suicide prevention month – Active Minds Blog Changing the conversation about mental health Wed, 21 Dec 2016 21:09:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 #ReasonsISpeak: Your voice is your power Wed, 05 Oct 2016 15:58:18 +0000 organic

Every September we honor Suicide Prevention Month with the #ReasonsISpeak campaign on social media.

Thank you for another successful campaign, and for helping us share with the world the reasons we speak about mental health and suicide. Your voice is your power, and every story shared helps reduce the stigma around mental health issues.

Below are some of our favorite #ReasonsISpeak posts. We were so moved by all of your responses. <3

Active Minds at Catholic University of America share the reasons they speak in this video!



Because I would’ve missed all of this… #reasonsispeak #stopthestigma #nationalsuicidepreventionmonth #itsokaynottobeokay #activeminds


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"Why do you speak about suicide?" I look back at that period of my life with regret, knowing that I wasted more than 1 year of my life giving up on myself. But I also look back at that time with gratitude and pride-- Because I survived. Because I'm still here. Alive. Today I speak about suicide to help end the shame and the silent. To give a voice to those who are struggling too much to ask for help. To let them know that it's okay to make mistakes and not be perfect. To tell all those who are struggling that: You are not alone.

“Why do you speak about suicide?” I look back at that period of my life with regret, knowing that I wasted more than 1 year of my life giving up on myself. But I also look back at that time with gratitude and pride–
Because I survived.
Because I’m still here. Alive.
Today I speak about suicide to help end the shame and the silent.
To give a voice to those who are struggling too much to ask for help.
To let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes and not be perfect.
To tell all those who are struggling that:
You are not alone.

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Why NDWS is the Most Important Day of the Year Mon, 03 Oct 2016 12:00:35 +0000 Sure, National Day Without Stigma is sometimes regarded as the nerdy cousin of the uber popular Stress Less Week, but that doesn’t mean it’s less important. Thoughtful programming during NDWS can set you up for an entire year’s worth of outstanding impact on campus.

It sets the stage. Everything you’ll do for the rest of the year–every program, every tabling event–will be rooted in the messages of NDWS. Stigma and discrimination are harmful, silencing epidemics that cause people to shut down and remain silent, and that silence can have devastating impacts for all of us. NDWS is your chance to make the case for speaking up.


It opens the door to help-seeking. Not only can your chapter use NDWS as a launching pad to talk about help-seeking throughout the year, but the Counselors Out of the Center activity humanizes the act of help-seeking. Invite your counselors to the student union, dining hall, or other gathering place on campus to get them out and meeting students as people, not just counselors.

Chris Traeger from Parks & Rec:

It’s an opportunity for positivity. Each message you draw for Chalk Out Stigma (or flyer-out stigma if chalking is a no-no on campus) will be positive and empowering. Let people know they matter, their lives matter, and that they have the support of the community.

Positive bunny says: Whenever you are struggling, remember the times you have succeeded and survived, and know that you can make it through.

It opens up conversations. National Day Without Stigma is your opportunity to speak up and provoke debate about the discrimination and injustice you see around mental health, both on campus and in the wider society. This is a time to have meaningful conversations about what it means when people mock the mentally ill, why language is important, and how to recognize the safe, understanding people to talk to.

It connects you to the Active Minds Movement. NDWS is celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall! Join hundreds of other chapters across the country and throughout the last decade who carry the work of NDWS forward year after year.

Build the Door Sat, 01 Oct 2016 13:00:12 +0000 A few years ago, I started Active Minds’ formal observation of Suicide Prevention Month. There were several reasons for this. Chief among them was that we all know too many people who have died by suicide; or we know their loved ones; or we know people who have attempted; or we, ourselves, have contemplated taking our own lives.

Suicide is the most tragic, heartbreaking, confusing form of death. I hate it. I want to prevent it. So many of us do; so, I created an awareness campaign.

