This past Saturday was the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Walk to end suicide and mental illness stigma. It was an inspirational experience. Seeing all of those (mostly) suicide survivors (family members and friends of those who have died via suicide). The teams were very recognizable in most cases with the matching shirts, some with their loved one’s picture on the front or back with the year of birth and death memorialized on them. There were people there from all walks of life; every socio-economic group represented. Suicide and mental illness does not discriminate. I had managed to connect with (as I often have a knack for doing) one of the more well-known of this event, Lynda, who tragically lost her young son a few years ago. She was leading the charge in both team and individual fundraising and truly is a woman to admire. Strong and beautiful, still sad yet sympathetic to everyone else equally…even me. It was no wonder she was able to rally such a productive and successful venture in spite of the tragic nature of the cause.
I was a bit somber and very humbled by the event. I didn’t notice any others like me there. There were beads given out to identify each person’s role in the cause. Red if you’d lost a spouse; gold – parent; white – child; purple – other family member; blue – supporter of the cause; rainbow – LGBT supporter; green – attempter/ mental illness sufferer/ past issues (this was me). I also wore a rainbow and blue as I feel those equally were important. I am sure there were other ‘greens’ but we are not ones to boast of our role in this cause. I had a friend there who was one of three who I credit with saving my life on November 29th and my precious daughter who has supported me and loved me every moment since her first breath. I felt lucky to be among them. But still very guilty. How is it that I survived and these grieving hundreds lost their sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends, brothers, sisters and (as my daughter was surprised to see) even pastors? I still ask myself and God…why me?…almost daily in my prayers. Not for lack of trying. My attempt was serious. I describe it in great detail on my blog (I caution anyone who might try to read it) But at this event I felt like a thief among nuns, a banshee among the mute demure, a street-walker among virgins. I was welcomed and yet felt so sad seeing the parents wearing their children’s faces on buttons pinned to their shirts and the children holding pictures of their parents close to their hearts. I could ‘see’ my loved ones here in their places…intrusive thoughts are a part of one of my diagnosed illnesses (OCD). I see my mother crying and my daughters with my picture and I couldn’t feel any smaller than I was in that moment until that thought went away. Since my attempt in tough moments on difficult days I pretend I am in a P.O.W. camp of sorts. There is no doubt I am held by an enemy. My captor is just unseen.
I was devastated when I woke up in ICU after my attempt. Exhaustion took over every inch of my body and I could barely even answer any questions. I was asked if I wanted to die still and I replied only that I had no energy to try again. Once released from the Behavioral Health Hospital and I saw the look on my parents’ faces and then on my childrens’ (one knowing what I had done and was equally angry with me and relieved I was ok; the other too young to understand the situation, just thought I was physically sick (as I do also have a chronic auto-immune condition) and so happy to see me after so many days). I knew that no matter how much pain I was in, or how badly I was suffering from these illnesses I HAD to allow myself to survive. That was when I first likened it to a P.O.W. in an enemy camp. I needed to make sure I would get through it to see my family again no matter what the cost to myself. I couldn’t let the illness take over me anymore. I couldn’t make myself believe they are better off without me. I cannot give in to the suffering. There is no succumbing to the torture. So I am still here, and will continue to be; surviving if not living. I still fantasize about death. I pray for peace daily. I know someday peace will come and the pain will go away. There are some better days than others but for now I am doing what I can to help lessen the stigma. I am working to make this life useful.
I ‘came out’ and both wrote and spoke about my attempt and illnesses this past weekend openly. I had been gradually and selectively doing that until now. I honestly feel in this I have value. It helps me feel less, less than. And research proves this is the best and sometimes ONLY way to end the prejudice of the mentally ill. To have those that know me as I am behind my “mask”. As I portray myself in the world: healthy, active, well, and the big lie…happy. I am who I am and I have always been this way and yet have been successful and productive and can be trusted with complicated projects and stressful circumstances at work. Heck, work is where I feel the most stable. I know what I have to offer there. I rarely doubt my ability when it comes to my intelligence or capability professionally. There’s never been a problem for me when speaking in front of crowds of people. I don’t have any issues with walking into a room full of strangers, representing my place of business or brand, or cause. I have gladly done radio and video spots for marketing endeavors. I felt the same in college. I was always the one who would gladly volunteer to take my thesis or abstract submission to present and even won grants for my colleges in the past for research projects. That never made me nervous or depressed or stressed. BUT admitting this and coming to terms with this weakness in myself has been excruciating. Hearing the diagnosis(es) from my therapists and doctors was terrifying. To understand that I couldn’t just go home and power through this thing. To be made to understand that I was not in control of this illness, to finally come to terms with the real meaning of these kinds of illnesses in that like diabetes or cancer or even my Lupus was that I truly could NOT just ‘snap out of it’ and move on with my life and be normal was a process. So having others who also may not understand also know who I really am is scary and freeing. But until after this walk this weekend and meeting and seeing all of those brave, wonderful, sad but still managing to be upright and doing something people; I didn’t think I could be as open about any of this as I decided to be. But I owe it to them. I feel like I need to speak for their lost loved ones who cannot tell their stories anymore. They didn’t understand what was happening to them. They didn’t make it out of their P.O.W. camp. So in order to not leave a soldier behind, I don’t have any other choice but to tell anyone who will listen about what we have been through. And pray to God that I am doing it right.