“I felt like I was letting everyone down, and that they would be better off without me.”
This was the message that Marie* had playing repeatedly in her head. It was the message that would take her down a dark road that would eventually lead to trying to take her own life.
Marie is a military spouse; she has been married to her husband for nine years. In that time, they have been through two combat deployments, two PCS moves and the birth of two children. Like many military spouses, she found herself alone during her pregnancies, even when complications arose. Yet she was able to handle it. She had a strong circle of friends, she kept busy with her job and she enjoyed her time with her children. She felt she had it all together. Until she didn’t.
Sadly, the very things that she was once able to take in stride, now suddenly were becoming more and more difficult to handle. Her job felt overwhelming. Her husband being away for training suddenly felt unbearable. Marie felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, she isolated herself and she had trouble sleeping. Friends noticed that she wasn’t coming around or communicating as much, but they chalked it up to her being busy with work and the kids. What they didn’t know was that Marie was overwhelmed by dark thoughts that consumed her.
Marie shared, “I felt empty. Broken. Lost. I didn’t know how I was going to make it day to day. Nothing made me happy. Nothing made me feel better, no matter how hard I tried.” Marie stopped going out, she stopped eating regularly, she rarely showered or even bothered to put on makeup. She started missing work so much that she lost her job. She thought that she was useless as a mother, wife and friend. She thought the world would be better without her in it. One thing became clearer as time went on: She didn’t want to continue to feel the pain that she felt Every. Single. Day.
With those thoughts and those struggles, came a plan. She would leave the kids with friends, she would go home, take all of the pills that had been prescribed for her depression. She would go to sleep and never wake up. Nobody knew the pain she hid so well. The pain behind her smile. The pain that came with the weight loss that everyone complimented her on. Nobody knew until that Skype call with her husband. At once, he was alarmed by her appearance. She looked tired, disheveled and sad. Her tears came easily. When she uttered the words that no one wants to hear, “I don’t want to live anymore,” her husband immediately called friends in the area to check on her.
She was unconscious when they found her. She remembers the bitter taste and sting of the charcoal. The worried faces. The emergency flight her husband took from the other side of the world. The guilt. The shame. The fear. All of it. She had survived. Her first thought was that she had failed at suicide, too. Depression is a liar and it told her lies all the time. That she was worthless, that she was better off dead, that everyone would be happier if she was gone.
The good news is that she DID survive. She got the help that she needed and now Marie shares her story in the hope that she can help another military spouse or another person to call out the lies that depression tells and to get help before it’s too late. Marie shares, “Talking about it, getting help for the way I was feeling, and making a plan for when I started down that dark path…all of that helped me. If I could get better then so can others.”
Sadly, Marie’s story is not uncommon. Many in our military community have struggled with thoughts of suicide, or they have even attempted suicide. Still others have taken that final and irreversible step and have died by suicide. Although the statistics for military and veteran suicide are commonly known (on average one a day for active duty and 20 a day for veterans), no such statistic exists for military family members. In fact, most of the information we have about suicide in military families is anecdotal. Anecdotal or not, the issue is a very real one, as you can tell from Marie’s story.
Although we can’t put a number on military family suicide, we know the devastating consequences of losing one of our own. Whether it’s a service member, veteran, a military spouse or a military child, the pain is immeasurable and the loss resonates throughout our community. Even though we don’t have the numbers, we’ve heard it talked about in hushed tones within our military community. It’s like a dirty little secret that nobody wants to talk about. Yet, talking about it is exactly what we need to do. Talking is the best way to prevent it, it’s the best way to increase awareness, and the best way to let others know they are not alone. There is help available – and there are stories like Marie’s of life beyond the pain.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month. This is a time to talk about suicide and to make others aware of the very real issue of suicide within our military community. Please check on your fellow military spouses and friends. If they suddenly stop coming around, look out of sorts, aren’t eating or sleeping well, or start talking about death, self-harm or if something just doesn’t feel right, reach out to them. Talk to them, get them help. It’s not intrusive, you could save someone’s life by simply asking the question. Marie shared that if someone had noticed, if someone had reached out, things might not have gone as far. She understands that had things gone wrong, she wouldn’t be here today, enjoying life with her husband and two children, and that help and the support of friends and loved ones make all the difference.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the word BRAVE to 741-741. The Military Helpline is also available 24/7 by calling 1-888-457-4838 or by texting MIL1 to 839863.
*Marie is not her actual nameSubscribe to Military Spouse's Weekly Newsletter