Saving Myself From Suicide: Overcoming the Silent Battle

Saving Myself From Suicide: Overcoming the Silent Battle

There I was, standing three feet off the ground on a steel ladder with one end of an itchy yellow rope wrapped tightly around my neck. The other end was fastened securely to a rafter in the attic. Clenching a knife in my right hand, I was faced with a vital decision. I could jump and end the tormenting voice that so often whispered in my ear: “What’s the point? There’s nothing you can do to change things. You’ll never get rid of all of this pain.” Putting an end to this voice by jumping off the ladder would also leave all of my friends, my family, and my wife Abi with gaping wounds that may never heal. But the voice would be gone. Or, I could choose the alternative: to cut the rope, climb down, decide that this bastard named suicide wasn’t going to take my life, and that I would go out fighting it no matter what it cost me.

This wasn’t the first time I had been suicidal. For most of my childhood, I spent the final moments before falling asleep meditating on how I could end my life and show the world how much pain I was in. In my first year of college I devised a plan to shoot myself. Moments before going to get my gun and driving to the location where I planned to end it all, I threw out a Hail Mary prayer. “God, I don’t want to actually die, but I can’t live like this any longer. If you’re real, please help me.”

The next 3 hours was me sobbing in fetal position on the floor, choking on the puddle of tears and snot that was gathering around my face like a small lake. Something I hadn’t experienced in years happened. A love I hadn’t felt since I was thirteen at a church youth camp overtook me. The next week was packed with moments that can only be described as divine. It started me on new path. Although it didn’t magically end all the torment, it was one hell of a springboard.

Now 3 years into marriage, long after my college days, I was at a crippling low once again.  Stepping off the ladder, freshly cut rope still hanging from my neck, I scrambled to hide all the evidence before someone returned home.  Sure, I had a lot of shame about the battle I was having with suicide, but shame wasn’t the worst part of it. I was terrified that if my loved ones found out, it would send them all into a spiral of panic.This fear kept me tight-lipped about my problem for months prior to climbing up the steps of that ladder.

Later that evening Abi returned home from work. It was life as usual. “How was your day?” she asked.

“Fine.” I replied.

“Anything special happen?”

“Nothing special.” I kept it short and to the point. I dodged conversation that could have any depth to it. A tug of war ensued in my soul. A voice shouted: “I need her to know! I have to tell her! I can’t do this alone.” Another voice retorted: “You can’t tell her! She’ll think you’re crazy. She’ll get scared and call the police. She’ll always be worried about you. You don’t want her to have to worry all the time. It’s not that bad.”

Days passed, and the voices waged an unrelenting war. My mind felt like it was going to explode. I felt all alone and helpless against the secret battle that I was losing. If only I could tell someone. If only someone could help me. The air was thick with underlying tension that built as the days passed.

Suddenly, without warning, the breaking point hit. An explosive yelling match between Abi and I ensued. The madness in my mind screamed like an inmate behind bars: “I have to tell her. I need her to see how bad it is.” Then she said the words I had always been terrified to hear her say, “I’m leaving.” To her it was a simple exit plan from the moment at hand. To me it was a line in the sand declaring, “I’m divorcing you and never coming back.” They were two very different interpretations but just enough to send me barreling toward  my pistol where I kept it safely in a drawer. Ripping it from its resting place, I slammed it to the side of my head and screamed the heart-shattering words, “Fine, go! I’m going to kill myself!”

Relief and panic flooded me as I watched her heart shatter; a mess I would long be cleaning up. The relief came in believing I finally broke the silence. I say believing, because I didn’t actually tell her anything. She had no idea what was happening. Without words it was simply unhinged insanity. The panic I suddenly felt was in realizing the way in which I broke the silence and what it had clearly just done to her. This moment in time will be forever etched in our minds. An experience, sadly, neither of us will ever forget.

