I recently had my first article published in Pose Magazine. Because it was supposed to be 1200 words or less, some of my article didn’t get published so I decided to post the entire thing on my blog for your reading pleasure. I’m so thankful for the overwhelming amount of support I have received.
How Suicide Saved My Life
Because of the recent economy and the approaching holidays, people are more likely to suffer from depression. We hear stories of people everyday that have committed suicide and a lot of us are quick to judge. But until you understand how depression works, you can never truly understand what someone is going through.
Do you know the signs of depression?
• Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
• Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
• Irritability or restlessness
• Loss of interest in activities
• Difficulty concentrating, focusing or making decisions
• Insomnia or excessive sleeping
• Overeating or loss of appetite
• Thoughts of suicide
If you are looking over this list and checking off several symptoms, you could in fact be suffering from depression. The exact cause of depression is unknown however it is believed that the disease can be inherited. I strongly believe that for me, that was the case. Here is my story:
When I was 4 years old my mama came to pick me up from my grandma’s house. She hugged me and handed me a small brown paper bag filled with penny candy. I remember that day as if it were yesterday but it’s been 38 years. I still feel the excitement of seeing my mama that day because she had been away for a while and I had missed her tremendously. I didn’t want to let her out of my sight for fear that she would leave me again. As years passed, I would later find out that my mother had actually just gotten home from the hospital from a failed suicide attempt. She was 22 years old with 2 children, ages 2 and 4 and was going through a nasty divorce. That was my first encounter with depression. However, as the years went on I became acquainted with it way too well.
By the time I was around 10 years old my mother had gotten her life back on track and moved from Monroe, NC to Charlotte, NC. We moved into an apartment off West Blvd named Little Rock. It was definitely considered the hood and I was constantly picked on as a child for my weight and for speaking properly. At one point the bullying on the school bus got so bad that a girl threatened to beat me up on a daily basis. I still remember being terrified the day we got off and she actually pushed me. I always felt weird. I never seemed to fit in. I never really felt comfortable inside my own body and situations like those only compounded the problem. I would spend most of my time reading books that transported me to wonderful places or watching old black and white movies imagining I was wealthy like the women in the movies.
My mother coped as well as she could and she finally decided to get help for her depression so she encouraged me all throughout my teenage years to do the same because she knew I was somehow affected by everything that had occurred in my childhood including the absence of my father. But I refused. I was fine. Nothing was wrong with me. I was the good child. I was the one that always stayed out of trouble. I could deal with anything.
In 1989 I graduated from high school and that following fall I became a freshman at NCA&T. Never having been away from home, I quickly began to feel isolated and alone even though I was slowly starting to make friends. Within 2 months I started drinking heavily. By 9 months I was probably close to being an underage alcoholic. One night I got so drunk I woke up with a knot on my head and didn’t know where it came from. My friends later informed me that in a drunken stupor I refused to listen and fell and hit my head on a radiator in the stairwell. At home my brother had also been dealing with alcohol issues. He started drinking when he was in high school. Alcohol was a very dangerous addiction for me and just like depression, it ran rampant in my blood. My maternal grandfather was a functioning alcoholic who was ironically killed in a car accident when he had a designated driver. My paternal grandmother was also a functioning alcoholic who hid her drinking from everyone. I came home for summer break and my mother forced me to accompany my brother to an AA meeting. She knew he had a problem and was trying everything she could to get him help. Little did she know, that meeting would actually change my life instead. I stopped drinking right after attending that meeting until years later. “Hello, my name is….” just wasn’t going to work for me. I was scared to stand in front of all those people like that. I was afraid to be vulnerable. That’s not the life I wanted at the time.
By the time the second school year started, I developed other bad habits, like shopping and fine dining. I was able to get a student credit card (the beginning of my bad credit drama) and it was like having free money. I was constantly at the mall instead of being in class and I was always treating my friends to dinner. I got a literal high every time I swiped that card. Needless to say I soon failed out of college and was forced to come back home. Luckily I was always a hard worker so I was able to get a job. I didn’t want to be a burden on my mom, (I was already a bum of a college dropout) so I decided to move out of her house and found a roommate. I had to maintain 3 jobs just to make ends meet. Enter my next coping mechanism…. marijuana. I would smoke in between my jobs and whenever else I could find the time. It made me feel good. It made me feel so relaxed like I didn’t have a care in the world. I later realized it was just another attempt to ease the pain of feeling “less than.” There’s no high better than your next high and I did whatever I could to reach it. Lucky for me, I’ve always had angels because marijuana could have quickly become a gateway drug. However I stopped there.
By the time I was 27 I had left the high life behind me. There was my great paying job at Bellsouth, my first brand new car and a cute condo I was renting in Plaza Midwood from my mom. Life was good, at least so it seemed, until one day, it all fell apart. I had been feeling very down. I was sad all the time. I would cry for absolutely no reason. My job was stressful. I hated it. I was constantly tired no matter how much I slept. I felt hopeless. I knew something was wrong and that something had to change. The company offered on the job counseling for free so I went to talk to someone. Within 15 minutes she told me I needed professional help. I was referred to a therapist and soon started sessions with her. I went to all my sessions religiously but after a while they told me they wouldn’t cover any more sessions and that I was doing much better anyway.
