I laid in bed in the dark, trapped inside my own thoughts. Thoughts of loneliness, thoughts of worthlessness, thoughts of hopelessness. Thoughts of wanting to kill myself. This wasn’t my first night—it had been weeks, months even.
I was angry with myself. I was a mental health therapist. I knew every coping skill in the book, how to safety plan, how to use cognitive therapy to change my thoughts. I knew the “right” things to do to feel better. My career revolved around providing hope to others, yet I couldn’t bring hope into my own life. I sat in an office all day telling clients all of the reasons to live, all of the ways to get out of depression, all of the things that made them important and why the world needed them. And I felt like a hypocrite each day, never believing a word I said when it came to myself.
I can’t tell you why I didn’t kill myself that night. Or the dozens of nights before, where the thoughts lasted deep into the early morning hours. Maybe it’s because of my faith. Maybe it’s because of my family. Maybe it’s because I was afraid. But I can tell you that each passing night I felt like this, I felt myself getting closer and closer to losing my life. And I was getting scared.
Knowing I needed help and getting it were two different things. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt like a failure for not being able to do the thing I was trained to do. But how could I look down on myself for asking for help, for going to therapy, for taking meds, when that was the exact same thing I was asking every other person I came in contact with to do? I knew how to do it. But I was clouded by my own emotions, my own past trauma, and my own illness.
Eventually, I hired a therapist. A therapist I still see today. A therapist that understands me and helps me and cares about me. A therapist who told me that he has a therapist. A therapist that told me I was going through a lot and recommended inpatient treatment. I trusted him and I listened. I went to treatment for six weeks. And that was where I found more helpers who were seeking mental health treatment—doctors, surgeons, therapists, pastors. Turns out, sometimes the ones giving the hope need it just as much.
Suicide is scary. Self-harm is scary. Mental illness is scary, and another way for it to take more lives is for the helpers in this world to be too ashamed to ask for help themselves. If you take the doctor out of the hospital, the patients lose their help. If you take the helper out of the mental health field, the people struggling lose one of their lifelines. The burn-out rate in the mental health field is so high and it’s a time when we need as many helpers as ever. I realize what it’s like to be on the other side. I realize what it’s like to suffer through mental illness, and I know what it’s like to feel what my clients are feeling. I can empathize when they come into my office and tell me they don’t want to live. I can help from a place of knowing.
I remember those night of being suicidal vividly. I wish I could say they never happen anymore, but they do. Except now I have a support system. I have medications. I have a counselor. I believe my purpose in life will forever be to help others who are struggling. But sometimes my purpose is to just make it through the day alive. And that’s okay. That’s a valid purpose for anyone. Because even though I am a helper, a provider of hope, my mental health and my life are just as important as everyone who walks through my door.