World Suicide Prevention Day: a conversation

What’s most agonizing about suicidal thoughts are not the thoughts themselves, but the confusion behind them.

For what it’s worth, I want to live. There are hundreds of things I haven’t done, places I haven’t gone to, people I haven’t met, feelings I haven’t felt. Sometimes just the vastness of my “haven’t done yet”s make me so anxious, it cripples me into doing nothing at all. Motivation: lost.

I want to live, I do. I haven’t finished my first book (ETA, December 2017). I haven’t road-tripped across the country, purchased a piece of furniture, or learned how to rollerblade. I still haven’t broken my nail-biting habit (it’s gross, I know, okay?), and I still haven’t mastered ASL (working on it, though). There are things I want–maybe even need–to do before my time on earth is up, things that keep me up at night (maybe not the rollerblading thing, but definitely that impending CC-road trip). There is so much left to say, to do, to feel. I want to say it all, do it all, feel it all.

I want to live.

But sometimes? I just don’t.

Sometimes I convince myself that I am not worthy of love, of friendship, of the opportunities I’ve been given, of the oxygen flowing into my lungs. Sometimes I convince myself that those around me see me as nothing more than a burden, a nuisance, a blemish they cannot get rid of. Sometimes I convince myself that they will be better off without me. Sometimes I convince myself that my bedroom contains all I’ll ever need, and that leaving the comfort of it will bring me only anxiety, only sadness, only more feelings of inadequacy. Sometimes I convince myself that it would be easier to disappear than it would be to continue trying to find comfort in visibility, that it would be easier to end the cycle of misery at my own hands than to continue living a life I will never truly love.

On today, World Suicide Prevention Day, I want to open up a dialogue about suicidal thoughts and ideation. An uncomfortable conversation that many people are afraid to have, myself included. But not having the conversation at all has proven to be less-than-ideal. That almost innate refusal to speak on the things that are difficult hasn’t helped anyone suffering from mental illness.

It took a long time to feel comfortable enough to even say I dealt with suicidal thoughts and ideation. I was ashamed, embarrassed, and scared. I didn’t know what I was feeling, I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling, and I didn’t think anyone should have to listen to me attempt to explain what was going on inside my head. Living alone with my self-deprecation felt easier than burdening anyone else with those morbid thoughts I couldn’t even explain to myself.

So, openly offering my support to those who may need is is the step I’m taking today. I don’t want anyone to feel as if they are alone in their more difficult emotions, alone in dealing with the urges they bring up, or alone in their confusion behind the things they are feeling. I want to be the person I needed when I was younger, a sounding board for the suicidal ideation thrust upon me that I didn’t quite know how to navigate despite feeling everything so harshly and so deeply.

Open up a productive dialogue with your loved ones today. I know I’ll be doing the same for mine.

“Suicide prevention is important to me because I am alive because of people who cared enough to make sure I was okay” –

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.


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International Suicide Survivor Day

All week I have been struggling to find the words to say to you all in regards to today being International Suicide Survivor Day.

Even now as I write this I find myself deleting and rewriting the same words in some effort to express what I am trying to say.

Overall, I feel proud.

I am proud of myself for taking the conscious effort to continue my own life.

I am proud of all of you who are continuing to fight for your own lives.

As I read through social media news feeds, I see so many people raising their voices and opening up about their own struggles. I read about your own experiences and how hard you fight every day to stay alive, and I am so proud of all of you for continuing to open up and share your personal battles. Not only can it be therapeutic, but by doing so, you are inspiring others. You are showing other people that they do not need to be okay all of the time; you are showing them that a fulfilling life is possible while living with a mental health condition; you are showing them that even if they struggle, recovery is possible and attainable.

At Dear Hope, whenever we read a submission or read your comments, we feel your pain and your joy. We are there with you in your highest and lowest points, and we are rooting for you each and every day.

At Dear Hope, you are always welcomed, needed, and loved.

I’m a fairly emotional person and all I want to do today is hug every single one of you and tell you that you’re doing such a great job. It’s hard, it really is, and fighting can be discouraging and exhausting, and there are days where you feel like all your strength is gone but you’re doing it. You’re living. You may not see the progress you’re making but we do.

On this International Suicide Survivor Day, we want to tell all of you — whether you have been battling with your mental health, have had or still are having harmful thoughts, and to those of you who may have attempted to take your own life — you are a survivor. You are a fighter, and no one can take that away from you.