In the last few years I have heard of many celebrity suicides. A Netflix show was released called “11 Reasons Why,” a show about why a young girl chose to end her life. In the last year, multiple grieving mothers reached out to me to let me know that their children in their early twenties had ended their lives. These mothers were devastated and wondering how they would ever pick up the pieces. A father sat across from me and detailed the events of finding his dead son hunched over with a gunshot wound to his head. Most recently, I read a post about a young pastor in California who ended his life. One person I spoke with posed these questions: “Is this an epidemic in America, because it seems to be? What can we do to stop it? Has life really gotten that bad for everyone?”

I’m not a psychiatrist. I don’t have all the answers as to why people commit suicide or how to stop it from happening. However, I am a person who has had an intimate relationship with suicide. It was an intimate companion through all the lows, promising me a solution to my pain and to give me a sense of power. When I felt hopeless and defeated it whispered in my ear: “You’re not powerless. You have me, the ultimate trump card. I can fix this all.” The thing is; it didn’t have the power to fix a damn thing. It would only destroy those around me. It would only take this life that was meant to be a gift and throw it in the garbage.

I don’t remember knowing a life free from the voice of suicide. I thought it was the norm for everyone to be shamefully and secretly suicidal.. I was shocked when I came to find out that many people don’t even think about suicide. In fact, many people have never once considered it. Oddly, that was as freeing as knowing that there were people who had. Knowing other people contemplated suicide made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Knowing people had NEVER contemplated it gave me hope that life could be different.

The problem was that I had spent so much of my life not wanting to be here that I had chosen death long before giving life a chance. Death is what I chose, and death is what I kept feeling. I realized that if I wanted to get something else, I had to choose something else. Coming out of the suicide closet to Abi eventually led to the realization that suicide wasn’t part of everyone else’s daily life. Maybe I wasn’t permanently broken, and maybe one day the feeling of suicide wouldn’t have to be my normal. This small glimmer of hope was enough for me to decide I wanted to choose life.

A good friend of mine who is also an author I deeply respect, often signs his books: “If anything matters, everything matters.” The echo of this phrase haunted me in the season of fighting the war for my mind and life. At the root of much of what I experienced was the lie that “Nothing matters.” This nothing-matters monster devoured me daily until the simple phrase from my friend found a foothold in my thoughts. Every time I heard, “Nothing matters,” the voice of truth rang like a bell in my head. “If anything matters, everything matters.” And every time I heard that phrase I asked, “What is one thing that matters?” It started with Abi as the singular answer.

This answer turned into, “If Abi matters, then everything matters.” It grew from Abi to every person that I loved and every person that loved me. I found myself ritualistically running daily on a treadmill at my gym, tears streaming down my face, saying to myself: “I choose life! I will live and not die! If anything matters, everything matters. Abi matters, my family matters, my friends matter, I matter! This life has a point! This life is a gift, and I only get to live it once! I choose to live!” I chose in.

My journey hasn’t been an easy one. The truth is, everything that I’ve learned about how to get out of the depression and break the cycle of suicidal thinking can’t be adequately wrapped up in a short musing. This topic deserves vastly more attention than that.

Ultimately, this isn’t a blog about the 11 practical ways to wave a magic wand and make everything better. This is about the first step to freedom: THE CONVERSATION that sheds light on the voice of darkness that keeps us bound in the chains that weigh us down.

It’s been a really long time since I heard the alluring voice of suicide whispering in my ear, giving me false promises of hope and power. Life didn’t suddenly become perfect either. This is the most miraculous part of it all. The world of circumstances around me didn’t have to change in order for me to find freedom. I simply (yet not so simply) had to start by opening up about my battle and then make the decision to choose “in” to life.

September is suicide prevention awareness month. This is amazing because it’s also my birthday month. If you’ve been struggling with thoughts of suicide, the best birthday gift you could give me is to decide to choose “in” to life and START A CONVERSATION with someone. If there is no one that you know and trust, you can visit or text D2L @ 494949. Suicide hotlines can’t change all the details of your life, but starting the conversation can save it.

-With all my love,

Justin Stumvoll


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