Behind my Happy Mask, I was Suicidal

Written By Janene Kd, Singapore

Suicide. We cringe at the very sight of the word. It’s scary, it’s confronting, and it’s all too real. We read about it in the newspapers and watch it on the news, but most times, it doesn’t hit us personally. From a distance, we comment, “If only someone had done something. How could his or her family not have known?” 

But sometimes, there are no warning signs, no alarm bells signalling impending disaster.

Sometimes, the signs are there, but they’re subtle. We may attribute mood swings in others to pre-menstrual syndrome in the case of girls, or think that it’s just another phase that they’d eventually “get over”. We tend to think about how we got through our own pain and hurt, and expect others to soldier through it like we did.

But what if the sadness they feel isn’t what we’re familiar with? What if it’s consuming them bit by bit? What if the pain they feel inside has totally overtaken any form of rationality? What if the thoughts in their heads make them believe that physical pain could remove the numbness of emotional wounds?

Suicide is a topic dear to my heart because I’ve seen it happen to people around me and people close to me. And, because I’ve been there myself.


The Beginning

My brush with suicide isn’t one that involved someone talking me off a ledge, which many tend to think that suicide is all about. It was a quiet, personal—and largely internal—struggle. Often, these are the most scary, because there are no physical signs. No one knew the thoughts that were forming in my head but me.

I’m pretty sure no one expected me to fall into depression or even harbor suicidal thoughts. People usually see my laughter and assume that I am a cheerful and jovial person. It’s not that I wasn’t happy; I liked it when people thought that way—and that was the problem. I felt like happiness was my responsibility, an obligation. And so, I hid every ounce of sadness I felt.

But truthfully, I wasn’t doing well. I desperately craved love. Although it confused me, and I couldn’t comprehend it in all of its complexities, I wanted it. I wanted to feel loved, but more than that, I wanted to be in love. Maybe I was deluded by movies and television shows that had me believing that I needed human love to be complete. So that was my pursuit for most of my teenage years.

I remember trying to get help from a school counsellor at the age of 15. Although counselling was something people avoided for fear of being judged as problematic or abnormal, I was curious. I remember bumping into my school counsellor at the stairwell while on my way to choir practice. By the end of the conversation, I felt misunderstood. “You don’t need counselling,” he had said. “You’re just like every other kid, craving attention. You come from such a perfect family, what problems could you possibly have?”

Those statements stayed with me. “You don’t need—“, “You’re just like every other kid—“. “You come from such a perfect family—“. And I don’t blame him. He probably had many other students to deal with, and I seemed like the last kid in need of help. But I knew. I knew the loneliness that would barge into my bedroom, uninvited, as soon as I was alone. I knew the sadness I was capable of sinking into.

That experience affirmed what I’d always believed: I couldn’t let people in. I couldn’t cry; I couldn’t let go. Eventually, the very feelings I tried to get away from engulfed me. Feelings of melancholy, anxiety, and helplessness would creep in when I least expected it, especially in the moments just before I drifted into sleep. And I’d feel like I was being suffocated—like I couldn’t breathe. I’d feel a combination of unworthiness, bitterness, and anger, all at the same time. I didn’t know how to make sense of what I was feeling. More than anything, I was confused.


The Breaking Point

My breaking point came some years later. I was 19, and had just gotten out of a horrific relationship. The break-up wasn’t the main cause of my sadness, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it made things worse. I lost everything I loved—no, actually, I lost the one person I loved. I had invested so much into this one person; without me even realizing it, he’d become a part of me. I had allowed him to define me and my identity. When he was happy, so was I. When we fought, I blamed myself. When he was away, I felt like a part of me was missing. And so, when we broke up, I felt as though a part of me had been ruthlessly ripped from my very being.

