I’m not a doctor. I’m not a counselor. I’m not a therapist. I’m not a mental health professional of any kind. I have not researched suicide. I can’t speak to statistics. The words I share here come solely from personal experience. I can only tell my story. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or worried about someone who is, I encourage you to please seek help.
Experience with suicide in my earlier life
I was twenty years old, living across the country when a friend called to tell me Jake* had died. In those days we still used the words, “committed suicide.” I don’t think any of us knew any better.
Jake hadn’t been doing well. We used to be best friends, but grew apart after high school. The last time I saw him, he was living with a roommate in our hometown. I had had a song stuck in my head, something Jewel-y and definitely not Jake’s style. But he was the better musician, and he was helping me transcribe it. That’s the kind of person Jake was. He was always doing things for other people.
Looking back, I don’t feel ashamed I didn’t recognize the symptoms. I had no frame of reference. I had no way to know. But I am sad about it. There is regret. Jake will always be important to me. He was one of my best friends.
In the following years, suicide touched me tangentially. Someone at work took his life with a gun. My work was large; I didn’t know him. When I was pregnant, an former co-worker died by suicide. I wrote to Adrian about this, and told him how it made me feel sad, and confused. During that same time period, the fiancé of a old friend also took his own life. I didn’t find out about him until months later.
Every year at work, we were “trained in” suicide prevention. Every year, I felt as if this training wasn’t enough. I still wonder what precisely would have reached Jake, or any of the others. I still wonder how much pain people are hiding in this world. But I also never really understood. I never expected suicide would feel like an option for me.
Thoughts of suicide after Adrian’s death
When Adrian died, my world shattered. It reframed everything I thought I knew about death. My new world felt empty; hollow. Things that used to be important no longer mattered to me.
For the first several weeks after his death, I lived life on autopilot. I ate and took care of myself. I communicated with friends. I made plans for activities. I kept writing to my son. I went through the motions, and waited for life to make sense. But mostly, I was a husk.
Before Adrian died, I didn’t understand suicide. I didn’t understand what could cause someone to want to end their life. After he died, I realized how much was missing in that conversation — it wasn’t that I wanted to kill myself; it was that I felt as if the important parts of me had already died.
I used to think suicide was cowardly. I used to think suicide was selfish. In the aftermath of Adrian’s death, living a life that felt achingly empty, I came to understand — there are worse things to be or feel than selfish.
I thought about suicide. I thought about it a lot. I thought about it while eating breakfast. I thought about it while brushing my teeth. I never told anyone. It felt like my secret escape route.
And I think it’s important to note here that I wasn’t mentally ill. I didn’t have depression. I didn’t have postpartum depression. I was “only” full of grief. I was “only” coming to terms with a world in which my son was not living. These thoughts felt like a natural part of my new world.
Resources and Relationships
After the deaths by suicide of two celebrities, I had a conversation with some fellow loss moms. I mentioned that I had been suicidal, and one of them asked me what could or what did reach me. And I think this is something that is maybe not well understood. Because in my case, the answer was, “Nothing.”
When I came home from the hospital, my sister sat me down and asked if I had any guns in the house. I said no. She told me I was important to her. She told me she loved me. She checked all of the boxes for suicide prevention. She said all the right things. It wasn’t enough.
I had a job and family and more resources than I could count. But in those early moments, those resources meant nothing to me. I would never have called a hotline. The darkness inside of me couldn’t be communicated with words. There was nothing anyone could say or do to make me want to live. That decision had to come from within me.
The simple fact is this — I thought about suicide. I thought about it all the time. And if I had been ready to make a plan, I would never have said a word.
Please note — I can’t speak for those with mental illness. That wasn’t a relevant factor for me. I can only tell you my story. And in my story; in my world, I had to be the one to choose to live. That choice had to come from inside of me.
My decision to live
When my son died, it tore a hold inside of me. I was broken. I don’t have words for the pain. And in the end, the pain was what saved me. Because I knew what it felt like to lose meaning in my world. And I didn’t want to be responsible for that feeling in anyone else.
