Stay: Find What You Were Made For
As soon as I started this blog, I knew that I would eventually write this post. Still, my hands are a little shaky and I feel a little queasy but it also feels right in a way.
When I taught high school (2006-2013), a student introduced me to an organization called To Write Love on Her Arms, "a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. " (you can learn more about TWLOHA, their mission and their work here)
I was inspired that such an organization existed, and that kids were talking about it with each other, and with adults. Each year, they host an awareness campaign for World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10), which then launches National Suicide Prevention Week.
Last year, I decided to visibly participate in National Suicide Prevention Week. I got a poster and hung it up on the door of my office; I got a bracelet with last year's theme ("And So I Kept Living") and have worn it proudly since. I posted on Facebook and Twitter to help raise awareness and keep the conversations going. I told myself, and most people who asked, that I was doing it for my students. I was doing it to show my support, to help them feel that they could talk about whatever they were feeling with someone who would listen compassionately.
But really, I was doing it for myself.
I went through a difficult, dark time in my life, but I decided to keep living. The theme spoke to me personally, and I hoped that someday I would be brave enough to share my story. Last year's campaign was the beginning of me claiming that story.
I can't even really remember when the worst of the thoughts started; I'll admit that a specific period in my life has congealed in my memory into one solid, tangled block. I had what appeared to be a great job: I was teaching high school music in a small town. I got married; we bought a house; I had a small community of friends from work. From the outside, it looked like everything was going great.
Except that I was painfully miserable.
I was sick all the time. I would occasionally need to call out from school because I just couldn't face it. I felt like I was going through the motions of life, but I couldn't really feel anything. When I did feel things, it seemed like it was mostly anger. I had taken on a number of extra part-time jobs, in the hopes of finding something that I might enjoy better. This resulted in a totally unsustainable workload and a complete imbalance in my life. I worked all the time. I had no life.
And that's when the awful thoughts came to hang out with me.
Specifically, I was hoping that a car would smash into me and take me out. I have no idea where this came from. We lived in a busy part of town, and each morning I needed to find the perfect break in the traffic necessary to back out of my driveway and get going to work. And I thought, wouldn't it be great if I misjudged it, and all of this would go away. Or at the very least, I could go the the hospital for a long recovery and not have to talk to anyone, or make phone calls, or answer emails.
Writing this now makes me feel sick.
I persisted in this sort of half-life for a long time. I never spoke about this to anybody. But mercifully, somehow, after numbing myself out of my own life for so long, I managed to step back and realize that this was not right. What I actually said to myself is "There has got to be more to life than this. This can't be it."
And I thank whatever good forces exist in the universe for that second voice. I know that tens of thousands of people don't hear a second voice, and leave the world too soon. I don't know how or why I got so lucky, but that's why I kept living. I just needed to know if there was something else that my life could be.
It has been a long road, and I'm still walking it. There have been numerous ups and downs, and false starts, and times when I still get stuck in unhelpful thought patterns that I developed over time. But I feel like a completely different person than that woman in the car. I have had a ton of help along the way, and at this point in my life, I have developed a team of healers and helpers that I can turn to when I start to lose my footing. I also know my warning signs now: I can feel when I start to retract from life and I know how to help myself out of those places.
So during this National Suicide Prevention Week, I want you to take this blog post as your Second Voice. Look at TWLOHA and all of the people who need their help and benefit from their work. I promise you that you are not alone. And I can say with certainty now, that there is more to life than our pain and our darkness. We need a Second Voice to see it sometimes. We need help from healing professionals. We need to be brave enough to make changes - for a long time, I held on to my pain and to my sadness because I had built a little nest there and it was familiar. In my confused mind, it felt safe, even though it was killing me.
I love this year's theme: to Find What You Were Made For. I'll admit that I am still finding out exactly what I was made for, but I know I was made for something. And as I continue to re-inhabit my life, I can tell that I am getting closer to whatever that is all the time. You were made for something too. None of us are here to suffer. We can't escape the painful elements of life, but we can learn how to care for ourselves when the pain comes. And the pain will come, and the pain will pass. And I promise you that there is more to life.
I love you. The world needs you. Please stay.
Find help here.