"Getting better from depression demands a lifelong commitment. I've made that commitment for my life's sake and for the sake of those who love me."
- Susan Polis Schutz, Poet
Seven years ago, on August 31, 2011, I was going to kill myself.
On that late summer’s day, I typed out a suicide note; a short letter to the people in my life letting them know I could live no more.
But my life was saved, and on the day I thought would be my last day alive, it was instead the first day in a new life, the first steps in what has now been a journey of 2,668 days away from mental “hellness” and into the experience of our birthright, mental wellness.
As I write, we are in the midst of the holiday season; the time of year that is ripe for gratitude and thankfulness to color moments in our daily routine.
I am forever grateful that my life today is so very different than it was on the last day of August seven years ago.
Yes, I still have days that are hard and difficult.
Yes, I still experience a wide range of emotions, including some that are heavy and burdensome.
And yes, there are days I don’t want to do the things I know I must do to experience mental health.
But, I know for me to be well, I must remain true to a full program self-care, and leave it resting high atop a pedestal as my top priority. In other words, I must attend to the whole of who I am; body, mind, and spirit.
Truth be told, that attention to wellness takes work and lots of time.
Is it worth the effort?
Yes, because attention to sleep and diet, showing up at the gym to workout, sitting with my therapist hour after hour, counseling with my psychiatrist, taking my meds every day, living spiritually, and finding meaning and purpose has taken away a crippling and damning view of self and replaced it with what I need most; compassion, acceptance and best of all, hope.
It is absolutely worth it because gone are the thoughts that I am worthless, the belief I don’t matter to the people in my life, and the desire to end my life by suicide.
And that got me to thinking; what kind of note would I write today?
What words would I use to express my present-day experience of life?
What would I say to the same souls I wrote to seven years ago?
I answer my questions further down the page in the form of a second note. But only after sharing the first note.
I include the original writing to set up the comparison and the contrast, not just for all to see, but for me to realize the profound difference between then and now.
August 31, 2011
I remember the day dawning sunny and bright. It was a typical end of summer morning; no clouds in the clear blue sky, and no chance of rain for months to come.
After waking, I made my way to the small office situated in the home I shared with my then wife, Deanna, sat in front of the computer and began to type out my suicide note.
While I knew the thoughts, feelings, and emotions, I wanted to convey, finding the actual words was very difficult given the fact I was aware these would be the last sentiments I would ever put down on paper.
I wanted the note to let the people in my life know I could no longer endure the literal hell I was experiencing between my ears. I needed them to know I had to put an end to the fight I had been having with my mind for decades, believing an end to that battle would finally stop the experience of acute self-hatred, worthlessness, and most painful of all, hopelessness.
And, while illogical in every sense of the word, as I typed out my note, I was certain that what I was planning to do was a selfless act, not a selfish one.
The monster known as clinical depression convinced me, went so far as to promise me, that life for the people in my world would improve in the wake of my death and the absence of my pitiful and grotesque existence.
And, so I typed.
December 20, 2018
Thankfully, my walk towards death was interrupted, and I was saved.
Today, 2,668 days later, I again sit in front of a computer and type out a note to my family and friends.
But today’s note isn’t a suicide note.
Today’s note is a life note.
These gifts don’t need to be wrapped.
I’ve learned a great deal over the last seven years. And, the lessons continue as I regularly sit at the feet of wise, patient and loving souls, each reminding me of simple, yet profound and important truths.
In recognition of the holidays, and in honor of the tradition of giving gifts, I’d like to give to you what has been most valuable to me.
I’ll add that while this offering may seem to be purely altruistic, I’ll confess to an equally strong personal motive.
At the end of the Prayer of St. Francis, the sage reminds us that, “for it is in the giving that we receive.” Thus, in sharing what I have been taught, I am reminded of what is true.
My gifts to each of you:
Mental illness is finite and doesn’t have to last forever.
The monster has no defense against connection.
Connection creates hope, and hope saves lives.
Depression is a condition, not an identity.
Mental health is a right, not a privilege.
We can all write a different note.