Over the last few years, I’ve worked with fellow staff members and organizations to develop messaging and programs. In doing so, I have learned two things definitively:

  1. We will never eradicate suicide.
  2. We can’t stop trying to prevent suicide.

Although researchers work hard every day to develop better treatments for the mental illnesses that often precede suicide, we’ll never have the equivalent of a polio or small pox vaccine. Suicide is an engrained part of the human condition, and no two sets of circumstances are alike. Maybe it’s chronic pain. Maybe it’s a debilitating illness. Maybe it’s deep, bone crushing exhaustion. Maybe it’s mental illness—and then in which unique combination, course, responsiveness or unresponsiveness to treatment, etc.?

Suicide is like a cancer in some ways. We can develop better treatments, we can screen for precancerous and cancerous cells, we can do genetic tests. But at the end of the day, each unique cluster of cells will grow and mutate in their own way. There are patterns, of course, and common treatments that provide statistical assurances that they’ll work.

But statistics mean very little when you lose someone you love, anyway.

Cancer has made tremendous strides with the general public. The stigma that surrounded cancer just a few decades ago is gone. Widespread social awareness campaigns mean more donations for research and screenings. Thousands of people “Relay for Life” and “Race for a Cure” each year. Millions of people watch college and professional athletes go pink.

Cancer is out of the closet. We know how to prevent the spread and screen effectively for many types. We are losing fewer people, and that gives us hope.

We can’t say the same for suicide.

According to the CDC, the suicide rate has gone up 24% in the last 20 years, and it’s still the second leading cause of death among college students.

I am privileged to work in a community that is shouting about these facts–to have a partner who has walked all night once a year for over a decade to bring suicide out of the darkness. However, when I step out of that bubble there is still only so much silence surrounding suicide.

That silence is what ensures the continued increase in tragic deaths by suicide.

No, we are never going to be able to develop a vaccination against suicide that will eradicate it from the earth. Suicide isn’t even an illness. It does have symptoms, however, and why not better address them?

  1. People who attempt suicide and the artifacts left behind by those who die by suicide teach us that most of them feel they are a burden to others in their lives. They aren’t good enough parents. They lost their job. They flunked out of school. Their hospital bills are a strain on their parents’ finances. So many of them descend down a steep, vacuous shame spiral that ends in the belief that the world would be better off without them, and they go.

If you’ve never lost someone close to you, let me tell you this right now: the world is never better off. And we are all better off when we tell and show someone that they are needed and wanted here.

  1. Loneliness is an empty room without a door filled only by silence. Do you know how often I’ve heard myself tell someone who is lonely or depressed that they should go do any number of things out in the world in order to feel less lonely or depressed? They’re in a room without a door! A lonely or depressed person can reach out all day long, but in the absence of a door, they’ll still be stuck in that room. It’s incumbent upon all of us on the outside to pick up our tools, build doors, and reach back.

We have to create safe spaces. We have to build doors that provide easier access to quality treatment, listening ears, warm embraces, laughter, and purpose. It is only through open doors that we can send sincere invitations to connect and engage.

There is no cure for suicide. There is a cure for the silence, shame, burdensomeness, loneliness, hopelessness, and lack of treatment access that surround it.

We become the cure when we speak up; when we put in the effort; when we say and show each other that someone’s life is a gift to the entire world.

This Suicide Prevention Month and every day of the year, I invite you to work with me to speak up more, and most importantly do more to keep the people in your life here. We may not be able to prevent every suicide, but we all have the capacity to try.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.

I’m a Survivor Tue, 27 Sep 2016 13:00:47 +0000 Written by Katie Walls, of Active Minds at Elmhurst College.

My name is Katie Walls and I am a Survivor.

When I woke up the morning after my suicide attempt, I decided that I needed help beyond the therapy that I was already receiving, so I made the decision to go to a residential treatment center. After completing residential treatment, I felt slightly better, yet still struggled. I continued to struggle until I found my home at Elmhurst College’s chapter of Active Minds.

I had no knowledge of what Active Minds was. All I knew was it is a club that talks about mental health disorders on campus. In the course of a couple of months I went from attending my first meeting, to taking charge of prizes and giveaways for our PostSecretU event, to president of the chapter.

