NOTE: Tamela shares her very personal story in this blog post concerning depression, mental illness, and suicidal thoughts. Please read Suicide Prevention and Awareness and allow your heart to open to what she is saying so that you can help others around you. Share your love and compassion with those that are hurting in the world today. ~Shirley
Hold me now I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinking That maybe six feet Ain’t so far down Please come now I think I’m falling I’m holding on to all I think is safe
This is the final chorus to a Creed song called One Last Breathe. I sometimes blast the song in my car and sing my lungs out as a suicide survivor because it reminds me that sometimes the loudest screams on earth are never uttered or heard by anyone. Even if the words are spoken, the sad fact is that many do not hear the screams, the pain, the slow dying inside. “Hold me now…,” oh how often in my past I’ve thought those words which used to include, “I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinking, maybe six feet ain’t so far down.” I feel blessed and grateful to live outside that world today but I’ve lived there, not knowing, not understanding; certainly not thinking anyone else felt or understood my pain, wanting it all to just end…six feet ain’t so far down…
September is Suicide Prevention month. This topic runs deep inside me daily as I know what it feels like to not be able to see any good in life, to feel that all have deserted you and no one understands…so why try to explain; besides, wouldn’t the world just be better off if I hadn’t existed or didn’t exist??
This is my story. I hope by speaking it will help some to more fully understand the absolute and complete despair that one must be in to reach a point of no return, no hope, wanting no more than nothingness…to end the pain…to be gone from here.
I honestly cannot say when, what I call, the bad thoughts began but I know they were very present by my early teens. Of course no one knew, who would I tell in the early 1970s when – compared to today – nothing was mentioned publicly about mental illness or feeling like you couldn’t take it anymore and just wanted to find a way out?? Knowing inside that somehow you didn’t think the way others did and that the constant feeling of defeat and sadness was beyond hard to overcome at times, and at times, I lost the courage to keep fighting and gave in to those thoughts of just being gone, of it all just ending. If anything in those days, someone’s crazy aunt was sent away for “others” to take care of; an institution with no rehabilitation available. My down times came in spurts but when those down times set in, I began what ended up being a decades-long quest to find out what was “wrong” with me and why I could not achieve what I perceived as “normal”. I knew others didn’t hide inside unable to move from the couch, crying and/or sleeping for long, long periods – days. I knew others didn’t hide behind closed blinds, isolating, but instead lived life. I once did not know how to live life, not the happy lives I observed others enjoying. I once had no enjoyment of life or the many blessings given each day – for many years I saw through eyes that lied to me about what I was seeing and feeling. I knew others could enjoy life and have true fun. At best I faked it and I don’t think I succeeded at all times but I did fool many for a very long time. I lived behind masks to hide the pain and truth of what was going on in my head. I did not know for many years that the periods of what I deemed “calm” (read: not suicidal) were actually my mania in full bloom. At these times, life was GOOD!
In depression, I remember the sheer helplessness I felt. Everything was bad or wrong; there was nothing “right” going in my life – despite in my adult years having a beautiful son and loving friends, a good job – what many would deem a successful life, at least looking from the outside in. Inside, I could in no way find belief in the words of friends and family who said they cared – if they only knew how I talked them down in my head many people through my life would be surprised that what they saw on the outside very often did not match what was going on inside. One of the aspects of sliding down that slippery path which could end in suicide is the relentless voice in your head that will not SHUT UP!! That terrible voice that speaks only negativity, of your worthlessness, how others only pretend to like you or enjoy your company – everyone lies, that’s what my head told me. The feeling of being stuck and that “things” would never improve; the absolute helplessness and hopelessness sent me on many a search to find the right way to do “the job” this time. The truly sad part often leading to suicide is when you start picking apart your life finding each and every hiccup or mistake to validate your thoughts – even bringing things long past up to “prove” you are so bad you do not deserve to breath air any longer – see mind, here’s ALL the proof you need to justify my ending my life. It’s a lonely downward spiral that unless you are paying close attention to the clues – sometimes verbal, sometimes in action or behavior – you will miss the underlying message and perhaps miss a chance to “hold” someone until they are in a safer, emotionally safer, place.
The first time the Calvary of medical professionals arrived to help was at the age of 30 when I found myself waking – very angry and upset – in the ICU after attempting and coming close to achieving another suicide attempt; in the past I’d just woken at home with none the wiser. I discovered that the State of Arizona takes these things rather seriously as I was not allowed to go home when released. No, instead I experienced the first of many psychiatric “holding” (not quite lock-down level) places until “they” feel you are no longer in danger of harming yourself. The Crisis Stabilization Unit was certainly a lesson in where I did NOT want to ever go again. “Clients” were required to help around the house and apartments by cleaning or cooking or washing dishes. Didn’t mind that part; what I minded was that in order to prepare a meal, if a knife was needed you had to check one out. If you wanted to use a razor, you had to check one out. If you did not return the sharp instrument you’d checked out in a set time frame, well, let’s just say bathrooms were not sacred spaces in that place!