Lastly, we want to take a moment of silence for everyone who is not here with us. You are missed, loved, and this world is not the same without you. Today shows that you are not alone — there are millions of other people out there that know what you’re feeling.

Today, and every day, we ask that you share your story. Share it with us and share it with those around you. Your story is important and it is valid. We are listening.

You are loved, always.


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Finding Home & Finding Myself: The Climb Back Up From Suicidal Thoughts” – Coping: This is Who We Are Entry 21

By: Stacy Wacks

I know we’ve all had those experiences in our lives where we felt obsolete. I know that for me, the hardest was my freshman year of college.

People always ask me why I would ever leave Florida and come back north for college; I wouldn’t blame them for asking. The weather was amazing and my college at the time was fairly easy: minimal work and lots of play. I was also in an amazing fashion program and got to experience Miami fashion week. I even sang a duet with Billy Joel. I know. Freshman year was a surreal blur, sometimes it’s hard to believe any of that actually happened. I was having an out of body experience. I was dancing on table tops at age 18 in downtown Miami at 2 am. Looking back, I am honestly amazed I even made it back to my dorm room on some nights.

It was my past life, but I wasn’t truly happy.

Coping: This Is Who We Are dear hope

“My Confession: Depression, Faith & Isolation” – Coping: This is Who We Are Entry 20

I was never one to thrive off of isolation. “A spry little spurt who’s never met a stranger” is a succinct summary of many an individual’s perception of me as a child. I lived and breathed on the social interaction that I could find. Old people were fun to joke with, adults were cool to talk to, and kids my age were naïve enough to be my friend.

I grew up in a pastor’s home. Social interaction kind of came with the territory but I was perfectly fine with it. I found outlets to express my inner nerd, girls to chase around the church parking lot, and reasons to tag along on youth group events, even though I was only eight.

I played baseball. Well, tried to play baseball. Little league was the thing to do in my town and both my father and I signed up. He coached, I played. A power duo, I suppose you could call it. I wanted nothing more than to make my dad proud. He had played baseball in his high school years and turned out to be pretty good. I thought that if I could only catch the ball better, hit the ball harder, or run the bases faster, he would tell me those five words: I’m proud of you, son.

I developed a propensity, in my younger years, towards the pursuit of perfection. I didn’t want to disappoint those around me, I didn’t want to make my dad upset with me, and I didn’t want to fail at anything I did. Unfortunately, there were times that I disappointed those around me, made my father upset with me, and failed at the things I did. In fact, those occurrences of failure became more consistent the older I got and the harder I tried.


“God” was the thing to do; believing in Him, that is. I mean, I was a pastor’s kid. I pretty much had to. I also felt the need to be perfect in this area as well. The moment you step through the door’s of God’s church it seemed as if every pair of eyes were on you. Some of them were loving, some of them speculative, and others were simply mean. One slip up in the church world and you created a mess for daddy to clean up. I felt that any mistake on my part would make my dad look bad. Be good. Keep your mouth shut. Smile and wave.

That’s what I did. I believed in God, tried to be good, tried to keep my mouth shut, and I tried to blend in. I was a free spirit when I was with my friends but I never felt like I fit in. The kids around me were all older and weren’t appreciative of my attempts to “be cool”. Skateboarding and long hair were the cool things to do but I couldn’t do either of them. Making jokes that had the entire group rolling on the floor wasn’t my forte. What was I left with? Star Wars action figures and muddled hopes and dreams of being accepted.

Fast forward through my teenage years. Ages 11-16 were pretty much the same story. Go to church, be a pastor’s kid, learn to preach, and try to have friends. In the midst of all of this my family had decided to be missionaries to Australia. Deciding this meant that we had to raise monthly support. We spent two years on the road travelling from church to church with very limited success. I lost a lot of the major contact I had with my closest friends because I was constantly in the back of a mini van. 25 states and two years later my mom and dad felt that the Lord was calling them to instead move to Georgia to be a youth pastor.

I didn’t blame them. I didn’t hate them. At this point moving was normal and home was relative to the place I laid my head down at night. Just another day in the Malin family.


We moved to Georgia right at the start of my Freshman year of high school. I was roughly 14-15 years old, 6 feet tall, looked like Harry Potter (glasses and all), and about a hundred pounds wet. Why do these things matter? I got picked on mercilessly at my new high school. Verbally abused. It came to a point where my dad even told me he might let me fight these kids. I was ready. I had never been in a fight but I was dying to prove my worth.

