We all know how people talk when there’s news of a suicide; “He was so successful and funny. He must not have known how many people loved him.” Sometimes you’ll hear the less sympathetic words like “cowardly” or oversimplified sayings like the popular “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
Here’s the thing- I’m successful. I do work that I love for a competitive salary. I have great friends and family. I’m funny, smart, and pretty enough. I’m loved. Being loved kept me going for months because people depended on me.
Depression might be a temporary problem, but I’ve had depression for roughly 20 years. Depression is a voice in my head that lies to me, and the voice is suicidal.
I see people who love me and the voice says “I bet they’re tired of having to help you feel better. Kill yourself.”
I see my success and the voice says, “Why isn’t this enough for you? Nothing will make you happy. Kill yourself.”
Someone likes me and the voice says, “They don’t know screwed up you are. Go ahead and kill yourself.”
I fantasized about suicide a lot but I was too afraid to try it at first. People talk about suicide like it’s cowardly, but cowardice kept me from killing myself. Death is scary. Still, in the back of my head I kept hearing “kill yourself” so I’d plot and I’d plan. Violent images of how I could die would flash through my head all day long and I’d fall asleep to nightmares of more violence. The struggle to stay alive was so real and intense that I developed PTSD. Every time I had a suicidal thought I could feel myself getting closer to acting. It was terrifying. I was never safe- every room was a potential crime scene and everything I owned was a potential weapon.
I tried to talk to my friends. Some friends would get so worried that I felt guilty for causing them stress. Other friends would treat me like I was crazy and distance themselves.
The first time I attempted suicide, I took every pill I could find in the medicine cabinet. It was impulsive- killing myself was all I thought about and I just wanted the thinking to stop. Two hours later, I did some internet research on the pills I took- I probably wasn’t going to die, but I might have painful life-long side effects. I called an ambulance. It turns out that recovering from a failed suicide attempt is WAY worse than being suicidal. For one, I couldn’t attempt suicide again because my family had already been through so much. I felt trapped. The worst, though, was the reaction from friends and coworkers. I would overhear bits of conversations where people would say things like, “She just did it for attention. I hear it wasn’t even a lethal dose.” And you know what? Maybe I did need attention. I was desperate. If this was a “cry for help” then I was crying because I was afraid and felt like my life was in danger. Wanting attention and wanting to die are NOT mutually exclusive and I don’t know why people decided that it must have been one or the other.
I still felt suicidal after that, but not all of the time. I assumed that I’d just always be suicidal and I tried to remember how sad my family was when I acted on those thoughts. I tried to ignore the lying voice that said, “You are broken. Kill yourself.” I made it 6 years before I couldn’t ignore things anymore.
Last summer I wrote a suicide note and got in my car and drove away. I was headed to the mountains to die and I was armed with 3 different plans that were well-researched. I wasn’t going to fail again. I was going to try and try until something worked. I was 30 minutes away from the state line when I turned on my phone to get directions and saw the messages of worried friends. I was swamped with texts, voicemails, emails, facebook updates, and every time I silenced one notification I’d get another. I checked the message from my best friend Katie. She said that she needed me to tell her there wasn’t anything she could have done to stop me. I called her back and told her that I didn’t want to die, but that I felt like I’d tried everything else. She told me to move to Washington DC and live with her because I hadn’t tried getting away and having a fresh start. I agreed, and my friends came to get me.
“I’m the girl that cries suicide. I’m the crazy girl” I said when they showed up.
“So? People already thought you were crazy,” one friend replied. He was right. People already misunderstood my mental illness. Realizing this was helpful- If I was already the “crazy” girl, then I could tell people about the negative dialogue in my head. If I could tell people what I was thinking, maybe they could help me think about things differently. So this crazy suicidal girl started talking. I accepted that not everyone would understand, but I talked when I needed to talk. I’ve found that there are lots of people who are willing to listen and don’t think I’m “crazy” or talking just for the attention. It hasn’t been easy, but it is working. I am not suicidal for the first time in my adult life. It’s scary to me that there are people out there who feel the way that I’ve felt and might not be able to talk because of the stigma that kept me quiet for so long. So I’m not quiet. Maybe if we all keep talking, they will feel safe enough to join the conversation.
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Emily works and lives in Atlanta with her dog, cat, and a supportive network of friends and family. She still has depression and works diligently to manage it with the help of therapy, medication, and classes that help her learn coping skills and effective communication. She tries to talk openly and honestly about her mental illness and history of suicidal thoughts so that others might feel comfortable sharing their experiences as well.
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Remarkable post Emily! Thank you for sharing and thank you for speaking up!