suicidal tendencies (or, how David Attenborough saved my life)

I read a post today by a blogger I follow, discussing his thoughts of suicide. It was a good post, mostly, because he acknowledged his feelings but decided he wants to live, to keep trying, even if it’s a struggle. But it was still difficult to read. And it has made me think about my own dark thoughts, and the ways people help each other.

So, first I’ll tell my little story, and get that out of the way.

I am a failure. Like a constant, epic, failure, in everything I do. This is not me trying to get sympathy or compliments, it’s reality. When I was younger, I hated myself for this. Now, I laugh about it. For years, I truly thought it would be best for everyone (especially for me) if I was just gone. Some weeks, some months, I woke up everyday with such overwhelming sadness, it’s impossible to describe. If you have never gone through day after day of depression, you can’t understand. It’s a heaviness that you can’t shake off, a hopelessness that colors everything you see and hear. You are alone, even in a crowd, even with your family and friends. Alone and sad. I knew I was worthless, and nothing could convince me otherwise.

Several things helped me through this: 1. Not religion, because I was and still am an Athiest, but something close. When I was little, I lived on a houseboat. I would sit and watch the ocean, and all my problems seemed smaller. The waves came and went, and my little worries didn’t matter. This realization made my life a little easier. Whatever heartbreak I had, the sun would set and the moon would rise, and life would go on. It made me feel better to know this, and to remember that my problems were tiny and insignificant in relation to the natural world. 2. Guilt. My mother and my brother were my whole world, my family. I never wanted to hurt them. When I was depressed, my mother would remind me of how much she loved me, and it worked. A few times, I could find no other reason to live except for knowing that my death would cause her pain. 3. this video (player at bottom of post). It seems crazy, but it’s true. I was laying on my couch, watching tv with my boyfriend, and this David Attenborough bird documentary was on. The segment where the birds make nests and collections of things just blew my mind. It was one of those “perfect thing at the perfect time” moments. It reaffirmed my faith in the world. I remember thinking a world with this much beauty and magic in it is worth living in.

So, I was saved from myself. It took a long time for me to really be okay, and I think I’d still be fighting that darkness now if it wasn’t for my kids. I’ll never leave them. Not willingly, anyway. I might not be a great parent, but I’m theirs.

The point of all this over-sharing is: people all around you are struggling. At my worst I looked totally normal, to everyone but my mother anyway. None of my friends, maybe not even my boyfriend, knew how deep my sadness was. No one knew how close I was to killing myself. Sure, they might have known I was depressed, or a little down, but they didn’t know what that really meant, or how far I was prepared to go.

We hear a lot about LGBT teens committing suicide, and ways to help. I am not L,G,B, or T, nor was I a teenager, when I was at my worst. And organizations can only help if the people who need help ask for it, or if someone reaches out. Chances are, there is someone in your life, maybe a colleague or a friend or a cousin, who is struggling right now. I think you can help them. For free, just by being kind.

You can never know who needs help, or how exactly to help them. (I mean, look at me. A bird documentary was the only thing that cracked my shell.) But you can always try. You can tell all the people in your life how much they mean to you. You can be kinder than necessary to strangers and to acquaintances. You can offer praise and show appreciation and be nice. Because you never know who is about to break, and who needs your kindness most.

I can’t say what would help the average person who is contemplating suicide. I only know how I felt, and what helped and hurt me. For me, it was never one person, or one event. Instead, it was the culmination of many insults, many little failures and rejections and hurts over time, combined with my own low confidence and self-loathing that made me so desolate. But just as the bad things stay with you, the little kindnesses and compliments also add up.

In my kid’s school, they have a program called “bucket-fillers”. It’s so nice, and I think it’s a good philosophy for everyone. Basically, the concept is that kind acts “fill your bucket” and not-so-kind acts “dip your bucket”. I think this is a great analogy. Happiness is like a precious substance, and sometimes you find your “bucket” of it is close to empty.

There are many wonderful organizations dedicated to suicide prevention, and donating time and/or money to them is certainly a worthwhile investment. But don’t forget the people around you. Writing a check to The Trevor Project is awesome, but being nice to your neighbors is sometimes more effective. Why not do both, and make a real difference? You might just be someone’s David Attenborough.

Sorry for the preachy post. Thanks for reading anyway!

Here’s that video. The part that reached me begins at about position 16:40:

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