you make today better.
today marks the start of world suicide prevention week.
i get involved with To Write Love on Her Arms’ campaign every year, and this year’s theme is “You Make Today Better.” mental health awareness and suicide prevention is something that is really close to me, because suicide is 100% preventable.
today’s post is really special because my friend morgan is sharing her story. morgan is full of life, laughs harder than anyone i know, smiles at everybody, and is a suicide surivor.
i’ve always admired her honesty and decision to live so transparently, and i hope her story inspires you to do the same.
when i woke up in the icu of my local hospital a little over five years ago, it was simultaneously one of the best and worst moments of my life… it meant that i was getting a second chance at my life, but it also meant that my attempted overdose was unsuccessful and now i would have to deal with the consequences of that. i would have to face everything that had brought me to the point of suicide: years of unaddressed anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, self-harm, abuse, isolation, insomnia, abysmal self-esteem. it was going to be a constant and steep uphill battle, but it was one that i knew in my heart i had to at least attempt after one look at my heartbroken family around me.
if you had told 11-year-old me that 19-year-old was going to try to kill herself, i honestly think i would have thought you were crazy! listen, my childhood was far from perfect, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as many people’s. yes, my dad was unfaithful to my mom for 20+ years of marriage and was so busy with work that he was literally only home to whisk us away on fun vacations whenever it suited him, remaining absent from everyday life. yes, my grandma (his mother) was the hardest woman to please i’ve ever known in my life and i was consistently not good enough to be my dad’s (her golden child) daughter. yes, i was told from an extremely young age that i was gifted - smart and mature beyond my years and talented to boot, setting up the world’s most unrealistic expectations. but i played outside, i had lots of friends, most of my family was extremely present and supportive, my parents were solidly upper-middle class so my brothers and i never really wanted for much. unfortunately, biology doesn’t really care how copacetic your childhood was…
what i didn’t realize until much later was that all those little things add up overtime, (every fight with a friend, every bad grade on an assignment, every rejection from a boy you like) priming you for the fall that’ll come with the right push. if you’re lucky enough to never get pushed, these blips can fade into the background of your life, but i wasn’t that lucky…
my push came in three rapid stages. 1. my dad’s diagnosis with brain cancer when i was 13 that lead to two surgeries and turned the man i had known my whole life into a narcissistic, verbally abusive stranger. everyone else told us we should be lucky to have because at least he survived. 2. the girl who i considered my best friend using my dad’s brain cancer to manipulate me by lying about having the same herself. she had me so wrapped around her finger that i let her isolate me from everyone else in my life, date all the boys i told her i liked, and i never challenged her. that is until i figured out she was lying about it, but then i was the monster who deserted the poor girl with brain cancer. by the time her lie caught up with her and everyone wanted to be friends again, i didn’t trust anyone around me. but i also didn’t trust myself because i had chosen her, trusted her, and also 3. my constant questioning of my sexuality for my entire teenage life… why was i completely uninterested in sex when it was all my peers could talk about? was there something wrong or broken about me because the most i ever wanted to do was hold hands with every cute boy and pretty girl i saw, but never go farther?
thanks to my giant push, by the time i graduated high school, i experienced three major depressive episodes, had exactly two real friends, never slept for more than three or four hours a night, let go of the things that i used to love (swim, theater), had four self-harm scars, and lived through my parents’ divorce. but the me that everyone on the outside saw was an active member of ASB who had a 4.0 and was graduating 12th in her class, had committed to the college of her dreams to pursue her passion. so with no one the wiser, i moved 16 hours away from everything i knew. like all kids of my generation who was told they were brilliant as a kid and never had to try all the way through high school, college hit me like a brick wall. i was wildly underprepared for both the academic rigor and the emotional toll of being away from home for the first time in my life. within the first couple months, i developed an eating disorder, and my sporadic depressive states became a constant depression, i had many more than four self-harm scars, my anxiety level had become so high that i never relaxed enough to fall into r.e.m. sleep, meaning i never dreamed. I healed slower, got sick all the time, and had contemplated suicide at least once. i failed one of my classes my freshman year because i just stopped showing up, then finally in my second year, i hit a point of feeling so overwhelmed and helpless that i packed my stuff and left school the week before my spring quarter finals. three weeks later, i attempted to take my own life.
you could say there are two kinds of suicide attempt survivors: the ones who see their attempt as a failure and are driven to try again, and those who see it as a wakeup call and realize that they never want to get back to that point. i was 100% the latter. i did all the “right” things… i went through inpatient and outpatient care, went to therapy, moved back in with my family, and deferred from school. the only thing i refused to do was go back on the medications that i had used to overdosed, partially because i was scared that i wouldn’t have the self-control to not try again, and partially because even though i knew there was some kind of biological problem, the medications i was on were not helping.
