“I want to kill myself.”
Those words hurt me. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I sat there for a second searching for words, searching for a breath, searching for something that would take me back 30 seconds so I could somehow pretend this wasn’t happening.
This wasn’t real.
She didn’t want to kill herself, not really.
Not the beautiful, bubbly girl sitting in front of me.
This was what I experienced the first time my friend opened up to me about her struggle with depression, self-harm, and suicide. In the days that followed, I tried unsuccessfully to make sense of everything I had newly been exposed to. The feelings I had ranged anywhere from hot anger that she had to live with this day in and day out for the past three years to the deepest gratitude and joy that she was still here and willing to share this part of herself with me. I was confused about how she could’ve hidden this so well and mad at myself for not somehow catching on sooner. I felt helpless because I didn’t know what to do, and I was often ashamed that I was so unprepared for something like this; at times, she was the one consoling me. But beyond all the swirling emotions, one thought stood like a strong tower in a sea of unpredictability: I WANT TO HELP.
I didn’t know how to help or if she would even let me, but I knew within those first five seconds of the words leaving her lips that I was willingly entering into something bigger than myself. Something bigger than her struggle, bigger than my confusion, bigger than the gulf of understanding between the both of us, but something that could bring us both to the other side: hope.
Hope is a glorious thing, but it unfortunately doesn’t come with a perfectly structured step-by-step instruction booklet. There is no “right way” to hope. It is fluid. It changes every day based on our emotions and our needs.
At first, I struggled to make sure I was taking the right steps to help her. I was trying to say the perfect things, refer her to the appropriate places. But I quickly realized that hope could take many forms. Sometimes hope comes from simply being with the people you love and letting yourself feel that love. Sometimes hope comes in the form of a simple text at 4AM saying, “I’m here.”
Hope can be found in the late-night burger run to distract a friend from the screaming thoughts telling them to self-injure. Hope can found when you’re laughing until you’re crying about something totally normal and unrelated to the struggle – because it’s important to remember that the struggle is not who they are; it’s not what defines them. It’s a part of them, but only a part. Not the whole. They still have favorite songs and inside jokes and all the beautiful complexities that make someone who they are. Hope can also be found when you remind them of that.
But hope isn’t only found at the mountaintop. It’s in the valley, too, and in the climb up and the slippery slope back down. Hope can be found in the days when you forgot it existed and turned back to the darkness. Hope can be found not only in recovery but also in relapse. It can be found in the silence, and it can be found in a friend.
If you are someone struggling with these thoughts, it’s OK to be honest with yourself and those around you. It’s OK to let someone in. The people around you might not have the perfect response or the perfect path to show you, but that’s OK too. Help them to know what you need and how to help you. Let them fumble through their own self-awareness and walk alongside you. Let them be there for you. Let them partner with you. Let them whisper words of hope when all you hear are the screams of darkness.
And if you are one of the lucky ones who have been deemed trustworthy and safe by someone struggling, embrace it. Remember that this is not your struggle to bear alone. Remember that you do not have to be perfect in your support.
Most importantly, be there. It’s OK to not have the perfect words or know the perfect things to do. Be there anyway. Learn to navigate the unknown waters together. Let them know they’re not alone and that they are loved. Whisper hope to them even when you can barely cling to it yourself. It’s OK for you to not be OK too.
So let’s meet each other where we are and find the things that bring us together.
Let’s meet in a place of understanding.
A place of communication.
A safe place to rest.
Let’s meet in a place called hope.
To B: I’m in this and I love you. Forever plus 5 days.