What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
My story is about both resilience and clarity. Often, resilience is built before clarity can be built, even though it would make much more sense to have clarity first to build resilience. Resilience is not normally a word I would use to describe myself or typically think of or see in myself. But through all the years I’ve struggled with mental health issues, it’s exactly what I’ve learned to become.
My story starts at too young an age. Childhood trauma, sexual abuse, grief from losing my father, grandparents, brothers, and more—all before I was 10. Not knowing how to cope or deal with loss and grief as a child led to repression and hiding my emotions and true self. I was always quiet, sometimes even unable to say more than yes, no, or I don’t know. This repression led to not knowing myself or letting others know myself, including my family.
My young mind soon began to fill with negative thoughts—“I’m worthless. I must be doing this all wrong. I don’t deserve to be here. I don’t want to be here. I can’t keep this up. I should be happy. I should be normal.” And so much more. The negative thoughts, repression, and trauma led to some of the symptoms that would later be diagnosed as PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder/suicidal ideation, eating disorders, self-injurious behavior, addiction, insomnia, borderline personality disorder, and ADHD. I’ve struggled with eating disorders, constant self-harm, and addictive behaviors and actions, all starting when I was 8-11 years old.
My first suicide attempt was in 2010 at age 12. By the age of 18, I had attempted to take my life 21 times. Between college and present day, it became another 15 times, the most recent being St. Patrick’s Day 2022. Through middle/high school, while I was struggling with not fitting in and constant thoughts of suicide, I thought it was obvious I had depression/anxiety. I didn’t realize that it could be more than depression/anxiety. I did my best to try to fix myself. I didn’t reach out for help, and I hid all of my thoughts and feelings from family, friends, and doctors. I put a smile on my face and became known for always having a glowing, bubbly personality and always being happy. I showed up for school with that famous smile, mere hours after spending the whole night alone in my bedroom planning to not wake up again.
The first time I finally did reach out, I was in college. I began counseling and started medication for depression, and eventually anxiety too. At first, I was so excited that I was being heard, I didn’t realize the medications I was on weren’t working for me. It was my first time on medication and my first time reaching out, so not only were others proud of me for getting help, I was also proud of myself. But the medications went from not working, to making my depression worse and increasing my suicidal thoughts. After all of those years of not reaching out, now that I had, I still didn’t know how to be honest with myself or with my doctors and counselors. My suicidal thoughts were at an all-time high, and my mind was telling me I was a failure from all of my past attempts that didn’t work. I was now planning again, but thought I had to try something new.
At this point, my non-religious queer self decided to join a conservative Christian-based college group so that I could join them on a spring break trip to the ocean. The ocean has always been such a peaceful, free, and open place in my mind. This would be the perfect place to finally change my life, and it did just that. I did follow-through with the attempt; however, right at the end I snapped out of it and did a complete 180. Instead of wanting to take my life, I realized I wanted to take control of my life and finally start living.
Most of my life, especially as a child, I always felt like I had no control. I realized a lot of my early suicide attempts were based on finally having a way to feel in control of something. When I was in the ocean that day, it was free, open, and beautiful. However, it was not at all peaceful during that trip. The weather had been bad each day, and there were people even out monitoring the beaches letting visitors know it was not safe to swim due to the waves and high winds. I didn’t listen and swam out farther than was allowed. I felt I was in this weird state of control—I WAS in control because I chose to go on this trip, I got to Florida, and I decided to go into the ocean in the mental state that I was in. I also was NOT in control—the ocean was. I could swim and stay afloat for the most part, but the waves were stronger than me. When I snapped out of it, I really snapped out of it. I got up and started attempting to swim back, and that’s when one of my friends realized how far out I was. They met me part of the way back and convinced me to go inside with them to make sure I was okay.
