It is not about being brave in sharing; it is about being real, and hoping to end the widely stigmatized thoughts regarding an illness.
Mental illness, the vast array of judged, shunned and misunderstood group of stigmatized illnesses. Suicide, the part of mental illness that is even more judged, misunderstood and stigmatized. The people and families who deal with mental illness need to feel safe to get help and to discuss what is considered the taboo subjects in order for acceptance, so they do not fear asking for help. It is possible and time to have healthy, open dialogue about these subjects and it is time the world learns how. It is a life or death situation. There are many organizations dedicated to educating and creating awareness, I will list some of them at the end.
I suffer from mental illness and all of its ugly, painful effects. This is my “coming out”. My hope is to inspire others to come out and share their stories without fear and to inspire others to educate themselves and try to understand. This is not my way of trying to get sympathy or play victim. This is the most real I can be in summing up a lifetime of pain, about a subject that needs to be discussed openly and publicly in order to save lives and end stigma.
I suffer from major depression that does not stem from situational circumstances and I have suicidal tendencies. Not to say some life changing situations did not affect my depression, but for the most part it is biological.
As it stands now in society, mental illness becomes a label, a directive of how some people may judge you, before even meeting you or knowing anything else about you. Some people resist treatment scared an employer, school, doctor or other important life guide may deny or judge them.
Many people do not understand how to deal with a depressed friend or relative or acquaintance. It is easier to pretend it does not exist, title them as the crazy one, or say things that actually minimize the disease, that suggest it will just magically go away. Ex: just work out, eat healthier, do yoga, snap out of it.
The cycle begins, nobody feels comfortable hearing about depression or suicide and then the depressed individual hides their pain, fearing judgment, embarrassment or being labeled.
I have dealt with depression since childhood; it took years for me to understand what it was and why I was different. I fought it, for years, I never gave up. Many never knew I struggled. From the exterior I have been perceived as outgoing, approachable and fun, it was not a facade, as my personality is not my depression. It has even gone so far as overhearing a psychiatric nurse say, she is so pretty, how can she be depressed. The way I look is not my depression.
My junior year of college was my first suicide attempt. I would classify it as a cry for help, not a true attempt. I had no plan, my roommates were home and I was intoxicated. I did not just want attention, I needed it. I went into the bathroom with a razor and when my roommates broke into the room I cried in relief. My mom drove out, picked me up and put me right into intense therapy. I had also been suffering from Bulimia since age 15 that had been escalating while away at school. I turned to working through my eating disorder, not realizing at the time that it was all related. I was always doing anything to escape the pain of my emotions. From that point forward, I had this deep nagging voice inside that told me suicide would ultimately be my demise if I ever got over the fear of the act, thankfully I was too scared at that time and I still had hope.
Fast forward, after years of medication trials, different types of therapy and reaching a point where the side effects of medications outweighed the problems they were prescribed for. My life became of slew of side effects and more medications to treat the side effects. Those of us with mental illness like to refer to these as “med cocktails”.
I started to tire of all the doctor, therapy appointments and side effects, while still struggling with low moods regularly. The day Amy Winehouse died I was watching the news coverage and all I could think of was how lucky she was that she was finally out of her pain. Impulsively, I took an overdose prescription pills. I sent a few “I love you texts” and someone who knew of my struggles and had family experience with suicide took that random text as a hint and called police to do a wellness check on me. I was taken to the ER. It turned out I did not take enough pills to do the job, the ER actually let me leave. (Showing how the medical world also really needs to take mental illness, especially unsuccessful attempts more seriously)
A month later I sunk even lower, I gave up. I was done fighting my inner demons that tried to hold me down and hold me back. I was so tired of fighting. I felt I was a burden and saw no other way out of the pain. It was not selfishness, in my mind it was truly the answer to alleviate my pain and the pain I burdened others with. I wrote a suicide note, I surrounded myself with photos of people I love and took a much more intense overdose. I lay next to my cat, crying that he would never see me awake again. I attempted suicide. There was no turning back from that act. I sent one friend an I love you text once the drugs had reached a point of intoxication and I passed out. He had learned from my previous attempt what to do. He called the police. My doorman knew me well and knew of my first attempt and let the police in. 13 days later, 2 on a medical floor and 11 on a locked psychiatric ward, four years later, countless therapy sessions and I still have not fully recovered. My depression actually got worse and was combined with shame, fear and embarrassment that created a deep oozing wound that never seems to fully heal.
It is hard to look in the mirror daily knowing that the person staring back at me tried to kill me. Imagine that.
