For Our Native Youth Struggling with Depression & Suicide: HOPE is in Our Blood

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 Guest Essay

At some point in our lives, we all hold the seed of suicide. Most people will hold it in their hand and think about planting it, but toss it away. It will become a reminder of a moment when they found strength and courage. If you’re thinking about suicide, I ask that you take a moment and you try to find just one ounce of strength and courage to toss that seed aside because once it’s planted, you can never take it back. If you plant that seed, it doesn’t stop growing with your death. It continues to grow and it will infest the hearts and spirits of your loved ones. If you plant the seed and survive, you’ll spend the rest of your fighting its growth because it will always be there.

I know this from my experience because every single day, I fight it.

I am Suicidal.

I am not ashamed to admit that I have attempted suicide several times in the last 19 years. I’m not ashamed to admit that there is rarely a day that goes by when I don’t think about suicide. It is something that I will struggle with for the rest of my life because suicide is not something you can get over. It is not painless and it is not without consequence. However, suicide is something that you can survive and it is something that you MUST survive.

I’ve struggled with depression and suicide since I was 15 years old. Every year, during March, I have a really hard time getting through it because this is when my battle with suicide began. I still feel the hurt I felt then and I still live with the consequences of how I dealt with that hurt.

You see, I lost a really good friend to suicide and my grandma passed away just weeks after. Their deaths turned my world upside down and somewhere along the line the sadness and hurt that I felt spiraled into depression. I can’t even tell you what led to my first attempt because I didn’t plan it. I don’t even remembering thinking about it. What I do remember is standing in the bathroom and seeing a bottle of pills that my grandpa had forgotten when he moved to New Mexico after my grandma’s funeral. I don’t remember a lot of what happened after taking the pills , but I do remember how that one decision changed everything.

I wish I could say that I got the help that I needed and things got better. The reality is that no one in my family knew how to deal with my depression and attempted suicide. Their solution was to pretend that it never happened. I was constantly reminded to “straighten up” and “don’t say anything” because people would think I was crazy. I spent a lot of time bouncing between living with my parents and my aunt because no one knew what to do with me. Truth is that I didn’t even know what to do with myself. I felt disconnected from everyone in my life and never felt that I belonged anywhere.

Life certainly didn’t stop and wait for me to find my bearings because the losses didn’t stop with my friend and my grandma. I lost my grandpa, cousin, and too many loved ones over the years that followed. I went through hardship after hardship because that’s life. Life is hard and we are constantly faced with insurmountable losses and challenges. It’s easy to get discouraged and to feel like there is no hope. It’s even harder when you’re dealing with a mental or physical illness.

So, I know it hurts. I know you’re scared. I know you don’t want to feel what you are feeling and that you want it to stop. I know you feel that no one understands. I know you feel alone, but you’re not. I know because I’ve been there and there are still times when I am there.

Most days, I’m alone and most of the time I’m okay. Then, there are days when I wake up and I feel that numbness weighing on me and it terrifies me. Those are the days when sometimes I find myself crying for no reason. The days when I’m doing something and it seems like minutes, but then I realize that I have just been sitting or standing there for hours doing nothing. Those are the days that scare me because I’m afraid that I will harm myself and not even realize what I’m doing because that’s how all my attempts have been, impulsive and unplanned.

Every single day, I struggle with depression and suicide. But I want you to understand that I am healing and the number of good days by far outweigh the bad. I want you to know that even though you are struggling, you must remember that it doesn’t negate the good.

As I said before, I struggle throughout March and, lately, suicide has been weighing on my mind more than usual. Not just because I’m struggling with it, but because I know that you are struggling with it and too many of you are losing your battles. You need to know that you can survive this because hope is in our blood.

If you are feeling like there is no hope, I want you to look in the mirror because you are hope. It took me a very long time to understand this, but the blood that flows through our veins is full of hope, love, defiance and sacrifice. We are here today because our ancestors refused to give up hope. We are here because they fought for us to survive and that defiance and will to survive lives on in our blood. We cannot let their love, courage and sacrifice be in vain. Choose to live and choose to fight.

I know you may feel alone, but you’re not. What I didn’t realize is that all the times that I felt alone and that no one understood, there were survivors and others who were fighting for me the way that we now fight for you. You are our hope and our future. You are loved beyond measure and we are here for you.

Make the choice to live.

It’s not always easy, but don’t let the hurt and fears that you feel today erase the happiness and victories that await you tomorrow.

Johnnie Jae is of the Jiwere-Nutachi and Chahta tribes of Oklahoma. She is the Executive Managing Partner & Midwest Regional Director @ Native Max Magazine and host of the Indigenous Flame radio talk show. She is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

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3 Comments
    • Johnnie Jae 3 years ago
  1. juliet thornburg 3 years ago