Late on April 11th of this year, I returned to my apartment after arguably one of the biggest successes of my college career with the resolute intention of ending my life. Sort of odd, right? Not the sort of celebration one would expect as a victory lap.
And yet there I was, crying as I walked through the door with this sort of hollowness in my soul that had finally succeeded in devouring every last bit of strength I had left. I simply couldn’t picture a future with any real meaning or lasting happiness and I couldn’t fathom waking up even one more time with that hollowness in my gut and heaviness in my chest. So I sat down to pen what I assumed would be my last words.
But I couldn’t find them, at least, not all of them. I had words for my reasons, of course, the verbiage planned out with as much prosaic precision and poetic magic as I was capable of conjuring. But I was lacking the most elementary part of a note- the salutation. Who the hell does one address one’s suicide note to? At first attempt I began, “To whom it may concern,” like I was writing a cover letter or something. So I began again, “Dear Friends and Family,” and I was struck by how stunningly coarse and impersonal it was. Was I really going to begin the last “conversation” with the woman who had carried me in the womb for nine months and in her heart for 23 years with, “Dear Family”? I couldn’t.
The research is mixed on the impulsiveness of suicide. A great deal of research, and indeed the prevailing doctrine, indicates that most people who decide to take their own lives make that decision within an hour of their attempt. Other research indicates that most suicide attempts, like mine, were planned out in advance. Where the researchers do find some cohesiveness, is that even a momentary interruption, as little as five minutes, can derail the sort of thought processes that lead to a suicide attempt. In my case, the brief time it took to reflect on the salutation and the people my actions would affect was all it took to keep me alive that night. But perhaps just as importantly, I found what has been perhaps the greatest key to my recovery- thankfulness.
I was thankful for those people to whom I was trying to address that letter. I was thankful that my mother and father had worked so hard their whole lives to give me experiences as I grew up they couldn’t have dreamt of. I was thankful for my third grade teacher who forced me to play tetherball and make new friends. I was thankful for my family and my friends who cared so deeply and so genuinely for me.
What I had stumbled upon in my despair would hardly surprise any mental health expert- gratitude cultivates happiness. Several studies have shown that those who focus on people and experiences they are grateful for are more optimistic and happier than their peers. Even doing something as simple as telling people “thank you” can have tremendous effects on both your happiness and theirs. If you don’t believe me, you can ask Harvard.
I would be remiss, I think, if I did not offer you a brighter ending to a gloomy blog post. I hope it will suffice for me to tell you that I am healing my depression in a day-by-day process that has its ups and its downs, but that I am starting to feel more like me than I have in a very long time and that I am in an infinitely better place than I was in April. And to show my gratitude to you for reading my story, I would like to offer you three simple ways I have incorporated thankfulness into my life that you can- and I hope you will- borrow for your own.
- Show your thankfulness to the people for whom you are thankful. Notice the italics on the word “show.” It’s one thing to tell someone you’re thankful for them, but it’s an entirely different thing to live that gratitude. But it doesn’t have to be hard, in fact, it should be easy. Take your mom out to her favorite coffee shop. Bring your best friend their favorite candy on a rough day. Remember the things people tell you about themselves and bring it up the next time you see them. Doing little things to show you care and are grateful goes a long way to improving your happiness and the happiness of the people for whom you are most thankful. It’s a win-win, and in world full of win-lose and lose-lose, that’s a pretty good deal.
- Be thankful for who you are. When was the last time you looked in the mirror and thanked yourself for being fabulous? If the answer wasn’t today, go do it. Remember that you aren’t better than anyone else, but you are pretty awesome. Think about the things you do well and give yourself a pat on the back. Follow tip number one and give yourself a high five for thinking of someone else today. Do you know how many people didn’t do that? It’s pretty awesome that you did.
- Give what you are. See tip number two? You have so much to offer the world, and there’s a reason for that. You’re supposed to offer it. Find a cause that touches you and donate your money or your time or your talents. A little goes a long way. You’ll be thankful you did, and so will someone else.
That wraps up this obnoxiously long post. I thank you in advance for giving (see what I did there?) and I hope you will return tomorrow for the release of our Thanksgiving video!