As a psychologist, I’ve had the privilege of helping many people come out on the other side after considering suicide. As a psychologist who researches fandom, I’ve experienced firsthand how the television shows and films and bands and books and celebrities we love can also inspire us to keep living, and how the supportive community of fandom can provide a safety net while we fight through those difficult times. What those two realms of experience have in common is someone else encouraging us to talk about it. Not to keep those thoughts and feelings and hopelessness to ourselves, but to share it so that someone can help us through. There is still a tremendous amount of stigma and shame around talking about suicide, and there’s nothing more important than changing that. I teach my students who are learning to be counselors every the importance of creating a safe space within which their clients can share ALL their feelings. I’m honored to work with Attitudes in Reverse to try to erase that stigma and start the important conversation. I was also honored to be able to work with some of the people I proudly fangirl (the cast of Supernatural, my favorite television show) to put together a book that shares their most private, difficult to talk about, even shameful feelings – to inspire those who read the book to also share theirs. None of us can find the help we need without first opening up and letting someone else know we need that help.
On World Suicide Prevention Day, I wanted to share some of the messages from that book, Family Don’t End With Blood, that people have told me have helped them to “always keep fighting”. Some are from the chapters written by the actors and some are from the chapters written by the fans, because there’s tremendous wisdom in both. It can help to know that even the celebrities who we idolize have fought through debilitating self doubt, depression, insecurity and anxiety. It can help to know that other fans, who are just like us, have struggled with the same – and how they managed to keep going anyway. Every time someone tells me, or tells Jared or Jensen or Misha or anyone else, that reading what they wrote in this book saved their life, it means so much. So here are a few of those messages, in the hopes that they’ll keep inspiring us all to keep fighting.
The chapter that Jared Padalecki wrote is the longest one in the book, by far. More than 30 pages long. He worked on it for almost two years, repeatedly wanting to add to it and edit it even though I kept saying that it was already amazing. He knew, I think, that if he didn’t have the courage to share the depths of his own experience with depression and anxiety honestly, that his chapter wouldn’t help anyone. And so, courageously, he did. I still can’t read it without crying. Over the years, countless fans have told me the same – and that Jared’s words are the ones that inspire them to ‘always keep fighting’.
Jared writes about how the fandom and the show have changed him, about his struggle with anxiety and not feeling good enough, about the times he’s broken down. In one powerful part of his chapter, Jared writes about the time he pushed himself to go to Europe for a convention at a time when he knew he wasn’t okay, but didn’t want to let anyone down. When he found himself with one day free and looking forward to going to the watch museums in Geneva – only to realize the one day he was there was a national holiday and they were all closed – the pressures that had been building for a decade overwhelmed him. Here are a few small excerpts from his chapter:
I’ve had an ongoing struggle with anxiety and depression most of my adult life…Those of us who have encountered bouts of depression and anxiety know that the demons can remain at a lull for months (or years) on end, and then reach a boiling point inside of a day. That is what happened to me…
In hindsight, it seems laughable. “Yeah, Padalecki, the watch museums in Geneva happened to be closed when you were there, but at least you can afford to go back!” Or, “Well, things happen. Geneva is certainly not a terrible place to be ‘stuck’ for twenty-four hours en route from London to Rome!” Or, “Why didn’t you just sit in the park and read a great book? You’re always whining about how you don’t get the chance to read anymore!” I could go on ad infinitum.
But, at the time (and those who have dealt with anxiety/depression can understand this), I was overwhelmed beyond all measure. Something as simple as landing in Geneva on a national holiday had become an insurmountable obstacle. A sign. An omen. An albatross. A portent of what was to come. On top of the weeks, and months, and years of feeling the need to break down, but not feeling that I had permission to.
Plain and simple. I. Broke.
I sat in a park in Geneva, surrounded by thousands of people, young and old, celebrating their beautiful day off, and I felt more alone than I ever had in my life. All my pain, all my self-doubt, all my insecurities, came to a head. I hated myself. I hated that I hadn’t taken the time to look on a calendar or call ahead, or at least make a plan in some way that could have solved this issue. I hated myself for assuming that of course the museums would be open when I was there! I hated that my friends were eastbound to Rome and my wife was westbound to home and I was in a foreign place with no one to be there for, and no one to be there for me. Though my rational brain was telling me everything was fine and everything would be fine, I couldn’t get past the feeling that I wanted to be anywhere but where I was, that I wanted to be anybody but me.
It took hours. And tears. The kind of tears that don’t stop until your stomach hurts from convulsing. Until your face no longer moves because every ounce of water in your body has freed itself from the burden of being part of you. The kind of tears that don’t care if the passersby stare (or maybe the tears realize they couldn’t stay hidden anyway). My lips chapped, but I couldn’t force myself to drink water. I felt like anything that went down would swiftly work its way back up. I literally had to hold my eyes open with two fingers so I could see the outside world.
I knew I wouldn’t get out of Switzerland alive.