Look beyond for a moment from the pain it causes loved ones, but the pain it causes to oneself when you have already suffered most of your life. Knowing that you woke up when you wanted to die and now need to rebuild your own belief system regarding, yourself. Rebuild the ability for others to trust you not to repeat your actions; try to protect the hearts of loved ones. Rebuild the strength to fight the unending battle yet again. While feeling like Bambie and feeling like you have to hide what you did.
I googled “help for suicide survivors” all that came up was help for the loved ones that survived someone who had completed a suicide and how to help them cope. I could not believe it. I was a survivor, I survived self murder, I was the one, left like a newborn, with open raw wounds and wanted the help of others like me. I found nothing. Thankfully in just the four years since my attempts, this is changing. People are starting to come forward, organizations are realizing the importance and it is changing. I am slowly reaching out to them and they are giving me courage and strength I never knew I had. That is such a huge step forward.
I believe that suicidal thoughts and suicidal actions are different. I believe that once you cross that line into action it actually becomes an option in the future, that it is never truly safe to have the thoughts again without having a safe support system to openly express the thoughts in a non judgmental way. The actions become an answer and the thoughts can evolve into action. Thoughts are thoughts. Actions however can change the world. Change life. This is why it is so important to open up dialogue publicly about suicide and mental illness. The statistics show that many completed suicides are not initial attempts. Those that need help are not just those with the thoughts, but those that have already tried to end their lives. Being one of these people, I know firsthand that there is more shame and more fear after an attempt then when I was having just thoughts. Surviving my attempt backfired on me and made me feel like I did not want to over utilize my long developed support, I had put so many loved ones through hell, I did not want to seem overly needy, I isolated myself more than ever. I put the people who supported me through so much that I feared letting them know I was still struggling to heal. I wanted everyone to think I was ok, back to normal. I am still… not ok.
I am blessed with a strong mother who asks me daily if I am ok. My boss checks on me daily, I have a small handful of friends that know my silence is a queue to call and check on me. Sadly, many of my friends and family do nothing unless I bring it up, which is not easy when I do not know how they feel about it.
Once the shock and initial responses occur, life for others tends to go back to normal. Many have no idea how to behave or what to believe. Some think it was just a moment of bad judgment, they do not understand it is an ongoing illness and just because you survived, does not mean the illness disappears. This is the ideal time for family and friends to take time to educate themselves, instead of going back to acting like it never happened. Yes, some suicides are impulsive and due to circumstance, this is also where education is so helpful.
When discussing my intentions of openly discussing my suicidal tendencies with a few people in my support system, I was met with positive reactions, until the questions were asked. You do not mean posting it on social media or putting the information somewhere total strangers could see this right? This is not going to be shared with people you know right? Wow! Had the past several years of my discussion of how important it is to take away the stigma gone unheard? When I said publicly, I meant publicly, not partially public except for those that may judge me. It saddened me to hear that the very people I rely on, even if for that moment in conversation, judged my decision to share such personal details. If I am to become an advocate and help others like me it has to be open and real. The most important thing anyone can do for someone expressing suicidal thoughts is to listen and not judge or minimize what they are saying.
Open dialogue has to start somewhere and my somewhere starts now. I am still a good person. I am still kind and intelligent and reasonable. I am also gifted with insight, the ability to forgive, and admit wrong doing. I appreciate my ability to relate to others on many levels and be open-minded. I also have mental illness, it does not define me, but it is part of who I am.
I am relieving my conscious of the secret I held due to fear of being judged or misunderstood. I have a lifetime illness, I struggle in some way, almost daily and it is real. A suicide note is real. Quiet struggles are real. A beautiful smile may or may not be real. Talking openly is not just real; it is necessary.
Please rethink your ideas regarding mental illness, ask those you love if they are ok, a simple smile can change another person’s day and learn the symptoms, the signs. It is not contagious, it is however deadly. -Michelle LeCavalier
I can sum my experience up in a poem I wrote:
My silence is an echo of my repetitive pain,
Reminding me of demons that live in my brain.
They haunt my days and stir my fears,
They have been there living for all my years.
Some days are bright, some weeks, a month,
Eventually though they come to the front.
They scream so loud I cry in shame,
But only I can hear this pain.
My silence protects the demons from showing,
People often judge me but they are really unknowing.
To think that depression has a sound or first name, is as ignorant as thinking two think the same.
If you hear nothing but silence beware,
Ask before assuming the person does not care.
Silence is my prison that mimics I am okay,
The demons are there and I fight them every day.