I was going to die, that much was clear. That didn’t bother me though, I wanted to die. I wanted it more than anything. I was going to do it too; I was going to kill myself, I was going to drive my car into a tree – until someone stopped me. That someone was Leanne, my girlfriend and co-creator of Stuck With Me Now, and she is the reason I’m alive to write this today.
Why did I want to kill myself? The answer is simple, yet hopelessly complex: I was depressed. From an outside perspective, depression is easy to understand; someone is sad, and there may or may not be a reason for it. For me, and the countless others who suffer from depression, things are not so clear. We tend to ask questions, namely “Wait, but why am I depressed?”, and we don’t always like the answers either. It was all too easy for my doctors, psychiatrists, and even my parents to tell me that my depression was the result of the neurotransmitters in my brain being out of balance, and that medicine would help to correct those imbalances and make me feel normal again. That answer offered little comfort, even though it was scientifically valid. I didn’t want to have to rely on medicines meddling with my neurotransmitters, I wanted to be able to do something about my illness, but as far as the doctors were concerned, it was out of my hands.
The bad thing about medicines is that they take at least 4-6 weeks to kick in. I’ve been on several different types of antidepressants at this point, and the time required for the medicine to take effect is almost unbearable. Being told “You’ll feel better in a few weeks” did nothing to cheer me up. I longed to be happy, but the only thing I could feel was a strange emptiness, a chilling lack of emotion. All the things I enjoyed before – running, video games, cycling, spending time with my friends – suddenly gave me no pleasure. It was as if I was dead to the world, but, sadly, I was very much alive, and I hated it. In the absence of joy, there was only sadness, and it crushed me. After a while I decided that anything would be better than feeling the way I did – even death. The thought of it was tantalizing. I could be free; all I needed to do was commit suicide, and then I wouldn’t feel so sad anymore. Looking back on it now, I can recognize that as twisted logic, but at the time it seemed perfectly sane. When given the choice between continuing to be depressed or dying, many people want to – and do – choose the latter. It is a sad reality, and one that can’t be ignored.
Luckily for me, Leanne did not ignore it, and neither did my parents. It was difficult for me to open up to them about how I was feeling, especially since I knew that my thoughts of suicide would worry them, but I knew that I couldn’t keep going on my own. Perhaps I had some subconscious desire to stay alive, or maybe it was just God looking out for me, but in the end I asked my loved ones for help. Leanne and my parents worked as a team, and between the three of them they were able to constantly ensure that I was safe and that I wasn’t alone when I was feeling suicidal. At the time, I resented their presence. I wished that they could have just understood how badly I was hurting, how awful my life was, and then maybe they would have been okay with me dying. Today, however, I simply cannot thank them enough. They saved my life, not because they expected anything in return, but because they loved me. That was all the reason they needed to do whatever it took to keep me alive. Even when I ended up needing to spend several days in a mental health hospital – and then another few days two weeks later – my parents did everything they could to keep me safe and to help me heal. I got worse before I got better. I started to twitch uncontrollably due to anxiety (the doctors dubbed my tremors “pseudo-seizures”, because it looked like I was having a seizure when I wasn’t), and at times I turned to cutting to numb the pain. It was a long process, and it is still ongoing, but their faith and their love for me never wavered. As I write this now, I still suffer from depressive episodes from time to time, but they are no longer constant, and they no longer control my life. The war is not over, but I finally feel like I am winning, and I know that in time I will heal. With Leanne and my wonderful parents by my side, there is no way I can lose.
My struggle with depression means a lot to me, but I am not unaware that I am only one case among millions around the world. According to my psychology teacher, roughly one in five people will experience depression in their lifetimes, making depression one of the most common mental illnesses in the world. One in five people will feel like their lives are worth nothing. One in five people will be tempted to hurt themselves in a futile attempt to feel something – anything – besides sadness. One in five people will be driven to think that death is a better option than waking up the next morning and continuing to fight. Unless we as a society make a conscious effort to help them, they may very well take their own lives. In a way, people who have depression are lucky. Unlike cancer or other diseases, depression still offers its victims a choice. They choose whether they live or die. Human nature would lead us all to believe that we would choose to live, but depression, in its own twisted way, manages to convince you otherwise. Instead of taking your life for you, it forces you to take your own, and far too many people fall victim to this.
In my home state of Florida in 2014, the number of suicides (2,961) was more than double the number of homicides (1,139), a trend that has been present for more years than I have even been alive. Yet, surprisingly, a search of the articles on the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper’s website yields only 260 results for “suicide”, while searching “homicide” presents you with 1,638 results. Homicides received more than six times the coverage of suicides, despite the much larger number of suicides within the state, which leads me to ask: why do we ignore suicides? Is it viewed as an invasion of privacy? Do we care more about one person killing another than one person killing themselves? Do we believe that the victims of homicides are innocent, but that suicide victims “brought it upon themselves”? Whatever the reasons may be, we need to look past them. Homicide victims, sadly, are not given a choice. I’m not discounting that; a homicide really is a tragedy that should have been avoided, but so is a suicide. The difference is that we don’t talk about suicide nearly as much. I know I didn’t want to; I didn’t want to admit to my parents or to my girlfriend that I wanted to leave them. I felt that it would hurt their feelings, that they might believe that I didn’t think that they were worth staying for. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My love for my family is the only thing that kept me alive and encouraged me to fight. If I hadn’t had their support, if they hadn’t stuck with me, I would be dead, without a doubt. That is hard for me to admit, but it is even harder to ignore.
A human life is an extraordinary piece of the universe. Years of thoughts, emotions, and beliefs are stored in each and every one of us, and even in our increasingly commercialized society, I believe that we can all agree that a human life is priceless. It is worth protecting. I may not know you, and I may have a very busy day ahead of me, but if you approach me to admit that you’ve been thinking about suicide and you need help, I will do anything to help you. That is the attitude we all need to have. We need to be willing to help, even when the help is not asked for. We have to be willing to hold the door open for the group that walks into a restaurant after us; we need to be willing to smile at the strangers we pass on the street instead of awkwardly looking away; we need to be willing to leave a generous tip when we see that our waiter has clearly had a rough day. More than anything, we need to be willing to do the little things, the seemingly insignificant gestures that have the power to brighten someone’s day. Even those little things can be enough to remind someone that life is worth living.
For me, it was the cashier who told me “Have a nice day” after I checked out, or the car that slowed down to let me in when I almost missed my turn, or even the teacher that let me turn in my homework a day late because I had spent the previous evening having pseudo-seizures on my bedroom floor, that reminded me that life wasn’t all bad. Once I added in all the help that I received from my family and my girlfriend, I slowly but surely regained the will to live. Without them, I wouldn’t be here, but since I am, I want to make a difference. I implore you to make that difference with me. Together, we can be willing to offer our help, no matter how much or how little we have to offer, to someone who needs it. Together, we can change the world. Together, we can save a life.