The last day of school of my freshman year in high school, I woke up to the phone ringing. It was very early and I heard my mom’s voice talking to the person on the other end.
“No, he’s not here. He should be there already. I’ll go check the roads and see if his car broke down and get back with you. Thank you,” my mom said.
She then came back to my room and explained that Dad didn’t make it to work so she was going to go drive his route and find him. She needed me to be up by the phone in case he called and then to get everyone ready for school if she was not back in time.
So, I did just that. Mom did not get back in time, so we all got on the bus that morning unsure of where Dad was.
The day was only half over when a voice on the intercom announced that my sisters and I needed to report to the school administrative office. My grandmother was there and was taking all of us home. It was the last day of school, so we really weren’t missing anything, but I was still worried.
Long story short: My dad had attempted suicide, and his young family was left reeling.
I was 15, and my sisters were 13 and 11. He was the primary provider for our family. As we dealt with the aftermath of this serious and very public event, we also had to deal with all sorts of financial, social and emotional issues.
My dad was hospitalized for a week, and it was a while before he could work again. He was placed on medication and started attending a lot of counseling. Through the treatment, he slowly began to recover. It took a long time for him to look at the events and realize he had made a poor decision.
As he started to get a handle on the past and his emotions, he began to realize there were all sorts of ways he could have received help if he only had asked.
It was very hard being a teenager dealing with all of the pain and distress of a suicidal dad. But through these circumstances I was able to learn important lessons.
I learned that I am responsible for my mental health. Specifically, I needed to pay attention to it and do things to keep me strong. In the Army today, we call it being resilient.
Second, I learned to have more compassion for others. We do not know the extent of the burdens others are carrying, and it is important to be there for people so they know that we can help.
Finally, I learned there is no real shame in asking for help. It is far worse to cause tragedy to your family instead of seeking professional assistance. And there is a lot of help available.
Today, my dad is doing great. After receiving extensive treatment, he was not only able to address past issues, but learn coping skills for future challenges. His example shows that no matter how bad things get, there is a path to a better way.
Needless to say, whenever I attend training on suicide prevention, I take it seriously. However, I have been hesitant to share my experiences. It is one thing to attend training, listen attentively and then resume normal life. It is a wholly different thing to actually tell people that your dad attempted suicide. Even as I volunteered to help this year, the thought went through my mind: “What if they think my dad is crazy?” And, “What if they think I might go crazy, too?”
Too many people have died this year alone for me to be silent and to allow my perception of a stigma keep me from speaking up. I hope that by sharing this personal information about my past, those Soldiers who are struggling will gain the strength to ask for help.
Please do not wait until life is so overwhelming that death seems like the only answer. Your death will not solve any problems. It will just cause more. And your life can get better. No matter how desperate your circumstances are, someone wants to help.