When I felt suicidal, I never called. Here's why. (Check on your strong friend.)

You’ve probably seen this number a lot this week: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255. And that’s good. People need to know there’s help. There is. 


But also know, asking someone who is in the depths of depression to take any step at all is like asking them to move a mountain. Making a phone call sounds like an easy thing to do, but it can feel like an insurmountable task when suicide fills your mind.

I know. 

At the times in my life when I was drowning in thoughts of suicide, I never once picked up the phone. It was too hard. When these thoughts overcame me, I was paralyzed by them, which is probably the only thing that saved my life.

I didn’t have the energy to make a call, or write a suicide note, or finish things in the many ways I was making plans to in my head. It all seemed like too much. In those moments, I thought how uncourageous I was to not be able to do any of it. I wasn’t brave enough to save my own life, nor to end it. 

That’s one of the lies that my brain told me.

I know there are people in my life who would have dropped everything to be there had I asked. But I could never utter those words. 

I knew there were hotlines. But I couldn’t muster the energy or will to call.

For years, the most comforting feeling for me was lying on my bed in fetal position, crying tears so hard that my entire body ached, until no more tears would come. And then I’d sleep. 

It was a comfort because I had been there in that position so often. It was like a security blanket.

Finally, I’d write. And that was my outlet. And finally, I’d be able to make a call. Not to ask for help, that was always too hard, but just to say hi weakly or to make a plan for coffee. 

And that would make me feel alive again, like perhaps someone cared, that I was enough, for a moment.

I don’t know how many people could see how much pain I was feeling when I came out of the trenches. No one really said anything if they knew. And I only faintly alluded to it with those who had caught me in those depths at one time or another.

That’s how it feels, that you were caught, that you were guilty. That those thoughts and feelings and chemicals rushing through your brain were crimes. Crimes to be concealed.

Sometimes I felt like I hid them well. Other times I felt that strangers must know my deep secret, that it was written on my face in deep red, dripping ink. 

But no one said anything.

That one question came sometimes, “Are you ok?”

I don’t know how often I said no, but it wasn’t as often as was the truth. And it was never fully the truth: “Last night I cried myself to sleep. Yesterday when I got home I climbed in bed thinking of all the ways I could kill myself. Even now I wonder if anyone would care.”

It’s painful to write this today. It hurts to think of what you may be thinking as you read this. It aches to remember the people in my life to whom I told the lie. But I hope they know, I couldn’t speak the truth. It was too hard.

That they were there. That they were kind. That they were forgiving and loving and caring.

That helps. 

I suppose my point is: Don’t put the onus of action on a person deep in a hole.

Even if there is a ladder within their reach, they may be too worn out to make the climb. Maybe they need other tools. Maybe they need you standing at the top saying, “Can you make it?” Maybe they’ll say yes, feeling that it’s a boldface lie. Maybe they’ll say no and let you help. Maybe they’ll say no and not let you help.

Hopefully, they’ll make it. But don’t assume they can reach out. 

Do offer the tools. Do ask if they are ok. Do ask more questions. Be there. 

My favorite thing floating around this week is the reminder: check on your strong friends. Just check. 

This is just my story. Other people’s experiences are different. My reminder is simply that people may not make the call. And that your encouragement may not help. That’s not your fault. And it’s not theirs.

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