Friday, December 22, 2023

The 22nd. December. And Finding Reasons to Stay.

 (I wrote this last year, but it could have just as easily been written this morning. The only real difference is, I'm now working with a therapist to keep my depression at bay. But it never really goes away completely. If this sounds like you, I'm right here. Talk to me. We'll battle whatever the fuck demons required to make sure we are both still standing come the sunrise. Please get help. We can't lose you.)

Today is the 22nd. On this day each month, I share a post about the high rate of veteran suicides. But this month isn’t like all of the others. So it seems fitting that what I’m going to share today isn’t like my usual posts, either. I’m going to talk about some facts, some truths, and some action items.

First, the facts. And they’re not good. Every single day, approximately 125 Americans die by suicide. That means there is one suicide death in the US every 11.5 minutes. On average, each suicide touches more than one hundred people, with 15-30 considered severely affected. And here’s one more timely fact. Despite Spring and Fall being the times of the year when death by suicide increases, New Year’s Day is the holiday that sees the highest number of suicide attempts.

And there’s more. For every suicide death, there are:
  • 4 hospitalizations for suicide attempts
  • 8 emergency department visits related to suicide
  • 27 self-reported suicide attempts
  • 275 people who seriously considered suicide

The exact numbers change slightly depending on the study cited, but this isn’t about a percentage point or a rounding average. It’s about the humanity behind the numbers.

And here’s some truths. Even the most well-meaning of us can easily miss the signs that a loved one is thinking about suicide. Sometimes we are occupied with our own stressful thoughts and the everyday demands of life and we just don’t notice. Or we might get a sense that something is off, but when we ask, our concerns are brushed off with a simple, “oh, no, I’m just tired from work,” or “I’m good, just swamped at school right now.” And if we are really worried and we press the issue, a friend or other loved one may just flat out lie to us and deny there is anything going on at all.

We recently lost a beloved entertainer to suicide. He was described as talented, handsome, successful, loved, and celebrated. And last week, a young activist working with the Human Rights Campaign died by suicide. He was known for his compassion and his dedication to helping the vulnerable and the marginalized. By all accounts, both of these individuals were living wonderful lives surrounded by caring friends and loving families. And yet, none of that was enough to save either man from their own suicidal ideations.

Here’s my personal truth. I am in a lifelong battle against depression and anxiety. Some days are better than others, sure. But some days are truly horrific. When it’s really bad, it feels almost like I can’t breathe. I am sad and hurt and mad and overwhelmed. My emotions churn inside of me to the point that just one more thing feels like it will be my undoing. My depression tells me that I can’t do anything about all the bad things surrounding me while my anxiety fuels my need to fix everything all at once. Yeah, it feels as fucked up as it sounds.

And there’s more. Those same voices that pile on one bad thing after another also lie when they convince me that I am alone in all of this. I know that my friends would drop everything to rush to help me if I would only tell them what is happening when it is happening. I know that cognitively, I mean. But emotionally, when I’m in that spiral, I don’t believe that. Instead, my brain tells myself whatever fuels my emotions.
  • Why be kind of depressed when I can bottom out?
  • Why be only a little sad when I can replay every horrible moment of my life and be gutted?
  • And why feel a little lonely when I can be the guy whose friends wouldn’t really like him at all if they ever really knew him?

And here’s one last fucked up truth. I promise my friends that I will reach out to them if I ever find myself in such trouble that my suicidal thoughts are becoming ideations and actual plans. But I won’t. Because even before I pick up the phone, I run the whole conversation through in my mind. And if they were to ask, “John, are you thinking of harming yourself?”, I know that I would answer, “no, of course not, I’m just having a really tough time.” And since I know what I would say, I don’t call them. I don’t drag them through my own nightmare. I just let myself go as low as I need to before I take a deep breath, stuff it all back down in my little shame and guilt compartments, and pick myself up and walk on.

Do I worry that one day my low point will be so low that I can’t come back? Yeah, sometimes. And for my own sake, I hope that I would reach out then. Hard to say for sure, but I think so.
So what is the point of all of this self-disclosure? One of the things that grounds me is feeling like I am helping somebody else. I’m a helper-junkie, for lack of a better term. So I share just about everything that bounces around in my head in hopes that other people struggling with similar challenges will take comfort knowing they aren’t the only one. And putting this stuff out there candidly and without embarrassment may just empower someone else to do the same, to let other people see more than just the surface smiles. Things really do get better outside the comfort zone, right?

And finally, the promised action items. I should start by saying that writing all of this out like this has me thinking that it might be a good time to get myself a little more one on one time with a therapist. Living with depression and anxiety does not also have to mean being miserable and an emotional wreck beneath the happy, shiny surface. So that’s on my own to-do list.

Bigger than me, though, are some good to know things that may help someone else. The CDC has a lot of great information, and here are two of the simple things to be aware of:

What to Watch For
Individual, relationship, community, and societal factors may influence the risk of suicide. Know the suicide warning signs including:
  • Feeling like a burden
  • Being isolated
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Increased substance use
  • Looking for a way to access lethal means
  • Increased anger or rage
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Talking or posting about wanting to die
  • Making plans for suicide

How to Get Help
Safeguard the people in your life from the risk of suicide and support them:
  • Ask. Be direct.
  • Keep them safe.
  • Be there.
  • Help them connect. You can start with the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (call or text 988, or chat at
  • Follow up.

(I’m not going to go back, read what I wrote about myself, and edit it to something watered down and safe. Honesty and full disclosure are more likely to help me and others, so it all stays as written.)

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