Dec. 14, 2018- Many of us can pinpoint moments in our lives that have shaped us into the people we are. For some, it might be starting college or having their first child. For others, it might be meeting someone or achieving a personal goal. For me, it was going to a hospital for trying to take my own life after I had become deeply depressed in 2012. I chose to admit myself for a week in a mental health facility to work on myself. It was not an easy decision, but it was one I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I’m not writing to say everything about the experience was great. At times, I was miserable. I shared a room with someone who was convinced I was going to kill her. I had to shower without a door. They woke me every morning at 3:30 am to take my vital signs. I met patients who were constantly in and out of the hospital because they didn’t have the support they needed outside of it.
Our daily routine included activity time, group therapy, mealtime, outdoor time, and bedtime. My schedule was simple and specific, but not demeaning. It helped us have structure so we could get better. I grew close to people who came from different walks of life. They were the ones going through this with me. Being hospitalized was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but looking back on it now, I believe it was really what I needed. I not only needed medication and a safe place, I needed some intensive therapy, which provided me some new ideas for how to release emotion, and other coping methods.
Some people have asked me why I’m now so open about my past – and sometimes present – struggles with suicidal thoughts. “Aren’t you scared of what people might think? Aren’t you scared they will judge you?”
No. I’m no longer afraid of what others think. Other people’s opinions don’t scare me, but my own brain still does. I previously hid my pain because I was afraid people would think I was weak. I was afraid my darkness made me ugly. I was afraid that if anyone knew the kind of thoughts I had – the thoughts that told me I was worthless and didn’t deserve to live – they would treat me like I didn’t deserve to live.
In October 2012, after getting out of the mental health hospital, I received the horrible news that my best friend from high school had died by suicide. I was struck by the thought that while I was going through my own struggle, he was going through his.
I’m always sad when I hear news of anyone dying by suicide. It could have been me. But it’s a great reminder of why I need to continue talking about suicide and sharing my pain.
My pain doesn’t make me different from you. It doesn’t make me less than you. My darkness isn’t ugly. It’s a beautiful bridge that connects me to you, and connecting through pain is the most powerful, transformative connection I’ve ever experienced.
Over the course of my journey, I’ve learned many skills for survival. There are a few that I would like to share:
The first is simple, but does not come easy: be kind. We have all heard of the Golden Rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but many of us don’t treat ourselves very well. We all need to treat ourselves as we deserve to be treated. No matter what your thoughts tell you, you deserve to be loved and taken care of.
The second skill I have learned following my hospital stay is forgiveness. The people in your life who love you are going to screw up. They might say the wrong things on your worst days, unintentionally making it harder for you at times. However, they are trying to navigate your healing just as you are. I’ll let you in on a secret: they may not know what they’re doing, but they are trying to help. It is important to learn to forgive them.
My husband is my biggest cheerleader. He has stood by my side during the dark times and certainly celebrated with me on the mountain tops, too. I have opened up to him in ways I could never share with anybody else, and for that I am truly thankful. But I also know there have been countless times when he has not had a clue what was going on: times he desperately wanted to help, but couldn’t. At times like these, I need to remind myself that he, and the other people who care about me, are doing their best.
I still struggle with depression, although it’s not as severe as it had been in 2012. My husband, and the rest of my family and friends, are there for me. I now know techniques I didn’t know before to help me manage my mental health. I also know that help is available if I need it.
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