The Words My Father Said to Me When I Was Suicidal
It’s not easy to talk about — but I can think of two times when I felt that my life might end by suicide. The first time was in my early teens. The second time was in my 20s.
They were certainly times when life had become difficult, but I couldn’t put my finger on what truly caused the feelings. When asked, “Why?” the only answer I could think of was that it simply felt more right than wrong, and that it seemed like the inevitable ending.
I also couldn’t say that it was a notably sad time. I hadn’t experienced any grief or extreme loss, I wasn’t being bullied or abused. Nobody was dying of illness. I was not in any financial crises. I had a job, and I had not been recently heartbroken.
But I felt extreme loneliness during those times. I had no hunger for life because I felt like life had no hunger for me. I did not believe in true happiness because I didn’t feel like I would ever find it, that it would be impossible to find, and that I wasn’t good enough to deserve it.
My days were filled with silent pain. I isolated myself, just as I had done as a child when things at home weren’t going too well. The darkness consumed me day and night, lasting months each time, like a cold winter.
One wintry morning in February, I wrote a suicide letter, and knew exactly what I wanted to put in it. The first thing I remember writing was how thankful I was for the beautiful life I had been blessed with, my family and all the wonderful things I’ve done and seen.
I wrote about certain memories that brought my joy — all the incredible life experiences I had and places I had been that shaped me into what I believed was a gentle, compassionate and loving man.
But the letter ended with these words:
“I want you to know that I am so happy. But I am so, so lonely.”
I thought about all the isolation I experienced growing up with so much adversity. I had been prescribed medication at age 14, but stopped when I started college, wondering if all my problems were just “thoughts” and not any type of actual illness, despite a family history of mental health issues. A childhood of suppressed anxieties had weakened my self-esteem and hope for the future.
I was hospitalized, and I survived.
I pushed on for many years, got back on medication, processed my demons through therapy, friendship, medication and prayer, and as I grew into my mid-30s, I discovered an entirely whole new storyline ahead, waiting for me all along.
I haven’t looked back since those times, and I haven’t sat out “on the edge” in many, many years. But I do know what it felt like, to be sitting there, feeling broken and empty, while others judged and could not understand. And I remember learning which things helped and which things did not:
Bargaining with me and trying to convince me of what I was not able to see did not work. It only made me feel further away from being normal.
Instructing me or making suggestions did not work well either. The assumption that I could not make decisions for myself forced me to ask myself what terrible things I was capable of doing, on my own.
Crying did not help. Calling me selfish did not help — in both instances the guilt brought on greater, more intense pain. And in the same way some people are motivated to change by guilt, I saw myself as burdensome.
There was only one thing that worked. And I did not expect it — I had not spoken to my father in over 10 years. But word traveled that I wasn’t doing well, and he reached out.
He shared with me his story of what was the loneliest time in his life. He described what it felt like to lose his family due to alcohol, watch his business fail and shared the details of a dark period of isolation and shame.
Many parts I was able to relate to. He was not upset with me, did not cry nor judge me, and did not try to suggest answers for any of my problems.
But I’ll never forget the words that changed everything:
“My son, you are never alone. I will sit here with you. And we will sit here together for as long as we have to. There’s no place else we need to be right now but here.”
It was the most neutral and loving response I never expected to hear. He wasn’t even there with me, it was a phone call. And I was in tears.
He listened to me cry for about 20 minutes and said: “Whenever you’re ready, we’re going to stand up and walk back into life and find out what happens next… together. OK?”
It took many years, but I grew strong and gained wisdom. When others feel lonely, I can see it like a glint in their eyes. We all can. It’s a sign the person wants to not feel alone.
Company does not judge, it does not teach, nor pity. It does not assume burden or guilt. Company is not friendship or romance. Company is belonging.
When I learned that even those who don’t belong can belong with each other, I realized we truly are never alone.
Suicide does not always mean depression. Depressed people do not always die by suicide. But feeling apart from others is lethal.
If you or somebody you know is planning to hurt themselves or leave this life – please stay. We need you here. We need more people like you here. We need your compassion and love. We need to hear your story and we need to learn to listen. You may not feel it right at this moment. But you belong.
There’s no place else we need to be right now but here.
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Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash