At 10, I sat down in my teddy bear chair that was getting a little too small for me, and I wondered what I had done to make my daddy hate me. I thought he must hate me because he threatened my life. Just the night before, I’d heard him say he might turn on the gas to our house, and he said it would be better if we all were to die. But I didn’t want to die! Not then, anyway.
The rest of fourth grade did not get better. After months of begging my daddy to live, I finally lost the battle I waged to save his life. My daddy shot himself to death on traditional Memorial Day in 1989. It was the beginning of my 10th summer and the abrupt end to my childhood.
My heart kept shattering into ever-finer bits every day after his suicide. Someone told me that my daddy’s suicide demons left him when he died and would now follow me for the rest of my life. That shocked and horrified me, and I spiraled into my own suicidal depression. If my dad wanted me to die, maybe I didn’t deserve to live. I felt completely worthless. And my self-loathing made me feel like a burden to this world.
My first suicide note was written in a child’s handwriting on lavender paper, and I put sparkly stickers on it. I was only 10, and I wrote it to my family to explain how sorry I was that I had to go. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt my mom and sister, but I felt everyone would be better off without me.
I thought I could tie all my hair ribbons together and make a noose, but I didn’t go through with it. I’m so glad I didn’t because there are so many things that I’d like to tell my younger self now about being depressed, hating oneself and eventually, surprisingly discovering life on the other side.
That was the first of several suicide notes I wrote but never used. As I grew up, my problems remained rather complex. I developed an eating disorder, and I was bullied as I packed on the pounds. During my teen years at times I considered suicide daily.
The depression continued as I went away to my dream college, got a degree, struggled through my 20s and then landed in an abusive relationship. The man I loved got angry when I tried to leave him and tried to smother me. I felt broken beyond repair as I blamed myself for his cruelty. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone except my best friend about this pain since I could barely believe that both my dad and my romantic partner had threatened my life. How did I repeat the pattern?
By the time I was in my 30s, my faith in myself and humanity had shriveled to the size of a tiny, overcooked pea. After countless hours spent contemplating suicide, I felt prepared to go through with it.
And then fortuitously a new and true friend stepped in, getting me to open up about my pain and the gently encouraging me to consider therapy. After reading “Someone To Talk To” by Joyce Houser, a book about what really goes on in therapy, I decided to try it.
With a lot of work, therapy helped me start to feel better. I went to support groups for overeaters. I read personal development and self-help books galore. I got out of bed on days when all I wanted to do was stay under the covers. I powered through times when I felt I had to start all over again.
I failed a million times, until I finally had processed what had happened to me. I stopped having flashbacks. I stopped painting my past misery on each present moment. I learned the copying skills that have helped me handle my past when it shows up, to experience each emotion as it comes and then let each one go. After fighting suicidal thoughts for 25 years, I have learned how to live, with a career as a writer that I always dreamed of and a life that I am thankful for.
So here is what I would tell my younger self — and others like her — now that I am 40.
I see your pain, and I understand it now. Don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault you feel this way. Life can be awful, and nothing about it feels fair. But there will be moments so wonderful that it will make every spirit-crunching second of pain feel like it was worth it, and you’ll be so glad you stayed on this Earth.
When you feel bad, dig your feet into the carpet or floor of your bedroom and twirl in circles like you used to do when you were littler. Get so dizzy that you must lie down, and you’ll remember how there are still thousands of shades to each feeling. You can even feel several feelings at once. You can be sad and happy at the same time.
Yeah, you may feel hopeless now, but it’s temporary; there are so many other feelings within you that will replace the ones that feel so unbearable now. The pain — like the dizziness — isn’t forever.
There’s an ending to the hurts, and if you give yourself time to get there, that ending will feel better than any other feeling you’ve had.
Think about cartoon movies and your first favorite TV show. Don’t lose that ability to feel total joy at stories others create, or laugh at a funny episode. Cuddle with your dog or cat. Stand in the rain on a warm summer day. Celebrate your time on this Earth by first being kind to yourself. Buy cards and write love letters to yourself, expressing every word you want to hear from someone else and taking the time to appreciate the good things about you.
Remember there are hundreds of pleasurable things you can experience on your own. Don’t wait for an invitation or occasion.
It’s in the trying that you will finally learn to be all right and put these suicidal feelings behind you. You might not feel like you have anything to give, but you do. There are persons of all species who need you just the way you are.
Cut the cruel and passive-aggressive people out of your life (even if they’re family). Read personal development books. Take what speaks to you and leave the rest. Change your environment in whatever ways you can, even if it just means taking a walk around the block. Getting away for a moment can help
Here’s one of the most important messages: You’re going to be okay. I promise there are so many wonderful things waiting just around the corner, and sometimes they happen just minutes away from when you feel at your lowest. If I had given up, I’d have missed one of the happiest moment of my life. That was when I got a big hug in the middle of a Monday afternoon from my dear friend who had first encouraged me to try therapy. It reminded me of how incredibly euphoric it can feel to simply be alive.
Someone will show you that they love you in the purest of ways, and your world will change from drab to shining.
Trust me, one day you will have a happy life no matter how dismal things look today. The magic is that far more of your life is within your control than you dare to believe. So make it spectacular.
The hurts inside you are treatable, so go to therapy if you can. With help, the joy-taking, life-stealing monster that is depression can be managed. Despite everything, you’re going to get through this, and there will be people who will thank you for sticking around.
You’ll be so glad to still be here and find relief from the torture that life feels like right now. But you can only get that if you’re still alive, and when you get that, relief will echo through the rest of your life.
It did for me. That’s what I’d tell my 10-year-old self.