Be the light in the midst of someone’s darkness

It was Christmas Eve of the year 2000, and I was alone in my room, angry, hurt, and loathing every inch of myself. The argument and screaming fight that had occurred between my parents and I for the half hour prior to this moment was over doing the dishes. It was a stupid argument, but the shadows that lay at the root of my reaction were far deeper. The dishes simply acted as a catalyst for a pain so deep that my capability to think logically had all but disappeared.

 

The previous three months I had spent taking a dull sewing needle and scratching over and over again ‘I hate myself’ on the same spot. Every morning, I would look in the mirror and see a girl who didn’t deserve to live staring back at me. I was ugly, pathetic, overweight. I was a horrible child, a liar, and lazy. At first, the cutting had come out of extreme anger at myself and at what a horrible person I felt I was. If I made it one day without getting into a screaming match with any member of my family, it was a good day. I couldn’t do anything right, and everything I loved was a waste of time.

 

I tried getting help once by approaching my parents, but after my first threat of suicide when I was ten, a psychologist they sent me to told my parents all my ‘depression’, bursts of anger and threats of suicide were solely for attention. This diagnosis, which came because I had no interest in talking about the things that made me ‘sad’, led to my parents believing for nearly another ten years that my depression was merely for attention.

 

I was broken, I was unfixable, and I couldn’t even get being depressed ‘right’, if there was such a thing.

 

School wasn’t much better. While I had found, for the first time in my life, a group of friends who accepted me for me, my lack of self-esteem was so deeply rooted that it seemed to go over my head that they liked me as I was, without needing to be perfect.

 

I had hoped the name-calling, the bullying, being called fat and ugly would stay in the throes of my elementary school, but they followed me straight into high school, increasing in their deadliness. It was common knowledge that I was a Christian, and a group of kids who thought Christianity was a joke never ceased tormenting me for it. There were classes where I would be interrupted when I spoke, being told that ‘I’m a Christian, so I don’t know anything’ or ‘Christians are too stupid to have an opinion’. Chances are, the kids who said these things don’t remember, but they stuck like knives, adding to the feeling that I would never amount to more.

 

The only person who was aware of the things swimming in my mind, a teacher who was privy to my daily ‘journals’ for class, ignored the dark things I wrote, the passages about ending my own life. She never liked me, and I assume she figured I was no-one to take seriously.

 

That Christmas Eve, as I scratched into my arm desperately trying to numb the pain, nothing worked. I felt horrible. Part of me knew the fight was my fault, only adding to the completely depleted feeling of self-worth. I had ruined Christmas, just like I ruined everything for my family. I was a dark stain making my family’s life miserable, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop.

 

In the midst of my tears and of making myself bleed, I remember being overwhelmed with a need to make it end, to make it stop, to stop hurting my family. I snuck into the kitchen, muffling my sobs with a pillow, stole a bottle of tylenol, and started downing them. I stopped counting after 15. I took at least double that before I returned to my room and waited to die.

 

No-one knew. It was a miracle that it didn’t kill me. I miracle I attribute to God, because absolutely NOTHING happened. After a minute or two of sobbing in my room, it was like this moment of clarity struck and I realized I didn’t want to die. I begged Him to not only save me, but to let nothing happen, and nothing did. You may choose to call it a random coincidence, but I don’t believe it.

 

It’s been 14 years since I first attempted suicide. Since then, I have come close to attempting suicide at least another 10 times. Every time, someone has randomly contacted me, called me, visited me, to remind me how much they love me. Sometimes, I had done something that warned them I was in a bad place, others they just had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to hear it.

 

By the time I was 20, my bipolar disorder had kicked in full-throttle. I had been diagnosed with clinical depression and was on anti-depressants, but they weren’t working. When my life fell apart, so did my capability to control myself, control my mind. I didn’t notice at first, until one day, without realizing it, I almost walked in front of a subway train at High Park. It was one of those moments I was covered by a cloud of darkness so deep I was practically unaware of my surroundings. My life was falling apart, and I felt like Alice, spiralling out of control down the rabbit hole. The thought only seemed to be there for a split second – how easy it would be to just walk in front of the train and end the pain, end the darkness.

 

I heard a shout from behind me, and jumped startled. Without realizing it, I had actually walked onto the yellow line and was inches away from walking off.

 

Between 1998 and 2007, nearly 250 people jumped in front of subway trains in Toronto, and 150 successfully ended their own lives.

