Over the last 15 years or so, I have struggled at times with depression and suicidal thoughts. In those moments, I felt an overwhelming sense of pain and hopelessness about the future.

I’ve contemplated taking my own life on more occasions than I care to admit, think about, or remember. This is the first time I’ve spoken or written publicly about these challenges. I’ve decided to do so because problems like suicide don’t get addressed in silence or isolation.

I wanted to take this time to reflect on my rollercoaster of a journey from feeling utter despair to being happy, emotionally healthy, and balanced much, but not all, of the time.

While I’m in a good place in my life today, I know that I’m prone to depression under certain circumstances. I appreciate that, despite all the steps I’ve taken to take care of myself, there’s always a remote chance that suicidal thoughts may reoccur in my life.

I’m not an expert on this topic. I know that depression and suicide risk have multiple causes and manifest themselves in different ways for different people. My goal is to have a dialogue around an important topic that has many taboos and stigmas surrounding it. The likelihood that, in your lifetime, you or someone you know will struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, or make suicide attempts is nearly 100%.

Depression and suicide are difficult topics to talk about openly. I started this article two years ago, but candidly, I was too scared to finish and publish it until now. Some things once said can never be taken back.

It’s said that the antidote to darkness is light. To paraphrase Brené Brown, shame thrives in secrecy and fades when treated with openness, compassion, and empathy.

In my darkest moments, I had nobody. I was alone… isolated in my heavily skewed and distorted thoughts about myself, my identity, and my worth as a human being.

In the video accompanying this article, I talk with Kim McKewon about my struggles with suicidal thoughts. Kim is a board member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She is a survivor of a previous suicide attempt. Kim and I were also high school classmates. After losing touch for several decades, we reconnected a few years ago over her passion for suicide prevention. I’m grateful for her support in this process. (Kim — Sorry it took two years to finish this one… I appreciate your patience in granting me the space to find my own voice and timing on this).

In the video, Kim and I share how we have both struggled with various facets of suicide. My hope is to be a role model of what it looks like to share one’s darkness with another, to hear each other’s stories, and to convey to others who may be struggling that you’re not alone in the struggle.

I recognize that many of you might not have the time to watch the whole video, so I’ll share excerpts of my journey, what I learned from the process, and what I wish I would have known back then that I know now.

My Story

My strongest and earliest memory of depression and suicidal thoughts occurred in the two years leading up to 2008. At the time, I was still in the initial years of my second attempt at entrepreneurship. It was not going well… again.

The level of stress was unbearable. I was not sleeping very much. I was not eating well. I was not taking care of my physical health. I had no emotional support network outside of my spouse, who herself was overwhelmed for other reasons. I had no friends. What I did have was a very large mortgage, two children to raise (with a third on the way), and a business that was struggling. I had borrowed enormously against the family home to provide capital to the business.

In early 2008, it became beyond obvious that the math on the mortgage no longer worked. I could no longer afford the debt service. We made the excruciatingly painful decision to sell our home and move into a small rental home that was 75% smaller.

To add insult to injury, the stock market crash of October 2008 occurred, kicking off a massive global recession now known as The Great Recession. All of my prospective clients decided not to buy anything for the upcoming year, and my future pipelines of sales declined by 100%. My sales forecast for 2009 was literally $0.

It was during that time that I felt a sense of overwhelm, exhaustion, and depression. At the time, my identity was tied to my career and being able to provide for my family. In 2008, I had failed on every front, and my inner world came crashing down on itself. Even though there was a lifetime of work leading up to that point, I had nothing to show for it. On every measure of what I valued at the time, I had absolutely nothing.

I was ashamed of where I was in life and, to be honest, I was ashamed of who I was in life. (I did not yet appreciate the distinction between who I am in life and where I am in life.)

Before I ever considered taking my own life, I really didn’t understand why people contemplated or followed through with suicide. Why would people who seem to have a lot going for them take their own lives? Why couldn’t the people who were struggling just pick themselves up and keep going? Why couldn’t they just “shake it off” and tough it out?

While I have never attempted suicide, I’ve come close enough to that line to experience a feeling that I had never experienced before… despair.

In those dark moments, I was absolutely convinced that suicide was a logical, fact-supported option. What I didn’t appreciate until years later is that depression and suicidal thoughts aren’t about thoughts; they are about feelings.

When in a place of darkness, feelings will absolutely speak louder than “thinking.”

My feelings were so intense and overwhelming that they really distorted my thinking. (A decade later, I learned that psychologists call this “cognitive distortion.” I had no idea that was a thing.)

I thought a major failure in one part of my life automatically extrapolated to being a failure in all parts of my life. (That was a cognitive distortion for me.) I also massively overextrapolated that a temporary difficult period of my life would mean that my entire life would be this miserable. (Another cognitive distortion.)