I am starting this upcoming year as President of Active Minds at Elmhurst College. I believe that I was led to this opportunity because I have a unique perception of mental health disorders and suicide due to the fact that I have lived it.

I have seen every side of the mental health system. I have been the person who didn’t think they needed help; I was the girl who didn’t know what was wrong with her. I denied feeling depressed to my friends and kept secrets from both them and my family about how I was really feeling.

I understand how hard it is to talk about things such as depression and suicide. Especially when you are trying to talk with people who don’t think they need help, don’t understand, or just don’t care. I have heard all the “helpful” things people say to you when you’re depressed such as: “you just need to get out of your head,” “don’t focus on the negative things,” or my favorite, “cheer up.”

It’s hard to talk to someone about how you really feel when this is how they try to help. They don’t know how their words hurt and they don’t understand that it only makes your depression worse.

I believe that I was led to Active Minds to open the conversation about mental health in new ways. I can look at a prospective Active Minds event through the eyes of someone who doesn’t want help or doesn’t want to talk about it because I have been there. I can tell you that I would have never gone to hear a speaker talk about suicide unless there was free pizza involved.

As president, my goal was to touch one life, and I have already surpassed that goal. My new goal as president is to touch those people who don’t think they need help, that don’t want help, that don’t understand, or don’t care. I would like to change not only the conversation about mental health but what you think of when you think of mental health related activities.

My life didn’t really begin until the day I tried to take it. I wouldn’t have the passion for helping others that I do now if I was still in that place. I wouldn’t have the ability to hear the hurt and see the pain when someone tells me they’re fine, and I definitely would not be President of Elmhurst College’s chapter of Active Minds. I believe that I went through what I did so that I may share my story and touch a person who might not have been touched otherwise. To put a twist on talking about mental disorders so we can reach those who we may not be able to reach in any other way.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.

Now What? Mon, 26 Sep 2016 13:00:17 +0000 It sounds counterintuitive, but on March 28, 2012, the hot and rigid properties of asphalt made up the most forgiving surface of my life. I had attempted suicide, but I had survived and was posed with the toughest question of my life: now what?

I suppose I should back up. I had been depressed for much longer than I knew what depression was. Even in third grade I can remember getting down on myself for not doing as well in school as I thought I should. My perfectionism followed me throughout my childhood casting a shadow of disappointment on my accomplishments.

Things took a dark turn midway through high school. The summer after my sophomore year I watched my grandmother, a sweet and caring woman, succumb to pancreatic cancer. From that point on I established a negative worldview, one where bad things happen to good people for no reason. My faith in the goodness of the world disappeared.

A year later, my parents separated. I’m an only child and the closest non-immediate family member I have is a ten-hour drive away. Their divorce left me feeling abandoned; floating through the world untethered and alone.

The most devastating thing to happen to my mental health occurred during my senior year. Soccer is my passion. Being on the field with my best friends playing the game I love were my happiest moments. All I ever wanted was to play the game at a high level. But in ultra-competitive northern Virginia, success on the soccer field comes only after years of high-level training. Training that I never sought because I was naïve enough to think that recreational leagues were sufficient.

So four years in a row I was one of 100 or so boys to try out for the soccer team; and four years in a row I was cut. The fourth year broke me. I identified myself as a soccer player and the world told me that I wasn’t good enough at that.

The only thing that kept me going was the love I had for my girlfriend at the time. But that was a relationship that had been failing for a while, and when she ended it, my last ray of hope was extinguished.

That brings us back to my original question. I’d been given a second chance. Now what?

Initially, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from friends and family. So many people expressed love during my time in the hospital that I made it my immediate goal to get “better” and restore their friend and son.

In the short term, this strategy worked. I swept my problems under the rug, went off for my freshman year of college and had the year of my life. Over time, I accepted the things that troubled me. Death is a part of life. My parents’ divorce was for the best; they’re both happier now. I found other girls to love. Most importantly, I found a passion and talent for sports public relations.

