award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host
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The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) estimates that suicide is the 10th largest cause of death in the United States. Moreover, AFSP estimates that someone dies from suicide every 12.9 minutes ... and I was almost part of these statistics.
The often heard commentary after someone commits suicide is “I didn’t see that coming!” or “I never thought that (insert name)
would do that.”. These thoughts are similar to the thoughts I’ve had after learning about someone’s attempted or actual suicide. However, I never considered the possibility that anyone would think these thoughts about me --- as suicide wasn’t something I considered to be a possibility until it unexpectedly almost became my reality. My jolting and life-changing personal experience is the reason that I’m compelled to share the details of my near-suicide to help others who might benefit --- including anyone who feels similarly, those who attempt to help someone who has similar feelings, and others who don’t understand the mindset of someone who is, was, or might be depressed or suicidal.
The day I almost committed suicide, I didn’t plan it and it wasn’t a thought that I had considered that day. This makes it intriguing that I almost took my life without any forethought. The best way that this experience can be described is that there was a system overload due to dealing with considerable mental and emotional stress over an extended period of time, which wasn’t ever addressed or resolved. The simplest way to describe this feeling is to relate it to someone who is physically exhausted and collapses. In this case, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted; moreover, I felt complete desperation and despair that my situation wouldn’t improve.
I was mentally exhausted from constantly trying to do the right things and continually experiencing negative outcomes. These stressors were compounded as I also tried to battle the increasing severity of my untreated and unresolved depression. On this tragic day, my mind broke down: I no longer wanted to battle against so many unscrupulous individuals; I was tired of struggling with my depression; I thought that my life didn’t have any value; I didn’t want to fight for my life.
The morning of my mental health emergency, I knew something wasn’t normal shortly after opening my eyes. Usually, I get out of bed a few minutes after my eyes are open. On this day, I couldn’t get out of my bed, I didn’t want to do anything, and I just stared ahead without any focus --- almost in a trance. It felt as if a heavy fog entered my room, which prevented me from connecting in a logical way to realize that it was just a bad moment and not a reason to take my life.
Within an hour or so, I became very emotional after thinking about my failings, that I was a failure, that nobody wanted anything I had to offer, and that my future wasn’t going to be any better. At this point, I started to consider ways to take my life. The more I thought about it, the more committed I became to taking my life; although, there was someone I still cared about ... my mom.
As I finalized my approach to take my life, my desire to take the final step continued to grow. During my psychosis, I began to hear a rhythmical chant “Do it; do it; do it; ...; do it!” that became quicker and louder. I knew that this was the devil’s voice because I had lost and surrendered my will to live. It was in these moments that I unexpectedly took action to save my life.
Despite my mental and emotional breakdown, I still cared about someone else --- my mom. This is the only reason that with much reservation, I called one of my brothers to ensure that he would take care of our mom if I couldn’t do it. My goal was to make a quick call and end it; instead, I started to breakdown. It was at this moment that my brother did something that was critical, he identified something was wrong and started to ask questions.
My brother wanted answers, but I didn’t want to discuss anything with him; therefore, I ended the call. Then, my brother frantically kept calling back to reach me; however, I didn’t want to talk to him or anyone else. As his calls kept coming, I eventually listened to his frantic messages and I halfheartedly returned his call, which led to the moment that changed everything.
During our conversation, my brother stressed that my current reality was only a moment and I needed to get past that moment. This message was important; although, the comment that really resonated with me was after my brother said, “Use your own words to help yourself (referring to my inspirational quotes)” and he also directed me to call our sister. Speaking with our sister was another important step to help me reconnect with reality.
Notwithstanding my sibling’s heartfelt words and support, the thing that resonated with me the most was my brother’s direction to “Use your own words to help yourself”. This comment was powerful because it made me think about my work and its value. Also, my brother’s comments made me consider the reasons I would write inspirational messages, but not believe them myself. These considerations jump-started the beginning of my journey to recover. Almost immediately, my thoughts began to change from irrational to evaluative, which made me think past the moments of my current situation to the possibility that my life did have value --- even if I didn’t understand my life’s purpose.
Approximately three (3) hours after I seriously considered suicide, I began to think about moving forward with my life. This was a significant change in my feelings and attitude from a little while earlier. Shortly thereafter, I went from desperation and despair to feeling that things could get better. Then, moment-by-moment, my desire and will to live strengthened.
The incredible and most significant step in my recovery is that approximately five (5) hours after I almost committed suicide, my thoughts were directed toward others again. That evening, I was coincidentally scheduled and went to teach inmates about life management skills. Unfortunately, the jail wasn’t open to volunteers that night. Nevertheless, by going to the jail that day, I unknowingly took critical steps toward my recovery. These forced steps helped to drive my life toward a greater appreciation, passion, and willingness to give-back --- as we’re all on a shared journey whether we realize it or not.
Life is about moments; therefore, an individual’s successes, failures, and life’s value are defined by cumulative moments and not temporary setbacks during specific moments or related to perceived shortcomings. It won’t always be easy to make forward-progress, but by making a choice to move forward a life can take unimaginable turns toward unexpected and unrealized happiness. However, during difficult times, individuals – like me – have to be willing to share their feelings and struggles to have an opportunity to receive support.
Anyone who commits suicide ends their pain, but their life isn’t the only loss. The other losses are to their family, friends, and anyone else who might have benefited from their contributions.
As for me in the months following my near-suicide, I have done things I never could have imagined --- including blogging on The Huffington Post, becoming an advocate for understanding depression / mental health, and helping numerous individuals through sharing – publically and privately – my journey to recover.
Nobody has to struggle alone, as there's always someone who is willing to provide assistance. The challenge – many times – is to be willing to identify assistance and give someone an opportunity to help.
Remember --- no matter the length of your journey, don’t forget to be your best!
Anyone who needs assistance should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or
A collection of Mr. Young's articles and interviews about depression are available at: www.slyoung.com/depression.html
Additional information about Mr. Young’s journey to overcome his depression and near-suicide can be obtained in his book “Choosing to Take a Stand: Changed me, my life, and my destiny”.