by Heather Pate
I struggled with Self-Injury and Suicidal Ideation (aka Suicidal Thinking) from the ages of 15-18. I would call myself a Chronic Suicidal Thinker. I spent a lot of time coming up with plans. There was a lot going on at home and had some stuff I was struggling with from earlier in my life. I thought what I was struggling with was something I did wrong. I didn’t want to get in more trouble.
See, my father blamed and shamed me about something earlier in life, and now looking back it was abuse. It should have been addressed, but instead, I questioned it in my own mind and tried to reconcile it with my dad hoping to erase that shame.
I felt strongly that it wasn’t my fault, but that didn’t change his view. I felt worthless. I also felt very disconnected from everyone. Life was pretty chaotic at home and I just dealt with it internally. At one point, I spoke to my doctor I saw before school about this ‘slight’ urge. Of course, I minimized the hell out of it. By the time I was in Chemistry, for which, I was failing humiliatingly, in the middle of a test, the office told me that I needed to call my mom right now.
My doctor called my therapist and proceeded to share it and then the therapist called my mom who set up an appointment right after school. That was the end of my world. Now, not only have I destroyed the relationship with my dad, but now, of all people, my mom. I feared her 100 times more and needed her love in me. That was it. I was done.
Much of the contemplating I was doing started to become real
I wasn’t going to my therapist after school. I would never make it there. I planned to end my life right after school. It got later in the day and I was heading to chorus. My best friend was coming out of chorus and saw me and could tell something wasn’t quite right. I backed up in the corner of a wall and slid down to the floor in tears. She drug me to the chorus room and talked to the teacher.
Well, the teacher came out with a jar full of jellybeans. It sounds silly to me now, but I now know how desperately I needed help, support, connection, and attachment. She sat down next to me. I had a hoodie on and my head on the desk. I wore big sweatshirts to hide myself.
She asked if I would look up for a second to see her jar of jellybeans. I had seen them over the year. She said something like this, “You know, this is my jar of special jellybeans. You may think this is stupid, but I don’t share this with everyone. I only share them with special individuals that I feel deserve them. I wondered if you would like a jellybean.” I sat up and looked at that jellybean jar and said something like, “Why me?” She said,” It looked like I was having a particularly tough day, and sometimes a jellybean is enough to remind people that I believe and care for them.” Right then and there I started to challenge my thinking. Do I really want to do this? What if this is just a horrible day that I can get through? Somebody just said that they believed in me. That’s all I needed.
The simplicity of the jelly bean jar was what made it so powerful
I had friends, but they only knew half the story of what was going on in my life and my parents wanted me to go to them with my issues, yeah right. It’s not like my dad would hear me. My mom had enough going on with my stepdad. Before all of this, I started to see where my Chorus Teacher believed in me by encouraging me to practice and try out for Concert Choir and I was chosen to join the group. After all this time, it was the first time I ever felt a part of a group and a purpose. Somebody believed in me and I saw them truly believe in me more than it felt anyone else did. It’s what I felt, not necessarily what was actually true.
I would love to say it all went well, but it was a terrible afternoon. I was asked if I needed to go to the hospital. That’s the last place I wanted to be. Several items were taken from me. Honestly, that would not have stopped me. My intention to do this was so strong that it would have just been a slight bump in the road to my ultimate demise. The Chorus Teacher and the jellybeans gave me a reason to live. I was so afraid of the shame that I might face for getting help and adding more shame and disconnection to my family.
I had to be strong. I had to push through. I had to figure it out. It’s not like anyone really understood me, so I had to figure it out on my own. I can’t look weak. I was the one that pulled my friends together. I listened to all their struggles and problems. It helped me drown out my own, but it also left me feeling alone. My thoughts didn’t magically go away. I wasn’t immediately ‘healed’ because there was a lot to deal with from my past. I would love to say it all went away and everything was happy ever after, but it wasn’t.
I’m 44 years old with more than 10 hospitalizations
That was what I needed to work through my struggles. I’m thankful for them. I’m around people now who see that asking for help is a strength. Help isn’t generally all that easy, but it is worth it in the long run for me.
Asking for help is a resilience skill and it’s through that I helped to create an organization known as Robin’s Hope. I get to use that lived experience from all these years to help others struggling. Asking for help shares the burden. You never know when those trials will become something used for good.
Heather Pate is the founder of Robin’s Hope. Robin’s Hope empowers individuals to thrive through a safe, peer-run community that provides connection, inspires hope, and promotes resilience. At Robin’s Hope, we seek to help people heal so that the trauma they experienced becomes a part of their story and part of their past. Trauma can and does heal, given the right tools and support. Please consider a donation.