I tried my hand at baseball but sat the bench the entire year. I started working out but could barely lift the bar. Kids at church all thought I was obnoxious and tried to avoid me. Pretty lonely life to begin with but now it was setting in: I didn’t measure up.

Want to know what changed people’s perception and ability to accept me? Getting rid of my glasses. Yeah, that’s right. The culture of that town was so shallow that a simple addition of contacts to the daily life opened up a plethora of doors to friendships. At the time I didn’t care. I was finally accepted. People were my friends again!

Then we moved.

This time to Michigan and this time a little more painful than the last. Halfway through my sophomore year I found myself sitting in a new classroom with new opportunities and new fears. Instead of having to fight for my relationships, the relationships fought for me. It was a small town with a small school and I instantly became the hit attraction. New kid on the block meant lots of attention. Yay me!

We spent two years there and I grew immensely. I travelled to South Korea on a mission’s trip where my view of God was radically changed. I started dating girls and learned that my heart could be broken beyond what I already knew. I started playing the guitar, drums, piano, and began to sing. I wanted to excel. I wanted to conquer. I wanted to finish my high school years on top of the world.

Then we moved.

Halfway through my senior year I’m back in the town I was born in and lived in before we moved to Georgia. This time all of my childhood friends were gone. The church wasn’t the same. I had walked into a radically different place. I was pissed. I had six months of my high school career left and here I am going on to school number three.

I was fed up. I was tired of having to be on the receiving end of pain from my parent’s decisions. I didn’t hate them. I didn’t blame them. I simply didn’t like them. My heart was ready to be on my own and to make my own decisions.

I had a grand total of three friends my last six months of high school. I was miserable. I went to a small bible college in the fall and immediately started dating a girl who tore my heart inside out within a month of our being together. It was here that I saw people’s true colors. It was here that my depression began.

Malin-74 (1).jpg

I spent six months at that school and made a lot of bad decisions. I turned my back on God and I turned my back on the people who had hurt me. I hated what I was going through and I couldn’t even process it. I left the school after six months. I came home and started working for a temp agency…Fired after two months.

Fired? I’m a pastor’s kid.

I don’t get fired.

I don’t get fired.

I spiraled down into isolation and hatred. I burned any bridge that stood to be burned. I made the ashes my home. Day after day I slipped deeper into depression and I didn’t even realize it. I justified my anger. I thought that it was a good thing. Meanwhile, my father, the very man I wished to never disappoint, was always at my throat. We couldn’t stand each other. My mom stood in the kitchen bawling one day. She begged me to fix my relationship with my dad. Whatever love I had left in my heart tried but I believed it was too far gone.

I gave up.

Suicide came to mind. I struggled with the apathy towards dying. I didn’t care if I woke up the next day. There was no one to help. Everyone had turned their back on me. The very thing I placed all of my hope in had crushed me. I couldn’t trust anyone anymore, not even God.

I laid in bed one night and entertained the thought of death. I could’ve swore that there was something in my room. A presence…Whatever it was, I can tell you that it wasn’t Jesus.

Matty Feature

Soon enough, the grace of God came flooding into my heart and opened my eyes to the hell that I was living in. Something inside of me awoke and began to scream for help. I can’t tell you how, nor why, nor for what reason. All I know is that my eyes were opened and I was scared. I was scared because I knew who I had become and I knew just how far I had run from God. I had nowhere else to turn but to my dad.

After a hard, long conversation with him I learned that he had been going through the same things. I couldn’t believe that after all of that time thinking that I was alone, there was someone within arm’s reach of me thinking the very same things. Funny how the devil blinds you to the help you need. From that day on, my relationships with all of my family members have been restored and healed.

To make a very long story shorter, fast forward 3 years and I’m learning. Some days I’m learning how to thrive, some days I’m learning how to cope, and other days I’m simply just surviving.
But that’s ok. God has brought me to my knees on more than one occasion with reminders of His immaculate love and forgiveness for me. In fact, not but a month ago I sat on my couch weeping over my losses, my hatred for myself, and then I finally let it all go.

I became a free man.

I learned that it’s one thing to forgive others and it’s another thing to be forgiven by God. Those things are a must in this life. People are going to hurt you. You’re going to hurt people. It’s a fact. There’s no escaping it. You can’t change it. Do their attacks mean that there’s something wrong with you? Not all of the time. If you ever mess up and hurt someone else be quick to ask for forgiveness and be quick to admit that you were wrong. If someone else hurts you then be quick to forgive. It’s a give and take relationship. To be forgiven you must forgive.

