This is why: My story
Susan Zhu | Tuesday, February 10, 2015
When Madison Holleran took her life in January 2014, the University of Pennsylvania reeled at its fourth suicide within a year, which sparked the question: “Why would these kids — top of their class, the elite, bound for success — choose to kill themselves?”
The closest I ever came was a letter. I kept that letter for a year in a small drawer on the right side of my desk, where it sat until I folded it up and tucked it into the trash while I was packing to leave for my first semester in college. I had kept it all that time not because I still felt like I did when I wrote it, but because it reminded me I was alive and that I had made the conscious decision to stay so.
In high school, I was the overachiever. I was the 4.0 student who was bound to be a valedictorian and go to a prestigious university and then become a doctor, or something of the sort. That was my track; that was the way life would work out for me, for people like me. I was constantly working towards success, and though I was in high school, the competition was suffocating at times. It always felt as though I constantly had to prove myself and my worth and my intelligence to my peers, people that really had no right or authority to judge me on any of those things.
Anything less than my best was failure. This may sound clichéd, but it was the reality. Everything I did was to go towards the goal of getting into a good college, of making something of myself. It was as though I had something to prove to the world, to my peers, to my teachers, to my family; I had to be the best at any expense. I was exhausted, I was worn out, but I plastered that smile on my face so no one would guess anything was wrong. Anything other than the happy, positive person that others regarded me as would be strange and out of place. This was the person I had created, and I had to maintain her for as long as I could.
I had read that depression was a serious problem, but I ignored it even as it was eating up my mind. When I began to feel empty or apathetic, I worked harder; I didn’t want to dwell on the fact that I was slipping away from myself. The breaking point didn’t occur until my first thought of taking my own life. I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide I didn’t want to live anymore. It developed gradually, until one day I was driving home from school and the thought of running my car off the bridge didn’t scare me, it reassured me. This was in my junior year of high school. I didn’t want to die; I didn’t want to hurt my family or my friends. I didn’t want to live, either; the days weren’t hard, and they blended seamlessly together as I floated through them aimlessly. It was around this time I wrote the letter. It was only a page, with a few paragraphs addressed to my parents and some of my closest friends. I had planned on using pills because the thought of doing it any other way scared me.
I am a survivor of my own psyche. I have never battled a life-threatening physical illness, but I have battled a life-threatening mental illness. I am here, as a survivor and as a fighter, to tell you to speak up. Don’t talk yourself out of reaching out to seek help. It is a terrifying thought, the idea that you can no longer get through this life without seeking professional assistance. But it is not something you should be ashamed about. You should be proud of yourself, for keeping on the fight when it feels hopeless, and none of us can get through this life on our own regardless.
If you feel as though you need to seek help, do so immediately. If you are concerned for a friend and are worried that he or she may not go without some convincing, sit with them, listen to their worries, work with them to get them to St. Liam’s. Do not play the hero when you help a friend that is struggling. You are being a good friend, yes, but they are not yours to save, their fight for life is not your achievement. Be their equal, be their heart when they are hurting. But never, in your attempts to help them, make them feel as though they are “crazy,” do not tell them to just “cheer up” when they admit to feeling depressed. Do not trivialize their struggles with half-hearted words of “encouragement.” It’s time that “depressed” stops being thrown around like it is a casual emotion. It’s time to take away the stigma of seeking help.
I can accredit the majority of my recovery from depression to the ones who stuck by my side when I was at my lowest, who never left even when I myself wanted to leave this life, and desperately so. I know the importance of people, the importance of having someone there for you and the importance of unrequited support. My support system never expected anything back from me, except for effort and a determined will to live. They weren’t getting public praise for their help; they never thought twice when trying to help me. I’m terrified to imagine what would have happened had I not been lucky enough to have those beautiful people.
Get off your phones. Just go. Go be with each other. Be with each other and support one another.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.