Over the last few weeks, I have spent much time thinking about, researching, and discussing suicide. It is not a fun topic to spend so much time on, but it feels important for many reasons.
I have shared over and over how I almost ended my own life in March of 2016, what led up to it, why I didn’t follow through, and how I have changed my life in the hopes that I never again feel dying is my only answer. I know I have written about suicide before. I know I talk about suicide and mental health to anyone who listens to me. I may annoy people when I throw numbers out about how many people struggle with mental health or the availability (or lack thereof) of affordable and effective treatment. Still, I am not going to stop, and here’s why:
From the time I decided to record this series on suicide about three weeks ago until today, one person in my community committed suicide, and another had a serious attempt. Those are people I know. People who are important to people I care deeply for and to me. I have watched how much pain the death of CH has caused. I have watched people talk about CC’s attempt as “only” a cry for help or place blame where it doesn’t belong.
So many of us, including myself, believe we will see signs that someone wants to end their life. There is a perception that people who commit suicide are so depressed that surely, we will all know and can prevent it from happening. But how often have we heard or said, “I had no idea they were in so much pain,” or “if only I had seen the warning signs.” I feel like I hear some version of those statements from multiple people every single time I hear about another person who has taken their life. Hell, I have said it and have felt guilty for not knowing someone I care about is feeling so helpless and hopeless.
When that guilt starts to creep in, I remind myself that I was ready to end my life and the people around me had no idea. I was a master at hiding it. I could pretend everything was just fine in front of people. No one saw what was happening in my head, and I wasn’t telling anyone, so how would they know? I didn’t want to be a burden, so I kept it to myself. I had tried countless times to get help and feel better, so it must mean that there was no hope I would ever feel better, so it would be easier to give up. Why would it be different for anyone else if I were so masterfully hiding my struggles?
Until fairly recently, mental illness and suicide were subjects that were just not discussed. We were taught that mental illness is something to hide and keep secret. It felt that having a mental illness was a sign of weakness and that if you try hard enough, you can get over it. I think there is even a hierarchy of mental illnesses. Some mental illnesses are more acceptable to have and discuss, while others are ignored and avoided. Suicide, so often, felt that way for me growing up.
I heard a quote by Phil Donahue all the time growing up that shaped many of my ideas about suicide. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” When I heard this, I always felt like suicide was situational. I mean that there was a specific situation leading to suicidal ideation. For example, someone was feeling suicidal because they lost their job, a relationship ended, or some other event that was traumatic but could be “fixed.” I also heard over and over how selfish suicide is. I would argue that, for the suicidal person, the problem feels permanent, and suicide feels selfless.
I’m sure some of you read that and are thinking, “What the @#$* Amanda! Selfless?” I said what I said. Suicide feels selfless when you are in that deep, dark place. Now, let me explain. (I am absolutely speaking in generalities and from my own experiences here, and I am sure others have felt differently.) When you are suicidal, it is often because you think there is no other option. There is no end to the pain you’re experiencing, no way to fix your current situation, or no other way to protect the people you care about from what you are experiencing. The "problem" feels (and without treatment can be) permanent. For many, it feels like you are such a burden to those around you that their lives would be better and easier if you were not here.
That March morning, when I was lying in bed planning how to end my life, it would have been impossible for you to convince me that my children needed
me as their mom. In the depths of my being, I knew that I could never be the mom they deserved and that their lives would be better off without me in them. I believed my existence was harmful to them, and I didn’t want to hurt them anymore. Now that I have gone through hundreds of hours of therapy, tons of personal growth, and am medicated, I know those thoughts were my mental illness, not reality talking.
During that period, I felt helpless and hopeless. I had tried to get help countless times. I was confident that I would never feel any better and that things would only worsen. For over 20 years, no one could help me, and I didn’t think anyone would be able to help me. I knew I was getting worse. I struggled to get out of bed, much less feeling like I could accomplish anything significant. I needed help with so much but didn’t want to ask for help. I didn’t want people to worry about me or go out of their way to do things for me. I felt like I was a burden to the people around me, and my inability to function added so much to their already full plates.
Let’s go back to my statement that suicide feels selfless in that moment. I believed that my children would be BETTER without me. I thought that I was harming them by existing. I believed that others were being inconvenienced by my inability to care for myself. I believed that I made life more difficult for everyone else. I believed that I would never get better. I had no hope. So, if all of those things were true, wouldn’t it be selfish of me to keep living? Wouldn’t I give my kids a chance to live better lives? Wouldn’t I be taking burdens away from people I loved and making their lives easier? And, since I knew things would never change, ending my life sooner would mean less suffering for my loved ones.
Now I am on the other side and know that none of those things are really true. Yet, I believed them to the core of my being in those moments. And if I knew those things were true, it would make sense that suicide felt like the best choice for everyone, not just myself. Now, I am so grateful I tried one more time to get help because the truth is that my kids need me. I am not a burden. I know that the people who love me don’t mind helping me; they want to because they want me to succeed. I can see that I am not helpless. I am hopeful and excited about what the future holds. It took nearly dying from bipolar for me to learn all of this. Medication and therapy healed me so I could see how valuable my life is; without them, there is no doubt that I would be dead today.
The world is better with me in it, just like it’s better with you in it. And this is why we need to keep talking about mental health. Mental illness isn’t easy to see from the outside and can be fatal without treatment. Finding affordable treatment can be difficult without insurance or significant financial resources to pay for care out of pocket. We need to work together as a society to ensure that our communities have accessible and comprehensive mental health care. I challenge you to go out and talk openly and honestly with someone about mental health. I encourage you to find ways you can help your community. The Mental Health America website is a great place to find resources, ways to help, and information about policies and lawmakers to contact to impact change. I won’t stop talking until everyone has access to mental health care because it saves lives, and every life is invaluable.