Then, I was hit by another “sign” (if you want to call it that). I got a call from a friend. A friend who had been through some severely emotional and difficult times with me. A friend who had lost somebody special by their own hand . . .The friend I needed.
Phone calls . . . more tears . . . more phone calls . . . Steps back toward my hotel . . . more tears . . . sideways glances from folks who didn’t speak my language, but understood the universal language of human anguish. Help up off the grass . . . phone calls.
“I have to get on the plane to Rome tomorrow, people are counting on me!”
Falling down to the grass yet again.
“You’re not okay. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.”
I had a decision to make.
In a moment of clarity (and with help from people I love), I realized that I didn’t want to burden my friend, or my wife, with having been the last person to talk to me. I didn’t want somebody else to think that whatever was wrong with me was somehow their fault. So I gathered all the courage I had left and I headed back to my hotel. I went upstairs, charged my phone, and booked a Geneva-to-Austin flight for nine hours later….
I was gonna go home. I was going to go and finally, after fifteen years in the real, adult working world, make the necessary time to take a long and hard look at myself in the mirror.
There would be hell to pay: I was about to cancel (for the second time!) a convention in Rome and one in Australia . . . I was going to let (literally) thousands of people down: people who had spent their hard-earned money and valuable time off to get that chance to meet and talk about Supernatural. I hated myself for leaving. But I knew I only had two options: go to Austin, or go away forever….
I knew I would have to take a proactive approach. Mental health and well-being are still very much taboo (unfortunately), so people can feel embarrassed or ashamed to admit or acknowledge that they could use some help to understand why their brain sometimes does things that somebody else’s might not. I reminded myself that if I wanted to learn how to eat properly, I would consult a nutritionist; if I wanted to get in peak physical shape, I would employ a personal trainer. Well, I wanted to get in peak mental shape, so I talked to friends and family and professionals. I read books and watched videos. Every single day (no exaggeration) I made a conscious effort to do something to bolster my mental health. And I’m glad I did. I was shocked by how much I actually enjoyed it. I learned so much about human nature, and about myself. It can be difficult at times, trying to take a long, hard look at yourself. But the things I learned and figured out (with help) have had an immeasurably positive impact on my life and my relationships, including my relationship with myself.
Jared still struggled with feeling guilty about letting fans down. That year, when he and the Supernatural cast appeared at Comic Con in the giant Hall H, he was worried – until he saw the entire hall lit up with thousands of tea lights, in support of him and with a message to “Always Keep Fighting” He ended his chapter with how he felt in that moment, and with words of inspiration to fans.
I will never forget this day. I will never forget the love that I felt, and still feel. And, to everybody who held a light for me, please know that I hold my light for you. Though I happened to be the one sitting on the stage, I am but one small light in a sea of thousands. TOGETHER, we can and will make a difference! Keep letting your light shine. I will do the same.
And keep fighting. Always keep fighting.
Many of the other Supernatural actors also write candidly about their own struggles. Briana Buckmaster, Ruth Connell, Rachel Miner, Rob Benedict, Matt Cohen, Jim Beaver, Mark Sheppard, Osric Chau, Gil McKinney, have all confronted some of the same challenges we have, both physical and mental and emotional.
Jensen Ackles writes about dealing with anxiety, something that so many of us confront – but few of us probably expected that Jensen does too.
Misha Collins writes about growing up poor and the struggles that come with that, and how the SPNFamily can be a support system.
Kim Rhodes writes vividly about her struggle to feel worthy, and heard, and accepted, in the hopes that fans will hear her struggle and see her scars and find inspiration to keep going too.
I realized I wasn’t enough! That’s why nobody wanted to hear me. Or play with me. Or put up with me. … I tried so many ways to find a voice that would be deemed acceptable. I flirted with the popular boys and ignored their derision. I let people with criminally low IQs cheat off my papers so they’d quit pretending they didn’t know me in the cafeteria. I stole money from my mom to buy kids candy. I got mad as hell and started wearing black lipstick, writing reallllllllllly indulgent poetry and, I am not lying about this, even cut myself and drew a goddamn self-portrait with my blood. I was not a happy camper. Furthermore, I didn’t know if anybody was listening or not at this point: because I was so desperate for something to be the magical bean that grew the stalk I could climb to a different life, I wasn’t listening to anyone else.
Maybe you’re reading this and shaking your head. You hurt too much. I can’t possibly understand, you think. You are too by yourself and too broken and too afraid and too sure I don’t actually speak from experience. I want to hold you and kiss the top of your head. I want to make silly jokes and make you laugh through your tears. I want to show you the stupid scars on my wrist and tell you of the ridiculous things I did when I felt the same way. But I can’t. So I wrote this so you will know I know. And the pain I feel is delicious and worth every tear I shed, because it is the price I pay for finding my voice, as I know you will as well.
I have walked that walk. And I show you my blisters and my map so you can, too. You are loved. You are worthy. I am eternally grateful to you.
