4 Reasons Why I Chose NOT to Kill MyselfMar 25, 2021
“When you feel like giving up, just remember the reason why you held on for so long.” – Unknown
As I read the alarming and worsening statistics on suicide and the quickly rising mental health crisis (or pandemic) predicted by the National Institute on Health, I took the time to reflect on my own attempts at suicide some time ago. I'm now willing to bare my soul and share my pain so that this might help others who are thinking about suicide.
My life had once gotten so bad, that suicide seemed like the only option. My addiction, depression, anxiety, divorce, financial ruin, and a host of really ugly personal issues drove me to plan my day of departure in gross detail more than once.
In my deepest, darkest moments of despair, and after examining my options, I chose life. I don’t exactly know how my life was spared, but with the benefit of 15 sobering and healing years behind me, I’m finally ready to speculate why.
First, A Few Sobering Facts to Consider…
Today, I write, counsel, and teach about mental, emotional, and spiritual health issues. Looking back and with the benefit and clarity of time, I clearly remembered what my life was like during my darker days. Things seem to have gotten even worse for younger people today. I find this so sad and frightening.
Recently, I binge-watched Netflix’s successful young adult series “13 Reasons Why.” It has attracted widespread attention and controversy to the rising epidemic of teenage suicide in America. And, there’s good reason why: Teenage suicide has increased 61% over the last 10 years, as have other mental health issues like anxiety, depression, loneliness, and social isolation. Depression among people 12-16 is reported to have skyrocketed 71% in the last five years alone.
Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death in 15 to 29 year old, resulting in enormous social disruption and losses in productivity. Between 10 and 20 million depressed individuals attempt suicide every year and approximately 1 million complete suicide. In response to these alarming circumstances, in 2016 the World Health Organization declared depression to be the leading cause of disability worldwide.
According to new research, 80% of Harvard students go through debilitating depression, 10% contemplate suicide. Further, the pressure to perform in high school, students had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to college, adopting harmful life habits, Ironically, the most popular course at major universities like Harvard and Yale were courses on how to be happy.
Loneliness and social isolation is the new “epidemic,” negatively impacting young people. Shifts in technology, social media, changing family and social structures, the rise of virtual and at-home businesses, lack of parental supervision of young kids at home is changing the way our youth are taught values and “choice,” communication skills, create vital social connections and life skills. Mental and emotional health preparedness is sorely lacking as is education and resources for young people to get help.
Addiction to drugs, alcohol and abusive behavior is still on the rise, as are suicide rates – especially among our youth and returning Veterans. In my own “Recovery” practice, I see young people dropping like flies -- mostly miserable, suicidal, and dysfunctional, unprepared to live productive and happy lives.
While the state of mental and emotional health in the U.S. is trending bad (far worse than other western nations), the negative trends for young people are especially alarming and acute. The top 3 contributors to the downward trend are: “i. Misguided parental love, ii. Values, and iii. Play (or virtual gaming and social media connection as a replacement for physical human contact, interaction, and touch).
If things are not bad enough, suicide rates of returning young veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan has escalated to historic levels with over half of all veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD). A staggering 22 returning Veterans are committing suicide every day in America.
Things really are that bad. And, I clearly remember that my sad and desperate feelings felt like hard facts, and that fear was my master and was telling me the truth. In my own need to escape what felt like a living hell that would never end, my impetuousness, emotional immaturity, and lack of clear and balanced thinking could have easily and rashly taken me out forever.
Now, back to my 4 reasons why I chose to live:
1. What if I’m wrong?
“Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting any better.” – Unknown
While I had carefully planned out and rehearsed my demise, there was always some lingering doubt that my feelings were tricking me into thinking they were factual. If I succeeded in acting upon this clearly delusional belief that killing myself was the only way out of my pain and seemingly hell on earth existence, then I’d never have a chance to fix it. I could never go back and change my mind.
This little lingering doubt that perhaps feelings aren’t facts kept me alive long enough to get the professional help I need and the fellowship to bridge me back to life. It bought me the time to have someone more capable than I to challenge my deep, dark negative thinking.
2. How would this impact my beloved children, extended family and soon to be ex-wife?
“Place your hand over your heart, can you feel it? That is called purpose. You’re alive for a reason so don’t ever give up.” – Unknown
I had already wreaked havoc on all of them in unthinkable and regrettable ways. Could I rationalize causing more harm than I had already done? Is this the way I wanted them to remember me: A failure and a coward? What a cruel act my “offing” myself would be to those I would leave behind.
Ironically, after my suicidal feelings subsided, I took a course several times on “Rational Thinking.” One of the many important exercises I forced myself to do was to write my own obituary and inscribe my tombstone. It seemed incredibly macabre at the time, but it proved to be life changing. It helped me to get a perspective that I had never before considered. I had to imagine dying two ways: 1) if I did not clean up my act and stay sober; 2) if I chose to stay sober and commit to changing everything that no longer worked in my life. Committing these final thoughts to paper changed me forever.
