I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in late 2013, shortly after being hospitalized for attempting suicide. Today’s topic is a heavy one and an extremely important one to discuss. When I first decided to create this blog, I knew that at some point I wanted to share my experience and past struggles with suicidal thoughts and depression. I have given this post a lot of careful thought, and I feel that now is the time to speak up and share my story. As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor nor a licensed mental health professional. I merely want to share my personal journey, and I recognize that every person who struggles with depression or suicidal thoughts has a unique experience.
“Underneath the facade, I was silently suffering, and I did not know how to verbalize how I was feeling.”
The first time I ever had a suicidal thought was during my freshman year of college. I remember thinking, “What if I wasn’t here anymore?” At the time, I did not recognize that this thought was an early warning sign, because generally speaking I felt happy and was a high-functioning, high-achieving student. Looking back on those early years, I realize how little I knew about depression and the different ways it can manifest. Through college I performed well in my studies and made lots of friends. As a perfectionist and procrastinator, I often experienced self-induced stress, which I chalked up to being a normal college experience. I would laugh it off and put on a smile. Underneath the facade, I was silently suffering, and I did not know how to verbalize how I was feeling. I remember feeling confused at times, by some of my thoughts – “Why do I feel so sad all the time, when everything is going so well?” Then I would feel guilty, and I would berate myself for having those feelings in the first place. Round and round I would go in this mean, vicious cycle.
Towards the end of my sophomore year of college, two of my closest friends came to me and told me that they were worried about me. Despite thinking that I had hidden my suffering from everyone, my friends could see the truth. Their timing came at a critical moment for me, as I had been contemplating suicide for several weeks. Knowing that I was not alone and that my friends cared deeply for me, helped to ground me back into reality. My reasons for wanting to end my life lost some of their power over me that day. After our heart-to-heart, I felt so supported and uplifted that I naïvely believed my struggles with suicidal thoughts were over. As I would later discover, the thoughts and impulses to commit suicide would return from time to time throughout my college career and the years following.
Navigating the Storms
“The path of healing takes time and a willingness to truly change. And it is ABSOLUTELY worth every single bit of effort!”
As someone with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), I have experienced low periods wherein I have felt deeply depressed, unmotivated, sad, and overwhelmed by life. On the flip side, I have also experienced peaceful periods wherein I feel happy, highly motivated, social, and at ease with my life. I say all of this to illustrate that depression can manifest at different times, in different ways, and also in varying levels of severity. A few years after my initial suicidal thoughts, I saw my first therapist. He was kind and well-qualified, but I held back a lot in our sessions. At the time, my insurance would only cover 6 sessions, which was not enough time for me to build trust or really dive into the therapy work. Even so, I am grateful to my younger self for having gone to those sessions, because it was my first real acknowledgement that the thoughts I was having were harmful.
Years later, I began working with my second therapist, while living in Asheville. With the help of my therapist, I appealed to my insurance company to cover more visits. With these additional sessions, I was able to work with my therapist for 10 weeks. She and I met once a week and engaged in talk-therapy. Around the same time, I also consulted with my doctor and began taking my first (of many) antidepressants.
During the short time that I lived in North Carolina, my depression reached a depth I had not experienced before. My suicidal thoughts were occurring on a regular basis and sometimes lasted for days or weeks at a time. I felt isolated, ashamed, and as though I had no control over my thoughts or emotions. Although I did not realize it at the time, I was also in an emotionally abusive relationship, which did not provide the healthy support that I needed, and I blamed myself for everything that went wrong. Oddly enough, remaining in this unhealthy relationship led me to find my third and current therapist.
In the summer of 2013, I relocated to Florida and moved in with my then girlfriend. I knew that it was important to continue working with a therapist and taking my medication. Since my insurance would not cover any more therapy sessions for that year, and I could not afford a therapist’s rates, I did some online research to find a solution. I discovered a center in Jacksonville that provided therapy and counseling services to women based on a sliding scale. Because there were a limited number of therapists and counselors, I was on a waiting list for my intake appointment. During that waiting period, the stresses in my life continued to grow and consume me. I felt trapped, alone, lost, and hopeless.
