Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Take Action. Live.

If you only know me from reading my blog, you might think I am an upbeat, positive kind of person. Certainly, that's the impression I'd like to project. Nobody likes to hear someone complaining and whining all day long.

That's been my reasoning until recently, and since I do a lot of product reviews, it makes sense for me not to be pointing out all the negatives in my life. And the thing is, I really do have a great life. I have a family who loves me, a nice home, the whole deal. I don't have any reason to be depressed.

And you know what? I had all of those things--the family, the home, the support--when I was a young adult, too.

I had my whole future ahead of me.

And I was suicidal.

I went to college for fours years, got my degree, graduated with honors, took on my first teaching role in an inner-city school (BIG mistake) with a vocational curriculum, for kids who just couldn't cut it in academics. I was their English teacher, because no matter what role life has planned for you, you are going to need to be able to read and write. And believe me, that was about the extent of what I was expected to get through to these kids: just read and write, capitalize and puncuate correctly and you are good to go.

And I couldn't do it.

I tried. Lord knows, I really tried. I wanted to save each and every one of these kids from their own failures and their oppressive family lives, wanted to pick them up out of their homes, where many of them didn't have a single book, not even a dictionary for heaven's sake, and help them make successes of themselves, if even on a very modest scale.

But the stress of it all--of being a new teacher in a school with no mentor (I had been assigned another teacher to mentor me, but she had no experience with mentoring, did not even have the same "free" period as I did, confided in me that she went home and "cried most nights"), not even a classroom (I had to roll a cart around with all my stuff, including the kids' textbooks, on it, from room to room, changing each period), and "kids" that were bigger and tougher than I, and far more worldly--the stress of all that got to me, in a big way.

I have no doubt that some of the teens I taught at that high school defied the odds and went on to become successful, contributing adults.

Me? I ran away.

There's no other word for it. I quit my job and I just...withdrew. I disappeared into myself. In my mind, I had taken my seat at the grown-ups table and I had failed, and now there was no place for me anywhere.

Never mind that my family and my soon-to-be husband supported me and said that I could do something else, that I had my whole life in front of me, blah blah blah.

I felt that I had let everyone down, and that I couldn't make it in the real world, and that I would be a burden to everyone else, always.

I was 22.

So, I decided, in what I felt in my very messed-up state was perfect reasoning, that I needed to die. That it was my responsibility, even, to kill myself, so I wouldn't be a burden to anyone any more. I remember this quite clearly, that it seemed to me the only solution.

And yet, here I am.

How? I got help. Mostly because my family forced it on me, but also because deep down inside I was scared. I didn't want to die, I just honestly thought it was the only "solution". Believe it or not, that little speck of rational thinking--not really wanting to die--bothered me quite a bit. In my mind, not only was I a total failure at Life, but I was too much of a chicken to do everyone else a favor and kill myself.

Yes, that's really how messed up I was. And I'm not the only one who's ever felt like that, who felt they had to give up on life because they just couldn't cope, for whatever reason. Who can't see the forest for the trees, can't recognize that suicide isn't only not the answer but it isn't even an option.

Every life is connected. That's what I learned. Everything I do, touches someone else. Good or bad. Yes, this hadn't worked for me. But if I died, my parents would suffer. My sisters, my boyfriend. I knew that, but after a while it came to mean more to me than my rationale that my life was more of a burden than my death would be. I realized that I hadn't been thinking clearly at all, that all my thoughts were caught up in this deep heavy cloud of depression that hung over me.

Mostly, it took time to come back. And that's important, just knowing that time passes, and you heal inside. Your mind starts to work again, actually starts making reasonable, rational judgments.

Another thing I learned? That everybody fails. Everybody, at some time in their life. Failure IS living, when you get right down to it. You do something, it doesn't work out, and so you do something else and in that way you discover who you are. You find your passion. Writing, for instance, is mine.

And that's how I eventually came to be where I am right now, telling you my story. And asking you, if you know someone who is depressed, someone who might even be contemplating suicide right now, to reach out and help that person.

Asking you, if you are that person, to understand that even if you can't see any other way out, there IS one. And that there are people who can help you find a solution, maybe give you a whole range of options, if you just let yourself accept their help.

That's all it takes.

Why go into all this now?

Because this week, September 7 until September 13, is National Suicide Prevention Week.

It shouldn't be a week, you know that? We should be on top of this every single frickin' day. We should all know the warning signs, and what to do if a family or friend or loved one is suicidal. Because in the US alone, one person commits suicide every sixteen minutes.

That's a national tragedy, people. Every year, more people in the US die from suicide than homicide. And more than half of them use a gun--in fact, guns stored in the house are used for suicide forty times more often than for self-protection. And over a whopping 90 percent of suicide victims have (maybe undiagnosed and untreated) a significant psychiatric illness, yet another reason we need better health care in this country. This is not a small-scale problem. And it is not something that's going to just go away.

Okay, so what can you do?

First of all, know this number: 1 800 273-TALK (8255). It's toll-free, and you, or anyone in need of help, can call it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it's staffed by friendly, helpful, understanding people who will listen as long as you want to talk. Many of them have been there, have attempted suicide themselves before in the past, and they got past it.

Secondly, know the warning signs. Know someone who's anxious, not sleeping or eating, or maybe sleeping all the time? Restless, agitated, feeling trapped? Maybe acting recklessly or drinking too much? Pulling away from their friends, isolating themselves, having angry outbursts? Has someone you know given up on activities, sports, things they used to enjoy, or confided in you that they are feeling hopeless or like there's just no point, no purpose in life? These are all warning signs.

And finally, take action! Obviously, anyone mentioning suicidal thoughts or exhibiting several warning signs needs to be taken seriously. Err on the side of caution. You don't want to
jump on them, but offer them an ear, and maybe pass them that number I just gave you. Encourage them to talk. Don't say things like,"Hey, it's no big deal," or, "Everything's all right." Don't bejudgmental. Don't lecture about how life is a gift, blah blah. Don't dare the person to go ahead and do it (!). Don't act shocked. Don't keep it secret, even if they ask you to. That last one is hard, but you have to be stronger than they are and do the right thing, because maybe they just aren't able to do it for themselves. And sometimes that means telling someone who knows what to say to them to get them to seek help.

What DO you say, anyway? A lot of, "I'm here, and I'm listening, and I feel for you." Offer hope and real alternatives for help, not platitudes. Make absolutely certain this person is not left alone with the means to harm him/herself. If you don't know what else to do, ask others for help. You'd be surprised how many people have been there, and sought help themselves. Seek out your local suicide prevention hotline or crisis center.

Remember that phone number? Good. Here's another place to get help:

And there's also:

1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

Please consider printing up this blog post, at least the information on how you can help someone, and keeping it close. You could really mean the difference between life and death for someone, not just this week but at any time.


Casey said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I actually have a friend who I think is depressed and I'm trying really hard to reach out to her. Reading this really hit home for me, thanks for writing and I'm glad things ended on a positive note.

BlapherMJ said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I'm sure your post has helped many people in one way or another.

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