3. What would I miss if I checked out early?
“Anyone desperate enough for suicide should be desperate enough to go to creative extremes to solve problems: elope at midnight, stow away on the boat to New Zealand and start over, do what they always wanted to do but were afraid to try.” – Richard Bach
I was only 52, but I felt like 110 years old. Completely burnout and defeated by life, I was 110 lbs. overweight, on 15 medications, couldn’t walk down the block without gasping for breath, my body was dying, my emotions were running ragged, I was full of anger, rage, regret, shame, self-pity. What’s worse, I felt hopeless, incredibly alone, fearful, anxious, depressed, and was spiritually empty inside.
Despite having been a “spiritual seeker” and fairly successful as a young adult, my addictions to alcohol and to “more” of just about anything, clouded my belief that life was both good and worth living. I was so full of hope and belief in myself that I could do anything I set my mind to (I can thank my father for that incredible gift), how could things have changed so drastically since my childhood? What happened to my incredible connection to nature and the divinity of the universe? How could I now be so horribly disconnected from everything good and worthwhile?
What if I could eventually find my way back to life again? Would I eventually achieve my dream of changing the world and leaving the world a better place than how I found it? Would I find happiness and love again? Would my children have grandchildren, and would I be a part of their life? Would I ever experience purpose and meaning? Joy, well-being, and peace-of-mind? Would any of these once seemingly important things ever come true, or was I setting myself up for another downfall and continued misery?
4. Is life and death really ours to decide?
“If you want to show me that you really love me, don’t say that you would die for me, instead stay alive for me.” – Unknown
In my earlier failed attempts to get and stay sober, I had somehow remembered Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, stating in “The Big Book” that “God abhors suicide”. Meaning that we, as mere mortals, do not have the final say in how our lives are going to end. The days of our lives, while largely in our control as humans, are not ours mess with. The man upstairs ultimately decides when it is our time to leave this earth. While we do have free will and the ability to screw up our lives, we don’t have the right to take our own lives without serious retribution in the afterlife.
Somehow, in my darkest moment, I remembered this thought that we get “judged” in the afterlife. I also believed in Karma and reincarnation; So, I had an occasional moment of clarity where I flashed on what it might be like to “go to hell.” I was already living there at 52. Is this the place I wanted to stay in forever?
That was a daunting and powerful fear-based thought.
Thank God for that moment of clarity. It might have very well saved my soul and my life. Fortunately for me, feelings aren’t facts. Further, I’ve learned that many people struggle with finding happiness and processing life in positive ways. The fact is it’s not what happens to us that really matters, it’s what we choose to do about it. Wow, that has really been a game changer for me.
While hindsight is 20-20, what a terrible tragedy and mistake I would have made if I acted on my false belief that killing myself was the only way “out.”
Not acting on what was clearly the result of clinical depression and anxiety, and a host of other negative emotional, physical, and spiritual maladies was the very best thing that ever happened to me.
A wise old sage once told me that “Everything happens for a reason, for our own good, and for the very best.” So, why worry when God always has your back. If you stay close to your Higher Power, the spirit of the universe, all will be well! I thought he was joking when I first heard him say this, but with the gift of time and reflection, I discovered that he was so right.
The world is not always about me? In my self-absorbed, self-centered way of being pitiful and blaming everyone else for my problems, it was always about me.
Having successfully relearned how to live and process my experiences in healthy, sustainable, and positive ways tells me that I need to always share my message of hope and possibility with you; that with time and professional treatment, and really hard work, things can get so much better. We must and can find our way out of these sometimes dismal and dark moments with the help of others who are eager to lend a hand.
Time shines a beautiful and healing light upon our problems and sadness, if we allow it to do its magic. Through our many trials and tribulations, we learn that life is a gift and an incredible learning journey. What a pity that we forget this priceless prize in our moments of morbidity.
If we’re successful in suspending our need to be right, do the terrible deed immediately and without consideration, tell others that we need help (often the hardest thing for many of those who cut themselves off from life), then there’s hope that time will heal, all will be forgiven, and that you can beat the odds and live your life fully – the very way it was always intended to play out.
It is this life, this day, and this very moment that I am most proud of. I clumsily and blindly chose life. I am also incredibly thankful that I can share this private moment with you today, in the hopes that you will remember some of these same reasons why you might choose Not to kill yourself in a moment of temporary insanity!
L’Chaim (“To Life”), Mitchell Fenton
P.S. If you are thinking about taking your own life and need immediate help, please call 911 now. I’m also providing this life-saving link for more resources and information to help you: While this link speaks to college students, it also applies to people like you and me: https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/top-5-mental-health-problems-facing-college-students/
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