“I’m guessing you landed on this page because you want to know a little about me and how UMTR2ME came to be, am I right?
Well, UMTR2ME, which simply stands for the phrase, You Matter to Me, is a non-profit organization that offers hope, support and encouragement to individuals who struggle with depression, mental health challenges, and suicide in addition to supporting family and friends.
One of the really neat things about being involved with UMTR2ME is that we’ve been recognized in all 50 States and over 75+ different countries and languages. But the reason I tell you that is not so you’ll think UMTR2ME is popular or trending, but rather to validate mental illness and suicide are issues that don’t discriminate based on an individual’s age, gender, ethnicity, or even country of origin.
As a matter of fact, if someone would’ve told me when I was a struggling teenager that one day I’d be part of an organization helping individuals struggling with depression, mental health challenges or suicide, find hope, joy, and purpose in their lives, I wouldn’t have believed it. But what I thought was my greatest failure in life, my unsuccessful attempt at suicide, has become my greatest success, enabling me to ultimately find hope in the midst of my own hopelessness.
It’s possible that you might know of someone whose taken their life by suicide, or maybe you’ve had those same thoughts yourself. You might even be at that very place right now as you read this. I don’t know. But what I do know, is that I found myself at that same place. A place so cold, so dark and hopeless that I felt the only way I could end my pain, was to end my life.
Listen I get that sometimes you feel alone, like no one understands what you’re going through and I can say that because when I was a senior in high school, I thought I was at the lowest point in my life. I was popular, involved with sports, theatre, I had plenty of girlfriends and I was even involved in my church. You’re probably thinking that doesn’t sound like a low point but it was because the person that everyone saw on the outside from day to day wasn’t person I really was on the inside and that’s when I made the decision one day to take my life.
I wasn’t looking for attention and I wasn’t looking for help. I was simply looking for a way out. I was looking for a way out of the pain I had lived with for far too long. The pain of believing my life was nothing but a disappointment and a burden to everyone around me. The pain of feeling like I had let so many people down like family, friends, teachers, God and especially myself.
You see, there’s no way I could’ve known growing up that I had a mental illness because I didn’t know anything about mental illness, and neither did my parents. As a matter of fact, my parents thought I was sad and unhappy was because that’s what I was choosing to feel. They told me that if I wanted to be happy, all I had to do was make that choice and that put a lot of pressure on me because what teenager doesn’t believe what their parents tell them. I mean if they said it, it must be true, right? But if it was true, then why couldn’t I make the changes in myself, because I really wanted to.
So, I believed my inability to make myself feel happy was my own fault, because it seemed like none of my friends, including my brother and sister, had any trouble being happy. Now I don’t want to mislead you, because like most kids I did have some good days but the bad days always seemed to beat out the good days. I was confused and began to wonder, is this what the rest of my life was going to be like?’ I mean who would choose to live a life of such heartache, such brokenness and such disappointment? All I ever wanted growing up, was just to be happy and more than on Christmas day or at birthday parties. I wanted to feel like I was valuable part of my family and friends because most days I felt like I didn’t even fit in. As close as I wanted to be them, I just couldn’t seem to physically make it happen. So, most days I’d isolate myself by choosing to stay in my bedroom, even though I knew I’d feel alone and unhappy. You see, I struggled with the ability to express on the outside, how I thought and felt on the inside. So, I believed if I kept everyone at a safe distance from me, then I couldn’t hurt or disappoint anyone.
I remember when I was just 10 years old having my first thoughts that my family and friends would be better off without me. I was too young to know anything about suicide, so I decided to run away from home. But the reason I was running away wasn’t because I didn’t love my family, it was the opposite. I was running away because I did love them, and it was tearing me up that at such a young age, I felt like I had been nothing but a disappointment and a burden to them. Even though my parents never told me that, that’s what I told myself. I told myself I was hurting everyone around me with the way I acted and since I couldn’t change who I was, I thought they’d be better off without me. I mean who wants to be around someone who’s sad and depressed all the time. I didn’t even want to be around myself, but there was nothing I could do about that.
