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Home : News : News
NEWS | Sept. 17, 2019

Commentary: How suicide changed my life

By Staff Sgt. Amanda Stanford 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs

When I was 18 years old, the problem felt permanent and the solution seemed simple. It had for years.

I had struggled with depression and anxiety most of my teenage years. I fought off the urge to end my suffering because I was worried what it would do to my family and friends.

As the years went on, I tried counseling and medication, but I was never honest with my counselor or myself about what the underlying problem was. I kept slapping a bandage over the gaping hole that was my depression, pasting on a smile, and pretending that I was getting better. The whole time I was sinking lower and lower.

I had no intentions of killing myself when I started hurting myself at age 15, but as the years passed, suicidal thoughts started crossing my mind more frequently.

The day I tried to kill myself, I woke up thinking everything was going to be fine. I didn’t know that it was going to be the lowest day of my life.

Things began to snowball and weighed me down more than I had ever experienced. I don’t know what caused me to break. I sat in the kitchen holding a knife to my wrist, sobbing.

My head began to hurt from crying. My mom walked into the kitchen and screamed for my dad.

I spent the afternoon curled up with a blanket on the couch while my parents discussed what they should do.

“She’s fine,” my mom said. “She is just having a bad day. I know she had no intention to go through with it.”

I had every intention of killing myself if she hadn’t walked in at the right time.

That day led to constant surveillance by my parents, new medication and even more counseling. Again, I put on a mask and pretended things were getting better.

A few months later, I got the news that a close friend had killed himself.

My world shattered.

I had seen him the week before. He seemed fine. He was happy and laughing and enjoying life. I couldn’t see through the mask he had put on. Of all people, I thought I would be able to see that he was hurting and needed help. I didn’t.

I watched as all the lives around him were shaken and turned upside down. I saw the pain that his death caused.

His death was the reason I decided to join the military.

I needed to get out of Wisconsin, away from the memories and the pain.

I thought a change of pace would fix everything.

The military would instill discipline in me. It would fix all the broken pieces.

Unfortunately, life does not come with quick fixes. There was nothing the military could do for me that would make me whole. That was something I had to do for myself.

Since then, I have continued to struggle with depressive episodes and thoughts questioning my existence. My career has been full of ups and downs, and I have struggled with many issues in my personal life.

I called my mom shortly after I arrived to Lackland almost 6 years ago crying because I felt alone and empty.

The transition was difficult for me, and I felt like no one understood what I was going through.

She had the hard conversation with me that I wasn't well and needed to get help.

Luckily, I worked down the hall from the mental health clinic here at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center. I walked in the next morning and asked them if I could talk to a psychologist.

My ego took a hit. It wasn't easy trying to open up to yet another person about the battles I was fighting in my head.

However, my psychologist understood me. He made me feel heard and helped me understand why I was feeling the way I was.

Through counseling, I was able to handle stressful situations at work more appropriately. I became more productive and confident in myself and my work.

Since then, I have taken back my life through counseling and continuous self-improvement.

Continuing counseling and self-improvement hasn't made my life easy. It hasn't magically made my life pain free, but it has made the hard times livable.

After I started having trouble in my marriage, I went to my leaders to let them know that I had hit a rough patch in my life. I didn't want my personal life to affect my work, but if it did, they needed to know why.

They recommended I look into Military One Source's confidential counseling to help sort through my emotions and feelings.

Again, my ego took a hit admitting to a stranger that my marriage was failing. I was fighting so hard to bend and change to make it work, but nothing I did seemed enough.

As hard as those conversations were to have, they were necessary. My counselor helped me see that my thoughts were unhealthy. She gave me exercises to do daily to help fix the way my brain viewed my marriage and my life. 

Through my divorce and custody battle, I continued to seek help through Military One Source. My counselor helped me understand why my marriage didn't work out and how to work through the emotional damage my marriage caused.

To this day, I still see my counselor while I work through what divorced life holds for my daughter and I. He helps me deal with the sadness I feel when my daughter goes to live thousands of miles away where her father is stationed. He helps me handle the stress of being a single parent when she comes back to me.

The Air Force has also given me the tool-kit needed to keep my mind from controlling my life.

I recently became a master resilience trainer, an opportunity the Air Force has given me to study and teach resilience which has helped turn my life around. It has given me skills that help in every day struggles, as well as on days that I can barely get out of bed.

I surround myself with people who are passionate about resilience and live it openly. They push back when I start to slip back into my self-deprecating view of life.

The resilience program has become a vital part of my life: the people I have met through it and the skills I use daily to combat the mental struggles I face. Meditation and being mindful of my thoughts has been the greatest skill I have gained from resilience training.

Learning about mindfulness has helped me acknowledge the thoughts I have that are harmful to my mental health. It has helped me learn not to be judgmental of myself when I do the wrong things or make bad decisions. It has given me the ability to treat myself with grace and forgive myself.

My life may not be what I had envisioned it would be, but mindfulness training has allowed me to accept that and be grateful for this life I am living.