Peterson: Into the light
It’s the question that gets asked after every death by suicide. Why would someone make the choice to end his or her own life?
It’s a question with no easy answer, but I’ve got a good guess.
I knew a guy back in college who was so depressed after a bad breakup, so hopelessly lost while self-medicating with booze and drugs, that he couldn’t see a way out. One bitterly cold night, he decided he couldn’t bear the pain of living anymore.
That guy? Me.
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It’s hard for me to recognize that person all these years later. Terrified to die? Absolutely. But even worse was the thought of facing down another day in the middle of a harsh, gray Midwest winter. There was no sunlight in my life.
I turn 41 years old today. My life, two decades on, is a waking dream. I’m married to the most amazing, most gorgeous woman I could ever imagine, and who I love more than ever after nearly 15 years together. I have two healthy, beautiful children who provide me with constant humor and joy. I love my home, my neighborhood, my hyperactive 8-pound rescue dog, and everything about where I live.
And, yet, I came this close to never seeing any of it.
What saved me? My sister, who ran into my college room that night and called campus security. My parents, my three siblings, and my dearest friends, who were relentlessly supportive and refused to give up on me, no matter how impossible I was. And the treatment and self-care I got after spending three lonely nights in a hospital at 20 years old during my sophomore year of college.
I’ve struggled with mental health issues for more than half of my life. Crippling anxiety and panic attacks. Depression. And while I’ve never sought treatment for substance abuse, there have been plenty of times where I’ve tried to douse stress by drinking to excess.
I’ve come to know myself better, to work on my perfectionistic tendencies, to smooth out my rough edges and to just let things go. I am a perpetual work in progress. I’m trying, constantly, to not be so hard on myself.
Some days are better than others. But I never want to get back to that place where I felt like there was no way through.
And I never want anyone else to, either, which is why, I guess, I’m writing this column. Trust me, it hasn’t been easy. I’ve carried it around in my head for years, and I started and stopped too many times to count these past few days while questioning my motivations.
One of the core values of my life, and my profession, however, is transparency. More than anything, that’s what propelled me to share my story, which until now, is only something my closest friends and family know.
I’m living proof that there’s light out there, that there’s help, and that the world is a much more interesting place with both you and I in it.
Chris Lindley, the executive director of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, is constantly harping on the message that the only way we’re going to change the status quo of mental health and substance abuse in this valley is if we talk about these issues the same way we talk about our physical health. Not only that, but if we devote as much time, energy and resources to these problems.
So that’s why I’m talking about this. It’s why today, the Vail Daily is launching an in-depth five-part series that will run over the next five Fridays that takes a serious look at the behavioral health crisis in this valley, which has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The series will also include a virtual screening of “Suicide: The Ripple Effect” and a live event featuring keynote speaker Kevin Hines and a local panel of behavioral health experts that will be hosted by yours truly. And, yes, I’m already anxious about it.
Part of this series is engaging with you, the community, and asking you to tell your personal stories. I know that’s not easy, but there is power in numbers. The more people talking about these issues, and sharing the journey they’re on — there’s only good that can come from that.
It’s easy to see when someone is recovering from a knee injury, or fighting cancer, or getting over a cold. It’s much harder to see when someone is struggling with substance abuse, or wrestling depression.
We’ve got to keep talking about these things, as uncomfortable as it might seem at first. We absolutely have to keep trying. It’s the only way we’re going to save lives in a county where suicide is one of the leading causes of death, where substance abuse is widespread, and where the demand for behavioral health services is increasing by the day.
It’s the only way to break free from the stigma that surrounds these difficult topics.
If nothing else, I hope my story encourages you to share yours.
To share your story and to read more about the Longevity series, please visit Vaildaily.com/longevity.
Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org