Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

May 31, 2013

Life beyond suicidal thoughts

Dear friend who chooses to live: You are brave. I’m impressed by your courage. Whether you survived an attempted suicide, changed your mind at the last minute and saved yourself, or have thought about it but not acted, I want to tell you how amazed I am at your strength to continually choose life.

From speaking to others or reading their emails, I’ve learned that sometimes it is a battle. You are a warrior fighting for your life as you go to Geometry class, sit in your cubicle at work or do five loads of laundry for your family.

I’ve heard about this war waged against your emotions from teens, adult strangers and my own friends. People I’ve known for years have shared this secret from their past. Suicidal thought enters many minds, far too many. Some attempt it and “fail.” Some attempt it and complete it. But those who succeed are the ones who keep living.

A man survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He remembers as he took that step thinking, “I don’t want to do this.”

It was a privilege to look into the eyes of a local young woman who is a success story. She is still here. Her resolve to keep going inspires and encourages me. I am relieved and grateful for her family. I’m thankful she decided at the last minute that she didn’t want to die alone and called her mom’s cell phone, even though she was just down the hall.

Of course, I wish that was our story, too. I wish my daughter thought twice, changed her mind, and called for help, deciding at the last minute she didn’t want to die or didn’t want to be alone. But that’s not what happened. Our story has a different ending. I can’t change that. But I want to help rewrite that ending for as many people as possible.

So, that’s the first thing I want you to know: I’m proud of you and think you are incredibly strong. Keep it up.

The second thing I want you to know is that you aren’t alone. There are others who have felt that low and been in that hole but who crawled out and lived — for decades in some cases — full, interesting, fun, adventurous and love-filled lives. Especially you teens, I want you to know that a full life is ahead of you. There are experiences, successes, mistakes, and joys waiting for you that only you can create and design. There are people who will be touched by you, your wisdom, your humor and your good heart — and if you aren’t here to do it, it won’t get done.

You can see around you some of the things waiting for you — first dates and first kisses, football games, theater performances, debates, prom and graduation. There are many other things beyond that like going off to college, traveling the world, your first day on the job in your dream career, falling in love, getting married, and having a baby. Or maybe choosing a completely different path without all the traditional markers. But, always, choosing to live your life.

Maybe you are an older person and you have lived through all those experiences. There’s still much more to experience and share with others. You are a beacon of hope for younger people fighting against the enemy of depression or hopelessness, whatever it is that leads them to suicidal thought.

The third thing I want you to know, in case you ever think about suicide again, is the excruciating pain you would leave in the lives of those you left behind. I’ve shared these words of wisdom before: “Suicide doesn’t end the pain; it transfers it to everyone else in your life.” In an anti-smoking ad, a former smoker invites smokers to “make a list, put the people you love at the top, and list all the other things ... like your eyes, legs, heart ... and now cross off all the things you’re OK with losing because you’d rather smoke.”

For those who struggle with suicidal thought or ideation, I’d ask you to make a list of all the people you know and love and who know and love you. Doesn’t matter if there are three names or 300. Put a thick black line through each name. Imagine that’s the dark scar they will carry with them the rest of their lives, if you make the choice to end yours. Look at each name, with that black mark cutting through it, and know that’s how they will see their life — cut in two halves, the before and the after of your death. It is an ugly, festering tattoo of pain. Seeing it on my loved ones makes it hurt even worse.

I may laugh and smile sometimes, but photos often capture the truth: the smile stops at my eyes. They are flat and heavy, leaden with sorrow. My friend who lost her sister as a teen says it took a few years for her family to stop looking like cardboard cut-outs in family pictures.

It will get better. I’m not surrendering a hopeful and happy life because my daughter surrendered hers. That isn’t what she wants. She didn’t do this to me or my family. She didn’t even do it to herself. She did it to the pain.

But the pain is still here ... and she is gone.

So, to you who have made the choice to live I say, “Congratulations. Keep making that choice. Take suicide completely off the table. Replace it with putting one foot in front of the other. Every day. Get the help you deserve. And live.”

May is Mental Health Month. Treat it like dental health or an annual physical. Make sure you are mentally and emotionally healthy. Do it for you and your loved ones.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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