The number forty replays in my mind constantly as I am standing, looking at the hundreds of people staring back at me.
To someone passing by, the individuals surrounding the stage I stand on look like strangers, gathered together to listen to a speaker. But, these people are nothing like strangers. They have been brought together to this place with a common thread that runs through each and every one of their lives: suicide.
Although I speak at middle and high schools frequently about depression and suicide prevention, I feel extremely unprepared and uneasy speaking here today. Usually I speak of hope to those listening who may be suffering silently, both mentally and emotionally. I let them know that it gets better and that they won’t feel the way they are feeling forever. But, here I am today, staring at these people, only thinking of the number forty.
Every forty seconds a human being takes their own life, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. The people before me are some of the faces affected by this number forty.
It is time for the event to begin and I talk of my personal struggle and experiences with depression and suicidal attempts. After about twenty minutes, I finish, and the microphone that I spoke with is sent around the room, seat by seat, row by row.
Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, friends, and so many more take the microphone in their weak and trembling hands. With tearful eyes and sorrowful voices, they speak the name of their loved one who took their life. Three hundred and fifty people said a name. Three hundred and fifty.
I so badly wish that those three hundred and fifty individuals, who are no longer alive today, could have been standing where I was standing and see how much they mean to their families and friends, as I saw firsthand. I wish they could have seen the small glimpse of hope that I saw, through all the darkness trapping me back in high school. I wish they could have held on to the ones closest to them and know how truly they were needed and loved in this world. I wish they could have found their own silver lining in the dark clouds above them. But, it’s not always that easy.
Depression is not sadness, as some use that context of the word in their everyday conversations. Depression is utter emptiness. It has the power to let you be surrounded by countless people who love you, but never feeling more alone. It can make you feel like you are the only one that feels or has ever felt this way. It literally sucks the life out of you, until you can’t take the pain anymore. Suicide is not taking the easy way out, as some have said to me in the past. Not only is this statement extremely ignorant, but also incorrect. Suicides are attempted when one feels that they have tried everything and anything else and feel they have no other option left. They don’t actually want to die. They just want the pain to stop, and in the moment, it feels like this is the only way to make it stop.
When the last person said the name of their loved one who took their life, an older woman that I did not know came over to me and hugged me tightly, sobbing. I heard her through her tears say, “I thank God that no one is here saying your name today.”
I couldn’t even let out a “thank you” or any words as she walked away. I was taken back by this statement by this complete stranger and her one simple sentence has had a lasting effect on me. I stood there, thinking about what she had just said to me. I pictured my family sitting, listening to a speaker talk about their journey with depression, how they overcame it, and how they are moving forward with their life in a positive way. Then, I imagined them taking the microphone with their trembling hands and sorrowful voices and saying my name out loud.
Just in this past week, I have been told of two people that I distantly knew that took their own lives. I thought about all the things I could’ve and should’ve said to these individuals, hoping they would change their mind and not make the jumps to their deaths.
One of those individuals wrote on Facebook, “This isn’t anyone or anything’s fault but my own” and then later in the post says, “I’ve felt lost for awhile now. I’ve been telling myself to hold on for so long, but I’m tired. I’m just…tired.”
I have reread the screenshot of that post every day on my phone since that individual took that fateful jump last week. I wish more than anything I could’ve told you that it was not your fault for feeling like that, that many others feel this way or have felt this way before, that you are not alone in this world. I wish you could see how many people miss you and are lost without you. I wish you could have seen the packed funeral service and realize that you were so extremely loved, even if it didn’t always feel like it, as I have felt before too. I know that I can’t change the past and get these two lives back and neither can their grieving loved ones, and that is extremely difficult for me and others to accept. But, I felt compelled to write this for those out there, still silently struggling and feeling tired.
If you’re reading this, I want you to put your hand over your heart. Do you feel that? That is called purpose. You are alive for a reason. You are not just here to fill space or be a background character in someone else’s story. Nothing would be the same if you did not exist. Every person you have ever encountered or any place you have been would be different without you. Always remember that.