Now while I don’t remember everything about the first time I ran away, there are a few things I remember to this day. Like at one point as I walked alone down the highway, a stranger pulled his car to the side of the road and stopped right where I was walking. He opened the door and said, ‘hop in.’ Without giving any thought what so ever to my safety I climbed in his car. He leaned over me, shut the door and we drove away. After a few minutes of driving the stranger asked me where I was going? and I told him I was going to see my girlfriend. He looked at me and said, ‘you’re not running away from home, are you?’ I’m guessing a young barefoot boy, walking alone, along a hot Texas highway, painted a pretty clear picture of a troubled youth and not some love-struck Romeo going to see his Juliet. I paused for a moment and quietly mumbled, no sir.
At that point, the stranger didn’t ask my name, he didn’t ask me where I lived and he didn’t take me to a public place like a grocery market, gas station or even the obvious police station. Instead he drove a little further down the highway before pulling to the side of the road and stopping the car. Once again, he then leaned over me, opened the door and simply let me out. You can’t imagine how many times I’ve wondered what could’ve have possibly happened to me that day? I was eventually found and taken home.
Unfortunately, my 11-mile field trip created some serious issues for my parents who were investigated by social services because they wanted to know why I had run away from home. Obviously, my parents weren’t too happy with me, especially my dad, who was a Staff Sergeant in the Army at the time.
In addition to my mental health challenges I also had learning difficulties that started in the 4th grade and went well into high school where as a senior I was still taking fundamental math courses. As a matter of fact, when I was in the 8th grade I had to take a national standardized achievement exam, which showed for the most part that my basic skill set was within the 8th and 9th grade levels. But when it came to math, well, that was a different story. Even though I was in the 8th grade at the time of the exam, I was testing at 4th grade level math. Now while that might surprise you, it didn’t surprise me or my parents because for years my report cards had been littered with failing grades.
Just like the depression my parents would tell me the reason I wasn’t getting passing grades in school was because I was choosing not to apply myself. But they were so far from the truth because I did want to do well in school, but no one noticed I was struggling in school and if they did notice, well, they certainly weren’t doing anything to help me. And my teachers, I mean come on, no disrespect but how could they continue to move me to the next grade when my report cards were filled with the D’s and F’s they were giving me?
I remember my dad would tell me that if I ever failed a year of school my friends would laugh and make fun of me. I often thought it was just his military way of trying to motivate me to do well in school. But we never had to worry about that because in my case failing grades meant I was going to the next grade. Well, that is until my last semester of high school.
You see, all I needed to graduate was to get a 71 in my creative writing class. Should’ve been easy enough, right? Well, instead of a 71, Ms. Culberston gave me a 70. Can you believe that? Of all the teachers who had every opportunity hold me back, the only one who stepped up to the plate and hit a home run was the teacher in my last semester of high school. With one credit short, I wasn’t going to graduate high school with my friends and that’s when the reality sank in real quick. I had finally failed and it was time to prove my parents right. I mean what else could anyone say but the obvious, I was a failure and I had just proved it.
With everything that was going on in my life at the time I just couldn’t tolerate the pain any longer. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I was sick and tired of letting everyone in my life down, so at 18, a high school senior, I made the decision to take my own life.
I’ll never forget the day I decided to take my life. My mom was in the kitchen washing dishes when she thought she heard a faint banging sound. Since I was the only one home that day she came looking for me to see if I knew what was making the sound. As she walked down the hallway she could hear the banging getting louder and louder. That’s when she realized it was coming from my bedroom. She tried to open the door but it was locked. She called out my name but there was no answer. At this point she decided to go outside and look into my window to see what I was doing and why I wouldn’t answer her.
When she looked through the glass of my bedroom window, what she saw was one of the most horrific sights a parent could ever see. She saw me, her first-born son lifelessly hanging from a closet door. My face, shades of blue and purple like she’d never seen before. At one point I vaguely saw her crying and banging on the glass, trying to get to me. I remember thinking to myself how much I wanted to stop. How much I wanted to stop the pain I was causing her. The pain of her seeing me like this. But there was nothing I could do to stop even if I wanted to. I was committed to my suicide. I never saw my mom leave my window because I went unconscious but was later told she was running through the neighborhood screaming and banging on the doors of neighbors, pleading for anyone to save her son. She eventually found a neighbor who was able to break into my bedroom and after taking me down from the closet, began giving me rescue breathing until paramedics arrived to take over.