I’ve since come to appreciate that my feelings have ebbs and flows. Some days, I feel joyful. Other days, I’m sad. Sometimes, I’m triumphant. Other times, I’m struggling. I now know and appreciate that, with the natural cycles of life, things will never be 100% good or 100% bad. Life naturally has ups and downs.

At the time, I didn’t realize any of this. The feelings were so painful, so overwhelming, that I genuinely thought my family would be better off without me.

I feel so sad writing that last sentence.

Back in 2008, my oldest daughter was five years old, my second daughter was only one year old and my youngest wasn’t even born yet. I think about the 12 years of memories I’ve created with them since that time.

Looking Back

Today, I feel so heartbroken for the 2008 version of me. That version of me didn’t know what the next 12 years would bring.

He didn’t know how much his daughters would need and rely on him. He didn’t know about the many close friendships that would be formed in the years to come. He didn’t know that the side project he started that year called CaseInterview.com would go on to help an entire generation of recent graduates break into a coveted industry.

At the time, I remember building a financial model of what my life insurance policy death benefit could produce in monthly cash flow with reasonable assumptions for inflation and rate of return. (Yes, even in suicidal ideation, I built a model… with multiple scenarios… and did a sensitivity analysis on various assumptions. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry on that one.)

I remember looking at the output page of the model and the final cell… monthly cash flow. I stared at the screen. I had boiled down the entire value of my life into a single numerical value in an Excel spreadsheet… cell H75.

The decision was to either keep living or take my life and enable my family to have what was in cell H75.

As I write this, I keep thinking to myself that these words will be online. At some point, my children will see them. I will have to look them in the eye and tell them that, at one point, I thought they’d genuinely be better off without me.

I don’t know how I will have that conversation.

How do I tell my youngest that I thought she’d be better off if we had never met?

How do I tell my middle daughter that I almost skipped the seven years’ worth of tears and difficult conversations we’ve had to become close to each other?

How do I tell my oldest that I had considered forgoing 12 years of movie nights, homeschooling, and conversations about her boy crushes?

As I write this, I have tears in my eyes.

How do I tell them that I really thought about giving all that up in exchange for the dollar figure in cell H75? How do I tell them that I considered giving up their lifetimes’ worth of priceless memories for a number?

How do I tell them that?

I honestly don’t know.

Lessons Learned

Looking back, I think to myself… how the hell did I end up there?

In pondering that question, the following question came up for me:

What do I know now about myself, mental health, and emotional support that I didn’t know back then?

In retrospect, a few things come to mind.

First, I was surprised how “logical” my thinking seemed to me at the time. Suicide genuinely seemed like an entirely reasonable option to consider. I think of myself as one of the most logical people I know. Yet in my darkest moments, my intellect and supposedly “rational” brain weren’t just completely unreliable, they were downright harmful.

In hindsight, I was completely shocked by this realization. I had somehow assumed that a high IQ would mean I was immune to being skewed by feelings. (Ha… I got humbled very quickly on that one.)

Second, I was surprised by how big a role emotional self-isolation and the lack of an emotional support network played in the chain of events that led to contemplating suicide. Without emotional connections with others, my mind became an echo chamber where cognitive distortions were amplified. With each echo off the walls of my mind, the distortions got louder and louder without being tempered by the help of a trusted safe person to support me in ways that I couldn’t support myself.

Third, I totally missed how important it was and still is for me to be able to “feel my feelings.” It turns out that developing this one foundational emotional skill would end up being life-changing for me.

When I entered therapy a few years later, I spent the first few years learning and practicing how to feel my feelings. Nearly a decade later, I still need to remind myself to slow down and feel my feelings. Doing so provides me with emotional insight from my “heart” and “soul,” as opposed to the kind that comes from my “brain,” and informs me of what I need at that moment.

Back then, I didn’t even realize I had emotions that I wasn’t feeling. In retrospect, I was feeling devastated and ashamed. Rather than noticing, feeling, and expressing those emotions to others, I avoided facing those painful feelings. I definitely did not want anybody else to know… and that was a huge mistake.

I didn’t realize that unexpressed painful feelings tend to accumulate and grow bigger. At my peak, I didn’t know of any way to make those feelings stop. I just wanted the pain to stop… and that’s when I started thinking about the unthinkable. I didn’t know of any other option.

My biggest mistake at that time was not realizing there was another option… in fact, many options.

The option that I never considered and truly never even crossed my mind was simple…

Get Help

The single biggest realization I’ve had from this entire journey is the importance of getting help from others. Help can come in multiple forms: counseling, medical assistance, a support network, a support group, and more.

Much of my downhill slide could have been interrupted had I gotten help.

