In October 2012, Brian Kinsella, CEO and Founder of Stop Soldier Suicide, went to the streets to bring awareness to his cause. Ride For Life was a 5,500-mile journey across America. On this 2-week motorcycle-led convoy, Brian invited others to join him and ride as far as they wanted. Many Harley devotees and military Veterans filed in behind Kinsella. It was a time of discovery, insights and partnerships.
One man, a Veteran who joined the Army in the early 1980s, was among those who joined the Ride in Utah. And here is the amazing and unvarnished story of his 20+ year-long battle with depression and multiple suicide attempts. He credits Brian and Stop Soldier Suicide with helping him find some saving grace and light on a very, very dark day. He tells us his story in order to help others. And for anyone who has never suffered from trauma and depression, it’s a new understanding of exactly what some Soldiers and Veterans live with. And why we must ALL come together to STOP SOLDIER SUICIDE. (He has asked that we withhold his last name for privacy.)
My Name Is David.
I awoke one morning wishing to take my own life. I was due to show up and ride with a fellow motorcycle rider through portions of the state I live in. I weighed the decision to meet with this young man who was riding across the nation to bring awareness to the issue of Soldier Suicide. I decided to meet up with him. We rode through beautiful mountain ranges. And he asked me if I would be willing to share my trials, struggles, and victories with others. I am, to this day, very grateful I choose to get up and ride.
And so I am here to tell my story because of it.
I am a disabled Navy Veteran who suffers from severe chronic depression.
I have chosen many times NOT to take my own life.
Yes, that makes me feel like a failure, but I ask you to please keep reading.
I am trying to figure out how to turn my life around. The depression is not going away. It actually is getting worse by the day.
I am trying to figure out how to help others who suffer from severe depression.
I have read many books over the years.
I have been told by far too many people that my depression would just go away if I would exercise, yet exercise causes very severe suicidal tendencies in my case.
I have been told to “just get over it” and “it’s all in your head.”
I have been given many blessings from church leaders and been instructed to quit sinning.
I work with the VA regularly to seek treatment and medications. (17 years of treatment)
The depression continues. The struggle never goes away.
My life began normally. I grew up in small community in Utah.
My father taught at BYU for 39 years, and I grew up in Provo.
I was a state champion springboard diver in high school. I could have had a scholarship.
I got married to a beautiful woman, Eva, in January of 1984.
We have been married for 29 years.
We have five children—three girls and two boys.
I wanted to be a Chaplain in the Army, so I joined the Army reserve in 1985 and began school at University of Utah.
While there, we had our first two girls. I stayed in contact with the Church Military relations board to make sure I continued to follow the requirements to become a Chaplain.
However, the rules changed in 1988, and I would have to be on active duty. So I joined the US Navy.
While I was on active duty I also attended college to finish my BS in Psychology.
I was in my second-to-last semester in college in San Diego when I wrote the Church office Military relations board to see if the requirements were still the same as they were back in 1988.
No. They were not. The requirements changed in 1992.
That was it. I now did not meet and could not meet any of the requirements for being a Chaplain. I won’t go into the “why” at this point.
During the last year on active duty, I started taking medication for depression.
When I went from my shore duty to being assigned to the USS Constellation, CV-64, I was given a physical. The ship’s doctor verified my medication and proceeded to have me discharged. In March of 1994 I was Honorably Discharged with a medical discharge and a disability rating of 10%.
When my family moved back to Utah, I went to the Veteran’s Administration. They gave me a disability rating of 30% and continued treatment for depression. I was awarded schooling to get me back into college and help me find a new career.
For the next three years I sought to finish school, find employment, provide for my family and learn to conquer my depression.
In 1996 my depression got worse. I was awarded a disability rating of 50%
But my depression just kept getting worse.
I was unable to work. I was unable to provide for my family. I started having suicidal thoughts.
My First Half-Hearted Suicide Attempt (Failure)
A semi-truck was headed right for me. I had put my car in the exact lane he was in so I could take myself out of the pain. I closed my eyes. The truck swerved out of my path. I sat and cried and eventually went home.
