My Semicolon Story

I recently came across a social media post sharing that this week is National Suicide Prevention Week, hence the semicolon (;) reference to represent mental health and suicide prevention. While I have gone back and forth with sharing my experience along with people in my life who I have lost to or survived suicide, I thought maybe my bravery could help one person feel less alone in a silent battle they may be fighting, have fought or are witnessing a close family member or friend struggle with as a result of mental health. I think speaking about mental health should be as normal as one sharing about their physical health, but unfortunately we are all not there yet. That is okay, but we can do better.

My hope in sharing my personal story is in no way for you on the other side to feel pity, but to have an open heart and mind to those you interact with on a daily basis. Anyway, let’s get into the trenches of my journey. From a young age, which I did not realize until going through therapy recently, I have dealt with suicidal ideation. I used to think it was something I should keep to myself, suffering in silence but using humor as a mask to show I am fine. But what I’ve learned is that it helps to share when you are experiencing these unexplainable, hard, and dark moments in life. Throughout my therapy journey, I have realized the more you talk about stigmatized topics, like mental health, the less alone you feel in these experiences and thoughts, despite how isolating they can feel in the moment.

Seeing that this week is Suicide Prevention Week, I look back at a friend who I worked with years ago who I felt I missed the signs with. I felt this person was just doing certain actions for attention, but what they were doing was seeking help and guidance in what was one of their darkest moments. Unfortunately people did not see those actions as such and ostracized this person, instead of reaching out a hand to help and to offer an ear to listen to and truly see what was going on underneath the armor this person was wearing and the weight they were carrying around. Another experience I think of is someone close to me who I found out after the fact; it broke my heart. Fortunately this person is still with us, and will continue to change lives through their work in the mental health field.

I guess what I am saying in sharing these lived experiences of those close with me, is that there are no clear signs. At times you may be caught off guard or not understand why: they seemed so happy, they seemed so successful, they seemed like they had it altogether? On the other side of the coin, they may seem so depressed, so moody, so defiant and so who any number of things.

Mental health is not black and white, there is a lot of grey. Much of it we as a society still really do not understand, even after years of research and funding into various projects and non-profits tasked with addressing and understanding mental health and suicide. I think the reason we do not understand is because mental health tends to not be seen or spoken about as if it could be physically seen like someone breaking their arm and needing to wear a sling or cast for their arm to fully heal. I like to say mental health can be visibly invisible, since it can be hidden and shown very well depending on the person. My hope through sharing this is to shine a light on how complex mental health, specifically suicide, is. Addressing mental health is not a one size fits all approach, it is meeting someone where they are at and truly listening to what they are saying and sharing how you feel they could be best helped. At the end of the day, it comes to them, not you. You can do all in your power to help someone, but they first have to want to help themselves, that’s where it all gets complicated.

If you are in need of help, I suggest looking up mental health services in your area, reaching out to someone you trust to share what you are going through, or calling 988.

Let’s break the stigma around mental health, share our stories (struggles included) proudly, and take a moment out of our busy lives to stop, smile and talk with a stranger. Offer them a compliment, someone to small talk with, or a kind act such as a hug. I know kindness and humility hasn’t been lost on us as a society, so show understanding in all those who’s paths you have and will cross. Life’s not a zero sum game, it is about reaching out when you need help and getting up, no matter how many times you get knocked down. Your story has meaning, you have a purpose in this life, share your’s with this world, yet do not lose reading a page or two out of someone else’s story too.

PS we show the world mild versions of ourselves, toned up and down for certain people and situations. When will we share fully who we all are in our successes and struggles, all making up who we are in this life? Keeping being you, letting your light shine through in the darkest and brightest of moments!