According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 42,773 deaths in 2014 were linked to suicide in the United States, making it the 10th leading cause of death.
Let’s think about that.
42,773 people in the United States, in one year alone, found that the only alternative to where they were at in life was to end everything. This is undoubtedly excluding questionable deaths ruled as other things.
Suicide isn’t something we talk about often. For me, it’s the main topic during my work day. I am a Certified Peer Specialist, which means the only prerequisite to getting my certification was that I’ve faced the darkness. That I’m not afraid to tell others that I’ve been suicidal, attempted, stared at myself in the mirror with tears in my eyes and thought I was worthless. That my existence was equatable to the boys who loved me, and that I’ve dropped out of school, went back, and dropped out again.
So when people come to me and open themselves up to be filled with hope, they have someone whose tank has been empty too. Mental illness has taken hold of my life before, put me in the hospital, in intensive outpatient care, monthly visits with doctors and weekly therapy sessions. I’ve been down the hopeless road many times, and still visit it on occasion.
I am a walking, talking example of a mentally ill person in recovery.
I originally made this list for myself for when I felt that darkness creeping back into my life but needed to be a stable support for others; I need to combat it with fact and reason. But now I realize this list isn’t just for me.
This list is for us.
The people who deal with depression, trauma, addiction, anxiety. The people who think “the only thing better than this is death.” This list is for the people struggling to keep going and make it through the day and still manage to hide the pain we’re in. This is for the warriors with scars on their hearts who battle on the front-line, silent and strong, defining the difference between illness and weakness. This is for us.
1. Depression is a chemical imbalance.
This may seem simple, but we live in a time where we still question the validity of mental illnesses, and what better time for that to come out than during a bout of deep depression? What better time than when we’re at our most vulnerable, to say, “This isn’t even an illness, I’m just weak.” But chemicals and physical brain matter are involved. It’s the reason medication helps. Nothing about mental illness is weak or wrong.
2. Our brains are the most complicated, uncharted organ in the body.
There is no possible way mental illness doesn’t exist. We know so little about the brain and its functions, that to rule out an entire spectrum of disorders whose symptoms show up consistently in humans as well as other animals is foolish. We must accept this truth before we can move on to improvement. We are victims of an illness. We can own up to this and move bravely forward, or we can keep telling ourselves it’s just in our head.
3. A problem means there is a solution.
Being in the deep trenches at the moment doesn’t mean there isn’t a cure. In fact, when we exhibit such strong symptoms of mental illness, it is easier to diagnose, understand and treat. There is a solution to our darkness. We aren’t lost causes, we are blank, tattered canvases fighting to turn ourselves into art.
4. We can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s okay.
We don’t have enough of the right chemicals to “stay positive” or “look toward the future,” and we don’t have to. We can’t beat ourselves up because we haven’t tried yoga and the right diet yet. We need to be realistic. We cannot will ourselves back to a balanced organ without professional and natural support. Even if we decide medication isn’t for us, reaching out to therapy and loved ones will help us get on the road to producing the right chemicals we need.
5. The bad stuff is real.
Bad hormones, like cortisol, can stay in our body for up to 13 hours. Cortisol is a stress induced hormone that can be released during extremely upsetting or stressful experiences. Being reminded of something that happened years ago, a lifetime ago, can unleash cortisol that sits in our body for an entire day. These are the same bodily functions we felt during our actual trauma. It is just as real. We can’t feel bad about flashbacks or seemingly “unnecessary” stress. Our bodies are feeling the effects. It’s real.
6. Life is not equivalent to this feeling.
We cannot sum our entire life up into one feeling. Even if hopelessness is all we feel now, that is not our life. We are able to recognize that we aren’t prophets and can’t tell the future. But for some reason when depression and self-hatred hits, we suddenly become clairvoyant—thinking we know that everything will feel this way, and nothing will turn out the way we want it to. This is an illusion. There is an array of happiness, sadness, excitement and all that good and bad stuff in between in our repertoire of experiences, past and future. Right now, though, it’s hopelessness. Right now it’s a hurdle we’re struggle to jump. Separation of feeling and identity is crucial.
7. Assumptions about treatment hurt us.
Treatment may not have been working lately, but like our life, we can not judge a century of practice with just our recent perspective. Even if it feels like nothing can help, there is more that can be done. There is always more that can be done.
8. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
This is a silly phrase I saw on a fortune cookie recently, but can be applied to so many different aspects of our life. When we reach out, we find the helpers.
9. “Look for the helpers…”
This is my favorite Fred Rogers quote. “There will always be people helping,” is the way he ends it. This is such an important thing to remember. Even if we reach out to family, friends or loved ones and get rejected, there will always—no matter what—be someone willing to help. Complete strangers can sometimes be more helpful than we think. We care. We really do care.
1-800-273-8255 is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If nothing else in this article helps, I assure you this will.
Author: Ariel Allen-Trosky
Editor: Catherine Monkman; Yoli Ramazzina
Image: David Pacey/Flickr