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Take care: Suicide attempt survivor shares perspective, advice

Editor’s Note: In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, this is Part 4 of a month-long series centering around the many facets of mental health from community, to crime, to survivor stories. Read Part 3, “Increased youth suicide rates stress need for open dialogue,” here.

SPRINGFIELD — On July 26, 2017, Springfield resident Zak Gosa-Lewis chose to live.

A week had gone by since he had attempted suicide, and the itch to attempt again was begging to be scratched. Instead, Gosa-Lewis called the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988 — something he had never dared to do before out of fear of being hospitalized.

“I talked to this lady who was just everything I needed at that time. She was deeply, deeply Southern, probably a lot of people from here would have a hard time understanding what she was saying, but she talked to me a lot about choosing to be there for myself,” said Gosa-Lewis, a southerner himself. “She told me I needed to choose to live, that I made these decisions that told me the only choice I had was to die; but if I made the choice to live, there was power in that.”

He chose to live for himself.

“There is an embedded selfishness in my existence that is for the benefit of people around me,” he said. “If I’m not OK, if I’m not taking care of myself, I’m not going to give my best version to those people.” 

Gosa-Lewis said he would not have imagined being able to do the extra activities he does now since he’s taking care of himself better, like: volunteering for Special Olympics, playing in a basketball league Sundays and pickup games Wednesdays, attending group therapy Thursdays, and fostering kittens.

“That hour you devote to that thing to take care of yourself is going to manifest itself tenfold in the time you can invest in other people,” Gosa-Lewis said. “That’s the thing I hope people get: You’re not doing a bad thing for choosing yourself.”

The lead-up

For some people, there is an event that triggers them to attempt suicide. But for Gosa-Lewis and most people he’s swapped stories with, depression has ebbed and flowed in severity throughout his life. Now 32, he said he first felt depressed when he was about 10-11 years old.

“It was just this overwhelming sense of fear and sadness that I had never felt in my entire life, and this question of ‘Why?’” Gosa-Lewis said. “That existentially-propelled dread is where it really was grounded, and I think that’s where mine has always kind of lived.”

He said his family tried pointing to situations that had recently impacted him after learning of his suicide attempt.

“People are left looking for answers, so they want to place it on something,” he said. Addressing his family, he added, “I’m still here. I can tell you it wasn’t those things. Those didn’t help, but it wasn’t just like I woke up and was like, ‘Man, what a bad day. This is it.’”

Zak Gosa-Lewis

If you’re struggling

Gosa-Lewis mentioned that there could be benefits for people who are silently suffering to confide in family members.

“I can promise you that your family would rather have you there and talk about your depression than not have you there,” he said.

“It’s scary because you may think: ‘Mom really does care. If I told her about this, she’d really care. But she’d be sad.’ That’s her feeling to process. What you gotta worry about is what you’re trying to process, and if you feel like the thing that can help you in your journey to finding healthcare is telling Mom or Dad, do it.”

He admitted, though, that he did not begin communicating with his dad about his depression until recently.

“I wouldn’t tell him for the same reason that a grown man with great health insurance won’t tell anybody when he feels like he dislocated his knees three days ago. It’s the same mentality. It’s just a different wound,” Gosa-Lewis said. “I think there’s a big sense of responsibility in men that, when it comes to depression, we don’t want to admit it or give it up because we see it as a weakness. The actuality is: If you don’t address those things, you’re a worse version of yourself for the people you love.”

He also emphasized the need to “do the little things that are going to make you feel better,” like buying a new pair of shoes.

“If it’s gonna bring you that joy, and you’re going to be able to implant joy in your day-to-day, do it,” he said.

If you’re supporting

Gosa-Lewis said people should avoid telling their suicidal loved ones they “aren’t a burden” because that person will then think, “Oh, they only say that because I’m a burden.” Instead, he recommends loved ones just remind them how happy they are to have them in their life.

“That person at that time may be super grateful, but may not be in the emotional state to express how grateful they are,” Gosa-Lewis said. “But you being there and supporting that person is something they’ll remember forever.

“Parents should understand that if their child – if they’re an actual child or if they’re 40 – chooses to share with you, it’s because they trust you, and they value you, and they want to be in some sort of communication with you about the struggle they’re having because they find you as something of comfort and support. I think a lot of parents want to be a solution. They want to fix it. It’s not about fixing it. It’s just about being there.”

Permanent inspiration

To commemorate the day he chose to live, Gosa-Lewis got his first tattoo about a year later. In Roman numerals, he has July 26, 2017 written on his collarbone. The tattoo’s placement was purposeful, ensuring he would see it daily.

“There’s no not looking at it. I shave; I brush my teeth; it’s right there in my face,” Gosa-Lewis said. “It was not a sad reminder. It was a good reminder that this is the day that I chose to live. This is the day that I made the decision for myself.”

He said he doesn’t do anything special when the anniversary of his suicide attempt comes around each year, and he even noted that he occasionally doesn’t even notice.

“I know from math the day I attempted, but I don’t remember that. I remember the day I called,” Gosa-Lewis said. “That’s the day that’s important to me. Not that I attempted, and I didn’t complete. But that I made a choice that day that I wasn’t going to attempt again, that I was going to try and get help. I want to remember that and never want to forget that. I want to feel that. I want that to be real for me every single day.”



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