 

I’ve always wondered how many of those people had the same thing happen to them as happened to me, but didn’t have anyone there to notice and stop them. How many people, for a brief moment, thought of ending it, and their mental state carried them over that yellow line and down onto the track before they even knew what was happening?

 

Suicide has been all over the news these last few weeks after Robin William’s death early in August. But the conversation needs to be pulled back to the issue at hand. Helping people understand suicide, understand why people get there, and most importantly, understand how to help those who are suicidal.

 

Wednesday, September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. The stigma surrounding suicide needs to be broken, and the issue needs to be addressed. Every year, approximately 1 million people commit suicide, which works out to someone killing themselves every 40 seconds. I once read that it is estimated more than double that number of people attempt suicide every year.

 

I was fortunate. I had a family that was willing to help me recover after my final breakdown, who took it upon themselves to get me help and to monitor me instead of leaving me in the hands of a hospital. I was fortunate that there was always someone aware of what was going on each time, whether through a gut feeling or actually witnessing it.

 

But not everyone is. So this year, I ask you. No, I beg you – stand up and help make a difference. Educate yourself on suicide, on what surrounds it, and make yourself more aware of some of the signs.

 

On October 11, my best friend Lana and her boyfriend are participating in the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk in Westport, CT. Lana joined the walk in support of loved ones who have struggled with mental illness, depression and suicide in her life. If you do nothing else this year, I ask that you sponsor her walk, on behalf of your own friends and loved ones who fight every day.

 

1 in 5 Canadians will suffer with mental illness in their lifetime, which means there is a good chance you know at least a handful of people struggling right now.

 

You have the capability to be the light in the midst of someone’s darkness. Don’t take that lightly.

 

8 thoughts on “Be the light in the midst of someone’s darkness

  1. Thank you for sharing your story – you’re so brave. Although I haven’t personally experienced any severe mental health problems, it’s a matter very close to my heart. There are (too) many members of my family with substance abuse and addiction disorders and my brother was diagnosed about eight years ago with schizoaffective disorder after a series of suicide attempts.

    It certainly has not been easy to break down the stigma, even within our own family, about mental illness. It’s still not a topic that comes up easily in conversation at the dinner table and most of our family friends are unofficially divided into those who ‘know’ and those who don’t.

    Thank you for joining the fight. I can’t wait for the day when the world can talk about mental illness like any other health issue – like breast cancer or the flu.

  2. I feel for you, at the age of 11 or 12, i became so very depressed, not wanting to go to school anymore due to the teasing I received. The people at church and everywhere else where always saying i was looking for attendance or I had a demon in me (processed), I got sent to a mental hospital 2 times, and both times they said i was ok. My family doctor put me on medicine for my depression without even seeing me first (my mother went in for me while i stayed home as i couldn’t even leave the house). the medicine made me worse and i slowly become somewhat suicidal, the medicine made me crazy and after a bit of using it, i wanted to go out of the house but my mom would not let me and blocked my way, I became angry (due to the meds) and pushed my mom, and hurt her, she called the police and I got charged at the age of 12/13, had a birthday in the detention center and everything. Now i still struggle some days, but i am alot better then i used to be……I know your story Tabitha will help alot of people out, as its nice to know your not the only one.

  3. thank you for sharing your story. i have struggled with depression for years and i know for a fact that it’s difficult to talk about these things. i can relate to your stories more than i want to. glad you’re still here to share these stories with the world. you are one bad ass chick, ya know. *hugs*

    1. I feel the same way about you too, lady. And I’m glad you are here as well. Talking about it is the most frightening thing I’ve done, but it needs to happen. I think part of the stigma comes from most people not understanding how GOOD we become at hiding it. I remember the first time someone found out I had depression, they were flabbergasted. I was always ‘cheerful’ and ‘sweet’. They never really connect with the fact that in order to simply survive, we have to become good at having those masks.

  4. I love you. For purely selfish reasons, I am so thankful that you failed every time you attempted suicide because then you wouldn’t be in my life. For other reasons, can you imagine what would have happened if you had succeeded? Look at how many supporters you have and people that love you. Look at the life you have now. You have a career in everything you ever wanted to do. You have so many friends and an awesome husband. You’re an amazing writer, photographer and journalist. Just to let you know; I am going to post that on Wednesday because it’s a must-read, and not because it has my name in huge letters.

    You’re awesome.

    1. I love you to. And for purely selfish reasons, I’m thankful I failed too.

      You already know that I don’t take that lightly. I don’t believe I survived to stay quiet and hide in the shadows. If any of my experiences can save one life, speaking out is worth it.

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