George and I have hesitated several times about posting this FB message. While on our recent vacation, we had ample time to contemplate the possible outcomes and ultimately feel the positive outweigh the negative. So here goes…
Over the past year, several of you have noticed that I haven’t been very active on FB (until recently while on vacation). A few of you took the time to inquire if everything was okay; others assumed I was annoyed with them and that I stopped responding to their posts, others yet – never even noticed.
Taking into account September was National Suicide Prevention Month, we thought it appropriate timing for me to share my journey. After all, suicide is everyone’s business – or at least should be. It is our hope that instead of judgment, you will feel inspired by my story in which we have endured great adversity and have come through the darkness, a little stronger at the broken places.
There’s a sad reality we spend years piloting our emotional landscapes, oftentimes seismically calibrated by chasms of blame, confusion and remorse. We build bridges when we share our grief and work toward healing and growth. However, it’s my belief that the most menacing chasm is the one filled by stigma – and it is the one that often seems impossible to cross.
Six years ago I moved to Virginia for joyous reasons – to share my life with George – my love and my partner. What I failed to predict, was the varying degrees in which my life would change. I moved away from my adult children for the first time and I missed them desperately. I also found myself in unfamiliar territory. I was now geographically restricted, which had a significant negative impact on my career. I initially landed a good job at an association in Washington DC with some wonderful and beautiful people. The downside was the 4-5 hour daily commute due to traffic (despite the minimal 50 mile distance). After a year and a half, the commute became intolerable for me. I changed jobs to a local employer which ultimately resulted in a position with less than half the salary and former responsibilities I had worked so very hard to achieve over the years.
Although I have a great deal of respect for and I very much value my employer, I began to experience situational depression. I felt as though I had lost both my personal and professional identity. Overwhelming anxiety and sadness consumed my inner dialogue – and over a period of three years – I attempted to take my life on three separate occasions. The first two instances, I cut my wrists; first vertically and then horizontally. At that point, I was fully aware my mental state had progressed to clinical depression. But I hid it very well. In fact, that’s one of the most dangerous aspects of being a highly functional depressive. To George, it appeared I was powering through and triumphing over my newly found mental illness by brute character alone. After all, isn’t that what we Marines do? My colleagues at work had no knowledge of my crushed spirit or my suicide attempts, nor did the few friends I had in the area. And certainly …. not you, dear reader.
Yet the clues were still there. Various people held pieces of the puzzle. But unless you had them all and knew how to put them together, gaps remained. That is, until one year nineteen days ago on my 52nd birthday, September 15, 2016. After responding to a last birthday wish on FB that evening, I took a gun, placed it under my chin and pulled the trigger.
It is my belief that God (the Universe, or whatever you personally relate to), in his perfect love, cast a beautiful net of grace on me that night. There is absolutely no reason why I should be here writing this message to you today. Only 3% of the population who suffer a gunshot wound to the head survive; even less without brain damage, a loss of one of the senses, or suffer from permanent disfigurement. It is safe to say he held nothing in reserve for me that night, nor for the many painful days, weeks and months that followed. In fact, his grace and love continue to help me heal my internal and external brokenness.
While in the trauma ward, George and I vowed not to be embarrassed or ashamed of what happened. In some strange way, I had a deep and profound knowledge that I survived to help others who were suffering and hadn’t yet found their voice; to use my journey as a means to help end the stigma associated with mental health and suicide.
Suicide and attempted suicides are a huge problem in our country. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages (CDC). On average, there are 121 suicides per day. Each year, 44,193 Americans die by suicide (CDC). For every suicide, 25 attempt. There is one death by suicide in the US every 12 minutes. And the rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular.
If you or someone in your life has depression, you may feel helpless and wonder what to do. It’s important to learn how to offer support and understanding and how to get help or help your loved one get the resources to cope with depression. Learn the symptoms of depression, encourage treatment, identify warning signs of worsening depression, stay alert for warning signs of suicide and provide support.
Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) takes place Oct. 1-7. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and participants across the country are raising awareness of mental illness. This year, NAMI’s theme is “Into Mental Health: Inspired, Informed, Involved” (#MIAW). And although mental health issues are important to address year-round, highlighting them during MHAW provides a time for people to come together and display the passion and strength of those working to improve the lives of the tens of millions of Americans affected by mental illness. If you or someone you know may need a mental health assessment, it’s important to know that anonymous online tools are available. in fact, for National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 5, you can get a free mental health screening at HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org.
If you have read this far into my post, I want to thank you. It’s a difficult story to share, let alone comprehend. It is this lack of understanding and sometimes fear, that result in harsh labels like “crazy” and the many other “labels” that exist. I am not crazy. My spirit was simply crushed and couldn’t find its way out.
If you are inclined, I ask that you share my story on your newsfeed. It is my hope that by #LivingBrave and sharing my post, together we can help others to know that they are not alone on their mental health journey and that there is a national network of support and resources online and across the country. ~ DeAnn Wandler, SelfCompassionFoundation.com #LiveDeeply.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.