I was unable to work for about 6 months. We were unable to keep our house.
My depression cost us our home.
My First Full-On Suicide Attempt (Failure)
I was ready to try again. I took my shotgun and drove to an isolated road. I sat for a few hours trying to decide whether to shoot myself through the mouth or from the side of the head. Eventually, I decided not to go through with my suicide. I don’t know why. But I considered myself to be a huge coward for not being able to do it.
We moved three times in next three years. I got feeling a little more stable. We got to where we were able to own a home again and we lived there for four years. I was awarded more schooling through the VA since the first time the schooling did not provide a steady job.
I was hired on by a Government Agency after finishing school.
I was with the Government agency for 7 years.
We moved into a new home 6 years ago.
My wife finished nursing school during this time and became a Registered Nurse.
26 Jobs in 17 Years.
Since leaving the Navy in 1994, I have worked at 26 jobs in 17 years. That includes seven years with the Government Agency.
The only reason I was at the Government Agency for 7 years was because they are NOT supposed to fire a veteran for his disability. I was however finally fired for lack of attendance that directly corresponded with my depression treatment. My 18 months of Electro-Convulsive Therapy (shock therapy and yes, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest,” kind.) caused me to need to take 10 days off during each month.
On top of it all, the medication the VA had given me from 2002-2007 caused me to develop Type II Diabetes.
Since going on medication for DIabetes, not a single medication for my depression has worked. I have tried 15 medications in the past 4 years.
I fight every day to live.
My Third Suicide Attempt (Failure)
In November of 2010, I pulled out a handgun and was sitting with it and a piece of paper writing notes to my wife and family members. I don’t know why, but I chose to put the gun back into the gun safe.
My Fourth Suicide Attempt (Failure)
One day in January, I came home from my Electro-Convulsive Therapy with soiled underwear. I had relieved my bladder while I was being “shocked.” Not an uncommon occurrence. So I decided to take a bath. After these sessions with ECT, I was usually very woozy from the medication. (I typically just sit while bathing, especially since I tend to slip in and out of consciousness.)
All of a sudden, I felt water around my face. On my chest. Cool water. I had just filled the bath with water so hot I could barely sit in it. Yet, now it was cool . I THEN SAT UPRIGHT PULLING MY HEAD AND UPPER BODY OUT OF THE WATER. I had fallen asleep. My head had slipped underwater. As I looked at the clock, over 20 minutes had passed since I had fallen asleep.
I then heard a small voice say, “It is not your turn until you have written a book about your experience living with depression and maintaining a testimony of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and sharing it with others.”
The Need to Help Others
I feel the need to help other Veterans fight the stigma that MENTAL ILLNESS has within our culture. I am more than willing to get in front of people and tell my story. (even though I know I will probably break down in tears as I tell it.)
One regular activity that helps when I am seriously considering suicide, is browsing the Internet. On my Facebook page, I have “friend-ed” many pages that deal with the families left behind from suicides. I read the stories of those families. This gives me courage to go on for another day, sometimes another hour, and sometimes just surviving the next minute or two.
I know in the Army we are taught to “Be Strong”. I feel weak. I struggle daily to live another day. I hope my story here can help just one service member be strong and make the choice to seek help. I should know. I have checked myself into the VA a few times so I would not take my life. I have fought for 17 years and counting. I am blessed with a beautiful wife that is still with me after all I have put her through. I am blessed with 5 wonderful children. I am blessed with one grandchild for now with 2 more on the way this summer. I am, at times, filled with peace and comfort when I take the time to look in their eyes and see the love we share.
There will be peaceful times.
There will be hard times.
There will be times when you wish your wife did not have the only key to access the gun safe.
But there will be times when we stand strong and do not give in to suicide.
I have felt the pain of not going through with it.
I have felt the joy and happiness of not going through it.
I have lived both.
I currently live both.
I know the times I have feel peace, far outweigh the negative.
Seek the positive. Live for the positive. It will come. You will feel it.