not in Primary anymore

amidst ashes: surviving suicide

Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin, Flickr

In recognition of September being National Suicide Prevention Month

Last year I got this close to killing myself, but I survived.

It hurts to talk, to think about the experience. I went to BYU for a semester and within a few months I was severely depressed—on the brink of suicide. My lifelong perfectionism had finally caught up with me, and it was tightening around my neck in an invisible noose. They were dark times, endless days of pain I can’t even put into words. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to wake up. There was no rest for my soul; not in prayer, in conversation, in closeness. An untouchable emptiness inside me itched constantly. I got headaches from clenching my teeth from anxiety. I moved through the days with a constant wish that a car would flatten me.

I made feeble attempts to live, one of which was joining a BYU therapy group. I found myself confiding on a weekly basis to a handful of other emotionally struggling BYU students and two sweet counselors. One particular session stands out in my memory as the turning point in my living nightmare. I told them that the weekend before, I had seriously considered killing myself. I had researched ways to commit undetectable self-harm. At that point I had already been, maybe subconsciously, avoiding food for weeks–I reveled in the intense feeling of hunger. I wore an elastic band on my wrist to snap sharply when I needed to just feel. I had left the house without my cellphone and walked to the place I’d decided upon, had sat and stared blankly and cried a little, then left.

That was my lowest day. I had been too empty even to “save” myself from my pitiful existence.

When I told my counseling group about this, they ganged up on me with declarations of love and insistence that I get help. Through tears and shame, I felt a fire light inside of me, one that carried me back home on the bus and the train to seek medication and counseling (for the second time in as many years). To figure out how to care. Within the next few weeks my outlook started improving. The flames helped me focus on anger, my first emotion out of the mist of abject numbness. I clung to that as fear eventually returned, followed by interest, enjoyment, and finally hope.

I guess I assumed the fire would burn within me for the rest of my life, but I realized today that it has already died. I’m at a point where I feel relatively safe, loved, and happy. I’ve walked through a valley of despair that I wish I’d never seen, but I can’t change reality. I wish I’d never needed that fire to live, but I did. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t fill with anxiety whenever I think of that semester, visit BYU; even drive too close to Provo. Now I make designs in the smoke patterns left over from those days, the artifacts that survived. Guitar, for me. Writing. Avatar: the Last Airbender.

I survived, but I can’t be the only one with traces of sparks burned into my memories, bright spots against my eyelids when I close my eyes. You, reader, you’ve got to hold on until the flames swallow up the darkness and carry you to safety, to strength. Then we can talk about it later when you stand where I stand, amidst ashes and smoke, our smiles weak but our eyes gleaming with hope, and maybe a hint of red ember.

* * *

I would encourage anyone dealing with suicidal thoughts or tendencies to seek help immediately. Please know that there are people in the world who have been where you are, who have felt hopeless and helpless, and who have triumphed. We love you! We care about you! We value your life! You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with “a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.”

Keep holding on! I know that God loves you, because if He loves me, then of course He loves and watches over anyone within reach of my words.

4 Responses to “amidst ashes: surviving suicide”

  1. Hope Wiltfong

    Thank you so much for sharing – just so one more person may realize they are not alone.


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