Shortly after, that same friend made a simple comment that made a huge impact: “You know, sometimes depression meds can actually increase suicidal thoughts.” A simple conversation about mental health was the last push I needed to get more help. Between that conversation, my attempt, and finally being honest with my doctors, I was able to switch medications and found something that worked better for me. This is where clarity started to come into play and became an important role in understanding myself and keeping my resilience strong.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
- Persistence in getting the right diagnosis: After the first couple medication switches, I was doing better, but still not great. Through more time, and continued treatment, my doctors and therapists, along with family and friends started to notice additional symptoms of mine that didn’t fall under just depression and anxiety: poor self-image, addiction, continued suicidal thoughts, age regression, recklessness, self-destructive habits, inability to focus, and not being able to fall asleep, which eventually turned into not being able to stay awake. As each of these symptoms was looked at more closely, it turned into a new diagnosis. PTSD, addiction, ADHD, insomnia, borderline personality disorder, etc. As additional diagnoses came, I’ve been able to try different combinations of treatment. This includes medication, counseling/therapy, DBT groups, hospitalizations and rehab, and a self-help plan.
- Persistence in getting the right medication: The first step is being honest with your doctor. If the medication isn’t working, let your doctor know and try a new one. Continue this process for as long as needed. Once I was finally diagnosed with ADHD, the medication and treatment for that ended up improving my depression/anxiety more than any medication alone that I had tried specifically for depression/anxiety. Spending enough time with a doctor and/or psychiatrist and being honest is the best way to get a proper diagnosis (or multiple diagnoses).
- Therapy: There are so many different options for counselors and therapists in South Dakota, as well as throughout the country.Doing a quick Google search and making a phone call (or if you’re anything like me and like to avoid talking on the phone, most places even have the option to email or submit an appointment request online) can help you find somewhere to start.Check to see if your school (middle school/high school or college) has an on-campus counselor. My first counselor was an on-campus counselor at Southeast Technical College in Sioux Falls that I was able to see for free while attending, and they even helped me find another counselor/therapist for after graduation.
Some employers also have options, if not a specific counselor, they may have EAP programs to get connected with eligible therapists, counselors, or doctors.
I’ve personally gone to Planned Parenthood and Avera Hospital for general appointments related to mental health.
- Specialized care: In Sioux Falls, I have specifically gone to both Avera Behavior Hospital and Avera Addiction Care Center for additional help.
- Crisis resources: I’ve also used resources like the 211 Helpline, NAMI, and various Suicide prevention hotlines/crisis centers (including 988).
- Reaching out to friends and/or family has also been a great resource for me. A lot of times, they want to help but don’t know how – and sometimes I don’t know how they could help me either. One thing I started asking friends and family who were willing to help, was even just ask for their help finding and getting an appointment with a doctor or therapist set up. Something that seems hard in the moment for someone struggling, but a very simple thing that someone can do for you when they care.
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?
At first, as each new diagnosis came, so did my denial. “No, it’s not addiction. I’m just depressed” or “No, I can’t have PTSD. It’s just anxiety.” In reality, it was a combination of it all. And the clarity of discovering these new diagnoses and being able to start a form a treatment to help each of them is how I was able to continue to grow and maintain the resilience I’d built up from all of my years struggling silently and alone. I still struggle every day, but I am still here toughing it out, still alive, and more resilient than ever.
If you’re here reading this right now, you’ve likely even started to build up some resilience in yourself, even without realizing it. Look within and see how for you’ve already come. Find as much clarity as you can in yourself to find the areas you need to address to maintain your resilience. Embrace and adapt to change, while learning to enjoy it.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
Talk. Talk about suicide, talk about depression, talk about all aspects of mental health. Just a simple conversation can be of more help than most people realize. The simple comment my friend made about how for some people, certain depression medications can actually increase suicidal thoughts was all I needed to get the motivation to be honest with my doctor about my prescription not working.
ACTUALLY call these helplines. I think a lot of people dealing with a mental health crisis or contemplating suicide think calling these helplines isn’t going to work. I know I did before I made my first call. It took me years before I called a suicide helpline for the first time, and I wish I had way sooner. For me, it helped knowing that I’m not calling this number to “cure” myself or “cure” my depression/suicidal thoughts, etc. I’m calling because I need help right now and being alone with my thoughts has just been making it worse. Calling, even if for a short time, can help in some way. They can provide resources; help you get in contact with a medical professional or even checked into the nearest hospital if necessary. But even if you already have some resources or don’t find it necessary to go through all the steps, the conversation with the person on the other side of the phone can even just be used as a distraction to help get your negative thoughts to calm down for the moment.