With that experience under my belt, you can bet any suicidal thoughts were kept to myself from there on in, I was not going back there! It was not till the mid-90s that I knew it was getting really, really bad; unmanageably bad. I couldn’t shake the negativity, the despair, the pain any longer. Friends referred me to a therapist who, God bless her, worked hard over more than five years to help me figure out why I could only achieve “better” for an inconsistent period of time before the darkness set in again. All her work resulted in my going to inpatient treatment in July 2000. The therapist had not given up so much as said, “Someone needs to watch you and see if they see something that I’m not.” Please understand, up till this point in my life, I had never sought help unless I was mentally in the pits and thinking, “This time it’s going to happen.” With professionals looking over me, they began medicating me for depression – that’s what I’d been sent for – and watched. Upon leaving, I had to get a psychiatrist to continue with this medication-cocktail thing that most mentally ill people need in order to find balance once again. It’s not a case of, “Here’s a pill. It will fix you.”
The psychiatrist I found blessed me, too. After a month or so, she looked at me one day and asked if I slept well or something like that. She’d obtained enough information about me to start putting the pieces together. At that time in my life I was raising an active son on my own, volunteering 15 – 20 hours a week, building a new advising program for a program at my alma mater (including frequent recruitment trips around the state), and yet this was not enough to make me tired or sleep much. When the sad times came, oh, I could sleep all right! I had by this time come to accept that leaving my home was not an option at times and so many a sick day was taken without a physical illness being present. Don’t know if one can call in saying, “I’m having a mental day,” and it would be taken as being even in the realm of believability as calling in to say you have a cold…or that one would not ruin their career forever if they made such a call. This psychiatrist put all the information about me together and figured out I was not depressed, I was severely bipolar and getting worse; soon after she placed me on disability. This diagnosis explained so much. My irregular moods, the highs and lows (not knowing that I was manic because that seemed a “normal”, productive state to me), most especially how I could seemingly function at times and then just be lost in the mental weeds the next. I have learned and recovered much over the last decade or more.
My last suicidal period/hospitalization occurred almost a decade ago. In December it will officially be ten years since I’ve taken the slippery slope that far down into darkness. I have worked very hard over the last fourteen years to find my safe space and to be willing, when the darkness begins to set in, to recognize it quickly and act to protect myself from myself even more quickly. I have learned that when my mind wants to fixate on the exit plan, I need to reach out as oftentimes others just do not or cannot hear your pleas for help…or even the “hold me now” which could quite seriously mean the difference between life and death.
As said, I’ve worked hard to achieve some level of peace of mind today. I am also a well-medicated, watched-over, stable person today…but it took years and I had to be willing to work to find this place, this blessed place I am today. I continue, I will continue, to have my swerves off the stable path but overall, compared to the first 50 years of my life, today is good and I am happy. The very steep emotional mountains and below sea level valleys I’ve survived only serve as proof that I AM a survivor and that today, those highs and lows have become rolling hills that I can handle and manage.
I am so tired, so very tired, of people not finding their peace and choosing the exit plan and not the path to lead them back to stability, but I do also understand the mindset that puts one in a place of no return. When one is sick in the head, their thoughts aren’t on crisis lines and reaching out – their mind is focused on the “how to end it”, not the “how do I save me from me?” This is why it is necessary if you know someone who is depressed to pay attention to the words and actions of that person as that will clue you in more than anything and if those around us mental folks aren’t paying attention, well, that’s just more proof to us that you neither truly care or understand…even more reason I should leave here because no one will ever get me or understand this deep pain I have no control over.
I am willing to speak out for those who cannot. As humans caring for one another, it is our duty to have at least the bare minimum knowledge of what any mental illness may actually be and to NOT presume based on behavior that you “know” that person’s mind or thoughts or capabilities. Others have NO RIGHT to determine for me if my actions or reactions are based in my illness or just a real reaction to a situation that I must deal with appropriately while recognizing that I am allowed to feel during the entire process, and some of those feelings may be negative based on the situation. Don’t presume, read and learn. Read about depression or any mental illness that you may know you are around so you can be there to assist. Learn the warning signs as I have known many a depressed person over the years and I have yet, once, heard any of them say, “But I told my friends I hurt…” Look for the silent signs. HEAR the silent pleas that come out as, “Life is pretty hard right now” not realizing they may be touching only the tip of their painful iceberg. If someone starts giving away precious things to them – that’s a clue!! Please, don’t patronize any mentally ill person by paying lip service only to them. If you care, learn. We can only help others when we are properly equipped to do so.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number: 1-800-273-8225 or visit: suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255/press 1 or visit: veteranscrisisline.net
Both sites will give you information on suicide, signs to look for, how to help. Please know we are losing 22 veterans a day to suicide, more than the national average – and it has been so for years. Please pay attention, what’s hidden on the inside is frequently not shown or fully exhibited on the outside.
This month and all year, let’s work to get rid of suicide, at the very least reduce the numbers. Help to get rid of the stigma and perhaps more would be willing to come forward and ask for help. You be the help they need! Together we can do this!!