Trigger an alert: This piece contains descriptions of suicide attempts.
It took me to find myself on the ledge of a foreign hotel room to end my life and catapult myself into cracking down on something psychiatrists told me I would never get over.
“I hope this doesn’t hurt because I don’t want to hurt anymore.”
Tears ran down my face as I stared at the roof below. I had battled depression for two decades, so hopelessness and despair were nothing new to me. However, they were usually accompanied by a fear of death that prevented me from taking suicide too seriously. I wasn’t afraid anymore.
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“It’s better for everyone that way. The pain will stop and you will no longer bother your husband, friends or son. ”
I closed my eyes and thought one last time of my 7 year old’s face. I wanted him to be the last thing on my mind. I leaned forward. My grip came off the window frame.
A sound crept into the soft air – a familiar voice. At first I thought it was in my head that this was the familiar experience of your life that flashed before you in those last few seconds. I felt an intense need to follow the sound just to see if it was real.
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Shaking violently, I stepped back and went to the door of my room and opened it to find two men with a cleaning cart. They abruptly cut off their French conversation to look at me, probably expecting me to complain or ask for extra towels.
I smiled, pointed to the boombox on their car and told them in French that this was my favorite song. They responded with their equivalent of “oh cool” and I returned to my isolation.
The cold from the open window hit me, the song seemed to enter my ears through a tunnel and my whole body was beating to the rhythm of my heart. I fell to my hands and knees, my mind racing.
Linkin Park had been my comfort blanket in my darkest times. Although I had no particular faith and had difficulty hearing their music after lead singer Chester Bennington took his life, I couldn’t believe that the song that came out at that precise moment was a coincidence – especially since I had been for the whole three days when I was there had hardly heard any reference to another person.
Seconds earlier, I was so sure of my decision. At that moment I wasn’t sure about anything.
I could only sob. I stayed curled up in a ball for hours, my brain fading. There were only three things that I realized. I didn’t really want to die, I didn’t want to live with so much pain anymore and I had to do something drastic.
The question was what?
I had tried virtually every antidepressant that had been on the market for years and only found that it made my symptoms worse regardless of dose or brand. I had tried to eat better, take sporadic yoga classes, read self-help books, and immerse myself in essential oils. I had spoken to therapists, life coaches, and friends.
I had also gone in the opposite direction. I was only four months free from cocaine and self-harm – ironically, after drawing inspiration from meeting surviving Linkin Park singer Mike Shinoda.
I didn’t leave my hotel room for the rest of the day. I sat in quiet reflection on the flight home and stayed mostly to myself for the next few days. During this time I made a pact with myself that I would give everything for a year. If at the end of the year I still felt the same suffocating pain and hopelessness, I gave myself permission to jump.
Finally, I concluded it was time to get back to basics. I began making a list of the changes I could make in my life that would have the greatest impact on my wellbeing: what I ate, who I spent my time with, and what I could do to increase endorphins and serotonin.
Although I have tried many of these things in the past, I realized that I had always tried them one or two times at a time, and I was never consistent with all of them.
My first stop was my mental health professional, who confirmed my diagnosis of Serious Mental Illness (SMI). This meant that I had a mental disorder that was causing significant distress and severely affecting my ability to lead a functioning life.
I told her what had happened, but I also told her about my plan to do everything possible to heal my disorder and lead a happy and fulfilling life. Imagine my devastation when she replied, “It’s not really possible. People don’t really cure depression, so you might be satisfied, but that’s about it. ”
My jaw clenched, my lips pursed, and my breathing slowed to a deep and steady pace to keep me from losing my cool. Two things came to mind. The first was a scene from Legal Blonde where Warner tells Elle that she wasn’t smart enough to get grades for a law firm internship. The other was my father’s wisdom that I was proud to have lived for as long as I could remember: proof that it is wrong.
In the months that followed, I began implementing the changes I had outlined, changing things at my own discretion, with a burning determination to find what had always been hardest for me: happiness.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that for nearly two decades, in and out of mental health care, happiness had never been a clinical goal. The goal was to protect myself from myself. This is important, of course, but there was never anything beyond that, even at times when I did not take part in self-destructive activities.
I didn’t feel like living complacent ever again.
It took a few months before I started to consider my life “functional,” which meant that I could take part in activities and live day in and day out without symptoms of depression. After about six months, I noticed that not only were the tell-tale symptoms of depression rare, but I was energized (I’m sure this was a first) and found myself smiling more, doing more, and enjoying more .
What I learned from this trip is that there are no quick fixes to mental disorders, no really happy pills, and no one-stop shops for happiness. There were so many components that pulled me out of the dark and moved me beyond the self-satisfaction that followed that I started an entire online course to help others navigate it as well.
However, there were four things that I have noticed the most notable changes in a very short time.
Fuel your brain with nutrition and fitness
People seem to forget that the brain is part of the body and so it responds to the choices we make about diet and fitness. Do you have to live on organic salads and run 5 miles a day? Well that’s an option. Another is a plant-based diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds, beans, and whole grains to make sure you’re getting the nutrients that are good for your mental health and staying active – whether it’s jogging, biking, or practicing yoga or weight training.
Even if you feel like there is nothing to be thankful for, research shows that it is enough to just look for things that you are thankful for. I keep an on-going gratitude list, and while I’ve had quite a few intense fights, it’s now over eight pages. I also use an app called 365 Gratitude, in which the first thing in the morning I do a gratitude prompt and list things I was grateful for on my day right before I go to bed.
No, mindfulness doesn’t have to mean sitting and meditating. It can be easy to appeal to each of your senses and enjoy the sensations without the distraction. (Hello music and vegan dark chocolate!) Studies consistently show that regular mindfulness practice reduces stress, anxiety, and other symptoms of depression. Hang up the phone, close the laptop, and spend a few moments reading a book, painting a picture, or just breathing.
Learning to let go
Let go of toxic people, clutter in your surroundings and habits that do not serve your growth and happiness. This can be very difficult for some people, but taking stock of your life and clearing things up accordingly is vital for anyone looking to improve their happiness.
At the center of every human act is the desire for happiness, or at least the desire to avoid suffering. However, at school we are not taught how to deal with grief, anxiety, stress or depression. We don’t learn how to take care of the mind and body. We are not encouraged to just sit in contemplation with ourselves. We are conditioned to view high levels of stress and unhealthy lifestyles as normal.
Fortunately, we live in a time when education is at our fingertips and learning how to make positive decisions that will get us as high as possible on our own happiness spectrum, however different they may be, has never been easier.
If you would like to learn more about Amanda Webster, her history and what she has to offer, please visit her website.