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How I Found Hope Living With Depression

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. If you need support right now, you can call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, or text HOME to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line if you are in the U.S. A list of crisis centers around the world can be found here.

It has been almost two years since I contemplated dying by suicide. It was a dark time. A time that I do not want to go back to. There are days when I can’t believe it ever happened. How did I become so hopeless that I believed death was the only answer?

Regardless of how I got to the dark time, I want to reflect on how far I have come today. This is not to say that life has been all rainbows and butterflies — it hasn’t been. Life happens. However, when life happens, I am much better prepared for the rough road ahead than I was two years ago.

As a trainer of peer support specialists and as a member of the American Federation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) education committee, I know how vital it is to be transparent and share similar lived experiences with others as part of one’s recovery. Thus, here I am sharing my story. So… how did I get to where I am today?

I will say it was not an easy journey. Two years ago, I started a new job at a nonprofit organization as the project manager for a peer-driven suicide prevention program for service members, veterans, and their families (SMVF). How ironic that after helping my son work through his suicidal ideation crisis from 2021 to 2022 and then only recently persevering through my suicidal ideation crisis, I was now given the task of creating a suicide prevention curriculum for peer support specialists. Later, I learned it was because of my transparency and forthrightness during the interview about my son’s suicidal ideation experience that I got the job.

While working at Beacon Institute, a nonprofit organization, holistic mental health wellness training was required. This training had me thinking — it was about being self-aware and building a wellness toolbox to help myself when life got tough. I looked inward to recognize what in my past led me to who I am today. But I didn’t practice the coping skills learned or use my wellness toolbox, nor did I think I needed to. I thought I was able to cope just fine on my own. Later, I realized I was wrong; my thinking was distorted, and life was about to get rough again.

As the year went on, there was drama in the workplace. Some women in the building didn’t get along, and Beacon Institute ultimately ran out of funding in the fall. Begrudgingly, I had to borrow money from my parents to pay my bills for several months — this was beyond humbling. In addition, I wasn’t able to find another job. The darkness began to creep in like thunderclouds before the storm.

Even though depression had set in again, I made it through the winter months. Finally, I was able to secure a new job that paid well. Unfortunately, it was not fulfilling in any way. My finances were improving, and I was making headway on the debt I had accrued when I wasn’t being paid. Yet, the new job was not satisfying for me. Consequently, I became bored and unmotivated. I felt lost and without purpose.

Even through my cognitive distortions, it was as if something was telling me that things had to change — it was the only way I would feel better. I pulled out the wellness workbook I had completed the year before. This led me to call my former boss from Beacon Institute, Sharon. She and I had become close towards the end of my time working for her. I knew she would understand my feelings because she had shared several similar life experiences while working together.

This was the best call I could have made. Although hesitant to disclose much detail, Sharon understood. I didn’t have to explain or justify why I felt the way I did to her.

To try to explain to someone who has not had suicidal ideations how it feels to be that dark and hopeless is almost impossible. They can’t understand why someone can’t “just get over it.”

After Sharon and I talked, there was some relief and a sense that I was no longer alone on my journey of disarray. During the months to come, I finally determined my life’s purpose and mission. I thought I knew my mission at different times, but it never felt complete or solid. There was always something missing.

But now… Now, I knew what I was meant to do. It was the light that I had been missing for decades.

The importance and significance of peer support — having that person(s) with whom you can share your feelings and not have to spell out why you’re feeling a certain way — was so refreshing. I had to research and educate others on how much peer support is vital to anyone’s multifaceted mental health recovery.

While I was at the unfulfilling job, Beacon Institute was awarded grant funding. As a result, I was able to return to working for Sharon and move forward with my newly found purpose and mission of training others about the importance of suicide prevention techniques and how to be successful peer specialists. Additionally, I put much of my energy into learning the statistics, the risk factors of suicide, and ways to prevent suicide. As my recovery continued, I became an advocate and volunteer for AFSP.

Joining AFSP was another way for me to educate others on the importance of knowing the signs and ways to discuss suicide. Educating has become my passion. My purpose. My mission.

It didn’t take just one phone call to come so far in my healing journey with depression and suicidal ideations. It’s a process — an everyday process. As I mentioned, I took out the wellness workbook I previously created and seriously thought about things and activities that make me happy. I took it as far as dedicating one page in my journal to a list of things I can change (my reactions, my behavior, my knowledge, etc.) and a list of things I cannot change (others’ reactions, others’ perceptions of me, the weather, etc.). The next page is a graphic organizer listing activities that make me happy — it also has stickers because they make me very happy. For example, my list includes puzzles, scary movies, cuddling with my pup, looking at crazy pictures of my son’s cat, etc.

When I begin to feel down or hopeless, or something didn’t go the way I wanted, I go to the previously mentioned journal pages to remind me:

1. I can only change myself, not anyone else, and

2. Do something that makes me happy and rethink what it was that made me feel the way I’m feeling. What happened? Is it as big a deal as I am making it out to be? What is the logical way of handling the situation, if it needs to be handled at all?

I have a beaded bracelet that I wear every day. It says, “1 DAY AT A TIME.” Because, all in all, I take life and recovery one day at a time.

Photo by Niels Smeets on Unsplash

Originally published: April 4, 2024
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