time in the past in order to make sense of our present. Problem is, we often get stuck in the past. There is a great deal of pain in the past. I believe living in the past keeps us immersed in the pain. Living in the present helped lessen my pain. The past can’t be changed, but our future is still unwritten. Living in the moment helps to decrease the pain, one day at a time.

3. I learned how to evaluate what truly matters in this life.

I viewed my conversations with friends differently after losing my dad to suicide.  In fact, most of the things people complain about appear to be so petty. For awhile, I pointed the pettiness out. I felt it was my duty to point out how petty their concerns were. I learned this also kept me stuck in the pain. When people talk about something that is bothering them, they want to be validated. I certainly wasn’t doing that. It isn’t our duty to tell people what they should or shouldn’t care about. All we can do is control what we care about. These conversations still occur among friends. The difference is, now I listen, adding input as needed, but I don’t join in the negativity.

4. I was able to weed out the people who weren’t who I thought they were.

This was a tough one. For a long time, I viewed this as another person leaving me. Viewing myself as a victim kept me stuck in the pain. I learned the relationships I thought mattered never were as authentic as I thought they were. In fact, most were one-sided. I was the listener, they were the talker. Now that the dynamic had changed, and I was the one who needed the support, they simply couldn’t provide it. This wasn’t necessarily a reflection of them, but our relationship. Relationships have to adapt or they will fall apart. A few relationships did fall apart, and that’s OK. The ones that I maintained were more authentic and supportive than any of the ones I lost.

5. I learned not to settle for “mediocre.”

Follow your dreams. Do what makes you happy. These were all simple statements until my dad’s suicide. Now, they hold so much meaning. In my pain, I learned life is too short to settle for mediocre. I recognized I feared that I would one day end up like him. When I found that fear, I decided to fight it. In a way, I feel like I am conquering the pain by making a conscious effort to find authentic happiness in this life.

6. I learned to forgive.  

This was a big one. I found that forgiveness helped release a great deal of pain. Like most relationships, my father and I did not have a perfect relationship. There were painful moments in our past. Moments that he sought forgiveness for, and never fully received. I was holding onto the pain from our past. Forgiving him for his past mistakes helped me free myself from the pain. The only way to fully release the pain, is to forgive. Forgive the people you thought would be there. Forgive the person who left you behind. Forgive yourself for not being able to do more. Forgive.

It took me awhile to learn from my pain. I hope the lessons I have learned can help you find your own healing within your pain. There is always, always, always something to be learned. It just takes a little time to find it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National 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.

Unsplash photo via Jiri Wagner.

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The First Year of Grief After My Daughter's Suicide

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Editor’s note: If you have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

It’s been a year since my daughter took her life, and I stand in this world much differently today than I ever have. I am broken down, defeated, lost and will never be the same again. I stand here as a mother who has lost a child. This past year has been full of grief, hope and as much strength as I can put together to face every day.

The most difficult part of losing my older daughter has been watching my youngest daughter struggle through the grief. Seeing her struggle through her grief and wanting to fix it and take away the pain, makes my broken heart hurt even more. I believe there is nothing more painful than seeing your children in pain and not being able to take it away. Her grief is different than mine. I understand the loss, but will never fully understand her grief as a sister and best friend. I can only be here for her and give her comfort, supporting her through her grief to find healing.

I have learned that relying on others and letting others help has been the most challenging for me, and I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. I have never been good at relying on others, and now, when I am grasping to hold onto the hope I have, asking or allowing others to be there is challenging. I know that I have loving, supportive, caring friends and family that want to be there, but I have always been the one to reach out to help others. I am trying to let that go and let others be there for me. I am trying. Walking through this grief is something indescribable to most people, and it has a way of making me feel alone in a crowd of people who love and care for me.

The waves of grief have taken me through so much already, and I know they will keep coming. In moments I find myself smiling and enjoying the moment, I feel guilty that I’m enjoying things without her. When I’m overwhelmed with sadness and fall apart, I feel disappointed that I’m not being strong enough for my youngest daughter. When I sit and think about the time we should have had together, the three of us, I am angry. I roll through these emotions and jump from shock to disbelief, depression, hope, acceptance, love and hurt. I am often conflicted about my feelings and how to best express and share them.

There are days I just fight to survive, others I take on with gusto, some I just get through and some when I am full of strength, wearing my tears as armor, taking on the world. I don’t always know what strength I will have each day, and some days what I think I am ready for turns into something much different.

The pain my daughter’s illness caused her had to be even greater than the pain we are all in without her here. Her illness was truly debilitating and she fought with everything she had against it.

The reality of grief for me is that it is different all the time. It changes day by day, hour by hour and even minute by minute.

I will forever be reaching to my daughter, and for the rest of my life, won’t find her there. That is how I explain my grief.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National 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.

Photo via contributor.

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