The following piece was selected as one of the winners of this year’s Refuat Hanefesh Creative Expression Contest. Age group: College and Up. It has been lightly edited.
Stigma is not only found among the family and friends of one suffering from mental illness. It also lies in the head of those suffering. They may see themselves as a certain type, or doubt what they can accomplish in the future. It’s just as important to educate those with mental illness, as it is to educate the community. If the one suffering cannot fight for himself, how else will they heal? How else will they overcome their mental illness and lead a successful life?
A major part of depression is loneliness. It’s challenging to listen to the advice of others when they have no sense of how you feel. My goal with this letter is to actually go into the minds of those suffering, from the perspective of someone who has been there before, to maximize impact. Once they feel that they can relate to the speaker, they will be able to hear them out.
Although each person’s experience is unique, and not everyone will recover as successfully, I still believe each person deserves a chance to have hope. Sharing this letter which I wrote to myself with those suffering from depression can infuse them with that bit of hope, and maybe even prevent them from cutting their life short.
March 24, 2035
Dear 18-year-old suicidal self
Life sucks, doesn’t it? You have no energy to move, no patience to deal with the world, people, or anything for that matter. But I’m here to help you since no one else is. I’ve been in your shoes some years ago.
I know that your depression affects you at your very core, and makes it hard for you to function. I imagine you sitting in bed all day, waiting for nightfall, waiting for the day to end. Finally, when bedtime does arrive, you lie back in your bed again but sleep eludes you. You silently stare at the blank dark walls as worrisome thoughts bombard you from every direction. Those voices are so loud, too loud to let you get some rest. At some point, the morning light shines through the windows, but you retreat deeper into your blankets. There is absolutely no way you can handle another day. It feels impossible to get out of bed, get dressed, and put yourself together. Why should you get up? You have no reason to. It will just be another day of feeling like a useless good-for-nothing, dreaming of the end. Sometimes you just want to be normal and go out with friends and see the daylight, but the thoughts overwhelm you, so you run right back under your covers to hide from the big bad scary world.
When you do manage to get out, you feel the energy draining as you force a smile on your face – because that’s what’s expected of you. No one is allowed to know the true pain inside your heart. Because somehow, everyone else is laughing and socializing and accomplishing things every day. Somehow, everyone else has friends. Somehow they all seem so happy. But you feel all alone. No one cares about you. You secretly hate yourself and want to die. You dream of suicide – wishing all this pain could just end. You won’t have to face anyone after that, won’t have to fake anything or deal with this daily torture. Am I right? Sometimes you wonder if anyone will notice if you are gone. You wonder who even cares about you.
But I have a secret to share with you. Right now you are 35. And you stuck it out. You don’t know this, because you are only 18, want to die, and know that no one will ever love you. You’re in despair and believe you’ll never get married or have the capability to raise kids in a warm and loving home. But you’re married! Your spouse supports you. You have someone to laugh with. Someone to cry with. Someone to buy you gifts and listen to your opinions and complaints. You have three adorable kids who bring you so much joy.
Every morning when you wake up, you appreciate that you were fortunate to make it this far. And sometimes, as you fall into bed after an exhausting day, a few tears roll onto your face, shuddering to think what a life you would have lost had you given in and killed yourself as a teenager. Kudos to you for plowing through the battle, for using those last bits of energy just to keep yourself alive.
This life of joy seems impossible to you in your current state of mind. It’s “A life that belongs to someone else, but not to me.” But I’ll walk you through the process. I’ll tell you how you got here. Because it wasn’t anyone else who made you survive. You worked hard and you did it.
After your suicidal thoughts, depression, and self-criticism started taking over your life, you realized it was enough. For weeks, you experienced inner turmoil, debating what to do. Deep down you really wanted to get help, but it was too overwhelming to even think about. One day you took your phone and decided to dial an organization you heard about, just one number at a time. Once you pressed talk, and realized what you did, you prayed no one would pick up. Within seconds you were talking with a sweet lady. All you had to do was answer a few short questions and it was over. In actuality, it was the beginning. Your healing process had begun. Because you were courageous and made one phone call.
They matched you up with a therapist who supported you and spent hours helping you find ways to cope and heal. And boy did you work hard. Life still sucked and there were days you still wanted to die, but after months of therapy, they became less and less. As you slowly broke out of your shell, built your self-worth, and found productive activities to fill your days, life became bearable. You even met a few other people suffering from depression, connected with them, and made some new friends.
You had wished someone could cast a magic spell that would heal you, but looking back, you did the magic yourself. You fought to heal. And you healed. Can you believe it? I know you don’t, but the day will come. Do me a small favor. When you’re having the worst day ever, tell yourself, “Just one more day.” Because that’s how you got to where you are today. You’ve healed one day at a time until you recovered.
Right now, just focus on staying alive. Even if you don’t accomplish anything today, at least you have a chance tomorrow. Most importantly, just make one phone call, dial the numbers one a time, so that someone can help you. You’re not expected to climb that mountain alone.
I love you and I think of you all the time. I know that you can do it, even though it feels impossible. You will love yourself one day. Life will be beautiful one day.
Your 35-year-old self.
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