Monday, February 13, 2017

Deliverance: A Survivor’s Story

God, you did everything you promised,
    and I’m thanking you with all my heart.
You pulled me from the brink of death,
    my feet from the cliff-edge of doom.
Now I stroll at leisure with God
    in the sunlit fields of life.
Psalm 56:13 (The Message)

Warning: This post discusses suicide

It was exactly 36 years ago today, February 13, that my journey with mental illness began. I referenced this experience in my very first blog post “How Did I Get Here?”

I was a freshman at General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan. I sat alone in my dormitory room, psychotic with delusions and auditory hallucinations of my mother calling out to me, “Don’t do this to yourself!” I had even written a suicide note that said, “Death can be a hard thing but sometimes it’s worth it.” I still have the spiral notebook with that plea for help written in it.

The Residence Hall Director entered my room and said, “….We better get him to the hospital.” And so it began.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among college students in the United States. I recently read an article in the New York Post that highlighted the epidemic of suicidesat Columbia University. It was difficult for me to read because it dredged up feelings that I had those 36 years ago. The piece told the story of seven Columbia undergrads who had either died by suicide or overdosed. I looked at the picture of one of the students, Yi-Chia “Mia” Chen, an exchange student from Waseda University in Japan. The photograph framed her face in such a way that her eyes were entrancing. It burned into my soul. It’s hard to believe that a young, beautiful woman with so much promise could no longer bear living.  

One of the major themes in the article is that most of these students were successful in their high school careers but struggled to find a place at the high performing university. That was much of my story. I went from being a semi-big fish in a small pond to a small fish in fishbowl. While GMI wasn’t a particularly large school, the competition was fierce. And the partying was equally so.

When I transitioned to college life I had a similar experience as many students do, freedom that leads to excessive alcohol and drug use. For me, in particular it was cannabis. I dabbled in other things but weed did it for me. The first time I got high was at a fraternity rush event. Once I took that first hit, I was hooked.

But quickly my use went from being fun to abusive to dependent. And yes, you can become dependent on marijuana. As a result, during my first semester my grades suffered and I was going through money so fast that I was calling home to get funds sent from my unsuspecting mother.

As the second semester began I had completely changed from the person I was six months before. I found myself experiencing profound paranoia. In an organic chemistry class where we had daily quizzes, I cheated, and consequently went to the professor to admit my transgression. “Don’t lose sleep over it,” he replied. I immediately freaked out, thinking that he knew I wasn’t sleeping well. I then walked up to my friend Richard and said, “I think I’m cracking up.” There was another student standing close by who gave the most absolute look of disgust; like I was a piece of shit. I was crushed.

Friday the 13th was approaching and I knew in my heart that something bad was going to happen. And it was on the evening of that day that I referenced earlier, that my life changed forever.

Let’s look at some statistics:

·      There are more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses per year

·      One in 10 college students has made a plan for suicide

So, I’ve often asked myself, “Why did I survive?” but after many years of reflection and recovery I, without hesitation, believe that God delivered me in my time of despair. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that God wasn’t with those seven Columbia students or the 1000 that complete suicide annually. If anything, I believe that God mourns, as we do, when one of God’s children is lost.

As for me, and other survivors, I believe that our lives have been spared to give hope to those who are caught in the grips of depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health and substance use disorders. There are many people who have come forward to share their stories; I’m not the only one. I wear my Semi-Colon tattoo with thousands of my brothers and sisters.

Life is a precious gift. And yes, it can be extraordinarily hard, if not absolutely unbearable at times. But I have to stress the fact that there’s always hope. You may not believe it, but I do. When I attempted three times in the early years of my illness, I simply wanted the pain to stop. I had to find something to live for. For me it was music. I was able to connect with songs that spoke to my soul. Songs like, “I’ve Been Waitin’ for Tomorrow All My Life” and “This is the Day” by the British group The The (fronted by the amazing Matt Johnson).

Here are my all-time favorite song lyrics written by Matt Johnson from the song, “This is the Day”:

“You could have done anything, if you wanted
And all your friends and family think that you're lucky
But the side of you they'll never see
Is when you're left alone with your memories
That hold your life together, like glue”
(Soul Mining, 1983)

If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek help. No one has to be alone. In the U.S., you can call the National Suicide Hotline at:1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is also valuable information available on the American Federationfor Suicide Prevention website.

Please, Be well.

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