One evening in September of 2013, the pressure that had been building finally burst. I was exhausted from feeling constantly depressed, anxious, and miserable. In a moment of pure anger and bitterness, I attempted to take my own life. Thankfully, I was unsuccessful in completing suicide. While I was in the hospital, I felt the gravity of my nearly fatal and irreversible mistake. It shook me to my core. I realized that what I sought in suicide was not death, but rather an end to my suffering. I knew then that I had a choice – continue down my old path of suffering or blaze a new path of healing. I will be honest, choosing to confront my pain, traumas, and self-destructive patterns was not easy. The path of healing takes time and a willingness to truly change. And it is ABSOLUTELY worth every single bit of effort! I would have left this world many years ago had I not pressed on through the dark and difficult parts.
Light Amidst the Darkness
“I recognize that all of those small choices I made for my self-care were the first seeds of self-love that I planted.”
Shortly after being released from the hospital, I began seeing my new therapist. I believe whole-heartedly that the Universe desired our paths to cross, because she was precisely the therapist I needed in my life at that moment. I also found a new doctor, who could guide and support me on the medication side of my treatment. I worked intensely with my therapist for 3 years. This amount of time allowed me to build a deeply-rooted trust in my therapist, myself, and the therapy process. I would not have gained the coping skills, personal insight, and confidence that I have today without putting in the effort that I did in therapy.
Additionally during that time, I felt drawn to physical activity. My therapist and doctor encouraged me to pursue whatever forms of exercise helped me to relieve some of my stress. Running allowed me to pound the pavement and work through some of my anger and frustrations. Yoga helped me to reconnect with my body through breath and mindful movements. I also began to explore meditation during this time. I was still wrapped up in that unhealthy relationship, but through meditation I began to find solace in myself. Looking back on that time, I recognize that all of those small choices I made for my self-care were the first seeds of self-love that I planted. Those tiny seeds grew and flourished, as I continued to place my mental/emotional health as a priority. Over the years, I still stumbled and fell face first in the mud many times. The point is that I still kept trying, even when I felt tempted to give up.
One of the most difficult aspects of depression was the sense of loneliness that I often felt. So many of my struggles were internal, and therefore it was easy for me to hide and withdraw from my friends and family. For years, I struggled with shame and guilt surrounding my depression and suicidal thoughts. I was so afraid that if people knew what was really going on that they would judge me, think I was crazy, or realize that I was unworthy of their love. By believing this lie and setting it on repeat in my mind, it took me a long time to break my silence. Once I reached out for help, I broke my old pattern, and I found that I had more love and support than I ever could have imagined. My family, friends, co-workers, and other positive people with whom I surrounded myself, uplifted and encouraged me through some of my most challenging and heart-wrenching moments. To those special people, I am forever grateful for your compassion, comfort words, and loving presence. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
“I am now my own best friend and greatest love.”
My journey with depression has spanned nearly 14 years! With that said, I have not suffered a depressive episode since 2016. Certainly, I have felt sadness and stress, but not to the degree I once experienced. Over the past 2 years I have grown stronger and gained even more insight into myself. I accept that with my MDD that there may be times in the future when I am challenged once again by depression. The difference now is that I have the knowledge, tools, and support system already in place to help see me through. My relationship with myself is also completely different. I now know how it feels to love myself fully and unconditionally. Where once I was my own worst enemy and cruelest hater, I am now my own best friend and greatest love.
The message that I want to leave with you all is that of hope. For those of you who may be struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, you are NOT alone. Your life truly matters, and things will get better. I know how uncomfortable and hard it is to reach out, but I encourage you to ask for help. There are people in your life who care deeply for you, and they want to help you. There are also resources available (see below) to help you, if you are in crisis.
For those people who know of someone who is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, your support and love is deeply meaningful. You make such an incredible difference. There may be times when you feel helpless, but I urge you to never give up hope. Understand that it is not your job to fix everything for your loved one; the healing must come from within the person who is suffering. Your role instead is to create a safe and supportive space. There are resources available for you as well, which I will include below.
I would not be writing these words right now, if I did not believe in the power of love and healing. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this post. I am certain that in the future I will share more on this and other related topics. Take care of yourselves, my dear readers.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
For those people living in the USA, “The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.” You can contact the Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255. The website offers many great resources as well: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
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