Written By: Chelsea Gillis
I am a suicide attempt survivor. I may not be proud of those lonely and horrific moments; the moments where my mental illness pushed me so far over the edge, I felt like ending it all was my only option. I hope to never again return to that dark place in my own mind. But I am allowed to be proud of the fact that I survived, and I wear the term “survivor” like a badge of honor. For generations, suicide has been a “sensitive” subject. For years we have been told to suppress our emotions, we aren’t meant to talk about suicide, not openly, and not honestly. We hide behind the awkwardness of the term “suicide” After we survive, we find ourselves being pushed away by those closest to us, and we always get the same response, “They just don’t know what to say.” The moment I opened my eyes in a hospital room, following my last attempt, I sobbed and said out loud to myself, “My life is going to change.” I had just survived a suicide attempt, but all I could think about was how my actions would affect my loved ones. Just a few hours before I was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, but in that moment all I could think of was the judgment I would face once I was released. And I was right, my life did change.
My friends and family tried to support me, in every way they could, but there was still a lack of understanding. In an attempt to cope with readjusting to life after my attempt, I reached out to several suicide attempt survivor support groups. For nearly a year now I have been a member of several support groups, even becoming an admin of one. After a few months in recovery, I started my podcast, Let’s Talk About It; where we always encourage others to stand up and speak their truth. One question I often come across in my line of work is, “How should I treat a suicide attempt survivor after I’ve learned of the attempt?” Now I cannot speak for everyone else, but it got me thinking; I wonder how I might react if someone were to ask me the question, “How should I treat you now?”
My answer? Be gentle with me, I am still healing. Limit your expectations, I am trying my best. I promise you that I am trying. Even if it doesn’t always seem like it to you. I am still readjusting to the idea of being in the world, I am slowly realizing that I do want to be here. If we are talking one day and I seem perfectly fine, but the next day I completely ignore you, please don’t assume that my intention was to hurt you. I am not trying to be cold or distant. Please don’t think I love you any less. My mental illness hates me, not you, I promise. Those plan we made to go day drinking at the beach sound wonderful. I would love to join you. Unfortunately. My mental illness thinks that is a terrible idea. My mental illness thinks I should stay in bed all day and remind myself how much of a burden I am to my family and friends. But I am still here. I am still fighting. Some days that is all I have to offer, and it must be enough.
Please, love me through this. I know that things are scary and confusing right now, but this is only temporary. Don’t give up on me, it won’t be this way forever. My mental illness does not define me. This suicide attempt does not define me. Yes, they will always be a part of me, but there is so much more to me than this. I am the same person I have always been to you. This experience is not new to me, I have lived with it my whole life. For years I haven been struggling with suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation, you just never knew until now. I am the same person I was before you knew I tried to commit suicide. Do not avoid me because you are afraid. If the topic of suicide make you uncomfortable, you need to express it. Your discomfort will not discourage me from having this important conversation, I will forever work to do my part to end the stigma surrounding mental health, and the accompanying suicidal thoughts, but together we can get to the route of your discomfort. It’s difficult for me too, talking about it. But while you’re worried about feeling “awkward” I fear facing your harsh judgment. I am terrified that you will tell me that I am ‘weak’ or ‘selfish’ This is not what I need to hear right now. I need your love and compassion. I need you to lend an ear, and sit with me through my pain. Despite how uncomfortable it might make you. I’m sorry, but this conversation was never about you, or your feelings. You call me selfish, but I am the one fighting for my life.
Don’t avoid this conversation. Please check in with me, and ask me how I am doing. And please don’t ever stop asking. I am an abuse survivor, and my survival was ensured by my silence. I am still learning that it is ok to talk, and that I won’t be punished for it. If you start to notice the warning signs, or you are worried about my wellbeing, please don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, it might just save my life. But at the same time, we need to have boundaries. I am still a fully functioning adult, and I am capable of making my own decisions. Yes, I may need your help from time to time, but I also need you to respect my privacy. You should always be mindful of what you say, not just to me, but to all humans; you never know what darkness another person is facing in their lives. But please, don’t feel the need to walk on eggshells around me. Yes, I am fragile, but I am still ME. I still want to laugh, and have fun, and be treated with a sense of normalcy. Don’t be insensitive; all of us, here on earth, could benefit from a little more kindness and compassion. Don’t push me away. Stay here with me, walk along this path of healing with me. If you cannot, and it is too much for you, you have no place in my life. I wish you no ill will, but I must only surround myself with those who choose to be supportive.
Our entire existence is dependent on human connection, and emotional support. I need it more now than ever. I am sick, not weak. I am not selfish, I am fighting a daily battle inside my own mind. My mental illness is trying to kill me, but I refuse to give up; I want to live. I don’t expect anyone to truly understand my experiences, it’s impossible, but you don’t have to walk a mile in my shoes to be empathetic. We are only human, and we are all trying our best to survive in this somewhat cruel and unfair world. Stand with me, and speak your truth. Let every suicide attempt survivor know they are not alone. Help me spread the word, “It’s OK to talk about suicide.”