This post has been a long time coming. I’ve had it before where a post rumbles around in my brain for a while, and words string themselves together in my head until they tumble out through my fingers on a keyboard and to this page. But this one is different. This post is a mix of feelings that shoot through my head, ping in my head, and send chills down my spine at random points of the day – and they’ve been doing this for years. 10, to be exact. So, as you can imagine (and if you know me at all), 10 years of thoughts are coming out here…so expect it to be a bit jumbled and messy and ADHD. It’s a bit of a different topic than I’ve covered recently and it’s going to be a lot at once. I’m sorry!
Each September is hard for me. Not only because it was the start of school for almost my entire life, or the start of programming season in my current job, or because of the change into colder weather and the busiest season of our lives….but because it comes with talk of suicide. Mainly, because World Suicide Prevention Week/Day comes at the beginning of September and always catches me off guard. We don’t talk about suicide in American culture, I think partially because we don’t want to and partially because we don’t know how to (and don’t want to admit it). But all of the sudden all of these blog posts and campaigns and fundraisers and slogans come out and it’s all I can think about.
One of my most favorite organizations is “To Write Love On Her Arms” (TWLOHA), whose mission says: “To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery” (https://twloha.com/home/) Each year, for World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10), TWLOHA comes out with a campaign and a slogan. Each year they are wonderful, of course, but this years means more to me than most of them have: AND SO I KEPT LIVING.
I realize that not everyone reading this knows a lot about my story or what I’ve experienced in my life, so let me give you a brief rundown: I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, ADHD, and Anxiety-Induced Depression when I was 16 years old. These three diagnoses and how they work together (for better and mainly for worse) explain the roller coaster that was my life at that point. I’ve stabilized quite a bit since my teenage years with the help of friends, family, therapy and medication, but my life from ages 13-20 was a bit of a mess. I’ll say this the only way that I know how: if I had been fully in control of my life at that time, I wouldn’t be around to type these words.
10+ years later, the most vivid thing that I remember from those years is that I was so tired. Not just the tired that I feel today when I work 50+ hours in a week, or when I have a bad night of sleep…it was a type of tired that was a part of my bones and that I felt in every breath that I took. Every step was heavy and every morning was a battle to get out of bed. The second battle came at school or at church or at home, smiling and saying that I was fine even though everything in me was screaming that I was anything but. The constant mental back-and-forth left me exhausted every single day. Some days were better than others, and on the days where I felt good, I would try my best not to sleep – because I didn’t know when I would be sad again, and I wanted to stay up and enjoy being happy.
As you can imagine, this is not a healthy way to live. I know that now. But the me who cried in the bathroom at school didn’t know that. The me that thought she was abnormal, that something in her brain was broken and that there was no way to fix it didn’t know that she would be okay. I didn’t know what to do and thought that hurting myself and giving up was the best option didn’t know that there were much better things to come.
13 year old me starting thinking this way.
15 year old me thought the same way.
17 year old me thought the same way.
19 year old me thought the same way.
21 year old me finally started thinking differently.
I think that I felt this way for so long because I didn’t have people who talked about mental illness or about suicide in my life or my community. I’m not saying that I didn’t have great people to talk to – because I did – but I also felt like I shouldn’t say anything. Like I didn’t wan to be a burden. Like admitting what was in my head would get me put in a hospital and I would carry about the reputation of crazy for the rest of my life. I wanted to be the good kid, the one who made my parents proud and who was successful. I wanted to please the people around me who told me that my smile was the biggest and brightest that they had ever seen. I wanted to be so many things that the person who I presented to others was a pile of dreams and hopes – but in the inside, behind the smile, was a brain and a heart that wanted to be anywhere but there and anyone else than the person I was trying to be. It was truly exhausting to be continuously living a double life.
In high school and in college there were moments of change – where I realized that I didn’t have to keep living like I was. I owe a lot of these moments to my family and friends, who never left my side and who reminded me that I was going to be okay and that I could keep breathing. There were fantastic moments in personal quiet times and in church services where I heard God remind me that I wasn’t alone, and I can point to a handful of those moments that I believe truly saved my life. These people and those moments are the biggest and brightest reasons why I can say that I chose to keep living, and why the past four years have been some of the most healing and hard and beautiful years that I’ve had. My life is not perfect today, and there are plenty of days where anxiety and panic attacks still take over. But those days are fewer than they used to be, and even when they do come, they aren’t as overwhelming as they used to be. I know that they will be hard and that there will be lots of tears and sleeping – but I also know that I’ll wake up and that it gets better and that I will keep on living.
Today, I write these words knowing that my story is powerful but also imperfect. I used to think that I didn’t have a story to tell, that my life was too broken and bumpy to be of any good. I know now that those words are lies, and that my story has a purpose and that it’s mine for a reason. I was so scared to tell this story for so long – and I’ll admit that even now, as I have a self-imposed publishing deadline, my hands are a bit shaky. Saying all of this is really hard, you guys. A wise friend told me this afternoon that we are given our stories to share and to help others, and I hope that my story can be of help to someone.
But more than that, I hope that this story is a reminder to people who are struggling that things can get better when struggling with self-harm or depression or suicide. Those are ugly things and ugly words that don’t get talked about nearly enough in our world today. I hope that by reading this, someone realizes that their life can get better, and that there is a way out of dark places even when you are too tired to move. I hope that someone reading this sees a light to point towards a friend or a family member who is struggling, because this truly is a battle that no one can win on their own. Yes it’s so hard to talk about and yes it’s terrifying to admit, but I’ve found more support and love in my life from sharing than from keeping it in. I’ve had beautiful relationships with friends and YoungLife students because I shared and could help with things that they were walking through.
If I could go back in time and talk to 13 year old me on the first day I chose to eat lunch alone in the bathroom, or talk to the 15 year old me crying herself to sleep, or to the 17 and 19 year old me who couldn’t find a foothold to grab on to when graduation and college were overwhelming, or 21 year old me who didn’t think she could be a pastor because she wasn’t good enough, I would tell each of them the same thing:
I would tell them that it gets better. I would tell them that there is no such thing as too many tears, too many late nights talking with friends, or too many prayers. I would tell them that mental illness is a daily battle but it can be won when you have a home team. I would tell them that life does get better, and that life is such a special thing when you keep walking and keep living. Life is the most beautiful mess, and going backwards to go forwards is okay!
I kept living, friends. And I truly hope that you do too. Life is meant to do together.