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Suicide is a real issue


Story by Sgt. Amie McMillan

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - If you ask a person if they know someone who has committed suicide or been affected by it, more than likely, their answer will be “yes.” In the Army, the stress and experience of deployments can weigh heavy on a soldier’s heart, not to mention home life, which can also be rocky at times.

Although there are many programs to help, some soldier’s isolate themselves and will not turn to anyone for help. Like many other soldiers, I felt truth in the stigma of seeking mental health, and I did not want anyone to know about my problems – in the beginning.

Suicide has personally affected me in many ways. Hearing the word “suicide” brings back memories of times I would like to forget. Growing up with a sibling who talked about suicide and attempted it many times, I felt stupid for having these feelings of lost hope, and no sight for the future.

Thoughts of suicide ran through my head a couple of times in my life, when I felt like I had no one to turn to, and I couldn’t bear any more heartache. The first time was in 2009, after I returned from a 15-month deployment to Iraq. I was already too far withdrawn from the emotional connection I had with family members before I left on deployment. However during my deployment, I stayed strongly connected with my grandmother since she raised me for 11 years. I knew her health was deteriorating, but I couldn’t bear to imagine a life without her. On July 21, 2009, only one month after returning home, I was saying my last goodbye to my Nana.

Watching her fade away, her skin become so pale, and the rise and fall of her last breath killed me inside. With family by her bedside, I walked away to another room, alone, and cried until I felt like I could pull myself together. Crying was being weak, or so I thought at the moment. I had to be the strong one for my family because I’m a soldier, and weakness is not in our vocabulary.

Days following her death, I wrote a speech for her memorial ceremony, in hopes that it would ease some of my pain. As I read every word from the page I wrote, I fought back the tears and remained “strong” for all of my family who were weeping. After the memorial ceremony, I contemplated suicide. I mean, I seriously thought about every detail, to include scenarios of how my friends and family would react. It took me a couple of weeks to talk myself out of a decision that would not only affect me, but negatively affect everyone who knows me. I thought about my sister, who is my best friend, and how she needed me more than ever now. I pulled myself out of the negative thoughts, but I still didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about it.

Years down the road, with the assistance of self-help books, I was able to bounce back to my normal self. Although there were many suicide prevention programs available, as well as confidential counseling, I was not convinced that it wouldn’t reveal itself to my unit.

Another low point in my life was when my dad passed away in 2012. He was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis eight months prior, in which the doctor gave him a short time to live. At the time, I had no idea he was that sick, because neither he nor my mom told me what the doctor said. At the end of October 2012, as my unit prepared for a possible deployment to areas affected by Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York, I received a call from my mom that my dad was in the hospital and had been there for three days. You know that feeling you get when something awful has just happened? It felt like I couldn’t breathe. By the time I got word about him being hospitalized, he had already been put into a medical coma and was on life support to increase his oxygen level. I had no way to talk to him, to tell him that I loved him, nothing. My dad was the last person in my life that I felt I could talk to about anything and no matter the situation, he always made it better.

On Nov. 30, 2012, I took the six-hour long drive to Florida to say my final goodbyes to my dad. After a month on life support, his lungs had collapsed and his other organs were beginning to fail. The doctors told us that he would never come off of life support, and essentially, we were just breathing air into a body. I could see only a cold body when I looked at his face. It was like his soul and spirit were already gone. As a family, we decided to take him off of life support. Again, as if watching a replay of my grandmother’s death, his chest rose and fell as the last breath left his body.

My dad was my mentor and “Jiminy Cricket,” who taught me so much throughout the years and never left my side. It hurt me so bad, and inside my head, the only way out was suicide. I ran through every scenario in my head, how I would do it, what I would write in my note, and also, the reactions of everyone who knows me. This time, I felt like committing suicide a lot longer than the first time. It was as if everything stressful I had experienced and pushed away had piled on top of me all at once. My heart felt like it was ripped out of my chest, and I had no outlook on the future.

All I could imagine was how my mom would be able to live without him, emotionally, physically and financially. Suicide began looking even more promising. I wouldn’t hurt anymore and my mom would be financially set since I am covered under my Service members Group Life Insurance.

Family and friends who knew me, they reached out, they knew how much my dad meant to me. I never told anyone that I was contemplating suicide. We are taught the signs to look for, so I knew what to avoid doing. I wanted to go out alone, just as I felt. No matter how hard I tried to hide it, my friends knew this wasn’t easy and stayed by my side, as did my family.

I was on the edge of self-destruction when I started confiding in one of my supervisors who I trusted more than anyone else in my chain of command. She knew her soldiers in and out. After hearing what I was going through, omitting any information about my thoughts of suicide, she convinced me to seek help. I did not want to go alone, so she took the time to accompany me to mental health, and stayed with me every step of the way.

Since starting counseling, I have learned that crying doesn’t make me weak. It actually helps release some of the stress and sadness in my heart.

In 2008, one of my family members told me after the fact, that if it hadn’t been for me talking to her while she was upset and calming her down, she wouldn’t be here today. I was in shock that this person, who I love and look up to as being so strong, had planned her death that very night when I stepped in.

Step up and watch out for your buddies because one day you could be that person who intervenes without even knowing it.

If it weren’t for the strength and love of my closest friends and family, I would not be here today to share this message with you. No matter how low of a point you reach in your life, nothing is bad enough to take your own life. There is help out there for you as a soldier, a family member and even after your military service.

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