I attempted suicide once.
It’s been a little over a year since I spent the night at my closest friend’s house and decided—in one fleeting moment—that I didn’t have the chops to keep truckin’ along. I had a bag of over-the-counter sleeping pills that I used to help me fight a bit of insomnia; but if I was honest, I would tell you that I kept them around because I had thought about this before that night. A few times, actually.
I don’t remember swallowing those pills, really. All I remember is looking up at the ceiling in the bed that I was lying in, wondering if I would feel anything before slipping under. No more than a couple of minutes went by when the gravity of everything I had just done dawned on me.
This wasn’t my bed. This bed belonged to my friend’s little brother. How could I do that to him? What kind of toll would this take on their whole family?
You see, I wasn’t planning on swallowing those pills at his house; I would never wish something like that to happen to them. When I had considered doing it a few other times, I always told myself I’d make sure it was done in a manner that would require as little work and heartache as possible for everyone to handle after the fact.
Clean up. Organizing my affairs. Getting rid of my stuff. I didn’t want anyone to have to do too much work.
What a stupid idea all of that really was.
Things get a lot more complicated after suicide. Maybe not for the one who actually commits the act, but definitely for those he or she leaves behind. Perhaps it’s an atrociously cynical viewpoint to take, but that thought (at least initially) was what made me realize I needed to get those pills out of my stomach. I woke my buddy up, and he rushed me to the hospital.
Talk about an awkward drive.
The doctors did their job and then I had a little meeting with the hospital counselors. I was faced with a choice: spend at least 72 hours in a behavioral hospital on my own free will, or wait for a court mandate requiring me to go, and more than likely spend more time there.
It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.
I spent the next four days (it was a weekend; the psychiatrist assigned to me was gone, naturally) surrounded by broken people with intensely painful stories and backgrounds. I discussed politics, faith, and love with men and women who had fallen in and out of drug and alcohol addiction, psychotic relapses, and extreme periods of depression. It wasn’t exactly the cheeriest group of people, yet I remember sharing some of the most vulnerable, genuine laughs with a few of them.
The conversations I had in the hallways of that hospital are the ones I remember the most. Not the group therapy sessions led by surprisingly cold and arrogant counselors. The words shared between myself and those people that I haven’t spoken to since (anonymity was key at the hospital) have done more for me than any pill the doctors pushed my way, and there were quite a few of those. Don’t misunderstand; the medication I was given while in the hospital and for a few months beyond definitely helped, but those conversations are what did the most to rebuild what I had already attempted to shatter to pieces with 12 little pills.
I never really felt the power those two words held until I heard them come from the mouths of these people. I had been battling a private (to most of the world, anyway) bout with depression on and off for a couple of years, and even though I had a solid group of loved ones who would do anything for me, I still felt sadly alone. While that was absolutely the furthest thing from the truth, it was an inescapable false reality for me. Brought on by my own massive amount of insecurities and attempted masking of those insecurities with an unfortunate amount of forced self-awareness, this deep despair had come to its (seemingly) inevitable climax, whether I was ready for it or not.
I had four visitors in the hospital (my family was unable to visit, as they all lived in Arizona, and I was in Indiana at the time), and I’ll never weary in my appreciation for those that showed up. My friend and his fiancé were the first to come; bringing me extra clothes, books, and a whole lot of tears and questions. He actually came back a couple of other times just to hang out. That was what I needed most during those days. My professor/academic advisor/mentor from my days at TUFW was the next visitor; bringing me wisdom, encouragement, and a healthy dose of readings from Psalms and Ecclesiastes (the second book of course being a depressed person’s wet dream). Finally, the fourth visitor was from a woman who had quickly become a sort of mother figure to me over the last couple of years, taking me into her home when I needed a place to stay while interning at various churches for basically zero dollars.
On Monday, May 23 of 2011, I walked out of those doors and into the parking lot. My car had a flat tire.
“Go screw yourself, Universe,” I thought.
Things have gotten better.
I stayed on the pills the doctors prescribed me for about two months, until I could no longer afford them (being a church worker with no healthcare does not a rich person make). While it had by no means been easy, I was on a steady road to improvement. Then November came and I had an unfortunate series of events take place that could have been avoided, and I was forced once again to look long and hard into myself and ask if this was something I was finally going to face, or finally going to give up on. I needed a change. I needed to change. So, I moved out to Phoenix to where my family lived in a rather hastily manner.
One suitcase. One backpack. One dog.
Everything else I owned stayed back in Hoosier Land, and was eventually sold or given away. Or awaiting one of those two fates, as of this writing. I holed up at my sister’s house for way too long, spent more time in the gym than I ever had in my entire life (depression was proving to finally have a positive effect on my physical health, albeit for a short while), got a job working at the best company in the world, and began meeting up with a number of powerfully compassionate and loving people on a consistent basis. My dog and I have now moved into a place of our own; well, with three other guys and an overweight basset hound. His name is Danger. He is about the least intimidating dog you can imagine.
Why talk about this now?
I just got back from a week in Indiana to be in the wedding of that closest friend I told you about earlier. While there, a lot of emotions and thoughts came rushing back to me that I had been pushing away for the last seven months. Emotions and thoughts that I needed to deal with.
My friend got married a year and one month to the very day I walked out of that hospital; Prozac, Trileptal, and Ambien in hand. I don’t know if it was the perceived cyclicality of it all or what, but at one point during the admittedly fantastic and sweat-filled reception dancing, I had to take a few minutes to myself.
Here I was celebrating the biggest day in my best friend’s life, and I almost missed it.
In just a couple of months, I’ll be welcoming my first nephew into this world. (At least the first one that’s not older than me. Long story.) And I almost missed it.
Nobody should miss those things.
Depression is the ugly step-child of personal struggles. We don’t talk about it enough; and when we do talk about it, we shrug it off as a matter of the person not being able to grow up and deal with their shit. While Christianity has been making leaps and bounds in the arena of treating depression in a spiritual and loving manner, we still have a long way to go.
Depression is not funny. In fact, it is the exact opposite of anything that is worth laughing about. That person in your life who is struggling with feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, and lack of hope? They need you. To you, they may look like they’re just being dramatic—and ultimately, that’s actually what it really boils down to—but that doesn’t negate their feelings. That doesn’t mean we should discount their struggle as something merely to “get over.” In a lot of cases, it really is a matter of life and death.
But it doesn’t have to be.
It’s not simply a matter of prayer. It’s a matter of presence.
Your words, when spoken to your Creator, mean a great deal. But when spoken to your friend? They mean just as much, if not more. Your words and presence are the answers to those prayers you speak. They are the answer to those cries from your loved one. We are not meant to live in solitary confinement. Let your presence and your love be known by those in your life and you will break down the walls of despair and hopelessness. Without Christ’s presence in human form, there is no redemption. His life was one giant act of love, and it all started with Him simply showing up. That’s where you should start, as well.
If you are the person dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, hold on tight. I’m not going to promise that it won’t be something you never struggle with again after this; but if you allow yourself to lean on those around you who love you, it won’t be something you have to struggle with alone, either. They are your lifeline.
God doesn’t always show up like we want Him to. But—and I hate that I’m saying something that is so cliche and oftentimes misguidedly overplayed—He does show up.
Keep fighting. Get help and be help.
May these words be as much a comfort for you to read as they were for me to write.
Remember, I understand.