What I Wish I Knew Back Then
22 January 2017
“What would you say to someone who is so depressed right now that they just want to die?”
On Friday, I spoke at a local public high school and, during the Q&A session after, a 17 year old boy asked me this question. He didn’t avoid eye contact with me as he asked very quietly, as if searching for the perfect answer to this same, difficult question that so many people wonder about on a daily basis. I quickly responded by saying something like, “I would tell them that it gets better. That they should never give up hope because it may seem like the end of the world at the time, but things can drastically change and it truly will get better.”
I felt like I had spit out a Hallmark greeting card to him or a quote from one of those Chicken Soup for the Soul books. When I got home, I thought more about this question. What would I have wanted to be told when I was laying awake each night, contemplating suicide? What would have eased my desperate and depressed thoughts? What would I tell my 15 year old self as I was curled up in a ball, crying painful tears into my pillowcase? What do I wish I had known back then?
I obviously don’t have the “right” answer and I understand that everyone’s circumstances are different, so it is possible that this won’t relate to everyone or even anyone, and that’s okay. But, from my personal experience, I am going to do my best to try and tell you what I wish I knew back then and hope it will help at least one person currently struggling.
This post is specifically for those who woke up this morning unsure about how they are going to make it ’til tonight. This is for those who look in the mirror, feeling sick to their stomach at the sight of their reflection due to the hatred they have built up against themselves. This is for those who avoid eye contact with the people they pass by because they don’t feel like they deserve to be seen by the world. This is for those who feel like a failure. This is for those who feel unloved. This is for those who feel like, if they weren’t here, it would make absolutely no difference to anyone. This post is for those who are contemplating suicide.
You think that if you took your life right now, right at this moment, it wouldn’t matter at all?
Let me try to put this in perspective for you. If you kill yourself, you will also simultaneously alter someone’s life completely. And not just one “someone”, but many, many “someones”. Their worlds will be tainted for the rest of their lives.
When I speak at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s events, which brings together the loved ones of those who died by suicide, you want to know what I see? I see confusion and I see mourning. I see tears, so many tears. I see parents wearing handmade t-shirts with their child’s face on the back and the date below of when they were born, followed by the date they took their own life. I see siblings holding up posters, with pictures of their brother or sister. I see families who have attended these events for the past 15 or so years since their child’s suicide, not getting any easier each year for them to attend. I see different colored beads worn around the necks of the attendees, each color representing a category of who was lost to suicide- a child, a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a friend. I see trembling hands grabbing the microphone during the event, one-by-one, to say the name out loud of the one that left this world too soon. I see so many regretful eyes, living with the pain and burden each day thinking, ‘if only I had known, how didn’t I see the signs? I should’ve done more.’ You want to know what I see? I see the absolute tragic and heartbreaking trace that each and every suicide leaves behind.
Without you, something would be missing. When you kill yourself, you also kill a part of each person who knows you, too.
Your seat at the dinner table will be empty. Your bedroom will remain untouched, with the door shut, because your parents won’t be able to bear the thought of removing your things from where you used to sleep each night. The pictures in your home that used to be filled with such love and good memories are now constant and painful reminders of the piece of their puzzle that will forever be missing.
But, “no one understands me”, you think. “No one would care if I was dead.” “I feel so alone.” “My family doesn’t love me.” “I have no friends”.
Trust me, I know these feelings. But, looking back, I realize that you have absolutely no idea the impact your life is making, not just on family and friends, but on people you encounter each day as you walk on this earth. The people that you may not necessarily see, but that are seeing you every day. And more importantly, are touched by your life in some way.
People you never even think about will miss you. Even those that don’t always show their care and love. They all will wish you’d come back, but you never will. This temporary feeling you currently have will be given a permanent ending. And you will never know what could have been, who you could become one day, or how your life might have changed.
If you kill yourself, you won’t ever realize just how much you truly meant to those around you. If you kill yourself, yes, it ends your pain and suffering, but it simultaneously will start the pain and suffering for all those who knew you for the rest of their lives.
The tunnel you’re in may feel dark. It may feel pitch black. I understand that. But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I can promise you that. Your life is so beautiful. Yes, yours. I’m not going to lie, you will have good days and you will have terrible days. There will sometimes be tears of sadness, but other times there will be tears of joy.
Life is not easy. People go through tough times in their lives like you’re going through right now. The thoughts in your head are telling you “you’re not strong enough to brace this storm.” But, you need to tell yourself “I am the storm.” No matter how hard life gets, no matter how much you want to give up, take a minute now, and think: If I killed myself right now, how would the people that love me feel? You can’t think of anything? Well I’ll tell you what I have seen: Utter sadness. Utter devastation. Utter pain. Utter guilt. And utter emptiness.
If you feel suicidal, it will get better. I’m gonna be honest, it may not be today. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not even this year. It took me years to finally feel like my life is worth living. But, you too have so much to live for. You are such a crucial and unique part of this world, even if you don’t feel it now. Nothing would be the same if you did not exist.
I never told you what I don’t see at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s events- you want to know what I don’t see? I don’t see my family, friends, and loved ones. I don’t see my parents wearing handmade t-shirts with my face on the back with my date of birth, 9/30/1994, followed by the date when I tried to take my life by overdosing on pain medication, 2/26/11. I don’t see my three siblings holding up posters, with pictures of us when we were growing up. I don’t see my dad’s trembling hands grabbing the microphone during the event, as he tries to say the name of his youngest daughter “Emily Torchiana” out loud. I don’t see regretful and tearful eyes in my loved ones’ faces. You want to know what I don’t see? I don’t see what my suicide would have left behind. And I don’t ever want to see what your suicide would leave behind either.
That is my answer to the question I was asked and that is what I wish I had known back then.