The Story of the Starfish
29 May 2016
Suicide. Does that word make you uncomfortable? I’ll be honest, it definitely used to make me uncomfortable. It used to be such a foreign concept to me. It used to sound like a bad word when it was mentioned in conversations or on the news around me.
I remember the first time I heard the word. It was during my religion class at the Catholic elementary school I attended. We were learning about different types of sins and suicide was known as a mortal sin, which means that it is seen as the most severe. I remember thinking to myself, Why would anyone ever take their own life on purpose? That makes no sense. There are people dying from diseases, war, car accidents, the list goes on and on, and people are killing themselves intentionally? Why?
The next time I heard the word was when I was in 6th grade, overhearing my sister talking to my mom. A friend of her’s had a cousin that walked into his school that day with an AK-47 and a suicide note. She said that he pulled out the gun after one of his classes and shot himself in the hallway.
I was dumbfounded quietly listening to the story from outside my parent’s bedroom. How could someone do that? How could he walk into school knowing there was a gun in his backpack going to be used to end his life? How could he sit through class pretending to learn, but knowing moments after the bell rang, he would be gone? How could he say goodbye to his parents before getting on the bus knowing it would be the last time he would hear their voices? How could he do that to his family? How could he do that to his friends? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. It made no sense to me.
I went into my medicine cabinet and started taking out all of the bottles I could find, opened the caps, and laid the pills out on the ground.
I started to cry as I looked at myself into the mirror. Was I sure I wanted to go through with this?
I wrote letters apologizing to my family, saying that there was nothing they could have done to help me, that none of it was their fault, that I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I wrote letters to those who made me hate myself as much as they said they hated me.
My vision became blurry and the sound of my music playing began to fade into the background and sounded distant and fuzzy.
I tried to catch my breath, but found myself gasping for air. It was at that moment that I thought to myself: this is it. It’s all over.
This foreign concept of suicide became a reality for me just four years after I heard about the boy who shot himself at his school. The word that had once made me so uncomfortable was the only thing that brought my anxious thoughts comfort throughout my days. The confusion of why anyone would ever want to intentionally take their life became very clear to me and I can sum it up to you in one word: alone.
I think suicide is often misconstrued because, by definition, suicide is the act of taking one’s life voluntarily. But, I didn’t want to die. You’re probably thinking to yourself…well, what did you want to do then? You tried to overdose on pain medications, what did you think would happen? But, I meant what I said. I didn’t want to die.
I just didn’t want to feel the pain anymore. I thought I had tried every other solution to feel better and nothing worked. I had depression, but I wasn’t sad as many people think the word means. I was numb. I felt absolutely nothing. I had no desires, no motivation, no drive. When I thought of the future, I couldn’t see past the day I was living. I would wake up in the morning and it was as if my body was on auto-pilot, while my mind was in a completely different place. I was empty and isolated. I believed suicide was my only way to stop feeling like that, that it was my only option.
Classroom. Family room. Every room I was in, I felt like no one understood the way I felt because I didn’t even fully understand the way I felt. There is nothing worse than being surrounded by an entire room of people and feeling completely alone. There is nothing more draining than continually faking a smile for the ones you love, because it seems like it is easier to do that than to explain why you are miserable.
It wasn’t until I was in a tiny, windowless, white room that I finally believed there were people that could relate to me. I was looking into the eyes of other kids, as young as 12 years old, that were in this room for the same reason I was: we all felt like we didn’t belong in this world. Whether it be the 8th grader that was in the corner who was covered from head to toe with cuts from her self-hate, or the junior in high school who hadn’t eaten in days, or me: the girl that hated herself all because a group of girls started a Facebook profile writing terrible things about her, and now she was addicted to knowing what people thought about her on social media. We all were there because we felt alone in this world and wanted to get out. We all needed help and we all realized we were not the only ones that felt this way. We were lucky to all learn before it was too late that the answer was not suicide.
Have you ever heard the old-aged story of the starfish? If you haven’t, here is a short run-down of it:
Once upon a time, there was an old man who was walking along the edge of the ocean. Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy coming towards him. As the boy walked, he paused every few seconds and as he came closer, the man could see that he was bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the ocean. The boy came closer and the man called out, “May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy stopped, looked up, and replied “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return by themselves. When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach? There must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled at the old man and said, “I made a difference to that one.”
The month of May is known as Mental Health Awareness Month. As the month comes to an end, I felt compelled to write this, even if it just makes a difference to one person’s life. I think the most important thing for people feeling this way is for them to know they are not alone, that they belong in this world, because trust me, I definitely know the feeling of depression sucking you into this black hole you think you’ll never get out of. But, you can and you will.
I want you to know you are not alone in feeling the way you are feeling by any means. Don’t believe me? In just the past few months, I have collected all of the messages I have received since I started blogging and speaking. I went through over 1,000 emails, texts, Facebook messages and wanted to share a few of them with you:
“Even being a guy, I read every single one of your posts. I don’t share them on my Facebook because I don’t want people to know I’m struggling, but I’ve been going through a rough time lately and I really needed to reach out to someone. Just knowing you have felt the things I have been feeling is enough to allow me to keep going.”
“I remember seeing a couple of your posts about dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts and stuff like that and helping talk with people about it. I deal with major anxiety attacks and lately a lot of depression and just self-hate and all that and I feel very alone.”
“Prior to hearing you speak today, I have been having constant suicidal thoughts and was planning on acting on them this week. I no longer feel alone and I reached out to my parents right after I heard you talk. So thank you. Thank you for saving my life.”
“I know you do not know me but for the past year I’ve been struggling with what I think is depression, but haven’t really told anyone about it.”
“You made me realize I am not alone. In this fight and in this world. So thank you. You’re a part of why I’m still here today (I know that sounds dramatic) but because of people like you, you make me realize it’s okay to deal with these things.”
“Recently my depression has gotten a lot worse. I haven’t been to school in two months and it has just escalated to the point where I can barely do anything anymore. I’m really scared.”
“I read your blog all the time and I think what you have to say has such an important message that really meant a lot to me. I’m in the process of finding a therapist.”
“I just read your latest blog post and it was so powerful. I just haven’t been feeling myself lately and so overwhelmed with school and life.”
“I don’t know you personally, but after reading your blog post and being brought to tears I felt as though I needed to reach out to you and thank you for your words. You put how I have felt so so so many times into words perfectly.”
“So I know we didn’t talk much in high school- but I just wanted to thank you. I’ve read your blog posts where you opened up about your depression and it’s truly inspiring and encouraging. I’ve also shared many of those emotions you’ve felt and its nice to know someone else is going through the same thing.”
Keep fighting. Don’t give up. Be strong. Things will get better. You will get through this. It may be stormy now, but it can’t rain forever.
…& if you need me, I’ll just be trying to throw the starfish one at a time back into the ocean where they all belong.