My friend recently died by suicide. He was 37 and an Air Force veteran. He was the funniest, kindest person I have ever met. Even when he was roasting you, he made it feel like a compliment. Even when he was struggling, he would drop everything to talk to you if you needed someone. He used comedy and poetry as outlets, making connections with everyone around him. Whether you met him once or 100 times, Tony Russell was your best friend. He cared endlessly about everyone around him, and he made everyone feel like they matter.
Mental illness and suicide are still very stigmatized, most of the time no one wants to talk about it. Or, if they do they get the response of some variation of “oh just be happy” when the world is that dark. That’s the last thing you want to hear. You want to hear: I am here, I love you, I support you. You want someone to sit with you as you cry or as you try to see a way out that involves staying around.
In the last two years, I have been hospitalized for mental illness and suicidal ideation three times. I have PTSD, OCD, and Bipolar Disorder, and even though I am medicated and in therapy there are still days or weeks where I don’t see a way out. I spent a long time hiding what I was going through, partially because I was ashamed of it and partially because I didn’t think anyone cared. Feeling that alone, that isolated, just makes everything worse; whether you have a good support system or not, mental illness doesn’t care. The majority of people with PTSD don’t know how to talk about what they went through, I still struggle to talk about what happened to me, and I know Tony did too.
I miss my friend, and all of my friends and family members that I have lost to suicide.
So I will just say this: reach out to your friends, whether you are the one struggling or they are, it is important. Destigmatizng mental illness is hard, but it’s the only way we are going to help ourselves stay alive. If you need someone to talk to and you don’t feel like you have anyone, reach out to me. I don’t care if we have never met, I will talk to you. I would rather hear about your struggles than read about your death.
Where To Get Help
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Regional Crisis Line: 1 877-266-1818
Crisis Text: 741-741
Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1)
Veterans Crisis text: 838-255
Deaf and hard of hearing Veterans line: 1-800-799-4889
The Trevor Project (LGBT youth ages 13-21): 866-488-7386
Trevor Project text line: text START to 678-678
Trans Lifeline: 1 877-565-8860
Luke Grayson-Skinner is a 20-something, disabled, queer and nonbinary trans person who has been in Spokane since 2012 and is an advocate for the LGBT and transgender communities, foster youth and those experiencing homelessness. Luke is also a slam (performance) poet and visual artist who experiments with acrylic paint, spray paint, graphite and other mediums, who created a spray paint mural at the Spokane County Fair in 2022. Luke doesn’t currently know quite what faith-base they “belong in,” but grew up in an Evangelical church that they left when they moved to Spokane and has attended an open and affirming UCC church off and on for the last 8 years. He will be relocating to Oklahoma next summer to be closer to his family. Luke uses they/them and he/him pronouns.