It Gets Better (If You Do) - TW: Mental Health/Suicide

The reaction to this post scares me, as I don’t want to trigger anyone and I’m very private, but I am nothing if I’m not honest and willing to share if it helps.

TW: mental health/suicide

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If you follow media at all, you know what day it is.

It’s one of those days each year where people can post about mental health struggles, when we memorialise those we’ve lost to mental illness and suicide, when we stand in solidarity with those who have fallen and those who have keep living without them and those who are trying their best not to become another statistic too.

“World Suicide Prevention Day”. The name is irksome at best to those of us familiar with it. It seems unfitting to talk about grief on a day that’s about prevention. Selfish somehow. Shameful.

But I’ve also lost a few.

I’ve lost people to an illness we can’t see, only feel. I’ve stood over graves of friends we had to bury after they lost their battles to the silent killer that ate at their brains, hearts, and souls until they couldn’t keep breathing. And I’ve woken up to the dreaded phone call that someone I love is suddenly gone, and we didn’t know.

Then we’re left with questions like “why?” and say things like “if only they had asked for help…”.

I’ve lived through that loss a few times. It doesn’t get easier. But I think the most painful loss I’ve ever experienced was of my young self to suicide.

I didn’t die exactly. Not all the way, anyway.

The first time I remember not wanting to be alive anymore, I was 13. I was being strip-searched for signs of self-injury.

I had been in a fog for a while. Sometimes it felt like hiding under a blanket, sprinting into walls, living in a bubble, like carrying the body of my child self on my shoulders.

Head trauma, an exquisite cocktail of brain sickness, and the constant messaging of “you don’t belong here” can do that to a person.

Although logic says “wow, depression!!”, I unknowingly took it into my body and made numbness my friend. I figured out early how to cope with the feeling of hopelessness, of the heaviness in my chest and the hardness of my back that made me unable to connect, to breathe right, to keep my eyes up. I grasped at everything, every joy around me in my ocean of darkness, just to buoy me up for another day.

“It gets better,” they always said.

I didn’t believe them. I couldn’t imagine living to my 30th birthday; not at that rate. I kept asking myself “if it gets better, would I still want to be alive?”.

A few times in my life, the answer has been “no; even if it gets better, this whole Life thing isn’t for me” and I had the resources to end my suffering. Knowing I’m still here, you can figure out the rest.

Those are the things I mourn. The years I lost to ideation, the decade in which I prayed to God every night that He would have mercy and I wouldn’t wake up in the morning, the times I talked myself out of giving up because I didn’t want anyone to have to find me, the loss of childhood, all the stretches of time my brain has blocked to protect me, and all the hurt I caused.

Truth is, it does get better. But NOT because it just “does” or because one day we’ll wake up without trauma and illness anymore.

It’ll get better because we work for it. Because we tackle the hard stuff. Because we learn how to cope. Because, even though it feels impossible and costs all the energy in the world, we got up and got out and got help.

And, for those of us who make it out, we won’t ask questions like “why don’t you just ask for help?”. Instead, we’ll reach our hands back into the dark ocean, throw ladders and ropes into the depths, send out lifeboats to make sure no one is left behind and that, in the morning, the world will be less heavier, easier to handle, and a lot kinder.

People saved my life.

The death of my lifelong best friend kicked me out of my coldness and forced me to confront questions I wasn’t prepared for, like “how do I honour a selfless, loving, brilliant life like his with mine now that he’s gone?”.

Those who jumped in the water and came back for me saved me too. People who made sure I had access to resources, people who listened, people who reflected, people who saw things in me I’d never known.

Serving people saves me every day. A purpose and a mission to give resources to athletes is the best gift I could ever receive and the best way I can honour the suffering of the starry-eyed, sad young player I used to be.

Now, suicide is a hideous friend who hides under my bed. He doesn’t come out very often; he just likes to tack himself onto my Drop Down List of Coping Strategies when shit gets really dark. When I say it gets better, I mean WE get better, stronger, healthier, more attached to being alive. I don’t mean that the sensations disappear. 

But it can get better. Easier to manage. Less loud and heavy and ever-present.

And athletes and coaches without a doubt deserve the resources to help themselves find a better life without the shame of being mocked, bullied, being called weak, or risking their spot on a roster because of it. Getting help against the monsters of mental illness is the strongest thing a person can do.

If you’re struggling, please ask for help. I promise you that there are resources and people who will help you because they want to see you alive and winning.

Today is better with you in it.