My knuckles were white on the steering wheel, arms ridged, as I forced myself to drive in a straight line going 75mph in the busy I-4 traffic.
Breathe, I reminded myself.
Don’t do it, the Holy Spirit warned.
Arthur is in the backseat. Protect him. My maternal instincts called to me.
I just wanted my life to be over. I wanted to erase the pain that festered deep down into my soul. If I swerved in front of a vehicle on my left at just the right angle, maybe I could end it all. At least I would feel a pain different from the pain I was feeling.
It was supposed to be a fun day. Arthur and I met up with my parents at the manatee overlook just south of Tampa. It was a cool January day, so the manatee were gathering in the warm water next to a factory. They do this every year, and it was the perfect time to go.
Arthur was having a blast, and my parents enjoyed the time with their grandson. But I just wasn’t myself. I hadn’t been myself for a while. I had a lot weighing on me.
As we drove home, my mind wandered to the defamation lawsuit I’m facing. This week I was to submit an amended answer to the claims by the plaintiff, and it was weighing on me heavily. I’m innocent, and they don’t believe me. I didn’t think I could take it anymore and I just wanted to die.
Thankfully, more than I wanted to die, I wanted my son to be safe.
When I Want to Die, I…
I say, “when” I want to die and not, “that time I wanted to die,” because, unfortunately, this is not a new thing for me. Like many people living with bipolar disorder, I’ve had serious suicidal thoughts several times during my life. What was so scary about the most recent event is that it was the first time I came close to doing anything about it. I don’t know what would have happened if my son weren’t in the car that day. I think he saved my life.
So, being that wanting to die is a normal thing for me, I’ve found some things that have helped get me through and keep myself alive. Sharing these feelings with the world is a very raw thing, but I believe that what I have to say will help someone with suicidal thoughts or they will help a family member or friend of someone who is suicidal.
1. Reach out
To a safe person
As soon as I got home that day, I sent a message to my husband, Andrew. Still not being in a very rational state of mind, the message felt very nonchalant. I knew that what happened was serious, but I was downplaying it in my mind because I wasn’t, in that moment, suicidal. I still wanted to die but I wasn’t about to do anything about it. My husband called me immediately and talked me back to a rational reality.
I reach out to a safe person first because this person knows me well. This person knows what’s important to me and can hold my hand, literally or figuratively, moving forward.
If you are going through a hard time, especially if you know you struggle with a mental illness, know who the safe people are in your life. Who in your life will drop what they are doing to talk to you in an emergency? If you don’t know off the top of your head, take some time to figure it out now, before you’re in an emergent situation. There is someone, I promise.
You don’t think you have a safe person? Call the national suicide hotline (dial 988 or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ to chat online).
To a mental health professional
Your psychiatrist or certified mental health counselor could be your safe person. Personally, my go-to safe person is always going to be my husband first, or a friend if he is unavailable, but then I would reach out to my psychiatrist. After my I-4 experience, that’s exactly what I did.
When you call your mental health professional, they will ask you a series of questions about how you are feeling and what you are thinking to assess the risk of you hurting yourself or someone else. Then they will talk you through a recommended course of action.
If you do not have a psychiatrist or a counselor, go to the emergency room. They are prepared to help you.
To my inner circle
I mentioned that, aside from my husband, I have three other friends who I can go to in an emergency. After I spoke with Andrew and reached out to my psychiatrist, I shot each of them a text message. They did two things, 1) They immediately started praying for me and 2) They asked what they could do to help me.
Having dealt with mental illness for a long time, I know myself. Like most people, I react to depression with retreat. I don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone. I put up a wall. But I know I need to do the exact opposite. Two of these friends live locally, so I got together with them in the following days. We didn’t rehash my suicidal episode, we just talked as friends. Asking about their life allowed me to separate myself from my own for a little while.
You need to know yourself, what your tendencies are, and what you need. Isolation is a common reaction but it’s never the answer when you are in a mentally dark place.
2. Go to God
I hope you are connected to a Biblically sound church. I understand that you may not be, and I understand from experience why you may not be, but God created us for community. God has called his body to gather together in his name for prayer, teaching, and worship. If you do not have a Christian community, please find one. I know what it’s like to be hurt by the church, but I also know what it’s like to find refuge in one.
