“Tell anyone you like. My story doesn’t help anyone if I keep it to myself.”
My grandmother’s story takes place in Idaho, right outside of Boise and roughly an hour and a half away from Weiser, where my mom and uncle were raised on the Oregon border. Because this was my mother’s homeland, I seemed to always be traveling back and forth from California to visit family—and I was glad to. There are few people in the world who are as proud of me as my grandma is.
In 1976, my grandmother tried to kill herself. After about 30 years of unchecked depression, low thyroid, and estrogen problems, she decided that to make things easier for everyone else, she should end her life. Luckily, my grandfather found her and rushed her to the hospital. She miraculously survived, although her recollection of the event is fuzzy.
The point of sharing this story isn’t just about my grandma. As far as her story goes, she’s not in the minority. A study in 2010 ranked Idaho with the sixth highest suicide rate in the country, almost 50 percent higher than the national average.
Idaho still very much has a hint of the Old West in it. That’s what I love about it—it’s so wild, so open, so vast. Everyone’s a cowboy, it seems. As a state, Idaho often gets passed over and forgotten, but I like to think of it as one of America’s best-kept secrets.
However, with this background comes the negative side of an Old West mindset. You get back up “on your horse,” and you keep going on. You don’t ask for help, you don’t talk about things. You endure. If it isn’t physical, then it isn’t real.
The problem, though, is that mental health struggles are all too real. Many of Idaho’s geographical neighbors are also neighbors on the list of state suicide rates, and that “keep going on” mindset continues to affect the rural areas of our nation and hinder our discussion of mental health.
I have been to those wild parts. I have waded their rivers, driven their roads, and looked into the faces of the people living there. Those wild parts are a part of me. They are more than a sheet full of statistics or a line on a list. When I see those numbers, I see a lot of hurt and confusion. I see too many stories ending too soon, too many purposes going unfulfilled. But I also see the promise of solidarity.
Those numbers tell me you don’t need to feel alone. They tell me you don’t need to keep quiet anymore because you feel like something is “wrong” with you. As it is with my grandmother, there are people in your life who have their own story and understand what you are going through. It’s time to realize it’s OK to not be OK, asking for help doesn’t make you weak, and hope exists.
I hope for the day when we can drop the stigma and talk openly and honestly about things that affect us. But that won’t happen until some people are brave enough to start these conversations. Recovery isn’t easy, but it’s real, and we won’t begin to fix ourselves if we can’t admit we’re broken. I believe, no matter where you live, you have days full of laughter, joy, and hope ahead of you. I believe things can get better.
Why do I believe all of this? Because 37 years after her suicide attempt, my grandmother can end a long, hand-written letter to me, after sharing everything she’s been through, with the phrase, “Life is good!”
At the end of the day, that’s what I choose to believe, too.
—Jacob, Spring 2013 TWLOHA intern