So I picked up Thai boxing. The training was intense enough to make me feel something, but not enough. I picked up longboarding, and skated recklessly in order to feel the adrenaline surging through my veins. Going downhill at incredulous speeds was exhilarating—but it wasn’t enough. Then I got a tattoo. It hurt when the needle pierced my skin, imprinting the word strength on my lower back. Maybe I wanted the pain, and maybe I wanted to be strong. But still, it wasn’t enough

Sadness doesn’t go away just because you want it to. It lingers. And just when you start to feel okay again, it creeps in to remind you of how unworthy and small you’ve always felt. And so I fell back into the consuming sadness again. A couple of months after that painful break-up, I found myself in another relationship. It didn’t take my sadness away. In fact, I would still feel incredibly sad from time to time. When that relationship ended about a year and a half later, I crumbled.

I was in my second year of university, away from home. When you’re in an unfamiliar environment, when your comfort is taken away from you, you have no reason to keep it together anymore. So I let go. Those seven days following the break-up were some of the worst in my life. I contemplated suicide, and I stopped eating, barely drinking any water; my mind was so preoccupied with hurt, guilt, and doubt, that I was incapable of any rational thought. I hid from people. I just wanted to have my own pity party away from everyone. The only time I ever left the house was to go for tutorials, which I reluctantly sat through. It came to a point where I was numb to everything. I was just going through the motions, not thinking, not feeling, not being Janene.


The Intervention

But God was the one person, the one friend I couldn’t hide from. I tried, but He didn’t make it easy for me to hide. At that point, I didn’t know God—I knew about Him. I had grown up reading the Bible, listening to stories about a great God who watched over His people for 40 years in the desert, who protected Daniel from lions, who was with David as he defeated Goliath, who was with Job even when he had everything taken away from him, and who was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, protecting them from the flames, allowing them to walk out without being burnt.

But I didn’t know God personally

The same week of my break-up, I went for a Christian retreat where I was surrounded by some of my closest friends. That’s when I broke down and allowed God to work in my heart. I can’t begin to describe how it felt when the burden was lifted. It was just so . . . unreal. I’d never felt joy of this intensity before, because I had kept God out of the equation and had chosen to look for love in all the wrong places. On hindsight, I realize that I had a God-shaped void within me that I tried to fill with everything else but Him. Nothing was big enough, and everything fell short.

But as I lay on the ground wailing and crying out to God, He took me out of the sea of self-doubt, depression, anger, and hatred that I had drowned myself in, and immersed me in His grace. He reminded me of my worth in Him, and how nothing could ever separate me from His perfect, unfailing, and unwavering love. Knowing that the God who created the mountains, filled the seas and fed the birds of the air also knew me by name and loved me all the same, I was overwhelmed. At that point, I stopped running, and allowed myself to be embraced by God. I began to understand love, and how real, pure, and furious love could only be found by seeking the father’s heart. That’s when I made a conscious decision to pursue the God who never stopped pursuing me.

Things did not become a bed of roses after that. I fell back into sadness so many times after; I still do now. But the difference now is that the sadness doesn’t consume me. I can talk to God about my feelings, no matter how difficult it is to verbalize the demons in my head. Of course, it’s still hard for me to be vulnerable and not lie about being okay. Sometimes, it takes me hours to open up to people about my hurt, for the fear that once I expose these wounds, they’d get infected and not heal. But they always do. Perfect love casts out all fear. And His love heals all wounds.

I know that not everyone believes in the existence of a God, and mine is just one story. But I hope my sharing can help you see that you’re not alone. We’re all human, and sometimes, we allow inadequacy, self-hate, anger, and unworthiness to consume us, to rid us of our self-worth and importance.

Know that you can always talk to someone about your sadness. Express your thoughts in words, verbal or written. Physical pain will only make you feel for so long before you drift back into the state you were in. It doesn’t heal you, it numbs you. Slowly letting go of your baggage, however, heals.

It’s going to be painful and difficult to endure your situation at times. Memories have a way of seeping into and infiltrating our moments of happiness, and bringing us back to painful times in our lives. But if you summon every ounce of strength you have to reach out to God, this sadness you feel won’t have to win. God will give you the strength to fight it. And better than that, He will fight on your behalf. You need only to be still (Exodus 14:14).

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