I was too ashamed to ask for help, and I didn’t have anyone in my life from whom I could ask for help (or so I thought).

I didn’t realize that it was okay to seek medical and professional help.

I grew up in a culture where the concept of mental health didn’t really exist. The only words or phrases I knew in Mandarin (technically, my first language) regarding mental health were “crazy” and “insane asylum.” I grew up being taught that having any mental health challenge was shameful.

These were things best whispered about and in private… or better yet, never discussed at all. The only thing worse than being “crazy” was to publicly taint the ancestral bloodline with any hint of mental illness. (Yeah… well, so much for that one.)

Emotional Support Network:
It Takes a Village

In the area of emotional support, I didn’t realize that sharing my feelings with a safe, nonjudgmental, empathetic person would help me enormously to de-intensify painful feelings.

I had no idea how vital emotionally-connected relationships were to improving my emotional resilience. I’ve come to appreciate that difficult circumstances are much easier for me to get through with a “village,” community, or team.

When my friends are overwhelmed, I lend them my steadiness and stability in moments when they can’t do that for themselves. When I’m overwhelmed by my feelings, they do the same for me.

I didn’t appreciate that not all relationships are created equally. Some people are not helpful to be around when I’m in an emotional crisis. I found the most helpful relationships were with “emotionally safe” people. An emotionally safe person is someone who can listen empathetically without judgment. It turns out that this is much harder for me to find than I realized. (I found it is also much harder to do for others than I originally appreciated, too.)

Many people are not able to listen to my feelings without being reactive to them. This happens when hearing my feelings prompts someone to have and focus on their own emotions (regarding my feelings) as opposed to being able to listen further about my feelings. (You might need to re-read that sentence a few times to grasp my point.)

For the less emotionally capable person, hearing difficult feelings from me can create an immense feeling of discomfort. One way for them to alleviate that discomfort within themselves is to change the subject, redirect the discussion, or somehow get me to stop talking about that topic that makes them uncomfortable.

In contrast, an emotionally safe and capable person can keep their own feelings separate long enough to “hold space” for me to express my feelings safely without judgment.

In what has always seemed like a paradox to me, the act of expressing my feelings to someone who can “hear” them (without judgment) often changes the intensity of the feelings themselves. So, the act of saying “I feel sad” to an empathetic person often reduces my sadness.

I have spent much of the last decade building deep and long-lasting friendships. Today, if I were in a dark place, I have at least eight people whom I can call for support. These are people who care deeply about me, love me, and whom I can rely on when I’m in an emotionally difficult place. Back then, I had no one. I was emotionally alone and cut off from the rest of the world. (Trust me, suicidal thoughts and emotional isolation from others was a bad, bad combination for me.)

[Incidentally, I distinguish a difference between being alone versus feeling lonely. The first involves a headcount of who is in the room. The latter is a feeling. It is entirely possible to be surrounded by other people and feel profoundly lonely. The opposite of feeling “lonely” is feeling emotionally connected to others. Being emotionally connected to others means you share your inner emotional world with another person, and they share their inner emotional world with you.]

I have found it is enormously helpful to have people I can rely on for emotional support. Emotional support refers to having someone you can share your feelings with when you’re going through a difficult time. Having this support doesn’t change the fact that I’m going through a difficult time. However, it does often mean I don’t feel lonely while going through a difficult time. Someone is “there” with me emotionally to keep me company while I’m going through a difficult time.

I’ve found it helpful to have multiple emotionally supportive relationships in my life. This reduces the amount of pressure on any one relationship and avoids burning out any one person. In addition, I’ve found that people in my support network are sometimes going through difficult times of their own. In those moments, I’m there for them, even though they aren’t in a position to be there for me. If I need support, I go to someone else who has more capacity to help with my difficulties because their life happens to be going very smoothly at that time.

Therapy

Another form of help is seeing a therapist.

I’ve seen a therapist for eight out of the past nine years. A good therapist is absolutely priceless. This is probably the single biggest investment I’ve made in my own emotional well-being. Over those years, the focus of my counseling has ranged from personal curiosity to healing from trauma, improving crisis management skills, practicing emotional “hygiene,” and being proactive.

One thing to note: Like every other profession, I’ve found that some therapists are stellar and others are nowhere close.

(I’ve heard from people who didn’t have a good experience with one therapist and concluded therapy doesn’t work for them. When I’m looking for a therapist, I often meet with several. I’m trying to find someone who is good, has experience in the issue that I’m struggling with, and makes me feel safe. The latter tends to be highly subjective and individual. If you ever explore therapy, I highly encourage you to meet with several and “shop” for the one that’s both good and a good fit for you.)

Support Groups

Support groups are another resource.

