The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have sparked a trend of people posting about their own experience with mental illness and suicide. Some have shared about friends and family who they have lost, and others have shared their own struggles that led to an attempted suicide.
I hope more people will be brave enough to come forward and show how suicide can claim anyone’s life. I’m confident that most of us have felt worthless or hopeless at one point in our lives. I remember feeling the worst when I was considered the most successful. I had a 4.0 in grad school, and I was helping build a company. I have never experienced stress quite like I did in those couple of years.
Everyone praised me for my capabilities, and I heard daily, “You’re amazing. I don’t know how you do it.” But the truth is I was suffering, my marriage was suffering, and there were moments when I just wanted it to all go away. I exploited my strengths and neglected my body. It would take years to heal from the stress that coursed through my system, ravaging me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
You would have never looked at me and thought I was depressed. You would have never known I struggled to get out of bed every single morning and crawled back into bed broken each night. After two years of feeling this way, I found out that my birth control was exacerbating the experience. One week after going off of my birth control, for an unrelated reason, I remember waking up and feeling like the world was no longer gray. It was as if the curtains had been opened on a bright and sunny day. The fatigue and lethargy were no longer debilitating.
I was studying to become a Marriage and Family Therapist at the time, and I couldn’t even recognize my own symptoms of depression. I had no idea that my thoughts of hopelessness and wanting “it to all just go away” were actually considered suicidal ideation. I had been in therapy for two years and never once mentioned any of these feelings. I always talked about the stress but never the depression. I thought that what I felt was normal for anyone who was in graduate school, working full-time, and getting married while her parents got divorced. I thought anyone would suffer in my shoes, which may have been true, but my situation was more severe than I knew.
I remember the moment I realized I had pretty significant depression. I was sitting across from a client who said she was worried about driving because most days she thought about driving off of the road. I remember being so concerned and worried about her, and I immediately gave her a suicide assessment. But I began to wonder why I was so quick to fret over my client, when her thoughts were not very far from my own.
So I brought it up to my therapist later that week, and I remember she asked me, “How come you never told me? I’ve been seeing you for two years. How come you never said anything?” And the answer was that it had never crossed my mind. I thought I felt how normal stressed people feel, and although the thoughts were there, I never had an honest desire to act on them. I wish I hadn’t waited as long as I did before speaking up. I didn’t need to suffer like I did.
I graduated school and left that job as a broken woman, but I learned the greatest lessons of my life in those few short years. I have learned to set strong boundaries and to honor my body and soul. I have learned that I am capable of anything, but now I always ask the question, “At what cost?” I made a promise to myself to never blow through my boundaries like I did. Instead I have learned to gradually push my limits in areas I wish to grow, but I always do this with the guidance of people who love me. I know I need people to help keep myself in check, so I don’t overbook, overwork, and overwhelm myself.
I’ve learned to say, “No,” more often that I say, “Yes.” I will never again pick work consistently over my family. I felt like I lost my newlywed years because I was addicted to buzz of productivity and the lure of admiration. The knowledge that I was doing something that no one else could successfully do was intoxicating and oh so toxic. It set me up for an extremely depressing point in my life that no one knew about.
If you feel like life is no longer worth living, or you want it to just all go away, reach out. National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. I also encourage you to find a therapist and join a support group. You can go online or call your insurance company and ask for options. Also, many graduate campuses have mental health centers where their students see clients for very low cost or even for free. We had one of those at my school, and it was a great service to the community.
In your darkest moments, I hope you can remember that you are a beautiful and wonderful gift to this world.