An online friend of mine is working on a book about suicide. Last month she asked me if I would write something for their book. I told her I’d be honored. Most of you have probably already read/heard versions of this story, but I thought I’d share a modified version of my essay here anyway. Perhaps one of you needs a glimmer of hope. I hope my story can be a light in someone else’s darkness.
After my parents’ divorce when I was a toddler, my grandmother had raised me, called me her “baby,” saved my life. As a young woman I often said, “When Grandma dies, I’m going to fall apart.” I was mostly joking. I had no idea just how prophetic those words would prove to be, and living that reality was no joke.
The first panic attack hit me a month before she died. I had never experienced anything like it before. For a week, I was in an agonizing anxiety, my heart racing, my mind a whirl of fears, my body throbbing in “fight or flight” mode. Strange as it sounds, I think some part of my soul could feel that Grandma would soon be dying, and so I started “dying” inside myself.
I had a brief respite from the agony. I thought it was over. I thought it was a weird fluke. When I spoke to Grandma on the phone for the last time before her death, I was at peace as I told her, “It’s OK, Grandma. You can go.” And for the month afterward, I am certain I was being held up by angels. But then, when we returned home a few weeks after the funeral, I started to crack, and the panic came back with a vengeance.
My daughter told me recently, “It was like my nice, happy mommy flew away.” The self I had known for 31 years was suddenly gone, or so it seemed. And left in her place was a person I did not know how to be, did not want to be. All I felt, all the time, was fear and darkness. I didn’t want to eat. I lost twenty pounds. I needed nightly massages from my husband just to calm down enough to sleep a bit. Everything felt overwhelming… even simple tasks like making lunch for my small children or going to the grocery store. I found no joy in the things I had always been passionate about.
I laid awake in bed many nights with horrifying thoughts rolling through my brain. In retrospect I know their source. The adversary was making the most of my weakness, planting lies: “You’ll never be able to take care of your family again. You belong in a mental hospital. You’re broken, and you’ll never be happy again. You’re going to end up killing yourself.” These thoughts tormented me for months, and much of the time I believed them.
Eventually, I was so full of darkness and fear that there was virtually no room left for light. I doubted God was even there. Surely God couldn’t be real. If He was really there, He would not have let me sink so low. I went to church each week, but I felt nothing except bitterness. Why did all these people get to be calm and happy, but not me? It was hard to imagine I was ever really “one of them.” I was full of despair and afraid it was only going to get worse. If more of the same was all I had to look forward to for the rest of my life, I wanted to die.
Almost constantly, the fear that I would end my own life haunted me. I had grown up vowing that I would never let my children know the sting of abandonment, I would never let them cry themselves to sleep (as I had so many nights), “I want my mommy!” And yet here I was wishing to die. How had I gotten to that place?
One Sunday, in a class at church, I sat not-really-listening to the lesson, staring into a void of my own self-pity. As we sang the closing hymn, the woman sitting a couple of chairs away from me scooted over to share her hymn book. After the prayer, she turned to me, and asked, “Are you doing OK?”
All I could do was shake my head to signal a negative answer as tears began streaming down my face. Then she said: “I woke up at 3:00 in the morning thinking about you. I felt like I should write you a letter.” Then she pulled an envelope out of her purse with my name on it, and I began to cry harder.
Of all people… no one else could have been a more perfect messenger to me in that moment.
So many times I had thought of her during those weeks of despair. Her own father had committed suicide when she was growing up. She had spoken of this several times over the years. I knew how earth-shattering it had been for her family. It was the thought of this very woman’s family that had filled me with the resolve that I couldn’t give up. I had to keep fighting for my life.
We weren’t close friends. She had no idea what was going on in my head, but here she was handing me a letter. In that moment, I couldn’t doubt that God knew exactly who I was, where I was, what was haunting me, and what I needed. And from that moment on, I never had suicidal thoughts again. It would take several more months before I really felt the light returning into my heart and my “self” coming back, but I count that pivotal day as a turning point in my journey.
I know that none of us is alone, no matter how alone we may feel. I know that there are unseen forces working to strengthen us when we falter. I know that none of us is ever so far broken that God cannot mend us. I felt like I was rotting in my grave, dead to this world, never to return. But just as Christ called Lazarus forth from death to life, He can breathe the life back into even the most darkened soul. He brought me back to life. And I am so happy to be alive!
If you are currently experiencing anxiety and/or depression yourself, please know you are not alone. You can read more about my journey with these illnesses in the posts to the right on my sidebar where it says: “My Anxiety-Depression Journey.” If you need encouragement, please contact me: askbusca at gmail dot com.