One remark that is commonly heard from people thinking about taking their life is that they are a burden to others, and the world would be better off without them.
This week, we wrote a story about suicide prevention in honor of October 10, World Mental Health Day. We got input from Missy Burton of the Hamilton Center, and addressed the misconceptions surrounding mental illness, what to do if you are concerned for yourself or a loved one, and what everyone can do to make the world better for people suffering from mental illness.
Among the ways suggested was for people to talk openly about their own struggles in hope that it will help others. This, it itself, is a decision that I struggle with--not because I find it hard to talk about, but because when you speak, you become “that person.”
I am glad that I am that person. I was “that person” when I visited the school counselor every week in middle and high school at Shakamak because it was the only help I was allowed to seek as a minor, and in group settings with other students who were struggling. I still think about it when I see those tiny “sand gardens” that come with the little rake in the office supplies section. I was “that person” who sat alone, reading a book, so unhappy that I couldn’t fake being a normal teenager. I was “that person” who a close eye had to be kept on, because if I admitted to harming myself one more time, I was to be swept immediately away to the hospital to be held against my will for 72 hours.
I was that person who continued into college taking advantage of every mental health resource I could find until I got answers. I knew that it was normal to be sad sometimes, but that what I was feeling was not normal. The constant counseling trips and re-hashing of trauma exhausted me, but I felt that I was fighting an up-hill battle for my life.
During my sophomore year of college, I was referred to a psychiatrist and finally received a name for what I was feeling: persistent depressive disorder (otherwise known as dysthymia or lifelong depression) and generalized anxiety. It was a relief, because it contradicted my “old” reality--that I was simply made wrong and I was being punished, and I wasn’t meant to be happy or live a normal life. My diagnoses represented an identified enemy and a new start.
I have gone from Lexapro, to Prozac and I’m in the process of switching to Wellbutrin. Like other illnesses, I am constantly tweaking my medications and lifestyle to find what will work for me. Even the “wrong” medication has made a world of difference to me. One of the most striking differences between being off medication, and starting it, was how different the world looked. I felt for the first time that I could appreciate life instead of fearing it. I know have the uniquely human privilege of being able to fully feel pain and joy, with cause, instead of being in a constant state where I am imprisoned in my own mind.
Now, I can be “that person” I never thought I could be.
I was so deep in my head that I could not imagine myself as an adult with a job, a house or a husband. There was an unspoken assumption with myself that I would never reach that age because I would have taken my own life, but I believed in myself enough--after failed attempts--that I promised myself I would not do anything until I turned 18.
At that age, no longer a minor, I was magically entitled to the resources needed to help myself--not tiny sandboxes and ‘tell me how you’re feeling’ talks with the counselor--but access to professional care and resources. It took years of hard work to find answers and find the tools I needed to become a normal, barely-functioning adult like everyone else. I still have bad days, but it has been two years since I have cut myself, and I hold that milestone the back of my mind and use it to continue the sober streak when I’m feeling my worst. Another thing that has sustained me, when I have sudden, infrequent episodes of suicidal ideation and I fall back into a deep hole, it’s different now. I know that I have seen the surface before, and I know what it looks like; it can’t lie to me that there is nothing worth living for, because I felt inexplicable happiness on my wedding day and have suffered losses, and it didn’t kill me. I was dying to know what would happen next.
Please, be “that person”. Be a burden to others if it means that you will live to see that there is more to life than the dark prison in your mind. Claw and climb your way out, do whatever you can if it will keep you from being another statistic.
If the thoughts of others and the fear of being labeled or disbelieved outweigh the sheer will to live, and the hard-headed insistence that you find what you need to be better, your loved ones will have wanted you to be “that person.”