September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month - it was created to encourage conversations about suicide that educate those unfamiliar with its complexities. This month is also meant to help loved ones of people who have committed suicide or who have suicidal thoughts.
Suicide and conversations involving it have become highly stigmatized and at times uncomfortable. In an effort to encourage a conversation in this space, I'll be writing about fear, anxiety, depression and how it led me to my lowest point - suicidal thoughts.
I have always had a huge fear of failure or of not living up to the expectations I think people have for me. An even bigger fear (probably my biggest) is that I’m afraid that won’t ever live up to the expectations I have for myself.
I began developing this fear during my freshman year of undergrad. I’d had a great four years of high school - I was pretty successful (by high school standards) and a people in my community expected a lot of my journey in college. College served as a rude awakening. I failed some classes. I didn't excel the way I thought I would in my music program. I was dealing with culture shock from moving to the U.S. mainland for the first time. Then I had my first real experience with depression. Four months into my freshman year I ended up being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. A year into my first collegiate journey I ended up leaving Norfolk State University and living at home again.
Turns out, I'd had anxiety for as long as I could remember. My persistence to overachieve, my habitual need to avoid confrontation, and the tendency to stay active in numerous extracurricular activities in my teenage years was almost a direct result. I developed an obsession with new projects, goals, and activities. My entire undergraduate career can be used as an example of me finding a new project to obsess over every year - the band program, a media team, Miss PVAMU, documentaries, Hello Queen.
My first time experiencing suicidal thoughts was during the aforementioned freshman year experience. My sense of failure led me to wonder if taking all of the pain medicine in my dorm room would just make things easier - would it be easier if I was just, gone?
The second time I experienced those thoughts was in February 2018 after a breakup, relocation and period of unemployment. The level of inadequacy I felt combined with constant anxiety left me feeling hopeless. My anxiety can get so bad sometimes that I deal with cramps, headaches, an inability to breathe and insomnia. You know how sometimes you get nervous before a performance or a big speech? Or you get butterflies in your stomach before a first date? Now imagine feeling that stomach-churning feeling for 24-hours a day. Every day.
Each time I experienced suicidal thoughts I tried to pray them away or cry them out. I hesitated to speak to anyone because I didn't want anyone to think I was "crazy" or just looking for attention. Luckily, I had one friend who shares a similar experience with anxiety. We speak every day and speak very candidly about the thoughts we have that can often lead to that sense of hopelessness. When my second experience with suicidal thoughts came my friend was going through a serious low in his life as well. I threw myself into being there for him and keeping his spirits up - which in turn made my own thoughts of suicide eventually subside.
The most recent experience was after the death of my grandmother which I wrote about in a blog post at the end of the year. This one may have been the darkest I have ever felt and it definitely lasted the longest of any low moments that I'd ever experienced. After catching my breath a bit I sought out the help of a therapist and began working through the thoughts I was having with her guidance. It's been almost a year since I started therapy and although I am not actively in counseling right now I have no doubt that it had a huge part in helping me.
Therapy has taught me that having anxiety is not my fault. It's a legitimate mental health disorder and I am not responsible for the problems it has caused me. Therapy has taught me to reach out to people I trust and to use them to develop a support system. It's taught me that I am not "crazy" or "weak" or "crying for attention" just because I have experienced suicidal thoughts. Above all, therapy has taught me that I'm not alone in my experience. I've spoken to many people this past year who have gone through similar experiences. And while there is no guarantee that I won't ever experience a low moment like that again, I know that I am loved and that I have a safe space to go to should it ever come.
This month, I encourage you to take the time to read articles on suicide prevention and awareness. There is so much that we can do to help those who experience this struggle. I also encourage you to open the floor to your loved ones to have a conversation about mental health and things like suicidal thoughts or actions. You never know what someone may be experiencing unless you give them the floor to express it.
If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.
*This post is a response to the Day 4 Prompt of my "Wah You Sayin" 30-Day Journal Challenge. To read more about the journal and download the PDF, click here.