By Senior Airman Scott Jackson, 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 19, 2016
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Let’s talk about suicide.
For a majority of my life I’ve thought about killing myself. I never really talked to anybody about it or expressed it. It just dominated my thoughts. I was obsessed with death and dying. Basically, I thought the world sucked and I wanted to escape and killing myself seemed the best option.
I wrote my first suicide note when I was in the 4th grade. I don’t have the best family, I’ll leave it at that. My teacher found it and spoke with me. She called my parents, and they talked to me about it when I got home. It was awkward. I know a lot of people will say this or that is “so awkward,” but that was really dang awkward. I told them it was a joke, I was just writing, that’s all. They believed me and they moved on, but I didn’t.
In high school as I drove home from school I pictured myself walking into my house and going straight for the toaster and drawing a bath. I’d sit on the bathroom counter watching the water rise and I’d just wait. Counting the minutes down. I’d be ready when the water reached the drain. I’d be indifferent. No tears. No shaking. No self-doubt. Just freedom. Pure sweet freedom as I’d stand in the rising water and plug in the toaster and let it drop like a guillotine.
My parents would come home, freak out, call the police, the ambulance, everyone. Extended family I never talked to would fly out, see my funeral, talk about how great I was. Friends would be sad and say things like “I never thought he’d do it, I mean, I knew he was sad, but…”
Clearly, I never went through with it.
But these daydreams plagued me for years. Most of my life, in fact.
What kept me from doing it?
Fear. Fear of death, fear of judgement from those that would remember me. It’s funny, ironically, that death kept me sober enough to delay killing myself. Even when you hate everything, death is a hard thing to jump into. But in retrospect, those fears were on a slippery slope. Eventually my apathy would get so big, so hard to handle, I wouldn’t care about anything. Not death, not my friends, nothing. The fantasy would eventually come true and I'd be dead by my own doing.
I got better, but there's one point people need to realize: I’m not unusual. People who think about committing suicide are not rare, not at all. They're everywhere.
I got better because I sought out help and worked real damn hard with every ounce of my being to get better.
I'm still not where I want to be. Some days I get in a slump and I come home and just head straight to bed. Cleaning my room and doing my dishes are suddenly so bothersome I'd rather be homeless. I'm not exaggerating. These are issues I carry with me. Imagine these qualities in a romantic relationship. It's like a rollercoaster you never wanted to get on.
I may not be unusual, keep in mind, I am rare. I am rare because I was able to swallow my pride and seek help. I'm not putting others who suffer down, it's hard. I almost puked during my first session with my therapist. I hated the entire idea of it. It felt like it was set to fail immediately. I didn’t have a car and had to be driven there by a friend. I couldn't lie and say, "Yeah, my appointment is at the med clinic." Nope. They’re not in the same building. I had to specify. I told them it was at the mental health clinic and a flurry of questions came at me. My friend was super polite and courteous, but his questions were hard to answer and I told him that I wasn't comfortable talking about it and he understood. As I walked in to set my appointment up, I wanted to bolt out the door and run home and hide away from everything. Anything to get away from talking about it.
This leads me to another point:
People are chameleons. They will hide anything they feel ashamed of. They will lie to your face. They will try and try and try to talk about anything other than what they feel ashamed about like a cockroach running from the light.
Do people usually feel ashamed for feeling suicidal? Depressed? You bet they do. If you see someone who comes off as a bit sad, morose, and depressed—find out why. Then find out to what extent. Tear down every facade until you know for a fact they’re telling the truth when they say, "I'm fine." You are handling someone's life.
No, I'm not saying go around base and around town and interrogating every single person that isn't leaving a trail of rainbows behind them as they walk and singing the Air Force song under their breath. No. I'm saying be vigilant. Keep an eye out. Be wary. Take your friends and family seriously. If they're sad, find out why. Even if you think their issues are petty, they still feel the way they feel and by that measure, your opinion about their feelings is irrelevant. If you belittle their issues, it might make them feel like no one cares about them. I know the millennial generation is infamous for wanting their feelings coddled, but let's be real, with the “Baby-Boomer” suicide rates and rates of depression being in the dirt, clearly we all need some work. [Links below]
I am not about to start a generational war, but old folks and young folks, we’ve got to start looking out for one another. We’re all in this together, suicide and depression are not jokes to be laughed at, they’re problems to be solved, and they’re hidden in plain sight.
If you see someone is down, offer a helping hand and more if you can. Get them to where they need to go.
And if you find yourself feeling lost and helpless, reach out. There's always someone out there who will listen. I know it sucks, I know it feels like you’re showing the weakest side of yourself, but if you want to get ahold of your life, you can’t cheat this. There is no other way than facing your issues and taking them head on. If you try to divert them, if you try to cheat them, side-step them, whatever, they will always come back…and they will come back stronger.
I sought help a year after I enlisted. I couldn’t take it anymore. I thought maybe if I joined the military things would start getting better. I’d be forced out of my depression. I wouldn’t have a choice. I’d be forced to put up with everything. I’d learn to depend on myself. I’d get distracted and the depression and apathy would go away.
Well it didn’t work.
Depression is like a tape worm. It gorges itself on all experiences. It devours them, makes you feel empty and while it grows and grows you feel worse and worse. Experiences that would usually make people happy make the depressed-suicidal person malaise and apathetic. They push themselves through the day like zombies. Everything becomes that much harder, because you don’t care when everything seems terrible. The idea of anything being pleasant becomes a myth. It goes on like this until you are completely consumed then –suicide enters the picture.
You have to look that tape worm in the face and fight it.
I never thought I’d get better, but I did. It takes a lot of endurance and effort to stay where I am.
I won. Even when I thought I couldn’t.
And you can too.
Don’t give up.
The fight is long, but there is no point to fight alone.