But I continued to ignore the underlying problem, and my junior year of college depression crept back into my life. I was consumed by guilt from my suicide attempt. I had caused so much pain to loved ones, incurred huge medical bills for my parents, and made my ex-girlfriend look like a monster. Compounded with the drinking and sexual habits of what some think of as “a typical college male,” I felt like a terrible person.

So I took a crucial step that I hadn’t taken before: I asked for help.

James Madison University’s counseling center was an incredible resource for me. My counselor and I discussed morality, depression and relationships. Such a deep level of introspection was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but it was just as rewarding.

I’m not going to pretend that my life is perfect and easy now. There are still days where the black cloak of depression covers my world. But I survive and thrive now because I have made my own mental health a priority. I recognize and accept that depression is a part of my life, and actively self-help to prevent myself from becoming suicidal again.

Now what?

Now we end the stigma around depression, suicide and mental health.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.

What We Say Matters Fri, 23 Sep 2016 13:00:41 +0000 Written by Megan Larson, Active Minds Student Advisory Committee and Active Minds at UCLA member.

I’m here. I’m breathing. I’m alive. This surprises me sometimes. Then I remember how lucky I am for this second chance.

When I attempted suicide I felt there was no hope left. I couldn’t imagine another day, another hour, even another minute of enduring the pain I was in. I was tired of fighting and I gave into the darkness I fought so hard to keep at bay daily.

I wish someone had been there to ask me the hard questions. I needed someone to ask me those specific and targeted questions: was I having thoughts of hurting myself; did I have a plan; and did I have the means to carry out that plan? I needed someone to be a bright light for me, someone to reach across the darkness of my depression that had left me numb to all emotion.

I’m so grateful that I’m still alive to say that I am the survivor of a suicide attempt. My experience has contributed to my passion for mental health advocacy and given me the desire to educate others about suicide. After all, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and second among people aged 15-34 years.

Many are afraid to say the word “suicide,” especially to those they are concerned might be having suicidal thoughts; however, discussing suicide will not give someone the idea to take their life if they have not already thought about it themselves. Instead, letting go of the fear of the topic of suicide lets the person know that you are there for them.

Although I had a newfound sense of hope and desire to live after my attempt, those around me were careful to watch over me. They were unsure what to say or do. The first few days of my recovery seemed to have a strange quality to them. I felt disconnected and like I couldn’t participate in the world around me. I had all of these feelings but I couldn’t access them—I was in a bubble with my emotions just out of reach.

Although my parents were there for me, some of what they said and did was well-intentioned but misguided.

I had disrupted what was seemingly a typical Wednesday night for my parents and they didn’t know how to react. In trying to convey their love for me, they said things like, “doing silly things like this is the only thing that hurts us.” That sort of stuff had the opposite of its intended effect.

I was left feeling guilty for what I had done and that sense of guilt only reaffirmed my negative beliefs. I knew they just wanted to understand why I had done what I had, but the constant questioning about why and how and asking “didn’t you think about us—how this would affect us—it would kill us?” was too much for me. I was overwhelmed by the constant question of how I was feeling. I wanted to talk about these things at my own pace. I was surrounded not only by my own emotions about what had happened, but those of my parents as well.

My parents didn’t get it all wrong, though, and their hearts were definitely in the right place. They didn’t have information available to them, but through trial and error they became a great source of support in my recovery.

When I came home from the hospital, my recovery was the focus. They took me to the movies and let me choose dinner, we played with my dog, and we joked as usual. Once I was home they did their best to make me comfortable and help me return to normal daily life. I appreciated every time my mom or dad made the simple comments “I love you” or “I’m here for you.” It let me know that when I was ready we would talk about what had happened, but that they weren’t going to force the conversation.

To be there and support someone doesn’t mean you have to do some grand gesture, rather, simple and direct words and actions make all the difference. The hardest things to say often are the exact things that need to be said. We must overcome our fear of those close to us considering suicide in order to reach them and provide support before an attempt is made; after an attempt is made we must overcome our disbelief about what has happened and simply be there for the one we love.

