I have worked for the federal government for 13 years and in each and every one of those years, I have been through suicide awareness and prevention training.
I have completed the Resiliency Training Assistant course, and I have even taught resiliency at Wingman Days. I know the toolsets to help and have a set of personal coping skills. However, there is nothing more excruciatingly painful than emotional pain.
Now the dark truth: I have attempted suicide twice and have battled suicidal ideation for years. I have a long history of depression and anxiety. Feelings of hopelessness, sadness and being alone, along with overwhelming stress and the desire to be “normal,” piled up until I was in a very dark place. I found myself overcome with inner turmoil: do I choose to live or end it all?
Struggles, stressors, depression, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness and feelings of being alone are very real and very personal.
They are not things I felt I could talk openly about to people at work, or even my family.
I felt ashamed, embarrassed and scared, and I didn’t know who I could trust with these very personal feelings and thoughts.
Who would care? I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. These were my problems, not theirs. I felt at work that I was nothing more than a statistic. I felt as if no one would understand and I would just be told to “suck it up and move on.” What would my boss think? How would it reflect on me and my work performance?
I understand that everyone has ups and downs in life; that’s the way life is. But despite my history, I knew I was in the darkest place I had ever been. I knew the feelings I had were deeper and hurt more than they did when I had previously attempted suicide.
The internal battle of part of me wanting to live and part of me wanting to die was becoming unbearable. Still, I went to work day after day, fighting a fight that no one knew about. It was easy to put on a happy face and act like everything was okay while I was around people. I even kept up the act at home around my spouse and children. No one knew.
For months I wrestled with my feelings, trying desperately to get the fighting within myself to stop. I was grasping at everything I could think of as a reason to live. When my spouse and I got into a fight one evening after a rough day at work, I blurted out without thinking, “All of our problems would be solved and life would be much better if I were dead!” After the fight I told him I was just upset, that I didn’t really mean it.
I started to think more about death. I developed a plan on how I would do it. I was very methodical in the way I handled work things one day — under the guise of ‘situational awareness,’ I made sure my co-workers knew where things were located for some events that were coming up; I left a few select papers and folders on my desk; I left my desk unlocked.
No one noticed, though I would never do those things normally. I said my usual goodbyes and left for the evening with no intention of being alive to “see them in the morning.”
As I drove home, I looked at telephone poles and large trees and wondered how fast I would have to go to wrap my car around one of them to make it a fatal accident. I fought myself to keep on the road. I had one more thing to take care of before I left.
As I walked into my home, one of my children, who is young and doesn’t say very many words, ran up to me yelling, “MOM, MOM, MOM!” with his arms wide open and gave me the biggest hug I have ever received in my life. When my child looked up at me and motioned for a kiss, that was it. That was the turning point for me.
In an instant I felt desperate; I needed help and I needed it now. I confessed to my spouse how I was truly feeling and that it had been going on for quite some time.
The realization that there was a definite possibility of me not being here anymore was suddenly very real and extremely terrifying.
I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and talked to a very nice, soft-spoken woman. She asked me a lot of questions about how I was feeling, if I had a plan and what my life situation was. As nice as she was, it wasn’t providing the help I needed. I called my primary care physician and explained my need for help. She told me to go to the emergency room right away. Fearing that driving myself wouldn’t go very well, I packed up my family and headed out to the ER, trying to keep myself together.
I was taken to a room immediately. I was very ashamed as I explained to the nurses and doctor what was going on. I knew how to be resilient; I taught it. The thoughts of, “I don’t really need help” and, “I just had a bad day, I will get over it” started rushing through my mind. I fought the urge to just leave.
I was there for several hours and released with a follow-up appointment at the mental health clinic early the next morning. My spouse called my supervisor to let her know what was going on and that I would not be in to work the next day. She was supportive and offered to help in any way she could.
I arrived at my appointment after a long night of thinking. I had a long talk with a counselor. She wrote me a safety plan and suggested I have my medications adjusted. I was once again sent home. I called my doctor and set up an appointment for the following day. I went to that appointment and told her what had happened. She made some adjustments to my medications and suggested inpatient care.
The next day I went back to the clinic with my spouse and explained that I needed more intensive help and wanted to be admitted. After sharing more details with the ER nurses and telling them that I really felt this was the best thing for me, I was taken to an inpatient facility.
I went to every group therapy meeting they offered. I learned that I am truly not alone. I have been told for years and by every mental health professional I have seen that “I am not alone.” Until I experienced it first hand, I never believed them. I was not and am not alone. Through the group meetings, I found that a lot of people are suffering and battling the same dark, overwhelming sadness I was and still am to an extent. Their life situations weren’t the same as mine, but it didn’t matter. We were all there for the same reason: to get help.
I was in the inpatient facility for five days.
When I returned home, the darkness had lifted some. I was by no means “cured,” but I felt a lot better. I knew that I had done the right thing. I found hope when I thought I had none. I found reasons to live when I felt they were all gone. I found support from my supervisor, which lessened my work-related stress. For the first time in years, I felt some level of happiness. I was proud of myself for choosing to live. I was proud I took that step to accept I needed help and to get the help I needed — even though it was probably the hardest thing I have ever done.
I still battle depression and anxiety and probably always will. But I have found through all of this that no matter what is going on in life, there is always a reason to live.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Air Force Materiel Command is currently conducting its Mental Fitness Campaign, to inform the workforce about the signs and symptoms of depression, offer anonymous behavioral health screenings, and promote mental fitness assistance programs and services.
Professional counseling services are available for the AFMC workforce and their families. Active-duty personnel can contact their local mental health clinic for services, or they can contact Military OneSource by calling (800) 342-9647 or visiting militaryonesource.mil. Civilian employees can contact the Employee Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling services by calling 1-800-222-0364 or by visiting FOH4You.com.