things were mostly okay for a really long time. they weren’t perfect or easy by any stretch of the imagination, but they were better and manageable.
i took two years off school, then transferred locally to finish my degree, i got a job i loved more than anything else in the world, i was learning to be honest with the people in my life for the first time in many years. the eating disorder was the most immediately challenging aspect of healing and it’s what i had the most relapses early on; i had trained my body to reject food, and now i had to retrain it. the depression phased back into scattered episodes rather than a constant state. the anxiety stayed constant and the number of self-harm scars continued to grow, but so did my resources for healthier ways to cope. i started to trust people again. i made friends, met a boy i love with every ounce of my being. but more importantly, i started to trust myself again. I realized i wasn’t broken, just different, and found a community of people who identified the way i did. i started to pursue my passions again, picked up freelance photography, got involved in a theater program as a director.
and i saw the difference i was making in other people’s lives by simply existing.
then even more abruptly than the first time, four years of hard work were flushed down the toilet when i started graduate school. there were a thousand and one things about it that made it the wrong fit for me, but i couldn’t see that until six months in when, while driving home after a particularly bad night, i started to purposefully veer toward the median on the freeway. I jerked away at the last second, but it was once again a wake-up call that i was in too deep and things were not okay… i contemplated checking myself back into a facility and a half dozen other possibilities, but after a good, long, soul searching visit to my mom, i decided to leave the program and find a new path for myself.
it was incredible how with one decision, i instantly felt like i could breathe again; and it made me realize that i hadn’t been breathing for quite some time.
my five year mark came and went a couple months back, and all i could think is how close i came to not making it this far… just like after my first attempt, there is progress! i’ve recently started a new job that i LOVE, i still have my friends and family who i know are my biggest supporters through everything, and i’m building a life for myself that i’m satisfied with. like after the first time, it’s still not perfect or easy or fixed.
my battle with anxiety, depression, self-harm, and an eating disorder are ongoing.
i have to wake up every day and make the conscious effort to fight against them, but i want to! i want to fight them, i don’t want to give in… i keep myself busy with books, music, movies, photography, makeup, baking, and the people who love me.
and anytime i’m feeling exhausted, sick and tired of fighting, i remember a line from a poem i love by dylan thomas, “do not go gentle into that good night. rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
neither morgan or i are medical professionals or licensed therapists, so we definitely think you should consult with your doctor regarding any and all mental health struggles.
but we also know that talking about how we are feeling to our friends and family can be hard at times, and it’s also hard to know what to say or do when your friend is going through a tough time.
so again - consult a professional because we are not professionals, but here are a few tips we have used within our friendship. 💛
how to help a friend in need:
there’s any single right or wrong way to help a friend in need. every person i’ve ever met who struggles with mental illness/suicide is unique. what i CAN tell you is something i actually learned in one of my psych classes and it completely changed the way i thought about it! it was one of those lightbulb epiphany moments where my whole life suddenly made sense. here it goes: there are different kinds of support you can give someone; you can be an ear and a shoulder, you can take their mind off it, you can help them make a plan for how to move on, etc. and depending on how someone feels at a given moment, they are in need of a particular kind of support. what my professor emphasised in this class was that no matter how MUCH support you give someone in need, if it’s not the RIGHT KIND of support, you will end up doing more harm than good, even with the best intentions. because of that, my failsafe shortcut for everyone reading this is:
do not be afraid to ask the people in your life what kind of support they need from you.
be patient! healing doesn’t happen overnight and for most of us, there’s no such thing as “fixed” or “healed” or “cured,” just “better than before” and “getting by” and “working on it.” there will be regressions and there will be strides, so be there through them all, don’t just pick and choose.
really listen!! when someone in need is opening up to you (which could be a huge feat in and of itself) actively listen to what they are saying and don’t make the conversation about you or give advice unless they ask for it - often it can come off in the moment as you making it into a competition or patronizing them, even if that wasn’t your intention at all.
take care of yourself, too! if your cup is empty, how can you be expected to fill other people up? and if you’re running on empty when someone in need comes to you, communicate that to them! most of the time, they will understand.
be honest with them and yourself! take a hard look at yourself and your situation. if you think it is going to be too much for you or you realistically don’t think you can stick with them through all of the highs and lows, let them know earlier rather than later. be kind but truthful about it; don’t just disappear from their lives without warning.
if you need help: