Survivors tell us what went through their minds in what they expected to be their final moments — and what it’s like to return to a life they tried to end.
“I thought that my kids would be better off without me.”
THE FIRST TIME Nancy Nettles tried to kill herself was on her 31st birthday. She was living out of her car with two young children, struggling to find steady work in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I remember thinking that my kids would be better off if I wasn’t here,” she said. “I was homeless, jobless … I felt like someone else would be able to take care of them.”
Nettles attempted to overdose, but her 7-year-old daughter found her and called 911. She woke up in a hospital and spent a week at an inpatient psychiatric unit. Nettles attempted suicide twice more that same year, each time landing in the hospital.
“I was so mad at God,” she said. “I can’t even describe how angry I was that I was still alive. I mean, the energy that I had in being so angry that I was not dead is the kind of energy we need to stay alive.”
Nettles, now 52, had been sexually molested and raped as a child, traumas she kept mostly secret.
“My father was a pastor — we didn’t talk about those things,” she said. “You didn’t talk about sexual trauma. You never talked about suicide or even having those feelings.”
As an adult, she experienced divorce, poverty, homelessness and a debilitating diagnosis of multiple sclerosis — enough to drive anyone to a dangerous place. And as a black woman in America, she often had to cope with extra challenges as she sought help, as if her identity somehow disqualified her from having mental health problems; black women have historically had one of the lowest suicide rates of all the demographic groups.
“They would come at me with, ‘Do you have a church?’” Nettles said. “And the second thing was, ‘You’re a strong black woman. Why are you doing this to yourself?’ And I’m trying to understand this narrative of being a strong black woman and having a mental illness. What does one have to do with the other?”
Today Nettles, a former opera singer, works as a therapist in Nashville, where her children, now young adults, also live.
“I’m really blessed that they love me past all the crap that we lived through,” she said.
You can be a survivor too. It’s never to late. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or dial 988 anytime.
Remember Someone Does Care ♥️
Writing and Reporting Rheana Murray
Photos and Video Laura Spotteck
Editing Robin Kawakami
Design and Development Jeremia Kimelman, Ian Rose and Jiachuan Wu