The anti-suicide manifesto

It's not a secret that I struggle with depression. Or that I was diagnosed as bipolar. What is, I assume, a secret, is how much those two things affect me on a daily basis. How often I am incapacitated by my emotions. How many times I retreat into my prison cell of a mind and torture myself with thoughts of how little worth I have, how insignificant I am, how things would be better without me... Even in New York, in grad school, in this world of journalism, I fall victim to my own insecurities and self-hatred. I thought coming here would change everything, but I've realized ... I can't be changed by a place, a career or a person. No outside influence is going to swoop down and rescue me.

There will be days when I truly believe I can't go on. And my salvation has to come from the inside.

A while ago I developed a mantra, a life motto if you will:

But that wasn't enough. I still flirted with the idea of ending my life. I still felt agonizingly alone. I still wondered if I had what it took to survive.

Until a few days ago. I was on the train, ricocheting on the tracks, and I wondered what would happen if the train detailed. If I died. What would people say? What would they feel?

And if I died through my own will?

And that's when I promised myself that wouldn't happen. That wouldn't be my story.

Because I'm a writer, I wrote. I wrote a manifesto explaining exactly why that wouldn't happen.

It was supposed to just be for me, to keep on my desktop and remind me of my pledge. But I'm also an oversharer with an intense need to be known and understood. So I'm doing the same thing I did a few months ago with my definition of success: I'm sharing.

Below, for the world to see and hold me accountable to, is my anti-suicide manifesto.

I am not someone who died too young. I am not full of unrealized potential. I am not a sad obituary of one snatched away too soon. I will not be published and celebrated posthumously. My funeral will not be filled with hundreds of peers who can't believe I'm gone so early. My life will not be snuffed out in its prime.

There will be no tears of disbelief, no sobs, no anger at me or God. My parents will not witness my demise.

I am no cautionary tale.

I will be someone who chose life always, no matter what. No matter how many scars litter my arms, no matter how many tears scald my cheeks, no matter how many days pass without the sun. Rain, shine, hurricane, tornado. Fall, winter, spring, summer. In my 20s, my 30s, my 60s and 80s: as long as it is in my power, I will choose life.

I am not a statistic, a number, a blip on a police scanner. I am not a memory, a ghost or "somebody that you used to know."

I will not be the granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend you refuse to speak of. Some days I might be the granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend you refuse to speak to. But I will be there.

I will be at every birthday party, in every family photo, part of every wedding.

Holidays will not be sad because they remind you of me. They will be joyous because I will be there to make you laugh.

Through everything, I will remember: He. Is. Here. He is life, He is here, and so am I.

I am not death. I am filled with life.

This is the closest thing to a suicide note I will ever write. It is my anti-suicide note.

That is my promise, my vow, my oath.

How I survive depression because of a dream

The anticipation is nearly stifling me. I've waited so long — so very, very long — to move to New York City. And honestly, throughout the three years that I've held firm to this dream, there have been times that I didn't think it was possible. It's not just that I didn't know if I would be good enough to get into grad school, get a book published or find a job (and only one of those things has happened, by the way). It's not just that I didn't know if I could survive living with eight million other people in a city that TV shows like Castle and Gossip Girl have shown me can be more than cruel — because to balance that I had shows like Friends and, yes, Castle, that showed me how great it can be. It's not just that my days in Kentucky felt eternal, like I was caught in a perpetual whirlwind of college that I wasn't 100 percent anxious to leave.

It's that there were days when I didn't know if would make it. I wasn't sure if my physical body would survive the war my mind waged inside of me.

Visual representation of said scars and one of the reasons I'm alive today.

If you know me, you'll know that I was hospitalized for intense depression two-and-a-half years ago. If you know me better, you'll know that I was diagnosed with a mild form of bipolar disorder last January. And if you know me best, you'll know that the scars on my arms aren't just cutting scars; they're visible records of times I tried to take my life.

There were days when I didn't think I would see the next hour, much less a moment when my dreams would come true.

So to be here now, five days away from moving to pursue my dream of being a journalist in New York City ... that is an amazing feeling. To know that I have written two novels that I fully intend to publish and have at least six others marinating in my brain is empowering. To even let the idea cross my mind that someday I can be happy — that I even deserve to be happy — is a feeling I never thought I would have.

Yes, I made it to Sochi, and yes, it was so very worth it.

Interestingly, the dreams that I'm now about to live out are the very ones that saved me. Two-and-a-half years ago, if I hadn't dreamed of visiting New York, wished to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi and aspired to be an editor on my school newspaper, I wouldn't have made it out of that hospital.

