I Almost Died this Year…Twice – Tomorrow is my birthday and as a gift to myself I am removing a wall of shame I’ve been hiding behind for many years and turning it in for a feeling of complete vulnerability and service to others.
Every day of my life, probably since I was about 12 or 13 years old, an unusual thought crosses my mind – “maybe you should kill yourself.” Some days it’s one thought…passes…and I go on with my day. Some days, it keeps popping into my mind and I have to use methods to put it off. And then there are those days where it persists and manifests into something much more serious. On two separate occasions this past year, this resulted in developing elaborate plans to execute on my thoughts.
For most of my life, I have struggled with depression and PTSD. I have lots of tools that I have gained along the way to treat this illness. These are not cures, but treatments. Some of them are exhausting, painful, and just a pain the ass. All of them have provided me with the gift and appreciation of how powerful the desire to live can create.
You may wonder why I’ve decided to share this so openly. First, I am tired of the shame. Having a mental illness does not make me less of a man or human. It is simply a part of who I am, and with it, all the good and challenges that come along for the ride. In 2017 over 47k US citizens died by suicide. White males like myself make up almost 70%. I believe that this is due to the shame many of us experience. Second, I am sharing this to express my gratitude to the few individuals who this year helped me on those two days I’ve mentioned.
My thinking in those moments gets so distorted and so self-abusive, that logic doesn’t come into play. As an example, on these two days – I walked to within view of the GW Bridge. Those who know me, also know that I absolutely HATE heights. I detest rollercoasters of any kind, for instance. I avoid going on ladders and will never willingly experience a helicopter ride. The distortions on these two days brought me to a place of wanting to spend the last moments of my life being in a situation that I would hate the most. How screwed up is that?
Let me be clear, that I am not in that place today. But as someone who has a recurring illness, I will likely be there again one day. That seems so bleak and hopeless…but it’s not. It’s not because I surround myself with people who show me and others the compassion and kindness that they have somehow found along their own journeys. It’s not because while thoughts of execution do play out in my mind in those rare moments, there is within me a deep desire to live that forces me to connect with another human being that will cut the plans short.
While many have played a role this year in my happiness and enjoyment of life, there were several who helped when I needed it the most and I wanted to share in gratitude those gifts I received:
Jan, Jens and Bill – the gift and joy of running; Robert – the gift of sobriety; Jeffery – the gift of self-care; David – the gift of insight and healing; Jordan – the gift of being a true friend in the workplace; Dad – the gift of putting the love of a child first. Thank you all for these gifts…and for the life I enjoy today. I only hope that I can pay you back in some small way. I also hope that I will be able to pass on what you have given me to those who also struggle in a similar way.
In closing, a word of advice to anyone reading this who relates to these feelings and experiences. We are not our disease. In order to be our true selves, we must treat the disease and then go on and live life to the fullest. Surrounding yourself with as many caring people as you can is a great way to get started. If you don’t feel like you have that today, talk to the one person you trust in life right now – and ask them to help you create that support system. If you don’t have that one person, then reach out to a stranger who can relate or a resource who can assist. If you have access to a cellphone, you can also send a text HERE.