“It was like my nice, happy mommy flew away,” my oldest daughter told me. 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 for a few hours. 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: “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. 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 were not close friends. Truth be told, we rarely interacted with each other. I had never told her 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. It took 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 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!
I am compiling a little book called Choosing to Stay, specifically intended for those contemplating suicide or struggling with their will to live. Particularly I am hoping to reach tweens, teens, and young adults. I want to give them something to hold on to.
I am collecting stories, poetry, art, quotes, photography. Words and art and images that will help those who are longing for death as a result of mental illness. I envision a book full of encouragement, hope, light, color, love.
Have you been suicidal and then made the decision to keep living? If you have something you think belongs in this book, please email me at laniaxman at gmail dot com. And please share this post on your social media profiles and with anyone you feel might have something powerful to contribute.