Ed. Note – The following is adapted from remarks delivered during the Out of the Darkness Community Walk on Saturday, Sept. 10. It has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
BY JOHN JENKINS
MOUNT TRASHMORE — Chris Gilchrist of the Hampton Roads Survivors of Suicide Support Group asked me to speak with you today because, like a number of you, I am no stranger to depression and suicide. I lost a family member to suicide, but I also survived another suicide – my own plan to end my life.
Chris asked me to share with you how it feels to be at that point and to live to tell about it.
When I was severely depressed, it was like the depression wrapped itself around me like a constrictor until I was completely wrapped in its coils, and it was too late get free. The despair felt so real that it physically hurt. I just wanted to make the pain stop, and I was willing to do anything to make it stop.
I mean anything.
So I came up with a plan when I felt I couldn’t put up with the hopelessness or put my family through the despair or outburst of rage and anger any longer.
It was a simple plan. I would just go home for lunch like every day around noon and shoot myself, and that would be the end of me.
I didn’t stop to think about my two sons, one in elementary school, the other in his early teens, and how it would be for them to find me. And what about the debt I would be leaving my wife and family? Or the whispers and judgment my wife and family would face when her friends and neighbors heard her husband, the ex-police officer, their father, died by suicide.
I didn’t think through any of that.
I couldn’t think that way at all. The fact is, when anyone is severely depressed, typically your brain chemistry is altered, and it is not able to function effectively. You are left thinking in despairing, depressed ways. I couldn’t think straight.
The pain was right in front of me, and I could not see beyond it. I once heard that, when people are on the edge of suicide, it’s not so much that you truly want to end your life, but rather you just want the pain to end. That was it for me.
So I started home with my plan. Yet I did not make the turn to go to the house. I drove to Franklin instead. I went to the Western Tidewater Community Services Board office. I told them about my plan to harm myself, and I checked into a hospital for treatment.
I surprised myself because — at that critical moment, on that day at noon — I took a different turn at the intersection on Southampton Parkway. It was a lifesaving turn. Debbie, my wife, will tell you that this was a God thing, and, with time, I came to believe it, too.
I am standing here today because of the love of my wife, Debbie, my sons, Daniel and Andrew, my friends – and because Chris Gilchrist wouldn’t allow me to give up on myself. It was just not an option.
My sons are grown now. Daniel is married to Taneshia. They have three children, two boys, Jayden and Christian, and the newest addition to our family, Khloe, our granddaughter. Andrew is married to Lori.
I would have missed all of this had I completed my attempt. I do believe in the power of faith and love. I know that there are many people who have struggled emotionally or mentally and had the love of family and friends, had faith even greater than mine, yet they lost their battle with depression.
Why didn’t I? I don’t think I have an answer to that mystery. However, I do know there was another force that was part of my survival that day.
I had taken a step before that critical moment – a very big step for a proud man like me. I took a step to get help. I sought counseling and formed a therapeutic relationship. I have to think that connection, that doorway, may have given me an alternative way to deal with the pain.
I believe it is a part of why I am here today. Getting help made a difference.
I know there are a number of you who, out of your depression, have either considered suicide or will do so. I hope this morning has given you a different way to deal with your pain.
Know that depression is treatable. Seek treatment. If you take nothing else from this and what I have shared, know that there is help.
There is hope.
Visit sos-walk.org for information about the walk and Hampton Roads SOS.
Used with permission from the author.