I can’t say when exactly it happened. It wasn’t an instant. It wasn’t overnight. It was a gradual decision. It was a tentative feeling I hesitantly explored, probing into it at various moments in those weeks. It was something that took time. It required the freedom to change my mind.
I think it’s important to note, again, that no one could have influenced me. There is no amount of thankfulness or blessing shaming that could have forced my mind. It’s likely I would have rebelled against any attempt to force me into happiness, or even into too-early consideration of my decision. I needed the freedom to explore inside me.
But eventually, it did happen. I made the choice. I chose to live. And I continue to choose life, every day. And there’s nothing anyone can say or do to influence that decision, or take it away. It’s mine.
Is it possible to help?
Because I am open with my story, people often ask me how to help someone in a suicidal situation. This is such a hard question for me. I stated at the beginning that this is a personal story, and I can’t know if my feelings are universal; I can only speak for me.
So with the caveat that I am speaking from a very individual perspective, I would say this — in my case, there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent my suicide, if I had chosen it. But there were two additional factors that were relevant to my decision to stay.
The first factor was human interaction. I had people in my life who were important to me. There were people I was close to prior to Adrian’s death, and of those, they were the ones who stayed. They were the people who sat with me; who listened; who didn’t try to strong-shame me into being okay. They were the ones I could call at two in the morning when I was feeling the darkness, and they were the ones I wanted to protect from ever feeling that way. Most importantly, they were the ones who would never use their love for me as a tool to force me to stay. These people gave me motivation to live when I wanted to die.The second factor was finding the beauty in my new world. And by beauty, I don’t only mean the physical; there were times in my grief when the most beautiful things in nature were painful to me. And again, I can’t speak for anyone else, because I think these things are highly subjective to me. But in my grief, the thing that gave me the greatest hope for joy was seeing other families. I loved being around children. I craved contact with babies. I needed to see the beauty in the reality that life does go on, and not every baby dies. I needed to know there was potential for joy, even if it was currently denied to me. I am so thankful for every mother who let me hold her child. I am so thankful for every family who treated me like someone they loved.
~If you’re feeling suicidal right now, I’m sorry. Whatever is going on in your world, it’s incredibly unfair. Please know that I love you. Please know I’m so sorry for your pain.
I don’t know you, but I love you. I hope you live. I hope you choose to live.
I’m not a mental health professional. Nothing I say here is in any way meant to be professional advice. But if it helps you; if you’re looking for something personal, here is what I offer to you, solely from my own experience:
- Breathe – stop your motion. Let everything go. Feel the breath inside your body. Let yourself be present in this moment. If it feels right, incorporate your breath into movement. Try yoga, or meditation, or walking, or massage. Or just breathe.
- Feel – your emotions are valid. Your grief is real. Whatever your pain, it is understood. I hear you. You are not alone. If it feels right, let yourself feel your grief. Let the emotions wash over you. Cry. Recognize this is all part of being alive. Breathe.
- Write/Draw/Paint/Scream – find a way to express your grief. Put it on paper, capture with photographs or paint. Scream into your pillow; scream into the wind. If it feels right, keep going. Write a book. Start a website. Put on a play. Let this be your will to live.
- Explore other people’s grief – read books. Read blogs. Listen to podcasts. Listen to people. If it feels right, join a support group. Make connections with other people in pain. Understand you are not alone. Understand the community to be found inside pain.
- Find support – call a friend. Text a friend. Go on the internet. Find a counselor. If it feels right, tell people about your pain. Ask for support. Ask for what you need. You deserve love. You matter. Please know that I love you. Please know that I care.
- Find beauty – find one thing that doesn’t hurt. Pet your dog. Watch your favorite movie. If it feels right, find something every day that makes you smile. Find something every day that touches your soul. Find one piece of the world to give you hope that life goes on.
- Care for your body – drink enough water. Eat a good meal. If your appetite is suffering, keep nutritious snacks nearby to eat when you’re able. Take vitamins. Go outside. Lay down for bed at a reasonable hour. Take a shower. Wash your clothes. Know that you are worth it. Know that you are loved.
I don’t know you, but I love you. I hope you live. I hope you choose to live.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.