There was this moment when I was curled up on my paper bed in the place I had nightmares about for months that I looked at a picture of a beautiful landscape. The thought crossed my mind that I would love to someday stand in that very spot and soak in that beauty.

And that was it. That tiny picture sparked something in me, a desire to live. A desire not just to exist in this world, but to be a part of it, to be woven into the tapestry of others' life in such a way that my time on earth could be as rich as possible.

I don't doubt for a second that it was God who put those dreams in my heart and gave me the strength to move forward. And I don't doubt that those dreams are the reason I'm sitting here today, in a hotel room in Florida, getting ready to watch my cousin get married to the girl of his dreams.

There are so many, many layers of depth to how incredible this moment is. I'm about to be a witness to the happiest day of my cousin's life less than a week from moving to study what I love in a city that seems to promise everything. I'm tearing up just sitting here thinking about it.

And this subject is too important for me to be subtle with the moral of this story: if you're going through anything at all that makes you wonder what there is to life, allow yourself to dream. You don't have to plan out your ideal future; you can just decide you want to visit Yellowstone National Park, get a tattoo, lose a few pounds, give some food to a homeless person ... whatever allows you to recognize that your life is precious and so very worth living.

I don't know if anyone is going to read this and take me up on this offer, but I want to say it nonetheless: I'm a safe person to talk to about all the hard things you're struggling with. I'm a sympathetic crier with the ability to imagine myself into every scenario and feel pursuant emotions deeply. So if you need help — let me be there for you. Let me help you forge a dream, a series of a dreams, a reason to live.

Life with bipolar: a PSA

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article for the Collegian, called He is Here, about finding God through whatever trials you're undergoing. And I stand by that. I still believe that you can find God in the midst of whatever the world throws at you. Yet there are still moments when I don't feel that. There are moments when my slight bipolar disorder and severe depression get the best of me. One of those was last night, and because I think I freaked out every soul who was with me in the movie theater when I burst into uncontrollable sobs, this is a PSA, from one sufferer, to everyone who comes into contact with sufferers.

Bipolar, depression, anxiety...they are all insidious mental illnesses that affect a large portion of the population, yet they are still wildly misunderstood. I can't tell you how many times I've been accused of being apathetic, attention-seeking or just plain insane when I was having a breakdown, when in reality I was trying my best to keep it from happening, to keep the attention off of me.

So, last night. It started innocuously: with five-inch heels and a group of friends walking too fast for my new found height. That devolved into sitting at the end of the row in the theater, waiting to watch "Mockingjay: Part 1" (a very excellent film, by the way), and, as I said before, bursting into uncontrollable sobs.

That's what happens when you have a mental illness. Little things are blown out of proportion, and from one second to another, in between steps even, you can go from being perfectly fine, even happy, to the throes of despair. It has nothing to do with you--you, the friend of the sufferer, did not cause this. I cannot stress that enough. It's because of chemicals going haywire; it's because of angry words spoken to a first grader about themselves; it's any combination of events that came together in one devastating concoction to form what can only be spoken of as mental torture.

Last night as I sat in the theater, I felt like my whole world was collapsing. I felt my gut squeezing, my future floating before my eyes, my friendships vanishing in the wink of an eye. Once my defenses were down, every negative thought I've had about myself came rushing back, overcoming me.

That's another thing that happens with mental illness. Something as simple as a stray glance can break someone down so much so that every negative thought, word or whisper they have ever experienced will come screaming back into their mind.

So, again, it's not your fault. But what can you do when a friend, acquaintance or stranger is obviously going through something like this? It kind of depends on the person, but since I know there are other people like me I'll tell you what works for me and let you go from that.

  1. Be there. Put your arm around me, hug me, say it's going to be okay.
  2. Don't blame yourself. If I don't respond (which I probably won't), don't think it has anything to do with you. I'm in mental turmoil and it's hard to step out of that for any amount of time. I promise I'm not mad at you...and if I am, it's only because my rational capabilities have broken down momentarily.
  3. Make a joke. If I laugh, I'm happy.
  4. Distract me. Talk about something innocuous...like popcorn. I'm telling myself I'm the worst kind of human, but popcorn is always a pleasant thing to think about instead.
  5. Be there. If you're there in the moment, and the next day, and the next, I can't even tell you how much that will mean to me.

This has been a PSA to everyone who comes into contact with me (and others who suffer from mental illnesses). There will be bad moments. There will be dark times. And while you can help in the moment, you can't fix me or anyone else. You can only love me as best as you can. I promise I see it and I appreciate it and you are helping me go forward.

There's one more really important thing: if you can't do any of the above, for your own mental health, don't. Because you can help, yes, but you can't save me. And it is absolutely not worth your own health to try.