Are you or someone you know in crisis? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.

The Only Way Out is In Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:00:24 +0000 This post was written by Dr. Colleen Coffey, a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau.

I think that mental health issues exist on a spectrum. I mean this, of course, in the context of the range of issues we all face and the spectrum of severity of diagnoses I also mean this as it relates to how issues appear within us.

The best analogy I can think of when it comes to mental health issues is a Russian nesting doll. A little doll, inside of a medium sized doll, inside of a larger doll that presents to the world. Usually, the larger doll is me–the best version of healthy, happy me. The little doll is anxiety and depression–it’s always there but kind of little in comparison to the rest of me.

Most days I feel great and my quality of life is pretty awesome.

Some days I still struggle.

Even after years of being well–I still struggle.

I have learned over the years how to manage that struggle. Whether it’s sadness or stress or worry or grief–I know how to feel those feelings, deal with them for what they are, and not let them rule me.

But the truth is, some days I feel like dying.

These are days (and they are few and far between) when I can’t get ahold of what I am feeling. When the little doll–the depression and anxiety–seems stronger than the real me. These are days when I couldn’t feel sadder, when I couldn’t possibly be more anxious, when I could not feel more out of control. These are days when I just want to give up.

Do I really want to die? No.

I just don’t want to feel that out of control anymore. What I really mean is that I want the feelings to stop. Those feelings that can seem so impossible to manage. Those feelings that are out of the realm of what’s real and good in life.

Most people who die by suicide don’t really want to die–they just don’t see another way out. I’m here to tell you that there is another way out. All that feelings do is change, but living and dying are both immutable states of being.

The way out is in.

The way out is about having the courage to tell someone you are not ok and to seek help at the first signs of feeling out of control. The way out is to learn how to cope with things that seem impossible and to continue to surround yourself with people that love you. There are so many resources available that specifically address suicide prevention.

Dying is not the best right option. It means that the world misses out on you. Whatever it is that you are going through, there is hope and I promise it gets better. It will stop, you will feel better, you will get yourself back.

The world needs you here–stay with us.

If you or a friend is in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.

Can You Spare a Moment? Tue, 20 Sep 2016 13:00:58 +0000 Written by Kevin Briggs, Affinity Speaker with the Active Minds Speakers Bureau and “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

It has been two and a half years since I retired from the California Highway Patrol. Almost all of my professional career has been in government service. When I retired in November 2013 to start Pivotal Points, I really had no idea how to proceed, but I did find out that the following items were a must: business license, web page, meetings with my tax professional, listening to my mentors. Quite overwhelming I would have to say.

I have learned so much since retirement, and have presented around most of the United States, and also in Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany. Presenting on the subject of suicide prevention and intervention has been an awesome and humbling experience for me, and to be honest…a hell of a lot of work.

When it comes to mental health, the question I am asked the frequently is: “How can I help someone who may be suicidal?”  This is a key question that we need to continue to collectively think about.

We should and must continue to educate our societies, families, friends, and loved ones to recognize warning signs that someone has lost so much hope they are do not want to live. Let me share this with you, in 2014 we lost over 42,000 people to suicide–just in the United States. Nearly one in five people suffer from mental illness each year. There are very few people who have not been affected in one way or another by suicide.

Could we have helped those folks?  Possibly.

I have heard time and time again, “I saw the signs,” “They talked about it, but I never thought they would go through with it,” or “I thought someone else would have talked to them.” When you really stop and think about it, writing or speaking about suicide is a cry for help.

So what can we do?

For starters, if you even think someone is suffering, sit down with the individual. Let them know what you’ve seen or heard that makes you think they are suffering or in distress. Remember, listening is the key to understanding.

I have had psychiatrists tell me they wish more peers in their occupation would really listen to their clients. They hear symptoms and prescribe medication. The person comes back in a month and if they feel even slightly better, then the medication is doing its job.

