After much reflection, I’ve decided to talk about my struggle with depression and suicide, and how I cope. I have not made this decision lightly. This topic brings up powerful emotions, so I provided this preface so that those who don’t want to read further aren’t surprised.
I chose to write this post to raise money for the Jacob Wheeler Foundation (501c3). Jacob’s mother, Lisa, is a valued mentor and friend. To honor her son’s life, the foundation provides support services and awareness in a community that desperately needs both. If you can spare $5, $10, or $20, I would be humbled and grateful for your support.
In the spring of 2001, I walked out of my college dorm intending to take my own life. I remember the fresh smell of a sunny, spring day. It had been bleak and rainy all winter, and on the day I decided would be my last, the weather was beautiful. Typical.
I had a tumultuous childhood in a hometown where I never felt like I belonged, so going to college was my long-awaited salvation. But I was doing poorly in school, social anxiety made going to parties and activities almost impossible, and I struggled to cope with the humiliating and heartbreaking demise of an intense relationship.
Every day was a new failure. Things felt hopeless. I saw no other way out.
But then, I lived.
In the weeks after, I didn’t know what to do next. I was supposed to be dead; I hadn’t made future plans. So I stayed busy. Fake it, til you make it. It was the only thing that made sense. And little by little, things got better.
I have never again thought of taking my own life. But that doesn’t mean that outrunning “the black dog” is easy.
The past year was very difficult. When I left D.C., I lost a huge part of my identity. Law school is a humbling experience. Living so far from my friends, and spending most of my time alone is difficult. And after a devastating heartbreak, most days, I cry at the drop of a hat.
I have rarely discussed this with anyone. But we’re all so quick to revel in our successes and showcase our joys, that it looks like everyone else’s life is so effortless (especially when you’re reading blogs and following social media). I felt it was important to talk about something real, so we don’t confuse living a life that looks good on the outside with one that feels good on the inside.
61 million Americans suffer from mental illness, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens and adults. So even when it feels like you’re completely alone in your struggle, you’re actually surrounded. And you’re in pretty good company.
At the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie, no one has all the answers, most people don’t even know the right questions. But I’ve grown a lot in the last 12 months, and this is how I cope when life isn’t feeling generous.
I do one thing at a time, one day at a time. I make lists and cross things off. When I feel like I can’t do anything, I do the bare minimum. I don’t judge myself for it. Then, the next day, I do the minimum plus one thing.
When I don’t know what to do next, I clean something. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. My apartment, car, and closets are spotless.
I find things to look forward to. The future seems much less daunting when there’s something good on the horizon. Maybe it’s a donut after work. Maybe it’s an upcoming trip. Maybe it’s the hot 3L who walks back from the gym shirtless. Literally anything will do.
I will fail. I will try again. I may fail again. But I will fail better.
I am honest with myself. I try to be honest with others. Sometimes people don’t believe the truth, that doesn’t make it less true.
Some people don’t like honesty as much as they think, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it. Sometimes the person in need is you. Sometimes it’s me.
When it’s serious, I pinky swear. Living life by a six year old’s rules is the only way to remember why promises are important.
I try to have perspective and be grateful. I give money to charity. It’s better off with them than hanging in my closet.
I cry when I need to. I buy the expensive Kleenex. You’re never too poor to wipe your tears with the fluffy stuff.
I try to define my life by who is in it, not who is absent from it. I forget this 100x a day. I hope that tomorrow I only forget 99x.
I believe in love. I tell myself that what is meant for me will not pass me by. When that fails, I blast the radio loud enough to drown out my thoughts. Adele always understands.
I remind myself that tomorrow will be better. If it isn’t, I just eat another donut and make a new list.
I try to listen to my intuition. If my heart keeps leading me somewhere, I follow it. I don’t get caught up in what I’m supposed to do, who I’m supposed to be, or what is expected of me.
I see no point in regret. Figure out what you would’ve done differently and make peace with it. Going forward is about next time, not last time. Last time’s gone.
I set goals. I dream big. Real big. Too BIG. Dreams come true if you work at them instead of wishing for them. So don’t dream small, you’re better than small.
And if tomorrow, I wake up and this day-to-day life is no longer what is best for me, that’s okay. I’ll build a different life for myself. I’ve done it before. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than feeling trapped.
I Google the rental price of a cabin on a lake in Montana. Because when all else fails, there’s always Montana.
And above all, I remind myself that as long as there is breath in my body, it is never hopeless. So I get up tomorrow and I do it all again. Because the ability to go on living is a privilege denied to many.