September is National Suicide Awareness Month.
I’ve written about my depression many times before. I write about it partially as an encouragement and to help remind others that depression and other mental health struggles aren’t things to be ashamed of, but should be talked about. They’re some of the hardest kinds of battles because you often feel like there’s no way to win. However, I also write about my struggles for very selfish reasons…I write because it helps me remember I’m not alone either.
There’s a huge difference in allowing yourself to be vulnerable in your writing and vulnerable in your everyday life. I tend to find it much easier to be completely open in my writing, partially because I don’t see the responses to my thoughts. However, with the more people I know in person who tell me they read my blog, I’ve gotten intimidated. I’ve let my blog-writing take a back seat. I’ve been far too concerned with their thoughts on my writing. I’ve muffled my voice, but I’ve got to stop. I need to start writing my thoughts again, no matter how they might make me look to my outer circles.
I mention that it’s suicide awareness month because this issue is one closest to my heart. It’s something I haven’t really talked about much because there is such a negative stigma that surrounds most of the mental health world. This hits so close to home, and for the longest time, I was too ashamed to tell anybody even a fraction of what was going on in my mind.
The first time I ever encountered suicide, I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. A girl I went to church with, a girl who was no older than 9, killed herself. I don’t remember many of the details, and I don’t even remember how my parents explained it, but I do remember how after it happened and people learned of what happened, it was never really addressed again. It wasn’t to be talked about.
The first time I hurt myself was maybe a year later. I don’t remember wanting to hurt myself because I felt sad or angry or even really emotional at all. What I do remember is wondering how much it would take to feel pain and if anyone would ever notice. I still have the scars on my left knee. Nobody ever mentioned it.
Things started to get worse in high school. Thoughts of just feeling invisible, of believing that even if I did die, nobody would really miss me, were constant whispers in the back of my mind. It started to feel like those thoughts had always been there, so I was never really concerned about them. When you’re in the depths of something like that, the emptiness and worthlessness seems completely normal. You can’t recall feeling another way.
Toward the end of my marriage was when my mental health took a complete nosedive. I suffered through a miscarriage, both parents being diagnosed with cancer, and I can just remember feeling like if I talked to anyone, if I brought up the stress and pain I was struggling with, I would just become a burden to that person. I didn’t have enough faith that I could mean enough to another human being to actually let them know how badly I was struggling. I had to drop classes, I couldn’t fathom holding a job, and I had gained so much weight that I stayed on the couch in the same sweats and tshirt for days at a time. It’s still incredibly difficult for me to admit this now, but I felt like death was the only way out. The only way to escape the constant hell I was living in.
Thankfully, my thoughts had gotten so dark that they even began to startle me. Most days, I just lived as my life was still running in a completely logical path, but the days that were so foggy that I couldn’t remember what I had done the hour before…those days shocked me into trying to find some sort of help.
I still don’t know how, but I found the perfect therapist on the first try. Granted, I cried through most of our sessions for the first few months, but for the first time in a long time, I didn’t encounter a feeling a guilt tied to the crying. I felt like I could talk to someone and have my thoughts, my issues, my struggles actually matter. I started to heal, and with that, I started to really write.
Writing has probably been the best wellness practice for me. Being able to read back a few months and see how my thoughts twist and turn from healthy to dangerous and back to healthy is a difficult thing, but also a gift. In my darker moments, I’m able to find those bits of writing where I’m feeling completely inspired to move forward with life. Some of those excerpts are almost disgustingly chipper.
I don’t have a solution. I don’t have an answer to what is most likely going to be a life-long struggle for me. What I do have is growth. I have encouragement. I have the knowledge that this daily mental fight is not one that is as isolating as my brain wants me to believe. Thanks to this awareness month and other people willing to be open and vulnerable with their struggles, I’m able to be willing to accept my story and look forward to even more healing and growth. I’m able to know that talking about it, being able to discuss struggles with others is the first step in healing. It’s time we learn that sharing both the wins and losses in our battles with mental health issues not only helps ourselves, but the people around us as well.
listening to: We Fall by Emile Haynie