When I was 16, I was a resident at an inpatient treatment program for anorexia.
It was a disease that controlled my life in every aspect. I still find it shapes many decisions I make and thoughts I have about others and myself. When I had been living there for two months, I thought my whole life was over.
More specifically, I wanted to end my whole life. Everything around me felt giant and terrifying, but even more terrifying were the thoughts inside my head. They were constant, convincing and cruel. They were louder than anyone else's voice. They were louder than my own.
Three years ago, I left residential treatment, moved back home and made choice. I knew that I could either end my life or I could choose life.
Now I'm 19, and while I am more than grateful I made the right choice, there are some things that I wish I had been told when I was in my darkest and most crucial state.
1. "I understand."
It seems like a statement with a lot of potential for negation. “No you don't. No one does. How could you?” That's how I probably would have responded if someone had told me that they understand. But, it's not that I needed someone to understand exactly what I was going through, because no one could really. What I needed was for someone to be open about his or her own experience with their story and experiences.
There is such power in openness and in guilt-free expression. More often than not, we underestimate just how many people around us are struggling. I know that if having open conversation about our struggles, feelings and thoughts was normalized, I would have felt less alone in my darkness.
2. "I'll follow through."
Everyone's story looks different. And not one person has the same experiences as another. One thing that everyone does have in common, though, is the need for human connection. One of the hardest things for suicidal people to do is reach out to others and be open to connection. Connection with others when you feel so disconnected with yourself is almost impossible. That is why having a person, or people, who are dedicated to following through with their friendship is so vital.
This could look different for everyone. For me, what helped most were friends that showed up. Friends that went at my pace and that are still here with me today. They followed through, held me up and supported me. For others, having people constantly around can do more harm than good.
Following through for this kind of friend might mean thinking of them, sending them letters and letting them know you are always there when they are ready. Either way, having stable people on your side when your world feels out of control is important.
3. "I am proud of you."
I can't speak for everybody, but for me, choosing life was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. It didn't happen in one night. It was a lot of little things that added up to finding hope and reason. Some days, I was motivated to keep fighting my fight towards recovery. Other days, I changed my mind. During that time, it can mean so much to hear that someone notices your fight and is proud of you for all you're doing.
Being in a really dark place can be very isolating, and I know I felt like I wasn't contributing anything to the world, to my family or to my friendships. Knowing that someone saw me trying meant the world. It helped me feel seen and heard.
Hearing "I'm proud of you" helped me become more proud of myself. Because it's not easy, and despite what is causing you to be suicidal, choosing life is so brave, and you should be very proud of yourself for that.
In the three years since I went home from treatment, I have seen thousands upon thousands reasons to love life. I've also had friends and family experience depression, and I have tried to remember these three things as I learn how to be the most helpful friend I can be.
What I wish I would have known and what I have since learned is that every person has an abundance of potential and beauty. Life truly can be wonderful and there are people that understand, people that will follow through and so, so many people who are proud of you.