My personal and ongoing treatment with my psychiatrist and counselor have been very good. Both listen intently and together we work out a plan for my continued success.

So back to the question, “What can we do?” In my experience, those who have been suicidal feel very alone, in pain, and think they are a burden to their families. To sit down with that person, tell them how important they are in your life, that their life has value, and you’ll be there for them, is a great start.

In my contacts with several hundred people contemplating suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, loneliness was a main contributing factor. Whether it stemmed from a broken heart, abuse/neglect, aging, social media or feeling rejected by others, social isolation can cause very serious health effects. Chronic loneliness can affect your heart, brain, life expectancy, and as a matter of fact, it is a major contributing factor to depression and alcoholism.

How difficult would it be for you to take a bit of time from your day to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with someone you think may be suffering? What if it was you on the other side?  You probably won’t be able to solve their problems/concerns, but just taking a bit of time to be there, to listen to understand, and to say, “I’m here for you whenever you need me,” may be just what the person needs, and you may have just saved a life.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.


We’re two weeks into the Fall 2016 Kognito Challenge, and we are already seeing amazing results!

Overall, 65 schools have reached more than 600 students via Kognito’s At Risk for College Students mental health simulation, which is free to all schools with Active Minds chapters through October 7. The online, interactive experience teaches participants how to identify and assist students in distress.

This is the second Kognito Challenge. Collectively, Active Minds chapters have engaged more than 4,000 participants since the first Kognito Challenge in spring 2016.

As of the time this post was written, Austin Peay State University, Saint Cloud State University, and Stockton University, have completed and are leading the Challenge, each training more than 55 students, faculty, and staff. The first 40 chapters to engage at least 50 students and 1 faculty or staff member to complete the full simulation will receive $250 credit toward their national fundraising goal for mental health awareness and the Active Minds movement.

There’s still plenty of time to join in and compete to win! Here are a few creative approaches chapter members have taken to encourage participation:

Take pictures of students completing the simulation.

Pictures are worth 1,000 words. Take pictures of people completing the challenge and post on social media.

Promote the Challenge on social media.

Build an army one step at a time. Gather a team of a few people to help you spread the word. Or, ask one person to tell a friend, to tell a friend, to tell a friend. Active Minds at Austin Peay State University, University of Texas at San Antonio, and others have tapped into their social media networks to spread the word via social media for the Challenge.3

Use school resources.

Several schools have sent the Kognito simulation link to their campus listservs, inviting all students, staff, and faculty to complete the course. Talk to your school newspaper, radio station, social media team and announcers at sporting events about helping you promote the challenge.

Give out free food or candy in exchange.

In the past, some chapters have re-branded their Kognito Challenge (such as a “Game Simulation Marathon”) and distributed candy in a central area on campus as a way to draw students to their table and ask them to complete the simulation.

Incentivize with gift cards.

Several chapters are raffling off gift cards to participants. Participating chapters receive weekly user reports from Kognito, which can be used to randomly select prize winners.

Integrate the simulation into fall RA training or first-year experience/orientation.

Several schools have been working on incorporating the Kognito simulation into RA training and/or first-year experience/orientation. To count for the competition, each individual needs to complete the course, so it is recommended that they/orientation bring their own laptops to the training or attend part of the course in a computer lab.

Team up with professors to provide extra credit.

Professors in departments of psychology, social work, public health, and others may be interested in offering course credit to students who complete the simulation.

Incorporate it into your student org fair and other programming.

Last year, the University of Pittsburgh allowed participation in the Kognito Challenge to qualify students to be acknowledged as completing the chapter’s upcoming campus-wide mental health unity pledge.

There’s still plenty of time to get involved and train your peers to help students in distress! If you haven’t started yet, take the course today at and share it with students on campus before the free course expires on October 7!

Team up with your school’s marketing club.

find out if your campus marketing club would take on promoting the Challenge as a project.

Set weekly goals.

Set small, realistic weekly goals that will put you over the finish line. All you need are a few participants each week.

Organize a dorm night.

