“The instinct to survive is human nature itself,
and every aspect of our personalities derives from it.”
~Robert A. Heinlein
Because my last blog post was the hardest and most personal I’ve written, I had to step back and take some breathing room before following up. I’d struggled with opening up—being so vulnerable and disclosing. As a shrink, I walk a fine line. Over the years, I’ve selectively shared my stories with patients when they’ve felt relevant to healing. But I’m still new to sharing my most personal experiences with others, especially in a public forum.
On the day my last post came out, three people unsubscribed before noon. I’ve tried not to let that matter, but of course it does! My “unsubscribers” reinforced the messages most of us get about what we should not talk about. But statistics support the importance of talking about depression and suicide. Nearly 40,000 Americans die by suicide every year, and it is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24. If we want to better understand depression and help lower these appalling statistics it is time to be brave, step up, and join the chorus.
Aside from the three people who unsubscribed, I had remarkable validation for what I’d written—through personal messages, conversations, and comments. The post on my Facebook author page had a record 631 viewers and I had two new subscribers to my blog. The most common comment I got was “Thank you.”
Below are some of the others:
~From women who were classmates of mine at Mesquite, addressing the need for education and discussion:
“It is such a shame that in that era, when we grew up, we were taught not to tell—not to discuss, etc. We need each other now, but we needed each other then, too. Patty, nor any of us would have been equipped to help you.”
“It saddens me to know you were ever victim of such despair…I was friends with that 16yr old. We conceal our internal pains well. As you say, even the worst can be survived and life become full and rewarding. I hope your message reaches someone needing that confirmation.”
“Our parents’ generation thought it was very important that things should not be discussed outside the home. What would other people think if they found out? My parents were that way. And people who were depressed should just get over it.”
~From someone who has suffered from depression throughout her adult life and contemplated suicide, addressing the value of perspective:
“You know, and I know that if you can remember/feel/believe/see that there really might be some light at the end of the desperation tunnel…it gives you something to hold on to for tomorrow, and the next day and the next day.”
~From others relating personally and addressing the need for understanding the complexities of depression and suicide:
“Thank you for sharing. You continue to help me understand the complexities of this epidemic. For the masses and on a personal level.”
“I like that someone acknowledges the “complexity” of it. That word says a million things.”
“I tried the same thing at about the same age…you’re brave to put it public!”
“The quote used really affected me. Often the most fun people in our lives are the ones in the most pain.”
~A personal message from the mother of a young man who died by suicide made it worth it for me to have told my story:
She told me I helped her understand that, “He didn’t to this TO us, he did it FOR himself.” She said reading my blog articles “made a difference in my life this evening. A lovely difference.” Beautiful words from a courageous woman.
I was also asked by a good friend to share how I survived those dark times as an adolescent. “What helped you get through it? To get to the other side?”
Just as I had to go back and piece together the complex circumstances surrounding my suicide attempt, I had to do the same thing to discover what helped me survive depression. In doing so, I was surprised to see that, at sixteen, I instinctively took actions that were self-empowering. I recognized what I had control over and I took action. That time in my life led to the three things I still find to be most empowering—those I use in my life and teach my patients, and those that saved my life when I was living in Saudi Arabia.
- The importance of meaningful interpersonal contact.
- The importance of physical exercise.
- The importance of productivity.
Life isn’t always easy. I’ve lived an interesting and complicated life—surviving accidents, cancer, divorce, financial disaster, losses of friends and family, heartbreak, and sorrows I never imagined I could survive. The gifts of time and perspective allow me to recognize all I would have missed had I not survived at sixteen. I have had so many incredible experiences and I have so much love in my life.
And life continues to unfold for me in amazing ways. Last Monday I had an exciting experience I hope to be able to share sometime soon. Friday night I attended a book club and met fifteen lovely women who had read my novel. And Thursday night I saw Garth Brooks live in concert! But, most important, every day I have the profound joy of knowing I am able to touch the lives of others in a meaningful way. I am grateful.
Please read my blog post, Silence for ways to be with and help those who are grieving.
Please contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention www.afsp.org for more information on understanding, preventing, and coping with suicide loss.
If you wish to read more of my story on how I made it through, please read my piece title After the Storm.