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Surviving the Darkness

Surviving the Darkness

This past fall, I walked alongside hundreds of individuals in The Out of the Darkness Walk. Coordinated by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the event raises awareness and financial support for continued research, awareness and prevention of suicide. We stood together in quiet solidarity regardless of age, culture, gender, sexual orientation or religious affiliation, with the understanding we were not alone, even in our small Arkansas community.

The crowd, exceeding 700 people, was adorned with memorial T-shirts, banners, flowers and multicolored Mardi Gras beads. Each color represented someone we lost to suicide or acknowledged a personal struggle. Mostof the individuals walking had a personal tie to this cause.

I was one of those individuals. My color was gold, for my mother. I should have taken another strand of beads for my own personal struggle, however, I was not ready to admit this.

The day was shattering, comforting, worrisome, heart-wrenching, uniting. I remember gradually looking around the immense crowd, searching for those wearing the same color necklace as mine own. I found many … too many. I was not the only child who had a parent make the choice to change both of their lives.

Yes, my mother was imperfect. She blamed others for many of her issues, including myself. She struggled with depression since before my birth in 1982 and continued until Jan. 12, 2002, when she took her own life. On that day she made two fateful calls that would haunt me for years. In those short calls, she reasoned that this was her only choice because I wanted to be a missionary, obviously illustrating that I cared for others more than her.

I think it could go without saying, that God and I really didn’t have much of a relationship after those words. I went through the motions of undamaged devotion in order to ease the suffering my grandmother was experiencing at the loss of her child. My faith did slowly return, though my idea of being a missionary was no longer entertained. At that time, it was what I believed drove the last bullet into that gun.

Though my faith was present, I would constantly fall into fits of anger toward my mother, toward the God I believed in and toward the entire mental health profession that I concluded failed my mother. One dark night of disbelief and guilt led me to contemplate an end to my own life.

But how could I? The reason my mother could go through with the act, I assumed, was because her faith wavered in God. I thought God was the ultimate healer and one could manage their sadness without the need of professional intervention, especially since it failed her. All I needed to do was attend church, pray, fast and all would be healed … right? My naiveté and closed-mindedness was astounding.

Though, eventually, I found myself sitting with a bottle of morphine. Of course, there were many other issues going on in my life at the time, but the true root of my desire to leave this world was because of the guilt of being what I deemed a hurtful, unloving daughter whose words and actions caused her own mother to end her life. I went to bed that evening planning to take the bottle, ensuring no one would find me until the act was complete. In the middle of the night, I woke up startled and looked at the doorway. I heard my mother’s voice say my name in exclamation. I’m not sure what this meant or if I was dreaming, but it shook something within me to call a friend for help. My dear friend did not place condemnation on me, but accepted my feelings and surrounded me with love and hope. And to this day, I give credit to God—and to my mother—for stopping me.

For many years, I still dreaded conversations where others would askabout my mother and how she died. I always expected to see this sympathy glaze come across their face. I didn’t want to be the victim—I wantedto be the survivor.

And now I am.

This isn’t to say that I was immediately healed from my depression or I had a rebirth of doubtless belief in God. Both are parts of my life that I will struggle with on a daily basis. But that is OK. I am now part of a faith community that doesn’t whisper of suicide behind closed doors. I am continually building coping skills that are healthy to prevent me from falling into that hole—exercising, eating healthy and being part of a faith community. Even as a former hater of the mental health profession, I’ve begun seeing a therapist.

I have overcome my darkness.

I believe talking about my mother honors her memory, and by acknowledging my own struggles it allows me to heal. I came to realize she was human, a daughter, a friend, a mother and so many things to so many people. I hope that if these conversations are held within churches, home groups and with friends and family, we can lessen the feelings of isolation this can cause for so many. By breaking the taboo of speaking about this issue, expressing concern and providing help for those contemplating this end we can decrease the number of those we lose. To save even one life would be a major success.

Rachel Hale, 29,  is a freelance writer and former MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) Peace Program Coordinator from Little Rock, Arkansas. Her interests remain within the realm of social justice, mental health advocacy and peace building. 

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