Editor's Note: The following commentary is written by a Soldier who tried to take his own life. Although reducing the stigma to seek help remains a priority, he has changed his name to protect his privacy. Those who are seeking help should immediately contact the agencies listed at the end of this story.
I remember waking in a recovery room without the use of my hands and the sound of my now ex-wife telling me how stupid I was and always had been. However, those were not the things that bothered me the most about the situation. What bothered me was that I was actually able to live that moment. It was the feeling of failure of not succeeding in killing myself that dwarfed those details.
It wasn't something that I planned to do at length. It can only be described as an impulse that feels, at the moment, like the right thing to do. Looking back, I did exhibit many of the warning signs associated with the suicidal person.
I spoke of how much easier it would be to be dead and how easy it would be to do so. Most of the talk was written off by the few people that I associated with as me just being weird or morbid and was not seen as serious as it truly was. At home, I would hear how worthless I was and how my service in the Army and later the National Guard was a burden to my family. My job was something that I had come to loathe over the years; selling used cars to the credit challenged. I was good at it and hated myself for it. I hated that having been a medic on active duty didn't count for anything on the outside. I hated everything about my life. I was trapped, feeling hopeless and lost.
Sometimes I would have a drink or two to take the edge off the bad feelings I was having. Other times, I would buy a pain pill or two from one of my co-workers just so that the days would just go by. These things would calm my nerves and take away some of the anxiety and help me sleep at night.
I had no friends outside of work. Even at work, I was in a managerial position that did not afford too many opportunities for socialization. I wasn't in regular contact with my parents, siblings, or any other relatives. Even my unit, which had become like a family to me, was people that I only saw or spoke to once a month. My spouse, as stated before, wasn't the supportive partner that someone in such a situation would need. It was a feeling of complete isolation and loneliness.
My options as a member of the National Guard were either severely limited or nonexistent. The options that did exist would require a three hour drive to the nearest installation, Fort Hood. In my search for information, I had to be careful because of browser histories and cell phone bills printing every number sent or received. My life was a prison and I needed to get out. As each door closed and each avenue led to a dead end, my options were leading to only one direction. With each phone call or letter, hope became a rare commodity.
I did, however, get a break with a Joint Forces mission to Romania. On an MWR day, as we medics were having lunch at a restaurant on the beach, a Soldier lost his life nearby. We were told there was nothing that any of us could have done if we were there, but it is still a bit of a blow to the medic mindset. I remember standing in formation at the service held on the makeshift post thinking about his family and how they were going to carry on. The other medics looked equally somber.
We returned home, only to be greeted by Hurricane Katrina a couple of weeks later. Instead of the entire unit going, four of us were specially selected to link up with other units from Texas. The medical section that we became attached to was all from the same unit and treated the four of us less than favorably. Two of the people from my unit had gone back home within the first week, leaving just me and my TC. We slept on cots outside our ambulance while they slept in the ER of the children's hospital where we had set up operations. I didn't mind the patrols so much but they were never ending. There are things I saw on those patrols that still haunt me when I close my eyes.
There are atrocities that people will commit under the cover of a natural disaster that defy reason. If I could pinpoint the exact time period in which my faith had entirely disappeared, it would have been in New Orleans in the autumn of 2005. It was also the only time in my 16 year military career that I have ever fired a round at another human being.
As we were sitting in the demobilization station, Hurricane Rita hit and we were issued new orders to provide support for southeast Texas. I was given Jasper, Texas and the warning that someone of my ethnicity should and not venture off in the dark. My TC went home the next day on pass and did not return. I was alone for the next three weeks working out of my ambulance as the town's health care provider. Some of the locals did make their comments toward my ethnicity, but as Soldiers do, we carry out our missions.
When I finally returned home, it had been nearly two months and I was having difficulty relating to people and readjusting to life. There were no briefings or counseling. I cleaned and parked my ambulance and went home to return to my civilian job the next day. Having not been able to call home consistently during my time away added another level of chaos at home. People would find me sitting outside in silence, staring at nothing in particular. I was wary of sudden sounds and movements. The feelings of isolation became feelings of desolation and guilt.
I couldn't stand to be indoors and was paranoid of people. On a few nights, I had hopped the fence at the armory and slept in my ambulance. I was safe there. Nothing could hurt me there.
March 15, 2006, I was in my office trying to sell a car to some people that were in need but had no money. My boss had called me and told me that I should put them in a problem car on the lot and was also informed that an employee was "fooling around with" his personal motorcycle instead of working and as his supervisor I needed to take action. Ever since I got back, apparently I had stopped caring about details like that.
I returned to my office and allowed the customers to make phone calls to borrow the money they needed for a down payment. As I listened to them beg multiple people, something inside of me broke. I reached over and hung up the phone.
"I can't do this anymore," I said and walked out on them. I found the employee working on his motorcycle. I took his keys and walked the motorcycle to the front of the building where I pointed it at the car that my boss had been emphasizing. I hopped on the bike and went as fast as I could. Everything went black.
Luckily, I did not lose my life that day and have the opportunity to share this story with people that may be or may know someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts. Perhaps someone that is thinking about ending their life will happen on this and realize that they are not alone. I may not have initials after my name, but what I do have are scars that remind me there is a better way.
Today, I still live with the self-doubt and bad feelings. There aren't many people that I am close to. Very few people know the real story behind my scars. I have picked up a camera and committed to documenting things that I find are worth living for. My support chain is full of people that care and are willing to talk when things get to be too much to handle. Surrounding yourself with positive people keeps the negativity at bay. If there is the slightest change in my character, they are quick to point it out and offer to listen.
Thousands of people each year commit or attempt suicide, leaving survivors wondering why. There is something that they are trying to escape from and cannot see any other way out. Let them know that it isn't a weakness and you want to help. Don't be afraid to talk about feelings. Sometimes a smile and the simple act of showing that you care can go a long way.
If this story has done nothing else for you, I hope it has made you more aware of clues that someone around you may be in distress. Offer to talk. Offer to help and if you can't, offer to help them find someone that can. Each one of us has the opportunity to save a life.
This post is part of a special Huffington Post series, "Invisible Casualties," in which we shine a spotlight on suicide-prevention efforts within the military. Every weekday in September, we'll feature a different blog post by someone who is either an expert in the field, who has been affected by a suicide, or who has contemplated suicide. To see all the posts in the series, as well as original reporting, audio and video, click here.
If you or someone you know would like to contribute to our series, send an email email@example.com.
And please, if you or someone you know needs help, call the national crisis line for the military and veterans, 1-800-273-8255, or send a text to 838255.