The book, Happiness as a Second Language, opens with the description of my comically stupid attempt to end my own life. This sentence alone has already offended some people, because suicide is clearly not a laughing matter, but there is no other way to describe it for me. My one and only try was incredibly stupid, and in hindsight, pretty funny. It wasn't a cry for help, since no one ever knew about it until 15 years later when the book came out, but it was a rash act, in a moment of hopelessness, that I cannot for the life of me figure out the reason for, looking back now with perspective.
Perspective is, of course, one of the great casualties of despair. Whatever we are going through, we think it's the worst thing to ever happen to anyone and it will never improve. We also think we are all alone in the universe, which is completely wrong. The human experience has some recurring and very common themes, a fact that I find extremely comforting.
Two things discussed in the foreword of Happiness are a series of horrible events that all happened on the same day (which, in hindsight, were the best things that ever happened to me), and my suicide attempt -- before realizing the upside of those events. Since this book came out, I have heard from so many people who have had similar experiences.
Turns out, it's fairly common for people to get a huge, unexpected jolt to the system that makes them question every choice they've ever made. It might be a death in a family, the departure of a spouse, a job loss, an illness, an act of God, or something so out of the ordinary, I can't even think of it right now, but many, many, many of us have been there.
And a handful of us hit a point where we feel we can't take it anymore, so we contemplate, and possibly attempt, and sadly, sometimes succeed at, ending it all. We think we are so alone that no one could ever understand how bad things are, and also, we get a warped idea that everyone else would be better off if we were gone. Both of these things are completely untrue, and more people would realize that, if they could just find it in themselves to reach out to someone -- anyone -- and talk about what they're going through. That takes boundless courage, but it sure beats the alternative.
Every single day, I hear from people who, at one time or another, got to the point of trying to end it all and now, years later, are so grateful that what they tried didn't work. Some of these emails are from total strangers, but shockingly, a lot come from friends; people I have known for years. I've gotten messages along the lines of, "Remember that time I didn't return your call for a week? Yeah, I was in the hospital because I took all the pills in the house." What?!
I'm stunned each time, but I guess it's what I deserve. None of them knew I'd been there and done that until they read it in a book, along with thousands of other people. My parents didn't know. My sister didn't know. The friend whose phone call saved my life was never told, but when I asked her to sign the release (since her real name is in the book), she told me she knew something was going on at the time. That's why she wouldn't get off the phone until I agreed to come meet her. I'm glad her call arrived when it did, but it never occurred to me then that I could have made that call.
We are all in this together. Look around -- at the other people in your office, at your school, on the bus, going to your church, working out at your gym. Someone has been where you are. And they're still here. And they would want you to know that.
You are one in a million. Which means there are 7,100 of you on the planet. Instead of going to meet your maker, call a friend, walk into a clinic, go on the Internet. Find a support group. Enter a chat room or join a message board where everybody is kind and supportive. Whatever you are feeling, someone will know what to say or what to do to make it seem less overwhelming.
What you're going through, another person on the planet is going through, too -- at this very moment. And someone else. And someone else. And someone else. And some of them are having an easier time than you and some are having a much tougher time than you, but the bottom line is, you are not a unique snowflake. Stick around a while longer. It's the whole blanket of snow that makes the world beautiful, and we need every flake to be part of it. Including you.
A shorter version of article was originally posted on SpeakHappiness.com
To read more, you can visit Valerie Alexander's website, Speak Happiness, and follow Speak Happiness on Facebook and Twitter. For more detailed instruction in achieving lasting, permanent happiness, you can get "Happiness as a Second Language" on Amazon, and for added amusement, please check out the Happiest Book Trailer Ever.
For more by Valerie Alexander, click here.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.