I learned something else, though. We spend so much time trying to forgive others that we forget to forgive ourselves. My 23-year pursuit of perfection left me hollow, dry, and hateful. Not just towards other people but mostly towards myself. It wasn’t until God opened my eyes to it that I found complete wholeness inside of Him. The fact that Jesus sacrificed His life for me on behalf of my sin rattled my heart to the core. I finally understood that He loved me and wanted nothing but the best for me.

Do people still hurt me? Yes. Do I still hurt people? Unfortunately. Will any of that change? No. What can and should be said of our lives is of the willingness to forgive. Whether you believe in a God or not doesn’t change the fact that you and I have been forgiven of much. It is in this knowledge that we should be ready and willing to forgive just as deeply and even quicker.

Easier said than done. It’s a process and you have to be willing to let yourself go through it. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t come as quickly as you’d like it to. Make mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and never give up.

Don’t just cope with your depression. Beat it. Show it who’s boss.

You have value. You are of worth. You are loved.

May God show himself real and faithful to you.



Special thanks to Matt for his incredible entry into our Coping series. Some of the photos included in this post were from his photography project,”Confession Through Photograph”, which we featured here last month. Be sure to check out more of his writing on his blog Confessions.

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.


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Forgotten Soldiers: Memorial Day, Veterans, & Mental Health

When we think of Memorial Day, many of us think about a three-day weekend filled with family barbecues, drinking beer, red, white, and blue decorations, and an excuse for department stores to hold huge sales. But there is so much more to this holiday. Memorial Day is a day completely set aside to honor the brave souls who have lost their lives protecting our country.

As we know, there is a heavy and negative stigma attached to mental health, resulting in negative beliefs, self-stigma, lack of motivation to seek help and in self-esteem, and can eventually lead to destructive behavior. What many people don’t know is that these barriers to mental health care are even more prominent in the military, which has led to catastrophically high levels of suicide and mental health cases in veterans and military personnel currently active in the military.

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“Unused Suicide Note” – A Look Back on The Night I Almost Took My Life

Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide.


“Unused Suicide Note”

By Morgan Stabile


Pitch black to any outsider, but I, the sole permanent resident, know where everything is. I don’t have to wait for my eyes to adjust. The day went by like all the other. Routine. Routine. Routine. Stick to the Routine. Today felt different though. Heavier. Duller. The numbers swirling around my head making it impossible to sleep. How many calories is in one apple slice? That piece of gum I swallowed by accident?

Technique One: Make lists.

Favorite technique. Ease mind, making lists, of happy things, happy things, things I’ll do when I’m pretty. Pretty. Skinny. But it’s harder to do tonight. After staring at the mirrored doors of my closet in the in the dark for an hour, hoping to see some change, any sign of change. Every night my hopes swallowed up by the every growing blob starting back at me. Thick thunder thighs, wide linebacker shoulders, chicken wings flapping under my arms, obese outstretched pouch holding my large intestines. I wish I could reach in and rip them out. I’m not using them anyway and it might take off a few inches. I used to almost see her, that beautiful, skinny, girl inside of me. The emptiness inside will be gone once I see her in that mirror, that day seems like it will never come and at night laying here in bed again that void eating away.

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Dear Hope started as an assignment, and is now so much more: a community of coping, recovery, addiction, healing, pain, love, loss, transparency, authenticity, doubt, and resilience. Today, I graduate alongside Paul, Amanda, Zach, and so many more souls that have made this community possible. This morning, I reflected on the last four years. The most important lesson I have learned is that there will be people you love that will either water your self-growth to flourish, or stomp on it out of personal pain and insecurity. We all deserve the former, and for when the latter is an unfortunate reality, we are all here for you. This is not a journey to ever be taken alone. Thank you all for growing with us.

i remember how those jeans looked when you put them on one pant leg at a time, and then when both flickered glimmers of future false hope and came together, met with a zipper. you always told me that the mirror was a lot less friendly than reality, but now I’m not so sure that the reflection was an inaccurate piece of diction regarding the color you drain from the world, first in wavelengths smaller than your pinky toe, and then all at once, like a vacuum.

the skies have smiled and cried and wiped up old tears and crusted snot since you left. it seems like i’ve brought every single goddamn cloud to this piece of paper, rain or shine. it’s trite, it’s boring, but it’s the only sick and sad way of coping with losing every drop of precipitation that changed the dry cracks in the ground into sunflowers. i never cared if they were yellow or pink or black and white. they were real.

