Over the past few days there have been 2 rather high profile people, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, who made the decision that their lives were no longer worth living. The reaction from society has been one of sadness and wonder as to why two successful people would choose to end their lives in such a tragic manor. As always there is lots of speculation surrounding deaths and yet it seems the end result is always the same. No one except the person who died will ever truly know the real reason for his or her actions. No matter the reason, the choice to take ones own life is a real and present struggle for many people, including people that you associate with on a daily basis. People struggling with suicidal thoughts may or may not show signs of their feelings, they may or may not ask for help, and most importantly they may or may not respond when asked if they are struggling with those same feelings.
According to a recent survey published by the US Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates in the United States have increased by over 25% in the last twenty years. In Pennsylvania, the suicide rate has increased over 34% in the same time frame. Those are unbelievable numbers. 31% more Pennsylvanians are ending their lives than twenty years ago. Between 2012 and 2016, over 9000 Pennsylvanians took their own lives in comparison to 3300 people who were victims of homicide. Almost three times as many people took their own lives as were murdered by someone else! It is a serious issue that we must take notice of.
By now, you might be asking why is this important to Jay and what can he add to the conversation? What I am about to write might be the toughest thing I have ever out down on paper, and especially published on a blog or social media Yet it is something that needs to be said. The truth is something I have not told many people in my life, including my own family and one that I feel must be addressed now in order to help other people who might be going through the same thing. I have been suicidal more than once in my life. I suffer from anxiety and depression and have been in a dark place where I could not see a future for my life, a place where the only way I saw of getting out of the darkness was to meet God and Jesus face to face and beg for forgiveness for killing myself. In reading Kate Spade’s story, I feel like I’m staring into a mirror. I know the pain and desperation. Luckily for me, my story did not end that fateful night when I had a loaded gun next to me. That night, I had sent a note to my closest and trusted friends thanking them for standing by me and apologizing for my actions. In a miraculous twist of fate, I was given a second chance at living, seeing that my work in this life wasn’t complete. The next morning I received calls and text messages from them and was seeing a therapist that same day in order to help me start to make sense of my feelings. Since that day, I have regularly seen a therapist and am not shy in telling people that. For me my therapist, literally saved my life. Unfortunately, the struggle with mental illness is never completely over. I continue to struggle with depression and anxiety and as a result of therapy now understand when I find myself in a dark place how to take care of myself and when I need to reach out to others for help. I am not ashamed or too proud to say that I fight the fight alone. I am surrounded by people who love and care for me and my well being and cannot thank them enough for helping me when I reach out to them.
Over the last ten or so years, I realize I have many God given gifts to offer. Through my discernment to the priesthood, my time in seminary and now my work in youth and family ministry, I am able to offer those gifts to others. And I thank God every day for that. On a mission trip a few years ago, I opened up to the youth about my struggles with suicide. I explained that they might believe that I have my stuff together but I too have struggled. I was an awkward teenager trying to fit into the crowd feeling like I had no friends or others to reach out to. I knew the pain of being bullied endlessly wishing I could vanish from existence. I struggled with almost failing out of college my first semester freshman year. I fought the horrible failure surrounding the end of my marriage and having a son living 2500 miles from me. In essence, I wanted them to understand that I can empathize with their pain and suffering. I survived and so can they.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, of not being adequate, not being able to make it through another day, PLEASE reach out for help! If you are afraid to ask for help, don’t be. It is the best thing you can do for yourself today. Ending your own life is a permanent solution to a temporary struggle. I know all too well that it doesn’t feel like that when you are contemplating it, but trust me it is true. Life can get better.
If you are reading this and think you know someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, ask them! Beyond what popular belief is, asking a person whether they want to kill themselves will not make them do it. Asking a person that question might give them the space they need to open up and express their feelings. Be prepared to listen without judgment. Don’t ask too many questions, let the person talk, cry and get emotional. And most importantly don’t be afraid, the person is opening up to you because they trust you. If you feel they are going to kill themselves, ie. Have a plan, a way to do it and the time in mind, immediately call 911. If the person doesn’t have those things, continue to talk and encourage them to reach out for professional help. If you or they need help with finding professional help, call or text a helpline, doctor or a priest.
Since that fateful night, I have learned much about myself. First, I understand that suicide is not a sin, which precludes someone from entering heaven. On that fateful night, Jesus was standing next to me praying for me not to do it. I also know that if I had, Jesus would have been there to welcome me home. Secondly, I know that I must always take my medications and get regular blood work as my depression is partly triggered by a malfunctioning thyroid gland and so without proper medication levels I become severely depressed. Thirdly, that there is a continuous need for me to see a professional therapist to ensure I don’t fall into the dark abyss again.
Life is too important for anyone to end it intentionally. You are loved. You are perfect just as you are. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There are people who can help so reach out and ask!