Trigger Warning: Suicide
Ten years ago, when I was seventeen, I decided my life was not worth living. Outwardly, everything was a-okay. I was a straight-A student, National Merit Scholar, accepted into my top choice university—everything I’d ever wanted out of my senior year.
My circumstances said, You should be happy! My brain said, You feel nothing. Nothing is beautiful. Life hurts. End it now.
It was a horrific stretch of months. I sank into a near-comatose state, cut off from all my friends and from the interests and hobbies that had once made me smile. I put my loving family through hell. I locked myself in a bathroom and filled a tub, prepared to end my own life. I tried, several times, in several ways. I went through countless psychiatric evaluations. I stayed awake for days on end, unable to sleep, unable to feel or comprehend my life as I once knew it. I could not rip myself out of the all-consuming numbness that had wrapped around me like a cold, comfortless blanket.
I got better. It happened slowly. It happened thanks to the unfaltering love and support of my family. It happened thanks to my many painful attempts to meet new people and try new things. It happened thanks to (and sometimes in spite of) my faith. It happened thanks to a committed therapist, antidepressants, and regular counseling sessions. It also happened thanks to books and movies and music that spoke to me where I was.
The kinds of stories that got me through that period were tales of the macabre. Dark humor. Movies that stared death and depression straight in the face and laughed. Because sometimes, in the midst of my numb state, I could still manage a dark, ironic laugh. And as I got better, the emotions sprouted, and I began to feel once more. Not all good feelings. Mostly bad, at first. Little by little, though, the good moments outweighed the bad. The new experiences eclipsed the months of depression.
I got better.
It wasn’t easy, and the things that first dragged me into that abyss still reside inside my brain to this day—my perfectionist tendencies, my melancholic bent, my lifelong obsessive-compulsive disorder. I carry them with me—little monsters that may very well insist on piggybacking me for the rest of my life. But I’ve learned and am still learning how to deal with those monsters. I got better, and I am so, so happy to be alive.
To this day, most of my friends and acquaintances from that period of my life have no idea that I was on the brink of ending my life. Generally, I am a grinning, outwardly upbeat-to-the-point-of-obnoxious individual. I’m not, perhaps, what you’d expect when you think “depression.”
That’s just it. Depression wears many faces. Depression is often silent. Depression is insidious. I guarantee you, in your realm of acquaintance, more people have struggled or are struggling with depression than you will ever know.
Depression and suicide have affected many members of my family and countless more friends. I haven’t spent a year of my teen or adult life unscathed by depression or suicide in some form, and I hate both with a fiery passion. But after fighting through depression and later working at a suicide lifeline, I learned some valuable lessons:
Words matter. When you are suicidal, every little word matters. When I was suicidal, I looked for signs and confirmation everywhere I went. Confirmation that life was meaningless. Signs that I should end it. I found those messages in the most innocuous of places. I especially found them in suicide-applauding messages. Words matter.
Love matters. Family and friends simply being there, loving you, not giving up—that matters. Sometimes, just a stranger’s voice on a phone matters enough to get you through the next second, minute, hour. Love matters.
Another lesson: Stories matter. Stories tell us we are not alone. Stories can take us by the hand and walk us to hell and back, in the company of a character who is not perfect, but who understands. Stories can expose the deepest parts of our brains—those parts we thought were horribly and unspeakably unique to us. Stories matter.
When I was depressed, it was dark humor that spoke to me. But it may be personal essays for you. Or drama. Or romance. Sci-fi or fantasy, adventure or thriller, cartoon or documentary. Just as depression wears many faces, its antidote may come in many forms. But all these stories, even if they help only one struggling reader or viewer, are powerful. They matter.
My sister, who is studying suicidology for her doctorate, reminded me of yet another valuable lesson: Suicide is never glamorous. It is always a tragedy. It is always a hellish horror for the victim and for that victim’s loved ones. And it is a plague on the teenage population.
I could’ve very well been a statistic on a report of teenage death by suicide. I was there. I teetered between turning eighteen or turning into a percentage. And I am so grateful that, even when I couldn’t see the point in breathing for the next hour, my loved ones did, and saw me through that hour, and the following, through the night and into the next day—for as long as it took. I am so glad I hung on.
And suicide is never, ever glamorous. It is always a tragic loss.
The people who know me well will tell you, it’s difficult to know me well. I’m a private person with even my closest friends, and especially online. This is the scariest blog post I have ever written. It ranks among the scariest things I’ve written ever. But I'm writing it because stories matter, and my life is a story, and I want any reader struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts—yes, you—to know you can get better. You are not a bullet point. You are infinitely valuable. You are beautiful. You are unique. You are loved.
Your story matters.
And I’m rooting for you.