Why Talking About Suicide Should Be Normalized
I almost died by suicide. Its grasp was almost too strong, and I felt hopeless. I believed there weren’t people who cared whether I lived or died and yet, I am still here. How did I get here?
To tell that story I need to start at the beginning: I had an abusive and impoverished childhood, and for as long as I can remember I always suffered from depression and anxiety. I either felt like I was in an insurmountable rut or that I was being overwhelmed by too many stressors at once. Even as a kid, I contemplated what the world would look like without me.
Somehow, I survived the battlefield that is adolescence — albeit with many emotional scars. It was 2009; I was 21 years old and the Great Recession coupled with a loss of career direction made it feel like the world was crumbling around me. At first, I escaped into the world of theatre, but financial hardship soon made it impossible to keep playing make-believe forever. It wasn’t too long before I entered a new battlefield: the US Army. I had to make a drastic life change, and at the time joining the military seemed like the best way out of yet another seemingly insurmountable rut. It would end up being the most significant decision of my life — and nearly causing the end of it.
I shipped off to basic combat training, feeling ill-prepared for what lay ahead but committed to seeing it through to the end. I simply had to succeed because there was no plan B if I failed. I felt if I did, I might as well not be living anymore.
Surviving basic training was the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. Not so much the physical, but rather the mental toll it took on me and everyone around me. I was really affected by having to carry off one of my fellow soldiers who experienced a catatonic episode. I didn’t have a word for it at the time, but I knew that feeling from personal experience. I knew the kinds of thoughts that were taking place behind those glazed-over and barely blinking eyes, and they weren’t good.
Surprising even myself, I graduated basic training and made my way to the Arizona desert for the next stage in my army career. The constant stress from weekly tests that only got more difficult, poor leadership and feelings of loneliness kept building up day by day, until I couldn’t take it anymore. So, late one afternoon I walked into the dining facility and sat down next to one of the few people I felt like I could talk to and told them I wanted to die. And then I froze.
For a very long time.
I had what they called a catatonic episode. I could see, smell and hear the world around me (including the laughter), but I couldn’t physically respond back. By the time I broke out of it I was lying in the emergency room. Like the soldier I had once helped, I now had to be lifted out of my seat and forced onto a stretcher.
I tried to get past that humiliating experience like it never happened, but my mental health was only growing worse and just a couple days later I was admitted to a psychiatric ward for six days. By the time I came back to my unit, it was clear that the only option for me was to be medically discharged from the army with little to show for my time served. I felt like I had failed.
I had hoped I would be able to bounce back once I returned home. But day after day and week after week those hopes slowly began to fade away. I was discharged in October and by Christmas that year I had completely fallen apart. I lost track of the days, my hygiene was poor, I wasn’t getting out or socializing much and I felt like I had very little to live for.
The grasp of suicide wrapped itself around me, and I was out of energy trying to fight against it. I remember being around family on Christmas and feeling so worthless and unworthy of being there. At the end of the night, I called a friend who had moved away and told him I intended to die by suicide that night. This was going to be the end of my story.
But it wasn’t the end. I didn’t die that night. Once again, I survived. Now, I’d be lying if I said I had some miraculous intervention that led me to “see the light” and cured me of my depression. But I did commit that I would no longer live with these feelings in silence. However, the fact that I was willing to talk to my friend about my pain and there was someone actually willing to listen meant there was still some hope for improvement.
After that, I kept speaking up — not just with friends but within my community, as well as online. I started sharing my story and visiting local colleges, then hospitals and psychiatric centers, similar to ones where I was once a patient, to try to offer some hope and comfort during their darkest times, since I wish someone had done that for me. From there, my online presence continued to grow and pretty quickly I was sharing my story and advocating for better mental health care across various platforms. I started traveling the country and connecting with people from all over the world. I found my calling, and it was about speaking up — something I used to be so ashamed about.
Now, every Sunday I host a live online talk show called SPSM Chat – Suicide Prevention on Social Media. I interview some of the leading voices in the field of suicide prevention, as well as provide a platform for rising voices whose stories deserve to be told. When I took over the show from creator Dr. April Foreman, my goal was to build a space where people from all walks of life, including me, could be as open about suicide as they are about their favorite hobbies or TV shows. I want to be able to ask people about suicide and give them a place they can feel comfortable enough to respond honestly.
Suicide is still a topic that is not talked about nearly enough, and it is a detriment to us all because it leaves people living with suicidal feelings and ideation in silence. I’m alive today because there are people around me who I can reach out to when I am suffering. Because of that, suicidal thoughts no longer have a grasp on me.
Please know you are not alone. If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Please see a list of resources below.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Call the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-626-HELP (4357)
Text HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis support in the U.S.