If You Are Struggling with Suicidal Thoughts This Holiday Season, You are NOT Alone
The best thing about the winter season for so many people are the holidays. Fall bonfires turn into leafless trees as we watch the world evolve through its annual tragically beautiful winter. Pumpkin pies fill dessert tables and laughter fills the air. For so many the joy that giving thanks brings for all of their blessings is enough to sustain them until Christmas or Hannukah, where they all share in solidarity the feeling of oneness through kindness and love and simply being human. The sheer fullness of the heart during this time of year is unparalleled. Everything couldn't be more perfect; unless you're suicidal. Thoughts of suicide tend to put a damper on the whole holiday thing. Imagine what the thoughts might do if people KNEW.
It was December of 2006 when I thought that my life was over. Nothing had been going right in the least and I felt more alone than I'd ever felt. I was just 18 years old. I spent my December, the time of joy and cheer, the time of happiness, in an in-patient mental health facility. I was spending a time usually reserved for family and friends with strangers and doctors instead. Nurses started dispensing me new little pills that I hoped would desperately help me to adjust. Something had to dull this deep despair I felt. I couldn't survive this way if it didn't.
Thr truth is, though 18 is young to be struggling with these issues, kids much younger die every day from suicide. Contrary to public belief, I didn't start my struggle at 18; that's just when I finally decided to get help for it. I was much younger, 15 to be exact. Some of my friends had started struggling even earlier than I had.
I'll never forget that stay in the in-patient facility. I felt like I'd lost my mind. I felt like I'd lost anything that ever mattered to me. I thought I'd lost my life. Everything looked so dark ahead of me that I couldn't see a bright future. I couldn't see any future.
I felt guilty for entering treatment in December right smack in the middle of the holiday season. "No one is going to want to hear that I wanted to kill myself around Christmas," I kept thinking to myself, wondering how my family and friends would respond. Would they judge me? Was I inconveniencing them with my hopelessness? Was I ruining Christmas? I felt guilty for being somebody's burden.
Now, keep in mind that these are the thoughts of someone who was deeply depressed. At that time in my life, I felt hopeless, powerless, gutless, out of control, worthless, and so on. The thoughts I procured were coming from someone who was desperate, who was in pain, and who was terrified, who was willing to do anything, anything to extinguish that anguish. I was terrified of what I might do, how people might see me, of living life itself. I didn't want to live a life smothering under a blanket of hopelessness and fear. The holidays did nothing but magnify that hopelessness and fear. When everyone else was happy and joyous, I wondered if I'd ever feel that way again. Instead, I felt deficient. I felt abnormal. I felt different.
After a few days in the treatment program, I was given a diagnosis. I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Mild Depression, and slight Agoraphobia. WHEW! Kind of a tall order, but finally I knew there was actually something medically wrong with me and I wasn't losing my mind. Finally, some relief.
After being put on medications and participating in the treatment program consisting of counseling and other activities, I slowly started to feel the darkness throughout me dissipating. There was no light yet, but there wasn't an ominous, suffocating darkness either. Maybe, just maybe, I could make it through this.
Over the next year, I had stopped my medications thinking that I'd been healed. This is a common problem with people with mental health issues. It's hard to truly comprehend that you may need medication for months, years, or even the rest of your life. If you take an antibiotic for an infection, you're healed within days. With depression and other mental health issues, this is just simply NOT how it works.
The clouds had finally lifted and I could start anew, or so I thought. The panic set in first, convincing me that I'd never make it anywhere in life. If I couldn't conquer panic, how could I conquer real-world problems? This was followed by the generalized anxiety disorder. I worried about everything. It didn't matter what it was, I worried about it. Finally, like a slow fog rolled in the darkness again. I felt that same familiar despair I'd worked so hard to keep at bay. Back were the feelings of guilt, inadequacy, hopelessness, and complete despair. It didn't take long before I was once again having suicidal thoughts, this time staring death in the face.
People who are suicidal who struggle with mental health issues or pain don't want to feel the way that they do. I didn't want to have these feelings, these thoughts raging inside of me and derailing my life, but I didn't know what else to do. I didn't know where to go. I didn't know who to talk to and I was mortified that I even struggled with these issues to begin with. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to know. I decided I couldn't fight it anymore. I'd tried that. I was going to give up.
Nineteen years old and sitting in a college apartment, I contemplated death. It was during the holidays again, this time in 2007. The holidays always seemed to exacerbate the issue. Why couldn't I feel the happiness around me? Why was I the only one suffering?
Luckily, before I had too much time to think, my roommate unexpectedly returned early and I was no longer alone. She and her then-boyfriend invited me out to dinner, and I obliged. Had she never walked into our room, I don't know how that night would have ended. Thankfully, that night gave me the courage I needed to spend some time the next few days with friends reminding myself that this shroud of darkness I felt had gone away before. All I had to do was take my medications, attend therapy, and try really hard. Easy, right?
Though I'm no longer suicidal and haven't been since age nineteen, I still struggle every day with mental health issues. Through years of hard work and medication adjustments, I mostly just struggle with Generalized Anxiety. Panic attacks come on every now and then, but I know how to mitigate them. I'm no longer depressed (or agoraphobic) and I am out here living my best life. Is it easy? Absolutely not. In fact, living with anxiety is the single hardest thing I've ever had to do in my entire life. However, I'm exceedingly thankful that I didn't choose suicide.
To those who are struggling, this story is for you. Things will get better. They absolutely will get better. I can promise you this. It's not easy, but life is worth living. Your life is worth living because you are worth living for. You have an impact on everything and everyone around you. I urge anyone struggling to seek out help. Call the suicide hotline. Call a friend. Tell someone who understands. In an emergency, just walk into an ER and tell them you're suicidal. They will help you. There are resources. I promise you that you can get better, and the hopelessness, the despair, and the darkness do subside and all of a sudden you'll realize that life is the gift you've been waiting for.
If you're struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 right now. They're open 24 hours a day and they know what you're going through.
I've seen too many young people commit suicide this year. I've seen too many young, bright, beautiful people end their lives.
Aside from unintentional injuries (ie car accidents etc) suicide is the number 2 killer in the United States for people aged 15 to 34. It's the third leading killer for those aged 10 to 14. So if you think your children are too young to be thinking about suicide, chances are they're not. Help your children understand that this is an imbalance, it's something they can't control, isn't their fault, and be understanding when they ask you for help. Be supportive. You may be the only person they have to confide in.
For help with talking to your child about suicide, check out this video from the Mayo Clinic:
Suicide prevention and awareness efforts have been a phenomenal development in the past several years, however, these efforts alone are not enough to curb deaths. In the last 15 years alone, suicide in the United States has risen 24% overall. We must do more. We must keep the conversation going. We must take away the stigma associated with suicide and mental illness.
Holidays are joyous, wonderful occasions for people to celebrate, except for when they're not. So if you have a friend or family member struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues and they seem gloomy, don't push them to get into the holiday spirit. Give them a listening ear. Ask them how you can help. Let them know you'll be there. Let them know that it's alright to be sad when others are happy. Most of all, let them know how much they mean to you. You might just save their life.
Here's a testament to why you should not consider suicide an option: