Wednesday, September 7, 2011

National Suicide Prevention Week

This week (9/4-9/10) is National Suicide Prevention Week. The yellow ribbon with a heart is the ribbon symbolizing suicide survivors, the ones who are left behind after a suicide. I bear this ribbon with sadness and hope that others will find help before it is too late. 

In January of 1998 I lost my fiancee, JR, to suicide. Technically we had been broken up for 6 weeks, but we were together for 5 years, cohabiting for 4, and engaged for 3. I met JR when I was 18, just out of high school. We worked together and he always had a smile and a joke for everyone he met. Although he was 8 years older than me we got along great, both sharing a love of all things geeky. He was a genuinely nice guy, something I found rare in those days. Shortly after becoming friends JR helped me through a very difficult time in my life. He was the first man I trusted after I was raped. He became my protector and my friend, the one who made me smile and gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning when I thought I couldn't go on. I struggled with debilitating depression and panic attacks for years, but he held on and rode the waves with me, letting me know I wasn't alone. What I didn't know was that while he was helping me survive my depression, he was hiding his own.

Our story is long and complicated but all that matters is that he was in pain and didn't tell anyone. He hid it so well that no one saw it. All most people saw was a guy who smiled and laughed a lot. They didn't see what I saw at home. The isolation, the hours of holing up in a dark room not talking to anyone. The anxiety that reared when I asked him to go places with me out of the house. He loved his job, and his best friend lived down the street, but trying to get him to go anywhere else, especially if none of his friends were there, was a tug of war. He had told me that years before he met me he had tried to kill himself. But it didn't work and he woke up the next morning feeling like an even bigger mess & failure. After that he became a hermit. He lived in his closet - his closet!- for 2 years. He only ever came out to use the bathroom or to eat. I encouraged him for years to get help but he said he was over it, he was fine. But he wasn't.

When we started having problems I decided to move out, but wanted to work on things. I told him that if he wanted us to work he needed to be in counseling. He finally relented and started seeing a therapist. But it got harder and harder for me to hang in there when I felt I was making so much progress on my own. So I decided I needed to break it off with him. That was Thanksgiving of 1997. Six weeks later he was gone. 

I felt utterly destroyed. I felt responsible for his death. If only I hadn't broken up with him, or if I'd done it differently, if only I'd given him more time, more attention, more understanding, if only, if only... But the fact is that JR decided to end his life all on his own. It took me a long time to accept that, to really believe it. But I do. If he had gotten help sooner, he might still be here, but he's the only one who could have made that happen. 

I have struggled with my own mental health issues for years. I know what it's like to want to end your life because you think that's the only way the pain will stop. But I'm here to tell you that it isn't. It isn't the only way. Oaky and I both have histories of depression and panic disorders. We have both been through in-patient treatment programs for suicidal depression. We have seen each other through some very dark times, but we know that we alone, as individuals, are responsible for our health and happiness. We can support each other and encourage each other, but if we don't take care of ourSELVES first and foremost, there can be no US. 

Here's what I really want to say: If you are in pain, please, PLEASE get help. If you are thinking of hurting yourself, you are not alone. Many people have gone through the darkness, but your life doesn't have to end there. You can come out the other side and into the light. I've done it. Oaky's doing it right now. Unfortunately for JR he never gave himself the chance. It doesn't have to be that way for you. Or if you know someone who is struggling, please encourage them to get help. It gets better. IT REALLY DOES. I wouldn't be here if it didn't. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for more information on What To Do if you fear someone may take their life. 

Talking about my depression saved my life. 
Talking saved Oaky's life. 
It can save yours, too.

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