Organize a dorm night. Talk to RAs to help you schedule a few 30 minutes time-slots when people take the simulation in their room. Give out refreshments.

Contact the Chapters Team at for support.

My Cat, the Lifesaver Fri, 16 Sep 2016 13:00:31 +0000 IMG_1080 (1) I’m only a little embarrassed to say that I think my cat may have been partially responsible for saving my life.

I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder for a long time–almost ten years now that I look back on it–but I’ve always been able to find my way back with some time, effort, and a lot of therapy. But last summer I fell into a depressive episode that was deeper, longer, and more debilitating than anything I’d ever experienced

For the first time my mood wasn’t the only thing affected by my mental illness. My body hurt, all the time, constantly. I was either sleeping for 14 hours a day or less than four. I’d go two weeks eating almost nothing and another two weeks eating almost anything. I could barely move but worse than any of that, I could barely think.

I’ve always felt smart, and I’ve liked using my brain. My job demands that as my primary function, but suddenly I found myself floundering. I was forgetting common words; losing them halfway through a sentence I’d already started. I developed a stutter and couldn’t think through tasks or projects, immediately overwhelmed by everything. I would write emails with the same care and attention that I normally would but people would write back saying I wasn’t making sense, that the sentences didn’t mean anything when put together.

I’d fallen into old habits of self-harm, and I was struggling with constant thoughts of suicide. And if I managed to drag myself into work on any given day, I’d be faced with coming home utterly exhausted to a lonely apartment in a new city, far from my friends and family.

I did a decent job keeping up the façade of being depressed but functioning…or at least that’s the only explanation that I can think of for why my friends decided it was time to redouble their push for me to adopt a cat.

I’d wanted a pet for as long as I could remember but it was not in the cards for me as a child. So, when I moved out on my own it was a top priority after getting settled. A dog probably couldn’t deal with my life as an individual who worked full time and sometimes took weekend trips to friend’s houses, so I settled on wanting a playful cat.

My plans got derailed when it felt like I could barely take care of myself but my friends were persistently sending me the posting of the local shelter and, against my better judgement at the time, I fell in love with one based just on the description and picture. She was a small, four-year-old black cat who had been at the shelter for almost seven months after being found on the streets, abused by her last family.

She had a broken tail that healed so the tip pointed in the wrong direction. She was apparently overwhelmed in the cat room of the shelter, so she spent her days in the office of one of the dog trainers but never got too close.

She loved to play and hunt but it took her a while to warm up to people. Her personality actually sounded exactly like me and after a half hour of meeting her and playing she was purring and rubbing against my legs and arms. The shelter staff said they’d never seen her warm up to someone so fast.

So I took Luna home. I gave her a warm bed (even though she prefers mine), and her own food with too many treats sprinkled in (she also prefers mine), and lots and lots of toys (she prefers my shoelaces).

On nights when I felt depressed and suicidal and like the minutes were dragging until the sun would rise so I could start my zombie-like day yet again, she would snuggle close and purr.  I would tell her that I knew she’d had a hard life, but she was safe now; that I wasn’t going to leave her alone again.

I got worse before I got better, but Luna and her big, yellow eyes kept me company when I couldn’t sleep. She forced me to get out of bed to feed her and, while I was up, she convinced me to run around my apartment and play. And when I needed to go out to get more cat food for her it also made sense to pick up some fresh fruit and some human food from the grocery store. Cat litter and hair gets everywhere so I actually needed to start cleaning my apartment again and needed to do the dishes to avoid suspicious lick marks on my plates the next morning.

My cat certainly isn’t the reason that my depression finally abated (I have lots and lots of therapy and medication tweaking and family and friends to thank for that), but I do give her some credit. I actually don’t think I’m embarrassed to say that my cat may have played a part in saving my life because, even when I couldn’t convince myself of my worth and that my life was worth living, she was able to just by being excited for me to be home and coming running when I opened her food.

I just wish she could even remotely understand what her companionship has meant to me, but maybe I’ll just buy her some more toys in the meantime.

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