it’s time to accept that cracked concrete is still concrete and can still grow flowers, even if they are black dahlias or dandelions that the people in my life that have told me that i’ll never be good enough deem to just be common weeds. you can’t drain my life anymore by draining the color from it. your presence is everywhere, but your presence is gone. absence can define, but such a shattered self-perception can’t be cleaned up with only a single pairs of bruised and bleeding hands. i’ve had enough of enclosing the zipper from the hazel-stained, green dream scene on my lips to mute myself.

we survive by love, and today, there is so much love for every memory i’ve ever made. your departure is not my self worth. my departure with those who cared enough to stitch up my infected knees is my self worth. sitting in your Grand Prix before Elm talking about potential and wiping the blood off of blades. listening to Parachutes and smoking enough to forget everyone who ever hurt us. sunshine and werewolves. elevators and Aderall. Canada and Virginia. stone walls, long-distance calls, salvia that looked like fudge, dehydration in Williamsburg, the screen porch at Meadow, and choosing not to print out my suicide notes.

today we evolve because you do not define my evolution anymore. today we evolve because i have a voice that deserves to be heard. we all have stories that deserve to be heard. today we evolve because love will always be the stitches that any of our knees will require, infection or not. we will blossom, in darkness and in light, in color and in absence, in faith and in fear.

no matter how deep the planet decides to cave in, our hands will always be there to help pull you out.

and i’ll never need you for me to be absolutely certain of that
ever again

Remember, you are never alone,

and you will always be loved.


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“Defining Normal: Finding Myself Through Depression and Hospitalizations” – Coping: This is Who We Are Entry 19

It usually starts in my chest. The weight of the world is pressing down on me as if I were being crushed under a slab of concrete. Giles Corey rolls over in his grave, and I am far from crying out for more weight. My rib cage feels like it could crack at any moment, deflating my lungs as it all tumbles down. I think I’m going to suffocate.

Then it starts to burn. It aches, my chest wall engulfed in conflagration, burning everything within it to a crisp. I can almost taste the ash.

The little monsters in my brain catch on; they start to worry. The rational part of my brain, the part the monsters have yet to grab hold of, tells me to calm down. That I’m okay. That I’ll make it. That I’ve done this before.

The monsters don’t like that at all. They tell me it’s only going to get worse, that I can’t get out of this one. They show me flashbacks of the times I’ve spent crying on the bathroom floor of restaurants and academic buildings, the times I’ve clawed my skin raw just to feel anything but the insanity taking over my mind. They remind me that I’m not strong enough to pull through, not this time anyway.


My hands become clammy, sweat pooling in the chasms of my palms, the “M” shapes I once traced with my fingertips creating rivers for my anxieties to flow through. They start to shake; the trembles trek tumultuously through my hands and into the rest of my body. I am far from cold, but I shiver and twitch like I’ve been trapped in the arctic for days. The convulsions starve my muscles, the aches mimicking the fire in my chest.

I try to swallow, but I can’t. I try to breathe slowly–in through my nose and out through my mouth, like I have been taught to do–but it’s not enough. My breaths come unevenly, my chest rising and falling in jerks and quakes. It hurts to move.

I’ve lost control of the one thing that was supposed to be mine, my mind the master of the extremities I’ve walked with for 19 years now no longer mine at all. The monsters have taken the joystick and learned all the codes: they are the masters now.

The monsters start panicking. They tell me I’m going to die. They convince me that these are my final, unbearable moments before everything I’ve ever known dissipates before my eyes.

Usually, I can stay somewhat composed. I can keep my shallow breaths quiet, and my tears roll silently down my cheeks. My head rests on my knees as the bathroom tiles slowly stop swirling, and I pull myself out of it and suffer without so much as a whimper. I can return to class or the party or the dinner table without anyone knowing that mere moments before, I was losing control.

But sometimes, it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes I start to hyperventilate. Sometimes I throw up. Sometimes–usually–I start to cry. Sometimes I’m convinced I’m dying. And when it seems to be over, sometimes I collapse on my bed, utterly exhausted and desperate for sleep.

When I think that I’ve finally made it through the thick of things, the monsters start up again. They tell me I’m ridiculous, that I’m stupid, that I’m annoying. They tell me that I shouldn’t have overreacted. They tell me to pull myself together and get over it, that I’m worthless and can’t do anything right. They tell me that I faked the whole thing.

They tell me that they wished I had died.

