I usually keep my byline to the news section of The Chronicle, but I asked Editor Eric Schwartz permission to make a brief foray into the opinion page for suicide awareness month so I could share my story, with the hope that sharing my own experience can help normalize discussions around suicide and remind others out there who are struggling with their mental health that they’re not alone in what they’re feeling.
But before I get into it, I need to make a disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional, and I can only speak to my own personal experience as someone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts.
Looking back, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, but I thought my feelings were normal and I was very good at hiding it from others in favor of putting my best face forward. It wasn’t until I had my first panic attack my freshman year of college when I realized something might be off.
My anxiety and depression worsened over the next year to the point where I developed insomnia so intense that at its worst, I was only able to sleep for a few hours every other night. It was during one of these periods that I found myself standing on a third floor balcony, wondering if the fall would be enough to kill me.
I’m grateful I had enough survival impulse left to back away from the balcony that day, but just because I didn’t go through with that attempt didn’t mean the intense emotions that brought me there went away.
For me, suicide was never about wanting to die. It felt like the only way to escape the pain I was in.
I was exhausted and overwhelmed by my emotions, by my responsibilities with school and work and by the state of the world, and I didn’t see an end to the things causing my feelings.
But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live for the people I loved, for places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do, for little things like music and coffee — and I could never make myself go through with it.
I was stuck.
I’m oddly grateful for the insomnia because it made it a lot harder to hide my depression, so it wasn’t long until my parents caught on and encouraged me to seek treatment.
I finally decided to go to therapy, where I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and persistent depressive disorder, a mild but chronic form of depression that, in my case, makes me prone to experiencing major depression.
Even after I started seeking mental health treatment, I was anxious to tell anyone about what I was going through.
I could feel the atmosphere in the room stiffen whenever I admitted my suicidal thoughts — and I was always quick to find some way to reassure whoever I was talking to that I was okay and they didn’t need to panic. That reassurance, paired with most people’s discomfort in talking about suicide, were usually enough to steer the conversation back into safer waters.
But the same summer that I started treatment to address my mental health, my university had three students commit suicide, seemingly back-to-back.
The administration responded by bolstering the mental health resources available on campus and a student group formed to spread awareness of the issue and offer support to students who were struggling with their mental health.
That September, I walked to and from my classes through a field of hundreds of white flags, a representation of the national suicide numbers that year.
It felt like overnight, mental health — specifically struggles with mental health — had suddenly become something that was okay to talk about.
And as other people opened up about their personal experiences with mental health and suicide, I started to feel more comfortable admitting my own struggles. And instead of being met with panic, people offered me support. Friends and family listened to me and asked me what I needed. Counselors guided me through resources and treatment options to find what best worked for me. And slowly, the thoughts and feelings that had driven me to consider suicide became less overwhelming.
I’ve been treating my mental health for a little over six years now and between applying therapy techniques to my life and navigating antidepressants, it’s been hard work. It’s still hard work. But I’m not doing that work alone. I have a support network to lean on when it gets too much for me to handle on my own.
And even though it’s been hard, I promise that it’s been worth it.
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org
• Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255 or text to 838255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/
• Lifeline Crisis Chat: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/lifelinechat.aspx
• Crisis Text Line: 741741 or www.crisistextline.org/
• Lewis County 24-hour Crisis Line: 800-803-8833 or 360-807-2440.
• NAMI Information Line: 800-950-6264, or visit namilewiscountywa.org to connect with the local chapter
• Cascade Community Healthcare: 360-807-2440 or cascadecommunityhealthcare.org
• A full list of behavioral health agencies in Washington, broken out by county, is available online at www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/606019-BHADirectory.pdf
Emily Fitzgerald is a reporter for The Chronicle. She writes about crime, courts, education and more. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.