The day I decided to end my life:
Slowly drifting back into my abyss, I felt like no one understood my pain. I was sad, I felt alone. I felt misunderstood. I felt worthless. I felt like I was stuck in quicksand in a deep black hole and little by little I was losing ground. I felt completely defeated. In January 1999 I decided to end my life. I would do what my mother had attempted to do years early but I would succeed. I would finally escape my pain. Through a series of events that’s not what ended up happening though. God had other plans for me. I ended up sitting in front of my mother’s house crying hysterically and after having a conversation with her she convinced me to check myself into the emergency room for evaluation. I agreed and that’s the night my life changed. The emergency room doctor admitted me to a program on Billingsley Rd. That night my roommate tried to literally climb the walls. I thought “God, I need help. I’m not insane…I just need help and I’m not going to get it here.” The next morning my insurance said they wouldn’t cover my stay at Billingsley so I was transferred to Presbyterian Hospital’s psychiatric facility on the 7th floor. It was the complete opposite of Billingsley and I felt a glimmer of hope. I was assigned my own private room and later that day, I found out I was clinically depressed. That I had a chemical imbalance in my brain that was most likely hereditary. The doctor prescribed me two kinds of medication. One for the depression that would help to slow down the million pessimistic thoughts I had running through my mind and another medication to help me sleep. He also prescribed intensive therapy as part of my treatment. That night I slept better than I had in months. I finally felt safe. I finally felt like someone understood my pain and my difficulty in coping. I was inpatient for one week and then the doctor released me to go home but I still had to go to the hospital every day for intensive therapy. For the next year, I worked the program like my life depended on it and within 18 months I was completely off my medication. I made a vow that if I left that facility I would never return. I learned to let go of things that caused me stress, including that job. I went on to own a natural hair salon. Fourteen years later and I’ve never had another depressive episode. Do I get overwhelmed sometimes? Of course. Do I get sad sometimes? Yes, I do. But with the tools that I learned I know how to shut out the voices that tell me lies. I know I deserve to be happy and that I’m worthy. So when I’m feeling down I remind myself of how far I’ve come.
Depression and weight:
By the time I was 39 I was physically and mentally healthy but I was still overweight. I felt like that weight was a symbol of some kind of defeat that still existed so I decided that weight had to go. I wasn’t starting a new decade carrying around any excess baggage so I completely changed my eating habits, drastically and started working out. Within 3 years I’ve lost over 125 lbs. I don’t know the exact numbers because I refuse to get on the scale. I prefer to judge by how I feel and how my clothes fit. At my biggest I was a size 28 and well over 300 lbs. Now I’m a size 10. People ask me everyday how I did it and I am more than happy to share. I even started a Eat Clean for Busy People group on Facebook just to help people reach their goals to eating better and living a better life.
Speaking out on weight loss and depression has become a crusade of sorts for me….almost by accident. I just want to inspire people to learn to live in joy.
5 tips for bringing joy into your life
1. Find at least one thing everyday to be thankful for. Most of us concentrate on what we don’t have and focus on the negative. A shift occurs when you start focusing on the things you are grateful for. Write down one thing everyday for a month that you are thankful for and watch what happens.
2. Create your day. When you wake up in the morning before you open your eyes, give thanks and then create a vision for how you want your day to go. Imagine what will happen once you leave the house, the people you will encounter and how your day will flow. Thoughts become things so make sure all the thoughts you have are great ones.
3. Spend at least 30 minutes a day in complete silence. I know what you are thinking…..30 minutes a day? Yes! We all need time to reconnect with God and to clear our minds. There is no better way than to be silent and to be still. This is a form of meditation. Once you start this practice, you will learn to hear the voice of God more clearly. Sit quietly in a room in silence. If you can’t do that, turn off the radio on the way to work and just be silent. If your house is filled with little and big loud people, find a closet and lock yourself in it for 30 minutes. Whatever it takes.
4. Spend less time watching TV, especially the news. TV is one of the biggest wasters of time ever created. I don’t watch TV and I haven’t watched the news in almost 7 years. And guess what, I ‘m still alive. If you’ve ever noticed, by the time the news is over, you are completely depressed. It’s because they are giving you nothing but bad news for a complete hour most of the time. Use that energy somewhere else. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Successful people spend less time watching TV and more time building real relationships.
5. Create positive mantras for yourself and place them throughout your house on sticky notes. Anyplace you can see them to remind you of how awesome you are. “I love you” “I am awesome” “I am debt free” “I have_________” Fill in the blanks. Whatever will make you feel good, write it down and stick it somewhere. On the walls, on the bathroom mirror or on the fridge. Just do it!
I think we all question what our purpose here on earth is. One day I asked God what my purpose was. He told me to spread love and to use the power of love to transform lives. I set out to share my story simply by being transparent because I know the pain associated with hiding. I refuse to be hidden any longer. I’m a light and light was created to shine.
Tinesha Matthews is a blogger and public speaker. You can read her blogs and contact her for speaking at your engagements on her website: www.tineshamatthews.com