I’ve been in multiple types of support groups over the years. They have been a great resource for me to realize, “Wow, I am not alone in this…” In those groups, I’ve heard hundreds of stories of difficult life experiences. While the details are always very different, the emotional experience is often quite similar to my own.

Medical Assistance

Medical doctors are another resource as well.

A few years ago, I mentioned to my doctor that I sometimes have difficulty with depression. Ever since I mentioned this history, he gives me a depression assessment every time I have an appointment. In the resources section of this article, you can see a pdf version of the form he has me fill out each time I come in for an exam. It has been helpful to have a medical professional keep an eye on my emotional well-being.

Looking back, I wish I had known enough to get help earlier. It is my hope that if you ever get to a point where depression or suicide enter your consciousness, you will get help from others more quickly than I did.

I’ve included a list of useful resources and links below. I welcome you to add your comments below as well. Note: Since I am not a licensed mental health professional, I won’t be able to provide any advice regarding your situation. My only advice is to get help, and if one form of help doesn’t work, try a different form until you find the ones that work best for you.

Finally, if you’ve found this article interesting, I encourage you to watch my conversation with Kim McKewon. We discuss our respective struggles around suicide, share our stories with each other, and share in more detail what we found helpful.

To watch the video, Click Here.

Resources

Suicide Prevention Hotlines

International

Suicide.org International Directory of Suicide Prevention Hotlines
This directory lists dozens of suicide prevention hotlines outside of the United States.

United States

For Emergency Rescue
Call 911

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Text “TALK” to 741741
These services are available 24/7. It’s free and completely confidential. If you or a loved one are in crisis, call for prevention and crisis resources.

  • If you are deaf or hard of hearing click here for a chat option.
  • If you are a veteran, Call 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness
Call 800-950-NAMI (6264)
Email [email protected]
Text “NAMI” to 741741
These services are free and confidential, available 24/7. They offer services in English and Spanish.

The Trevor Project
Call 866-488-7386 
Text “START” to 678678
Chat online with TrevorChat
These services are confidential and available 24/7. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Therapist Directories

United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia

Psychology Today – Psychology Today has the most comprehensive online directory and search engine of therapists in the United States. It’s the “go to” resource in the U.S. They also provide listings for therapists in a few other English-speaking countries. Visit the home page and click on the “Find a Therapist” link at the top.

United States

National Alliance on Mental Illness – The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website has a lot of information about what to do if you or a loved one are suffering from a mental illness. There’s information to read up on if you think you may have a mental illness. There’s also an area for you to find support online or in your area. These services are broken down into teens and young adults, members of the LGBTQI+ community, veterans, law enforcement, and more.

Support Group Directories

United States, Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong, Nepal

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – You can follow this link to a multinational search for support groups in your area. Each item that the search brings up will have information on the support group, the location, and how you can get connected.

United States

Psychology Today – Psychology Today has an excellent directory and search engine to find a support group near you. Click on the “Find a Therapist” link at the top. In the search parameters, switch from “Find a Therapist” to “Find a Support Group.”

Books

The Mood Cure – This book focuses on nutrition and supplements to reduce the symptoms of depression, anxiety, irritability, stress, and other negative emotional states. I have used the nutritional plans and supplement recommendations and have found them both very helpful. It isn’t a substitute for good medical and mental health care, but I found it did help.

Online Resources

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Statistics – Learn the truth about suicide in America. Statistics are measured by age range, race/ethnicity, and suicide method. There’s also a link to some information if you’d like to volunteer as a field advocate. There are a lot of misconceptions and outdated information circulating about suicide. This information is up-to-date and as accurate as it can be.

Authentic Happiness – Authentic Happiness is a website run by the University of Pennsylvania with Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman. This page has a lot of information about Positive Psychology and some questionnaires – specifically, the CES-D Questionnaire which measures depression symptoms – that can help further research and give you an idea of your own happiness level.  You will need to register with a username and password if you want to utilize the questionnaires.

National Alliance on Mental Illness – The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website has a lot of information about what to do if you or a loved one are suffering from a mental illness. There’s information to read up on if you think you may have a mental illness. There’s also an area for you to find support online or in your area. These services are broken down into teens and young adults, members of the LGBTQI+ community, veterans, law enforcement, and more.

The Trevor Project – The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. The website has information for you to get help if you need it, training if you want to become a volunteer, and access to Trevor Space – which is a support community for people ages 13 to 24.

International Association for Suicide Prevention – IASP aims to prevent suicidal behavior, alleviate its effects, and provide a forum for discussion on an international level. You can begin browsing by continent and narrow it down until you find help in your area.

Depression Assessments

Patient Health Questionnaire 9 – This is a commonly used depression assessment form used by medical doctors in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) to determine if depression symptoms are significant to consider medical treatment.