What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?

I lost a close friend to suicide.

When I first met him, I pegged him as a wild child who liked to have fun. He was always the life of every party and held a room with all of his adventurous stories. He was one of those people that you just never really knew what to expect when he was around. Through our conversations we learned that our grandmas were actually really close friends. We spent day trips bonding with each other and our families.

It was a difficult time when he later lost his grandma, as he was very close with her. I knew that he had been going through some hard times with his girlfriend and still processing losing his grandma, so I gave him a call one night. He did not answer the first time, but called me back about 20 minutes later. I answered the phone in an upbeat fashion, and it was returned with the most broken sob saying “Adaya.” He always was a very put-together, strong guy, so I was taken off guard. I sat on the phone and talked with him, trying to calm him down. He lived in a different town than me, so I was unable to go see him that late at night. I remember just sitting and not knowing what to do. He wanted to get off the phone, so I asked him if he was in a safe place. He said he was home and then hung up.

I texted him the next morning to check and see how he was doing, and he said not great. He didn’t show up to work. And then I never heard from him again. I remember finding out I had lost him when I checked my phone while doing homework on my living room floor. I could not believe it. It took a little bit before we found out if it was true or not. I felt responsible for all the things I could have, should have done. The “what ifs” were eating at me day after day. I struggled with PTSD, trust issues, self-harm and ideation while trying to cope with the grief. The only way I knew how to grieve was to act like I had it all together, ignore the problem, don’t let anyone see you hurt, and I was so wrong.

 

What resources have helped you to address this challenge?

  • Therapy: After about 8 months of trying to hide my pain and not being myself, I got to the point with my mental health where I was starting to scare myself. After researching and a few phone calls, I had my first appointment with my therapist. He was very open and made me feel very comfortable and safe. He was very clear that therapy works only if I wanted to be there. Yes, he pushed me and made me uncomfortable at times, but he also made me grow into a more self-aware person, and taught me how to better manage stress. He diagnosed me with PTSD, and explained how it was impacting me so I could better deal with the “triggers” that come up in everyday life.
  • Lost&Found Advocates: I also went through the Lost&Found Advocates program that helped to make me more aware of my and others’ mental health. It helped create a foundation of resilience and gave me a community that I was safe to express my struggles in.

 

Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges?

We need to talk more about mental health, especially with our midwestern culture regarding mental health. I didn’t take it seriously or think anything of it prior to my friend’s death. I thought talking about it made me “weaker” in today’s society, but it actually does the opposite. It takes a lot of courage to be that vulnerable. To be resilient, you have to be willing to ask for help when you need it. Resilience is recognizing you are stronger than you think you are, but also knowing your limitations and when it is time to step back for yourself. It is going to look different for everyone, as we are all coming from different walks of life.

 

What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?

Regarding suicide, it is extremely difficult for those that are struggling with it. It is also extremely difficult for those that the victim ends up leaving behind. Even though you may not think so, you have a ripple effect on everyone around you—for good, bad, or otherwise. A small act of kindness, a gentle word, or a helping hand could very easily be saving someone’s life long enough for them to get help.