“It’s not that I want to kill myself, but I understand the thought process of someone that does”
In my head those words made perfect sense, but as I recited them to my mother a decade ago, I could tell by the horror in her face that I had made a mistake. I was a single mother and a college student and I was in the mist of my first of several mental/emotional breakdowns. At the time I knew nothing about bipolar disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, all diagnoses I would eventually claim as my own. No, all I knew was that I was falling apart and I had no idea how to stop it.
Though death wasn’t something I craved, the dread and despair that engulfed me gave me insight into a world that I had never entered before. I suddenly became aware of the calculated, almost justifiable mental process that a person goes through who considers taking their own life. I thought about the pros and the cons; I imagined the “cleanest” ways of going. I even thought about my family and the after effects of making such a permanent and brutal decision. I wasn’t committed to a hospital, but I probably should have been. Being in that space I understand the fine, almost invisible line between rational thought and irrational decisions. I never crossed that line and like to argue that they were mere thoughts and never actionable deeds, but I was there; I walked that line and I will forever empathize with those who choose the other side of the coin.
When I heard about the untimely death of Karyn Washington, founder of “For Brown Girls” and “The Red Lip Project” my reaction wasn’t that of many people. I didn’t wonder why she choose to take her life. I didn’t question what she was going through and wondered why no one in her life couldn’t help her. I didn’t even attempt to figure out the details of her death because I like many other people I can empathize with Karyn and others in her predicament. I understand the type of despair that is felt so deep down inside of you that it’s hard to identify where it begins and where it ends. I get that sometimes no matter how hard you try that you can’t just “Get over it”; that there are times that the pain is just too deep to be able to talk it out with your girlfriends over brunch. I know the dread of realizing that you need a plan D because your plan A, B and C have failed once again. I know that the pain of losing a loved one is unimaginably real and forever constant.
But having been in that space before I also recognize the value of time. I know that being able to say “This too shall pass” and truly believing it is the difference between life and death. Though it may not seem so to others, just holding on one more day may seem like a lifetime for someone that is in a state of depression but I know that the benefits of doing so are immense.
Today I am speaking directly to those of us who have spent so much cultivating and nurturing the person that we project to the world that the real you, the real me, the real us is left hidden and neglected. I’m speaking to those of us who have looked at ourselves in the mirror and barely recognized the person looking back; who will look sheepishly away when we hear someone call a person selfish who took their own life because we ourselves have held that burden in our hearts. I am speaking out so that it is known that there are options and resources available to help put your life on track. I am raising my voice because I need you to know that you do not have to carry this pain on your own; you are not alone in this.
We as a community must create an atmosphere of tolerance that enable individuals to feel supported when they use the words “mental illness” and “depression” to describe their situations. When the shame of not living up to the expectations of others can be replaced by love and support and people feel safe when reaching out for help, we will hopefully see a decline in the tragedies that have become grimly commonplace in our society.