By Staff Sgt. Corey Schuler, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 13, 2016
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE, Mo. --
There’s a secret about suicide.
Flash back to September 2014. I PCS’d to Aviano, Italy, from Osan, Korea.
During my time there, my marriage suffered serious strain. I also started addressing a lot of personal challenges I’d been unknowingly suppressing for a long time. Ultimately, I came to Italy with a fresh perspective on life and a marriage to rehabilitate.
And while we were trying, my job had me going full-speed with a die-hard focus on innovation and fresh, uncharted territory.
I was overwhelmed with stress and I lost 35 pounds due to not eating. I was trying to make everyone else happy and I had no concern for my own well-being.
And one day, while driving home from work, on those tiny Italian roads, a thought popped into my head when I saw a semi-truck driving towards me in the opposite lane:
“The slightest turn of the steering wheel and everything would be okay.”
…To this day, I have yet to find the words to express just how shocked, how sucker-punched I felt when that thought appeared.
That’s not me. That’s not who I am. That’s not what I’m about. My stomach turned to brick and I broke. I pulled over and had a complete breakdown while my wife, worried out of her mind, sat there unable to understand or even help me because I couldn’t find the words to explain it to her.
Because that’s not me. It can’t be.
Rewind further: I grew up in an abusive and neglectful home. My teenage years, depression and anger clung to me like a second skin. My early twenties, I couldn’t find meaning In anything: in my family, friends or even in existing.
But NEVER had I ever had a thought like that.
…So I was horrified. I was scared of that thought, scared of myself.
And I didn’t have the courage to seek help. Surely it just was a bad moment, I was just weak. It was a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, so much happening and so much to adjust to, and everything was going to be okay.
Couple of days later, driving home on those little Italian roads once again:
“It would be of little consequence. This car rental is a beater, company wouldn’t miss it; the semi would get some scratches but it would pulverize the car and the driver wouldn’t be hurt.”
Not only did the thought return, but it came back with a warped, twisted rationality.
…and over time, the thought came easier, and more frequently, and no one knew.
Professionally, I was semi-open with my leadership: I was reliable and hard-working and I told them I was going through some marital issues and personal struggles but I also said they had nothing to worry about. I won awards. My team did incredible work. We hit a level of success we didn’t know was possible.
Personally, my wife and I sought therapy. We worked on our communication and over a period of time, we tried to put things back together. We got to a point where we were getting along again.
Yet, damn near every day I thought about dying.
I was *tempted*.
You see, the secret about suicide is we’re all susceptible to it.
Yeah, you. Even you.
If you’re thinking “ha, yeah right, not me,” then I’m asking you to have an open mind and check your pride for a moment.
For 28 years, I weathered and overcame so many challenges I wasn’t equipped to survive in the first place, and not once did I consider ending my life.
Then suddenly this thought was always in my head.
Worse, it evolved, quickly. It came with those dangerous rationales that made complete sense in my head at the time even though they’re a pack of lies.
Had there been a moment of impulse where those lies were louder than the truths… had there been just THREE SECONDS of brash decision-making… it would’ve been my last choice.
So how do we combat this? How do we check ourselves in these moments of irrationality? When the impossible, the “wouldn’t happen”, the “I would never” IS possible?
We have to lay down speed bumps against those trains of thought. Safeguards. Something to force us to slow down enough to realize we’re tumbling down the rabbit hole and climb out.
If you have access to a firearm, make it difficult to access.
If you have pills, only put a few in your bathroom at a time, and put the rest in the attic and restock it every weekend.
For me, I eventually went to mental health. I was in therapy for around 15 months, and it was worth every single moment (Shout out to my therapist!! You know who you are :D).
I leaned more heavily on my friends and also removed a few poisonous elements from my life. I personally believe we can handle our demons, but not when toxic people keep feeding them ---- get rid of those people, you don’t need that.
In a moment of impulse, these may or may not be enough.
It IS something though, and scientific studies have proven these little steps truly do deter people from following through.**
Most of us wouldn’t think we’re vulnerable to suicide. Most of us have maybe never thought of it nor considered taking our own life, but suicide has followed us throughout history, as an Air Force and as a species.
We’re not invincible. Protect yourself. Learn to recognize *your* red flags and get help the second you see them waving, whether they’re in your face or somewhere in the distance still. Put speed bumps in front of those red flags and help yourself.
Know you’re a strong, amazing human being, and you’re NEVER defeated, helpless, or a waste.
And please do know… as cliché and worn-out as the saying is…
Everything is going to be okay. Including you.