I am honored to have the opportunity to speak about my personal experience with mental illness and suicide at the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) events taking place next week in Virginia and Washington D.C. I will speak to lawmakers, people like me, and people in the mental health profession. This will be the opportunity of a lifetime and I really hope I don’t mess it up. I pray my story reaches someone. I hope we can begin to make change. This is the story I will leave them with:
The quote below left me conflicted:
“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about.” ~ Anonymous
I saw many like these everyday; meant to inspire and lift me up. Encouraging people to “make the choice” to be happy/motivated/powerful/successful/STRONG today. During my life, I have been told how strong I am. But I am not. I am not writing/telling you this to be humble or self-deprecating. This is the truth. I attempted suicide on November 27, 2012.
“You are so strong, Christine.”… I was told such things for overcoming. Overcoming things like cancer (once as a child and as a young adult at 23). I also have Lupus and went through kidney failure scares. I experienced childhood molestation and something that is unspeakable (NOT from any family member), relationship abuse and partner rape, and I suffer from mental illness but (excuse me for saying so) this is life. This is MY life. Horrible things happen to people every day; but one still has to breathe. People have no choice but to move through this kind of past to get to a livable future. My therapist feels that my anxiety may have been caused by my past; but my depression is based in my brain chemistry which makes me more susceptible to mental illness. All of my life’s experiences and my DNA were the “perfect storm” to make me who I am. Many people suffer mental illness that have perfect, happy childhood lives. I have a wonderful family! And there are others whom live a life of true Hell, yet managed to overcome it unscathed. We have yet to understand what defines our personality and health outcomes. There is so much work and study to be done.
So, people make it to the other-side. They survive. We have scars; physical and emotional. The effects of such may show themselves or maybe not. Maybe the tragic are “winning battles (others)…know nothing about”. And they are told they are strong and tough. But they aren’t. They feel weak. They want to reach out but they feel they can’t because the constant stream of intended compliments for surviving and overcoming makes them stifle these needs. They don’t speak up because then they are the anti-hero; weak, pitiful, needy, a burden. So you have to be strong still because “you are a *SURVIVOR*”!
The true hero is the one that admits how tough the journey is; speaks of the moments you wanted to stop. Others have to know it is okay to WANT to stop; but with life, we cannot stop. I began running marathons a few years ago. In distance running, you experience bloody socks/ chafed thighs/ missed goals/ shame filled skipped trainings and sometimes tears. That sleepy, early morning first step. The excruciating blistered last one. A fear that you won’t be strong enough to make it to the start line of the ‘big race’. Like life, to make it there you must have the humility to admit to your humanity. The light to guide through all the dark.
I learned what helped me eventually overcome my illnesses: Be you. Be genuine. Talk about your challenge(s). Show your pain and use your pain. Carry your burden and help others carry theirs when you can. Most importantly; let them carry yours when you need it.
I was “strong”. I never cried and would not complain. I was well behaved. I did not speak unless spoken to. I was seen and not heard. I did as I was told. I made good grades. I turned in all assignments on time with extra credit. I was always respectful. I did not challenge the way things had always been. I became a professional as an adult, had two beautiful children and earned a good living. I ran marathons; even that one I described up an 8,000 foot mountain in Arizona called Mount Lemmon. I braved and conquered the “World’s Toughest Road Race” without giving up after over a year of training. And yet…a few months later I was in ICU for a week, then a mental hospital after attempting to end my own life.
Being the child that would make every parent proud was a rough burden to bare when I had such a horrible secret hiding under this mask of happiness. I was/ am severely depressed. Even as a child. To this day I am not sure that I really understand what it feels like to be ‘happy’ but I am more optimistic now that I will have the chance to know. Since I stopped being afraid to reach out and ask for help, I have learned little by little how to talk about my real feelings without guilt or shame. My anxiety (G.A.D.) and Major Depressive Disorder (M.D.D.) are now being treated and I am better able to enjoy the life I worked so hard to build; only now I can enjoy living instead of suffering through every moment hoping to die. And I have found others like me and that has made a world of difference. So now I write about my experiences. I know not to be ashamed or embarrassed because I did not choose this, just as I didn’t choose cancer or lupus. I now find my heroes in the brave warriors who tell their own stories for the benefit of others’ healing. I find healing in working to make this world a better place for those like me. I have a need to make it easier to survive.
Thank you for the opportunity to share.
– Christine O’Hagan