To the ER nurse, on the night I tried to commit suicide:
When I arrived in the Emergency Room, 19 years old and blushing under my tear-stained cheeks, do you remember the words you spoke to me? You said, “Are you just doing this for the attention?”
Perhaps you’ve spoken the same words to other introverted, socially anxious teens. To other pained souls who saw no way forward. Who felt they had no place in this loud and demanding world. Drowning in a dark sea of hopelessness, they made the difficult decision to end the daily torture they felt. And they landed in the Emergency Room, with you.
In my darkest moment, you could have been a light. You could have shown me that I’m not alone in this world. You could have given me hope. But you didn’t. Instead, you were full of judgement and empty of compassion.
When you assumed I took those pills because I wanted attention, you could not have been farther from the truth. If you had shown a little curiosity, I might have opened up to you. And if you had heard my story, you would have known that as a shy introvert, attention was the last thing I wanted. Perhaps you could have actually helped me! Isn’t that what nurses are supposed to do?
You see, social anxiety had a tight grip on me. I didn’t have a name for it back then; all I knew was I hated the person I was. As a shy introvert, I felt there was something deeply wrong with me. I was ashamed of my quiet nature and my social awkwardness. I assumed we were all supposed to be confident and extroverted, and I didn’t want the world to find out that I was defective.
To go on living seemed impossible. I was too fearful to go to university so a career was out of the question. I didn’t want to get a job either, because have you ever come across a job that didn’t require some amount of social interaction? I panicked when a guy looked my way and I just knew I’d make a terrible mother, so there was no family in my future. I was going to stay exactly where I was—paralyzed with fear and self-loathing. A big disappointment to everyone around me.
And there you were, the ER nurse, accusing me of attention seeking.
Life wasn’t meant for me. So I was escaping.
I was escaping from any possible attention.
But thankfully I didn’t make it out.
I felt guilty for being in the hospital. Stupid for forcing my broken family together amid the chaos I created. I was deeply ashamed of myself. Then there was you.
Think about what your careless attitude said to me. Can you imagine how your cutting words made me feel? It was clear I wasn’t important to you. You had patients who were really sick; you weren’t going to waste your time on some attention-seeking teen who put herself in the hospital. And why should you care about me? I didn’t care about myself. I was certain I wasn’t worthy of love and compassion. Of life. I was strange and did not belong. And you… you successfully reinforced that hugely destructive belief I held.
That moment was a crossroads for me and you should have been my signpost. Instead, you thoughtlessly blocked my path to recovery. I stumbled down the road I was on. With bottled confidence, I barely existed. It was years later when I realized that I’m not so different after all. And I am not alone.
I Have More Power Than I Thought
I learned that I am not my social anxiety. But I am introverted—and that’s a good thing! The qualities and skills I like about myself I have because I’m introverted, and I wouldn’t dream of swapping them to be more outgoing. I also discovered that I have more power over the way I feel and how I behave than I ever knew. Today, I have accomplished things I never thought possible. I have:
- Achieved a degree.
- Built a career.
- Attended networking events alone.
- Presented to over 400 people at a time.
- Successfully pitched a business idea to a panel of eight professionals, à la Shark Tank.
Because, just by chance, I met a compassionate and understanding person who took the time to care and connect with me and show me that I am worthy. This person challenged my belief that “I can’t change” and showed me that I didn’t have to bitterly accept that this is just the way my life would always be.
What If, Next Time, That Person Was You?
Have you ever thought about the power of your words? In a single moment, you can connect with someone with compassion and show them that they are valued. That they matter. In that same moment, more clumsy words simply serve to reinforce a person’s dangerous belief that they are not worthy of love or compassion—or life.
What if we all chose to treat everyone we meet with a mental health problem with as much compassion and respect as we do a person with cancer? You could be someone’s glimmer of hope. You could set someone on a new path towards a brighter future and a better life. And with 1 in 6 survivors making another attempt within a year, you might just save a life.