The first time I had enough consciousness to open my eyes after my suicide attempt I found myself lying in a hospital bed and at the foot of the bed I could hear my parents asking the doctors, ‘why would he do this?’ As I lay there I had two thoughts that ran through my head. The first thought, as I watched my parents crying, was if they had lost me to suicide their pain would have lasted a lot longer than just the one or two years I had thought. Losing someone to suicide is a pain that never goes away because there’s never a sense of closure.
The second thought that rushed in burned the most and lingered the longest. I thought, I’m such a failure that I can’t even kill myself and now I just added an unsuccessful attempt at suicide to the growing list of failures in my life. I’ve been told it’s not politically correct to say that my attempt at suicide was “unsuccessful” but I’m more concerned with being real and honest than I am bout being pc. However, I do realize some people are uncomfortable with the fact that I refer to my suicide attempt as being unsuccessful, and I can appreciate why they might feel that way but I need you to understand, that’s exactly how I felt at that moment. You see, I believed at that moment in time, that was my greatest failure in life. But the truth is, I was fortunate and very lucky to have survived because most often those who choose to end their pain by suicide don’t get a second chance at life. And for me, like so many others, it wasn’t so much that I wanted to end my life. I just wanted to end my pain.
After high school, I spent the next 10 years struggling to keep jobs, friendships and relationships. I was blindly fighting a mental illness I didn’t even know I had and now it was starting to manifest as anger and silence. It was starting to define who I was becoming as a young adult.
When I was 28 I was hospitalized and clinically diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 2, ADHD, OCD and a few other mental gems. Believe it or not I was kind of happy to have a mental illness because it meant there were things going on inside of me that I couldn’t control myself. It wasn’t a choice as I was making like my parents had thought. While I was in the hospital I came to the realization that my mental illness was not going to change or just go away by simply taking a pill or attending therapy. I needed to take ownership of who I was and be my own mental health advocate. Instead of wanting help, I had to be my help. With the support of my family, friends and my faith, I was able to become the advocate I couldn’t be for myself when I was younger. I decided that my mental illness wasn’t going to define who I was as a person, but would rather be just another part of who I was as a person.
Since August of 2007, I haven’t filled a single prescription or attended counseling. It hasn’t been easy and at times it can still be difficult because it means I have to manage my mental wellness 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and that in itself can be pretty exhausting at times. Today I manage my mental wellness through clean and healthy eating, maintaining a positive and active lifestyle. I also rely on the support of my wife and my faith in God. I’m a stronger person because I fought through my toughest and fiercest battles. And I’m a stronger believer because my faith was tested and proven. But there’s still one thing that I’m not, I’m not alone and neither are you. Everyone has his or her share of struggles in life and no one is exempt. Anything can lead a person to believing suicide is the only solution. What I don’t want, is for anyone to try to handle things alone and end up resorting to negative coping mechanisms like drugs, alcohol or self-harm. And I certainly don’t want you or anyone else getting to the point where you find yourself backed into a corner with the disillusioned idea that suicide is the only option.
I have never been embarrassed or ashamed to talk about my suicide attempt or the struggles of understanding and coping with my mental health challenges. I know all too well the feelings of hopelessness a person struggling with these challenges faces and I want others to know that there is hope in hope
lessness. Drawing from my personal experiences with suicide and mental illness, UMTR2ME-You Matter To Me was launched in August of 2012 to offer hope, support, and encouragement to those who struggle with some of the same challenges I struggled with. I invite you to explore our website to learn more about UMTR2ME and the unique programs and services with offer. You can also follow UMTR2ME on social media platforms.
Stay Safe, Stay Smart, Stay Strong, and never forget, You Matter To Me.