This is part of a series of articles by the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition focusing on mental health. Please share the following story with your friends and relatives!
I was thirteen when I tried to take my own life.
To many people, I was the “happy, bubbly” girl who had a lot of friends. On the inside I felt worthless and hopeless. I truly believed the world would be better without me and no one would miss me. I felt unlovable. There were a variety of things happening in my life that compounded these feelings. At thirteen these were BIG feelings that consumed me and were real and true to me. I didn’t know how to manage these emotions, how to reach out, or how to cope.
My friends and teachers were surprised. Yet, I had given signs – writing a series of poems for my English class that shared some of the dark feelings I was having. They spoke to overwhelming sadness and highlighted the desire to leave this world. Looking back, I am surprised the teacher didn’t bring these to the school counselor. Instead I got an A. In conversations with friends I made comments like “it doesn’t matter anyway” or “it won’t matter when I’m gone.” But they were young too and likely didn’t know how to respond or what to do to help me if they were concerned.
Signs were given, just not seen nor understood.
I am thankful today that I was interrupted during my actions and taken to the hospital. I have lived an incredible adventurous life, full of happiness and love. This is not to say that I haven’t had challenges since then – those have come at random moments, often unexpectedly. These dark moments can either sneak up on me, or they have a situational trigger that sets me on a path that leads into a deeper and darker pit. In those moments it is a struggle to reach out. I am grateful that I can now recognize the depression starting, which is recognizably different from sadness. It’s deeper and heavier. There is no mistaking it. Now, I have a plan in place for these moments.
I am proud of myself that I actively take steps to get what I need when I do feel it creeping in. This isn’t always help from outside, especially if I recognize it early. It can be eating healthier, making extra effort to get out and be social, or if that is too much, doing activities at home that make me happy (crafts, reading, cooking), sitting by the water, or walking through the forest. I am also lucky to have wonderful people in my life who ask me point blank how I am doing. Sometimes I can knock it on its head quickly and sometimes by myself. Other times, I seek the support of those around me and it takes longer to work through.
Now, in my late thirties, I consciously take the time to regularly reflect on my mental wellbeing, even when not experiencing depression. Recently, I started seeing a counselor. Interestingly, not because I was in a dark place but because I was doing well. It was simply that I had some big (positive) changes coming up in my life and I wanted some new tools to help me cope and manage these changes–increasing my resilience. I put myself as a priority and I didn’t need a “crisis” to justify it. My mental wellbeing requires giving myself the most tools possible so I can continue leading a healthy fulfilling life while also being able to manage the not so pleasant emotional experiences that arise.
I actively work towards eliminating the stigma around talking about our mental health.
We need to be as comfortable talking about our mental health challenges as we are talking about our physical health challenges. I am also more aware of my friends’ behaviors. I notice if something seems amiss – they aren’t talking as much or they are talking a lot more than normal. I ask them how they are doing emotionally. Recently, I had a friend share she was in a dark place (via Facebook). In a personal message I asked her if she was thinking of suicide. She was. We worked together to ensure she would be safe. I am trying to be the person that I wish I had, had in my life at thirteen.
Healthy Minds is a monthly column coordinated by Ketchikan Wellness Coalition as a way to share positive stories from people living with mental illness, offer information from local mental health professionals about maintaining mental health in your life, and provide details on tangible activities or actions you can take to strengthen your mental wellness. If you would like to contribute to the column, please contact Romanda Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org.