In high school I was suicidal. Although the impulse was overwhelming at times, it would come on like a wave and be gone in a couple of hours.
This time was different. This time everything was different.
It began like a small drizzle on Friday night. I celebrated Christmas at my friend’s, a friend who is still really good friends with my ex. But the party was great! We talked, ate awesome food (thanks Papa Johns), opened presents, and talked some more. Nothing bad happened, and no one said “it’s weird Joel isn’t here” or anything like that. But I left the house feeling heavier than before—and not just from Christmas calories.
I spent most of Saturday in bed, lounging around, trying to get the will to do all the things I had planned. But it never happened. I went to bed feeling fine, until I wasn’t. Without explanation I began to cry and shake from crying so hard. I couldn’t understand where these extreme feelings came from, but unlike all the times in high school when I hid what I was going through and battled alone because I thought it was a romantic notion, I reached out.
Jake’s comforts helped a little and I made it through the night.
Despite getting only a few hours of nightmare-ridden sleep I woke early, but it was difficult to get out of bed…more than the normal amount. The only reason I got up at all was because Kasey, my golden retriever, stood in front of my face and panted.
I drug myself from under the comforting blankets and moved through the morning routine like normal, but three times slower. As I did my makeup I covered my eyelids in a bright, peach-orange to mask the dark purple bags under my eyes.
The plan was to attend the church service at 10:59 (I don’t know why they can’t just call it 11) and then everyone who signed up to play for the Christmas special would stay and practice after the service. A couple weeks before, when I felt unstoppable, I agreed to play my cello for the Christmas service. Even though I had no written part, could barely remember notes, and hadn’t performed in about half a decade I said “Sure, why not.” I had no idea that 5 days before the show every action would become a trial.
I made it to the church service, but I was late. Several people complimented my makeup, saying it was bold and fierce or “the right amount of crazy.” I smiled and kept up the charade. Only afterwards I confessed the true purpose of the color to Jake. He became even more concerned, and no matter how many times I said it wasn’t, he thought my deep depression was his fault.
But the one thing that proved this was bigger than anything I’d gone through before happened at band practice. Jake brought 2 boxes of cheesy-bread to share with all the band members. We gathered around the boxes, continuing bits of hilarious conversations as hands casually pulled and tore away pieces of the bread. I smiled, and talked, and wanted to reach out and take a piece for myself. But I literally couldn’t.
Here was my second favorite food of all time, the scent of baked mozzarella and butter wafted to my nose, and I couldn’t move my hands. If I inched closer it was like a lead weight dropped around the center of my chest. That space to the right of my heart, at the base of my throat near the sternum would tickle like a sore muscle.
To an observer, nothing was wrong. The scene was simple and joyful. I was glad to be surrounded by friends, but I felt like a piece of paper being torn for too long. Without my consent, my eyes began to burn and tears threatened to form, from frustration and who knows what else. I was grateful when the worship leader said I should start to set up and I broke away from the group like nothing was out of the ordinary.
Practice went well and was otherwise uneventful. But the storm inside continued. Jake asked if I wanted to hang out, but of course I didn’t. I went home and used every trick I could think of to make myself feel better. “Like jump-starting a car,” I thought. I read my bible, read this book and that book but I couldn’t pick up my favorite, Streams in the Desert. Thankfully, I found the sparkly, pink card my friend sent me as a surprise which held the brightest words of encouragement. Desperate for the promised endorphins, I even exercised and ate dark chocolate.
For awhile it worked. I started to feel like my life had value and that I could make it out of this alive.
I focused on my final assignments that were due that day, but the weight remained. At 3 PM I submitted what I had even though I wasn’t happy with it, and curled up in bed.
Fear gripped me then. I was terrified that this feeling would never leave. Thoughts of suicide puddled, promising peace and freedom. I glanced at objects that I could use, but thankfully I have some strong wills that not even a battle this tough could weaken. I refuse to commit suicide with a gun because people would just blame the gun. Hanging sounds disgusting. And in my sophomore year of high school I tried pills and all I did was fry the nerve ends in my arms. I never thought about using a knife because the last time I did I heard a man’s voice say, “You do this the devil wins.”
I know. I’d think someone was crazy too, but it happened.
Curled under the covers I dreamed, sort of. It’s difficult to explain but I saw me, smiling with my eyes closed, breathing easy and standing on the edge of a cliff at night. The city lights dotted the horizon like stars. I lifted my arms, leaned forward, and fell off. The vision replayed and replayed. Always ending at the part where falling looks like flying.
That evening I researched doctor-assisted suicide and learned about Mexico’s death drug. I played out a scenario where I went to Mexico. Where I took that drug. Where I drove to that cliff and flew off. And it seemed good.
For hours I struggled in a tug of war. I thought about the article I wrote on suicide. My friend who committed suicide and the pain that was left behind. The strange girl at the restaurant who said my words would save thousands of lives. Finally, and I’m ashamed to admit it took me this long, but then I finally prayed.
And that was it. I fell asleep only I wasn’t quite sleeping. I don’t know how much time passed but the next thing I remember is taking a breath and feeling light, after 2 days I felt like myself. I thought several weeks had passed but when I looked at my phone it was 8 PM that Sunday.
Looking back, it was like there were 2 people fighting for control of my body. One was pushing towards the end and the other was pulling towards life, and while they battled a neutral force moved me through the day.
Even now, writing this, I’m terrified of going through something like that again. I don’t know if I’m stronger now that I’ve survived or if parts of me are broken and weaker. Maybe it’s both.
Even though it’s embarrassing to write about how simple things became massive battles, I had to share this with you because more reports and studies show that suicide, depression, and anxiety are growing, especially among teens. When we add the holidays and the pressure of ending a decade and starting a new year, it makes this an especially difficult time to survive, and I might not be the only one struggling.
This was the toughest battle with depression and suicide I’ve gone through since…well, ever. And I had the experience, support, and God given grace to make it through what I believe was a spiritual attack.
But there are people out there who think they are an accident, a failure, that the best is behind them, they messed up beyond repair, or their life doesn’t matter. They, like me, forget that all we need to do in this life is love and be loved and persevere. All that other stuff? It’s not important. There is nothing more valuable than your life and your soul. Please, don’t throw that away.
Don’t underestimate the reality of what’s at stake.
Write in your journal.
As we move into this new year, new day, new minute please remember every life matters. Including your own.