Supernatural fans wrote equally powerful chapters about their struggles and challenges, and how the show and its cast and its fandom have helped. Hallie Bingaman’s experience was similar to Jared’s, and she too had to find a way to make it through the toughest times.
I often say that Supernatural and Sam Winchester saved my life, and I believe that to be true. My life has been saved over and over and over again through identification with Sam’s character as well as through the supportive friendships I’ve made via the show. This time, with my journey in recovery from alcoholism, has been the most public, but it is just a (very large) chapter of the war I’ve been fighting for many years and against many different attackers, all of which come from within myself.
To those struggling alongside me with addiction and/or mental illness, please hear this: At one point (well, at several points, but one in particular), I considered relapse, and my sponsor told me something that has really stuck with me—whether I give in or not, the stressful thing will go away. I can either choose a quick fix that will calm me for a moment, but create more problems down the line, or I can be willing to learn ways to cope for the long term. The latter may come slower, and I can attest to the fact that it sometimes sucks, but it gets easier, it gets better, and the desire to use/drink/harm yourself/whatever it may be will get easier to manage. I promise.
[Then], every little thing that went wrong seemed like the end of the world, and when big bad things happened, I felt like I was splitting at the seams—like there was absolutely no way I could make it through whatever it was. The longer I’ve been sober, the more I’ve realized that things are leveling out. It’s not intense highs and lows anymore, it’s more of a natural, normal ebb and flow, and the tough stuff is easier to cope with. It’s difficult to try to stop harming ourselves in an attempt to escape the overwhelming panic/fear/anger/frustration when stressful and painful situations arise, but I promise you it is worth it. Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time if you have to. Keep pushing forward, just focusing on today, and do the best you can to keep yourself happy and healthy. Take Jared’s campaign to heart, and always keep fighting.
Burner Cade, confronted with a painful chronic illness, family struggles and repeated disappointments, had made the decision to end her life, going to a Supernatural convention as a “last hurrah”.
It was Sam whom I felt a particularly deep resonance with: the constant obligation of family always overshadowing his personal choices, how making any decision for his own benefit only seemed to lead to others’ disappointment and loathing in himself. His life was not his own, and while it was obvious he cared for Dean and their father, he was expected to live his whole life for them. It was a struggle I faced every day. My monsters were not wendigos or yellow-eyed demons, but they were real nonetheless.
When November rolled around, I found myself quietly resigned: it was going to be a life of pain, of this constant chain of house payments, student loans, a much-older sister who used me and abused me emotionally, and a job I wouldn’t be able to get out of . . . or the bottle of painkillers I had in my carry-on.
I’ll enjoy the convention, spend time with Sheena, and after I get my picture with Jared—it’s over. I can’t handle this anymore.
Burner’s encounter with Jared changed her mind. Like Jared himself, she had a decision to make – and she chose life.
It was then [Jared] looked up at me and noticed the tears in my eyes. There were a lot of people crying at the opportunity to meet him, but he saw something that my family, my coworkers, and my closest friends did not: I was hurting. Badly.
His smile faded and he furrowed his brows; his hat tipped forward just a bit as he took a step toward me. “Are you okay?” he asked.
No one had asked me that. In all the months, the heartbreak, the turmoil, and the drama, I had been given condolences and pep talks, but I had been expected to pick up my shattered dreams, my hopes of living my own life, of freedom, and just move on.
It took everything I had not to start sobbing. My throat was almost too tight to speak and my posture went rigid. I’m not sure what Sheena’s expression was, because I was too busy trying not to make a fool of myself. Despite the long line of people behind us, Jared waited patiently until I managed to answer with a shaky, “No.”
“Hey.” His voice became softer as he moved forward to give me one of the biggest, tightest hugs I have ever had. “I don’t know what’s bothering you, but I promise it’s going to get better, and I’m glad that you’re here.”…
His words stuck with me. They were heavy and warm in my chest: things would get better, somehow. I knew then that I had to start living my own life; my current situation was destroying me. Thank you, Jared. Thank you for showing me that I wasn’t ready to throw all of that away. Thank you for showing me that my life, despite its hurdles, is worth fighting for.
What Jared would say, and what is the truth, is that Burner herself made that decision. But it was being able to share her pain and reach out for help that allowed her to keep fighting, then and today. It’s what Jared himself also learned to do, and what he still works hard at today.
If you’re hurting, reach out for help. That’s the message of hope from Family Don’t End With Blood and everyone who bared their soul to write a chapter.
Here are some organizations full of incredible and caring people you can reach out to:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
To Write Love On Her Arms Crisis Text Line: Text TWLOHA to 741741
IMAlive Online Chat Line: IMalive.org
To help make a difference: Attitudes In Reverse (air.ngo), SPN Survivors (spnsurvivors.org)
You can find Family Don’t End With Blood at the links on this page or at peacewhenyouaredone.com.