Dear Family & Friends,
I have everything to live for. I do not want to die — not for a very long time, anyway. And when I do, I want to be an old silver fox looking back on a deeply satisfying life filled with love and laughter, as evidenced by the nostalgic stories I’ll tell ad nauseum detailing my numerous youthful adventures.
I write this to you now, while I am still (relatively) young and of sound body and mind — because the sad reality is, I may not always be able to hold onto this healthy perspective. I say that based on my family history and personal experiences. Depression runs in my family. My father actually died by suicide as a result of it.
Growing up, everyone told me I looked and acted a lot like him. So in high school, when I became severely depressed, I started thinking I was destined to die by suicide, too.
Fortunately, my mom was an amazing advocate for me. She recognized the crisis warning signs and got me the help I needed. She saved my life when I had given up all hope.
Despite her support, I still really struggled with depression for many years after that. But having an ally by my side allowed me to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It took a long time to find a sustainable wellness plan, but I did, and I’m happy to say that I haven’t had a major bout of depression for a long time.
So, why am I writing this letter?
You see, my father was 31 when he took his own life. Once I made it past that age, the fear of my own suicide ebbed, and I relaxed a bit. Recently, though, I read something that really shook me to the core: Most of the recent high-profile suicides (Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Dave Mirra, and my personal hero, Robin Williams, and now Anthony Burdain, Kate Spade) all happened when those wonderful, talented people were past their thirties. It made me realize that I may not be out of the woods yet.
To be clear, my history does not at all mean that I am destined for suicide. Still: I want to keep it that way. This wake-up call has given me a renewed sense of diligence toward my un-suicide. That’s why I’m putting together this action plan. Because it’s way easier to talk about this now, when I’m in good health and thinking straight, than in the situation that could occur if depression comes after me again.
According to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, here are some warning signs you may see from me someday:
—Talking about wanting to die or to kill myself
—Looking for a way to kill myself, like searching online or buying a gun
—Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
—Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
—Talking about being a burden to others
—Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
—Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
—Sleeping too little or too much
—Withdrawing or isolating myself
—Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
—Extreme mood swings
If I am exhibiting any of these symptoms or have abandoned the desire for longevity, it is likely that my mental illness is making me suicidal, and I hereby give you my permission to take positive action on my behalf.
They say that early treatment and intervention are the most effective ways to help prevent suicide. So I’d like to share some tactics from the National Institute of Mental Health that you might use to help if you find me in crisis:
Ask: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question, but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
Help them connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there when you need it: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can also text the word ALLY to 741741to reach the crisis text line. You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional. When in doubt call 911.
Stay connected: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person. You can be that person.
We can even set up what I call an “If-Then Plan” to help navigate specific situations. For instance: If you don’t hear back from me after 24 hours, then you have my permission to call again. If you want to hear more about an “If-Then Plan” go to NoStigmas, because here’s the thing: Despite your best intentions, I will likely do my awful best to impede your efforts. What you have to remember is that these behaviors, should they occur, are contrary to my true nature, and I would really, truly appreciate your continued help despite how I may act in the moment.
To that end: If I am resistant to seeking professional help, then you could show me this letter to remind me of my commitment to my wellness.
It’s important to know that just because I need help does not mean I’m being selfish or weak. I work really hard to keep myself balanced through therapy, peer support, nutritional planning, physical fitness, mindfulness and several other modalities. But brain disease has a terrible way of tricking our minds into thinking that suicide is the only solution for ending terrible pain. I promise that, no matter how unwell I may seem in the future, I am still the same Jake you know and love, though I may be harder to recognize. I apologize in advance for anything that future-Jake may say or do should I be in such a state. Please don’t give up on me.
Listen, I know that this is a big ask. Suicide and mental illness are scary and really hard to talk about. Even more so, it’s confusing and frustrating to deal with someone in that state. So please understand: I’m not saying that it’s your responsibility to “save” me. As much as I believe that we all have an obligation to help one another, I also believe that each of us has a personal responsibility for ourselves. I’m not asking you to carry me — just walk beside me as I try to find my way out of the darkness. You may say or do just the right thing to help me see past my future-present circumstances.
When in doubt, simply listen without judgment. It helps more than you’ll ever know.
From future-happy-old-man me after a long life of un-suicide, thank you.
(1980 – ????)
P.S. Caretakers and allies need support too! Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. You are not alone.