The rational part of my brain starts to believe them. The monsters invade; they conquer the place they once couldn’t reach, busting down walls with their swords held high and their battle cries thunderous. I pull the covers over my head and curl up so tightly that I almost disappear into myself. I wish that I could.

My sophomore year of high school I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Growing up, I was always the goofy, fun-loving, smiling kid. I was rambunctious, ambitious, and ready to take the world by storm. I loved life and I swear, at some point, it loved me back.


Baby Sandra

I don’t quite know when I first noticed the little monsters inside my head making their appearance. I thought it was normal to feel the way that I felt.

Apparently, other people didn’t lock themselves in the bathroom when the FedEx guy came to the door, convinced that he was a serial killer looking for his next victim; that they were in their final moments, so unbelievably sure that this was their end; that the safe haven of the bathroom floor was easier to face than the man that was obviously just delivering their Amazon order for Amy Poehler’s critically acclaimed novel, Yes Please!

Apparently, they didn’t lie in bed for hours, or days, unable to find the strength to shower or study or hang out with friends or breathe, all the while criticizing themselves for being lazy, antisocial, and unscholarly.

Apparently, they didn’t blatantly lie about being busy to avoid a particularly stressful situation, like going to school or a party with people they didn’t know–or the grocery store for fear of seeing someone they did know.

I thought it was just how everyone felt. I thought it was normal. It turns out that it was just my normal.

I saw therapist after therapist who only viewed me as another client doling out the cash. I had coping skills thrown at me left and right, none of them working the miracles that these professionals claimed they would. I had grown tired of the empty promises that deep breathing and visualization promised, and was slowly slipping through the cracks. The facade I maintained was almost unbearable, but I was terrified of appearing weak. Few people knew what I was dealing with, and I wanted to keep it that way.

I struggled through the rest of high school. The little monsters inside my head grew teeth and claws. They were bigger now. More ferocious, unrelenting.

All I wanted was to once again be the happy-go-lucky kid who loved to twirl in the kitchen in my ruffled socks and climb the towering trees in the backyard; the wild-child tyke who side-tackled second graders on the town league soccer field and got handed yellow cards by the dozen for whacking lacrosse players in the face with my stick; the exuberant rug rat who made faces at my little sister across the dinner table and snuck books under my pillow when the lights had already been turned off; the wide-eyed hellion who manned sticks like swords in my medieval kingdom of the living room and created galaxies in my bedroom that only I could live in and see. I longed to look in the mirror and like what I saw, to open the refrigerator and not estimate the calories in the items I stared at and wished I could consume without guilt seeping into my bones. I longed to fall asleep at night counting sheep rather than the number of mistakes I had made. I longed to get out of bed each morning excited to take on the day, to have the child-like wonder of the girl I used to be back inside of me.

I longed to be happy.

I went into freshman year of college with a relatively positive outlook: I was desperate for a fresh start. I had just started taking medication for my anxiety and depression, and was hoping that this could help me as I transitioned to the college lifestyle. I had been waiting for this moment for so long and I felt like things could finally start falling into place. After all, everyone said that college was the place you found your lifelong friends and had experiences you’d never forget.


My rare positivity fell short very quickly. I changed my major almost as soon as I arrived, feeling like a failure before I even knew the names of the buildings I walked by each day. I missed home–not surprisingly–and wished I could walk the 93 miles back to the town that shaped me, the same place that I could not wait to escape mere weeks before.

Regardless of my insecurities and the overwhelming waves of homesickness that washed over me more often than not, fall semester came and went. I had gotten so good at pretending that I was okay, that sometimes I even had myself convinced. I aced all of my classes and came out of the year exhausted and slightly concerned for spring.

The following semester seemed to be going better. I made some really great friends, the first time in a long time that I felt like I belonged. I got more involved with campus activities. I joined the newspaper staff and fell in love with editing. These two things kept me busy and surrounded by people I enjoyed spending time with. The monsters died down for a good while. Their claws had been trimmed and their roars had grown hoarse.

Joining clubs and making friends did not, however, negate the utter stress and panic I felt about college and life itself. Regardless of all the great things about spring semester, it was the semester that I started cutting myself.

During previous bouts of extreme anxiety I would claw my skin with my nails, scratching away to distract myself from the unbearable panic that I felt. This time, though, it was different. It was deliberate. It was deep.

It left scars.

Spring semester ended and I realized I needed to get help, so I started seeing my new and current therapist. I finally felt like someone was listening to me and validating all of the feelings I once believed to be unbearable. I actually started opening up. For someone with debilitating trust issues, this was huge for me. She helped me deal with the monsters in my brain in a healthy way. I was actually feeling better.