My I-4 event happened on a Monday. It just so happened that my church was holding their monthly prayer meeting on Wednesday. I knew I had to be there. I was still very raw from the episode and needed to be bathed in prayer. I shared where I was mentally, and they laid hands on me and anointed me with oil. I left feeling supported and cared for by the body of Christ. Someone even reached out after to see how else they could support me and my family.
You don’t have to run into church and divulge your innermost pain to everyone there. That prayer meeting was divinely scheduled for the week I needed it most. While I recommend praying with others, you should most definitely take time to pray on your own.
One thing that God spoke to me about in that prayer service is that I don’t get to decide when my life ends. I have surrendered my life to Christ and allowed him to take my sin to the cross with him. To surrender means to give up all control. God knew all the days of my life before any of them came to be. He knew when I was going to be born and he knows when I’m going to die. Just because I want to die doesn’t give me the authority to make it happen. It is never God’s will that one of his children should take their own life because that would be your flesh taking control rather than surrendering to God and being led by the Holy Spirit.
When I want to die and am contemplating suicide, I don’t think, “God, I don’t like my life right now and you’re not doing anything about it, so I’m going to take control.” In reality, that’s exactly what’s happening in my subconscious, but my conscious mind is thinking, “God, this just hurts too bad. Take it away! Let me go be with Jesus.” I just want heaven because earth sucks.
When I discussed this with Andrew, he made a good point. I believe in Christ’s salvation and have been born again, so if I commit suicide, I will go to heaven. However, does that mean I will just walk into this glorious painless place and not face the consequences of my decision? No. Our actions always have consequences. I will still have to face God with the knowledge that I ignored his plan and took my life into my own hands. Suicide is sinful, and I will have to face that sin.
When I realized that I was tempted to take my life into control rather than surrendering my life to God, I got on my knees and asked for forgiveness. And do you know what? The weight of my suicidal episode lifted and I felt I could move forward.
3. Remind myself that I am not alone
So, I reached out to my husband on Monday, my psychiatrist and inner circle on Tuesday (I should have called my psychiatrist on Monday, by the way), my church on Wednesday, then Thursday something surprising happened. Not only was I weighed down by the lawsuit that week, but I was also overwhelmingly stressed about my health. That Thursday I had a long awaited appointment with a specialist. I knew I needed prayer, so I reached out to Facebook.
In my Facebook post, I was real about what was going on with my mental and physical health. I mentioned that I had been suicidal on Monday and now I’m worried that I’m actually going to die from whatever was going on physically. Not only did I get a record number of likes and comments (though this was not my goal for posting), but people who had my phone number started texting me with offers of coffee and identifying with what I was going through. Over and over people said, “You are not alone.”
I don’t expect everyone to be as bold as me and announce on social media that you’ve recently been suicidal. Please let me be clear, I did this after my mind had stabilized and I had thought through what I was going to say ahead of time. However, having done this, I normalized a conversation on mental health–a topic that is still relatively faux paus in our society. People were encouraged by my willingness to be real and thanked me for talking about it.
You don’t have to announce your state of mental health on social media to know that you are not alone. But you should be open and honest with the people you do life with. Most likely, they will offer their love and support. And often you will find out that you aren’t the only one who has struggled.
Why I Want to Live
It’s been several weeks since my suicidal I-4 episode and I’m in a much better place. I’m still dealing with a lot of stress. There’s still a lawsuit. I’m still trying to figure out my physical health issues. My family is still under a lot of financial stress. However, with a change in my medication and some healthy coping skills, I’m doing okay. I even felt happy for a moment the other day, which surprised me. I can’t remember the last time I felt happiness. It’s a foreign emotion.
And now, here I am, writing this blog post. For a long time I have believed that God is putting me through a hard life in order to help others. Through being open about my own experiences, I can connect with others in their darkest days, and draw them to Jesus. One person who reached out to me after my I-4 episode made the point that, by allowing myself to live, I may be able to help fifty other people to choose life over death. Maybe that person is you.