I have been through some difficult things in my life. Sometimes those really bad, traumatic experiences can have a life-long impact on our interactions with others and our physical and emotional well-being. Somehow, I managed to get to adulthood, which I attribute mostly to resiliency and a handful of supportive people.
I’m a perfectionist. And during a period of my life, that trait wasn’t so helpful. I worked long hours (sometimes 24 straight), skipped meals days at a time and lost all life balance. It seemed like everything was falling apart, and I couldn’t put myself back together again. Of course, I didn’t realize my life was out of control until I learned I had a vitamin deficiency and realized how much weight I had lost. I was also constantly sad. This all happened gradually but the outcomes were significant and devastating.
But even then, I didn’t really want to own what I was experiencing. I was in the social work field, and I was embarrassed to be struggling. I didn’t want to ask for help. I mean, why would I do that? Why would I tell someone that there is something “wrong” with me? That seemed to go against all my perfectionist ideals. What if someone deemed that I was incapable because of my past trauma or my current mental state? Those thoughts pushed my depression further and further into a very deep, dark place.
Depression is exhausting. It is horrible. It’s not just being sad — but it’s all the guilt, shame and worthlessness that comes along with it. And during that period of my life, I was so utterly sad and incredibly hopeless. I felt alone.
I had people in my life who were available to me. I had a faith community. I had supportive people who knew I was struggling. I had people who came to my home and brought me food and checked on me. But I still felt unwanted and unloved. I felt like I didn’t deserve to have people help me or support me. I didn’t want to get up, work, shower, anything. And not doing those things made me feel even worse. It was a vicious cycle that kept going.
Thoughts of ending my life came and went. I dismissed them only because I was terrified of dying and terrified that it wouldn’t work. However, I kept thinking about ending my life. The pain I was experiencing was unbearable. I hated feeling so sad, so alone, so miserable. It sucked. During that time, ending my life seemed easier.
I thought about going to the hospital because I knew I was not well. But I was conflicted. What if I ran into a co-worker? Or worse, what if I ran into one of my clients? The stigma with mental health treatment is a real thing for someone who works in the mental health field. So I decided that I couldn’t go to the hospital.
Instead I told one person, maybe two people (it’s fuzzy now), that I wanted to die, and that I had a plan. In that same breath, I told them I wouldn’t really do it, so they could trust me and know I would be safe.
My friends chose to believe that I would not act on my plan. And for whatever reason, I didn’t. I can’t tell you how that came to be. It just was. But if they had taken me to the hospital or encouraged some type of treatment, perhaps I could have experienced fewer symptoms sooner.
I would never wish my painful experiences or severe depression on anyone. Life can be hard and messy, and unfortunately, suicide is steadily increasing— a strong indicator that people aren’t getting help soon enough. It’s time for us to pay attention. It’s time for us to talk about things like mental health, depression and our feelings even when it’s difficult. It’s important for us to ask the tough questions and if a friend, client or family member says they have a plan — we need to step up. We need to make sure they get the help they need, even if they try to talk their way out of it or tell you they are okay.
If you see signs and symptoms indicating otherwise, do what you can: share resources, encourage treatment, call emergency personnel if needed. Take this kind of discussion seriously. Everyone deserves a tomorrow. Suicide shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be the end to a person’s story. So take care of yourself and always take action if you see a person in need. Your actions could save a life.
Jessica Smiley, MSW, LCSW currently works in a community mental health center and is the Director of Youth Ministries at her church. She is passionate about spreading mental health awareness, suicide prevention and speaking up against stigma related to mental health.