The monsters did not like that at all. They hated her. They hated the way she made me feel. So they came back with a vengeance, like they had taken steroids and grown twice their original size. The monsters got the better of me, and things took a turn for the worse.

The transition back to college in the fall for my sophomore year knocked me off of my feet. I was now involved in five different activities to keep myself distracted from the realities of mental illness. The monsters were fighting back, and I was losing. I was hiding my problems from everyone. I always wanted everyone to see me as the goofy, happy-go-lucky person I truly believed I was underneath all the secret self-hatred and anxiety.

Image-3Suicidal ideation became a part of my crushing reality. It was terrifying. I was exhausted, angry, frustrated, scared, lonely, and just about everything in between. I could barely understand what was happening to me, nevermind how to deal with it. I just wanted it all to stop.

For the first time in my life, I wanted to die. Ultimately, I gave up.

I stopped paying attention in class. I stopped going to class. Most of the time, I physically couldn’t get out of bed, all the while blaming myself for being lazy. I was notorious for being on time and ready to go for all of my activities. Now, I was showing up late, ill-prepared, and unmotivated to work. I began lashing out at the people who meant the most to me, and pushing everyone away.

I was getting increasingly more anxious and depressed; I was spiraling out of control. The monsters in my head had started fighting with each other, battling it out for the upper hand. Essentially, something like this:

Depression Monsters: Nothing matters. You’re worthless and you can’t do anything right. Nothing is ever going to change or get better. You’re lazy. You’re unmotivated. You’re a mess. Nobody cares about you. You’re all alone. Nobody wants you to succeed. You can’t succeed, anyway. Just give up.

Anxiety Monsters: You have to work hard or you’ll never graduate and never get a job and never be happy and you’ll get in so much trouble if you don’t do well you have to be perfect perfect perfect nobody can see what you’re dealing with don’t tell anyone about us work harder be better do better

In October, I left school for a week and was admitted to a psychiatric unit for the first time. To be completely honest, I felt miserable and out of place. Even though the hospitalization got me out of my initial crisis mode and into a safe environment, all I could think about was going back to school and finishing all of the work I was missing. I was on the brink of destruction, confined between the four walls of a mental hospital, and I was worrying about how I was going to catch up on schoolwork. It seems completely irrational, but it was just how I felt.

I struggled through the rest of my fall semester and barely made it out alive. My hospitalization wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; I received therapy, adjusted my medications, and focused only on myself. However, I was so anxious about making up all of my missed work, completing my current work, saving my once-perfect GPA, and keeping up with all of the activities I had thrown myself into, that the monsters in my brain started taking over again. Desperately trying to keep my focus on my slipping grades and various commitments–all the while dealing with self-harm, suicidal ideation, and panic/anxiety attacks–I somehow made it through. I thought that the month-long break before spring semester would be exactly what I needed.

It wasn’t.

I became increasingly more depressed. My suicidal ideation wasn’t just a lingering thought in my head, but a constant presence in everything I did. I was cutting more frequently. I stayed at home, in bed, all day and all night. I stopped taking my medications. I stopped talking to my friends. Some of my friends stopped talking to me.

I didn’t believe I deserved to get better. I was falling deeper into the monsters’ clutches. Their razor-sharp claws and vampiresque teeth had torn me to shreds. They had me completely convinced that I wasn’t worth anything. They had been trying to completely take over for so long that, eventually, I just let them. I didn’t feel like fighting them anymore. I truly didn’t think I was worth the fight. I just couldn’t do it.

I was holding on by a thread. Christmas came and went, and the thread finally snapped. For the second time in less than three months, I was back in the hospital.

I spent another week inside another psych unit, constantly monitored and watched like some sort of sick tourist attraction. I laid in my hospital bed and watched Dec. 31, 2015 become Jan. 1, 2016 alone, the cries of “Happy New Year!” from the staff echoing throughout the hallways of Med Six. While my friends were out drinking, partying, and laughing 2015 into oblivion, I was watching the shadows dance on my ceiling and wishing I could feel something good again.Image-11

I never really understood what people meant when they said you needed to be “ready” to recover. I didn’t think anything could help me, so I didn’t see a point in trying. I thought that I had tried everything–failed–and was therefore hopeless. I believed I was destined for a life of darkness, misery, and despair. I realized during this hospitalization that I didn’t want or have to be miserable for the rest of my life. I needed to advocate for myself and choose to recover, not just let recovery find me.

