Leslie BurkeComment

How to Stay Alive

Leslie BurkeComment
How to Stay Alive

September is Suicide Awareness Month which is so needed in a society that cloaks itself in the falsehood that mental illness does not exist. I remember so vividly the first time my mother visited me in the hospital after an attempt. We had not spoken in years (you cannot imagine the strength of living with someone and not speaking for several years), and her first words were "What the hell is the matter with you? You have everything. You need to stop this bullshit." Part of her was right - I did have "everything". As an only child, there wasn't much I couldn't ask for, I was smart, living away in boarding school, I had friends and a great poodle. Instead of focusing on my blessings, I was focused on what I didn't have. I wasn't as thin as all the Upper East side girls at my school, I wasn't as rich as them, I wasn't spending my winters skiing, my hair would not grow down my back, and on and on. 

I felt ashamed for feeling sorrow and so I hid it. My depression had become cyclical. After mapping out my feelings over time with a therapist, I could begin to see the patterns. Over time, I began to feel a bit low, I would cover it up. I could spend a dinner with a friend and go home and spend the night crying myself to sleep with a bottle of wine. I would smile all day at work and then come home and not be able to leave the bathroom laying on the floor. After too many days like this, dying feels easier than mustering up the energy to wake up and put on that fake smile. When you throw yourself to God in times of need and continuously read about the wonders of heaven and the place he has prepared for you after this life, you start to want to rush the process. 

Being selfless has been really helpful in staying alive. I am the friend who you call when you need advice and can work through any situation big or small. I have counseled friends through breakups, job loss, marital infidelity and losing a parent. Travel has also taught me to be selfless. When you visit a place like Syria or Africa where people have such little and are desperate to learn about life in America from you, it makes you appreciate what you have a little bit more. Through my continuing process to be more selfless, I also began to read about the people who have survived after the suicide of someone close. Its a pain that stays with them forever. A mental whirlwind of 'what if's' plague them along with their memories. I try to focus on each of these when I feel a bit weak - people who may hurt if I wasn't here, who would take care of my dogs, and places I have yet to see. Each new day is a choice to say, today I want to be here and when you live with depression that's how you stay alive each day.

P.S. Photo taken while cuddling a koala in Australia which would have never been possible if I was any good at suicide.