October 27, 2014
Today is my birthday and I just woke up, but it isn’t the anniversary of the date my mother gave birth to me. No, two years ago today I re-entered the world when I woke up in a hospital after trying to kill myself.
I wasn’t successful in my attempt but too many people are. Every 12.9 minutes, someone in the United States takes his or her own life. Think about that the next time you watch American Idol or True Detective: during each episode four people kill themselves.
Waking up two years ago gave me opportunities, some of which seem obvious but some of which I’m still discovering. I have the opportunity to continue the life I began and do the things I want to do. I have the opportunity to offer help to people who would have helped me if only I had shared what was going on.
I talk about my suicide attempt freely and often and get a lot of compliments. “You’re so brave” is something I hear a lot. But I don’t want to be brave. I just want to manage my condition and get on with more enjoyable things. If the subject comes up in conversation, fine. I have an illness so I take medicine and talk to therapists and I really wish that were all there is to it but, as they say on Facebook, my relationship with my psyche is complicated.
In my case it’s bipolar disorder that creates the complication but for others it’s chronic depression, post-traumatic stress or anxiety born of financial or family problems. Whatever the cause, for each of us it’s real and it can kill.
In the military the incidence of suicide is tragically even higher than in the general population. Every 17 hours an active duty service-member, reserve or National Guard member commits suicide. 22 veterans a day take their own lives. It is widely acknowledged that a stigma exists in the military – or the real possibility of damage to a career – that prevents people from seeking help.
What can be done – what can we do – to end the stigma around mental health issues? I believe that one thing is to keep talking about it, because the more we talk and learn about things that are foreign to us, the less foreign they become.
These opportunities I have been given also come with responsibility. Part of the way I can deserve this opportunity is to share my own story in the hope that someone in similar circumstances might recognize a flicker of hope.
We have to make it okay – okay to talk about mental illness and suicide, okay to tell our friends we’re sick, okay to ask for help.
If you feel that suicide is the answer to your troubles, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. The people at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will tell you the same thing. Call them at 1-800-273-TALK.
Please don’t become the statistic that I almost became two years and one day ago.
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