The biggest discovery I made during this hospitalization, however, was that rather than working towards making my mental illnesses go away, I needed to work toward making them more manageable instead. I didn’t want the monsters in control. I wanted to be in control. I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time.

I was never someone who “looked” like I was struggling. I was conscious of the way I presented myself so as to not let anyone know what was really going on with me. I now know that there are so many other people like me who secretly struggle with mental illness and never show an inkling of distress.

For a long time, I didn’t like telling anyone about my struggle with mental health because I felt like it was just one more thing to prove to myself and others that I was “weak” and “unable to deal with real life.” It wasn’t even until mid-2015 that I used the words “mentally ill” in reference to myself. It used to sound so weird to me. I felt like there was so much shame attached to it, and I worried people would think less of me. I felt like people wouldn’t want to be friends with me because of it. I felt like people would judge me. A lot of the time, I still feel that way. In reality, though, I’m only judging myself.


We can’t change mental illness, and we can’t make it go away. What we can change, however, is how we talk about mental illness, how we treat mental illness, and how we support ourselves and our loved ones with mental illness.

And that’s why I’m writing this. Because for the longest time, I was afraid to talk about what was really going on with me; I was afraid of appearing weak. Even as I am writing this, I fear the backlash and judgement I may receive; however, by telling my story and speaking candidly about my own personal struggles with mental illness, I hope someone out there finds the courage to talk about their struggles. I hope someone out there can say “mentally ill” in reference to themselves with pride and strength instead of with a fearful heart. I hope someone out there can find the courage to seek help, guidance, or comfort in their troubles.

These are the stories I swore I’d never tell, the thoughts I swore I’d never write down, and the parts of myself I swore I’d never show. But here I am. This is my heart on my sleeve.


Sandra with her friend Nick

Although my mindset toward my mental health has shifted, that doesn’t mean the monsters have gone away. They still live in my brain, nested comfortably in their bed of self-doubt, self-hatred, and self-destruction. Though they sleep a little more these days, occasionally filing down their claws, they still speak to me every day. They still tell me to stop eating, stop talking, stop trying, stop caring. And they won’t ever leave.

There won’t ever be a day where I don’t have mental illness.

There are days when I pick up the razor to punish myself instead of the phone to get support. There are days when I lie in bed for hours waiting for my mattress to absorb me into the folds of my sheets instead of packing up my bag and going to class. There are days where I’m so anxious that I throw up in the shower; where I lock myself in the bathroom unable to breathe, the pain in my chest unbearable and my heart beating faster than a hummingbird’s wings; where I look in the mirror and want to smash it to pieces, disgusted with the reflection staring back at me; where my hands shake so badly that I can barely fold them in my lap or hold a pencil or lift a cup to my lips. There are still days where I don’t want live.

What keeps me going, though, is that there are days where I do.

There are days where getting out of bed doesn’t seem like a chore, and looking in the mirror doesn’t feel so unsettling. There are days where I laugh so hard that my stomach aches and I feel on top of the world. There are days that I wish I could bottle up and keep next to me, waiting to be opened up and experienced all over again. There are nights I fall asleep in complete bliss, reveling in the wonders of life and forgetting my worries entirely.

I don’t want to be defined by my mental illness, but I don’t want it to be a part of myself that I have to hide either. I’m made up of so many other things that making just one of them the focal point would really be a disservice to myself. I am worth more than that. I am not perfect, I am not better, but I am getting there. And that’s okay.


This Coping entry comes from the wonderful Sandra Mercer, who actually recently wrote a wonder feature on Dear Hope for the newspaper The Westfield Voice.

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.


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“A Day Without Love: How My Depression Made Me Who I Am” – Coping: This is Who We Are Entry 16

In our latest submission in the Coping series, we have the story of Brian:

Depression came to me before I was aware of it. The first time I felt out of place was in kindergarten when I waited for my mother to pick me up from school. I lived right across the street from my school, and my grandmother would meet up with me to walk across the street.  Things started to change when I was told that my Mother would pick me up. At the time, this was important to me because my relationship with my Mother was distant. My Mother didn’t really do much for me, and treated me like I did not exist.  When I found out that she was going to pick me up from school, it meant the world to me, even though I was not aware that this would be the beginning of feeling like an outsider. My mother suffers from cerebral palsy and has a walking impediment. As you would guess, this was a challenge due to the public perception of disability in 1992.

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