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‘My phone was lit up’

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This week’s post is by Emily Lupsor. She’s a mental health advocate in North Carolina, where she’s pursuing her masters in social work. Her research interests include measuring and facilitating growth in attempt survivors, and she hopes to establish a peer-run support group in the Charlotte area with several community partners.

I can’t pinpoint the age at which my challenges with mental wellness began. Was it the tearful, sweaty-palmed anxiety of childhood? The numb apathy of my high school years? My first major depressive episode of college? I have always been a Sensitive Person and spent most of my life assuming that I would die by my own hand.

Even so, my suicide attempt during a particularly horrific era of darkness seemed to come as a surprise to most of my friends and family. I could write for days about the traumatic nature of my attempt, the subsequent hospitalization and the immense despair that accompanied those experiences, but others before me have written so eloquently on these topics. Instead, I’d like to share my experiences of growth.

It is not my intention to gloat or to talk you out of your feelings. People would tell me all the
time that “it gets better” and that suicide is “a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” but I know I would never have believed those platitudes, even though they are true. I think people don’t realize how deeply hopeless depression can feel, that every single day can be a struggle not to end one’s life, much less to put on clothes each morning and function in the everyday world.

I’m not saying it happened overnight, and I’m certainly not saying I’m not sometimes still
haunted by flashbacks and nightmares. But the more time I put between myself and the
attempt, the stronger I have grown through sharing my experience with others, particularly with others who have attempted. And I want more than anything for that to happen for you, too, Survivor.

It all started when I first Googled resources for attempt survivors. While I almost came up empty-handed (most information directed at “suicide survivors” was for loss survivors, not me), I did find this website and Dese’rae Stage’s project Live Through This. I became engrossed in the stories and portraits of people just like me, compulsively checking both sites for updates. I worked up the courage to contact Des, and only months later found myself at a fellow survivor’s house in Raleigh, sharing my most intimate secret with her.

It felt amazing! As I drove the three hours home to Charlotte, I cried a little, promising myself that I would never let myself feel ashamed of my suicide attempt again. I wouldn’t lie about it or remain silent when people were making cruel jokes. I would stick up for my fellow survivors.

This is much easier said than done, of course. When Des contacted me to let me know she would be publishing my portrait, I totally freaked. I walked around in a daze, my
stomach in knots, wondering how my parents would react, what my peers would say, and if professors and mentors would disapprove. Would people who didn’t know about my attempt treat me differently? What if future employers did internet searches, found it and decided they couldn’t hire a social worker with a history of mental illness?

I posted a link to it on Facebook the day it came out, and my phone was lit up all afternoon with notifications. I received over 40 comments and nearly 100 likes! More meaningful than that were the personal messages from childhood friends and classmates, thanking me for sharing and describing their own experiences with depression and suicide. Suddenly I began to feel less powerless and ashamed of my actions. I didn’t wonder whether potential employers would throw out my resume when they saw my portrait or whether my classmates would say things behind my back. All I felt was warmth and strength and love.

So, feeling a little gutsy, I began to tell more and more people about my attempt. It’s not
something I bring up with strangers at parties, but when the moment arises, I seize it. I have yet to have someone react negatively (at least not to my face) to my sharing. Sometimes people cry unexpectedly. Sometimes they stare blankly back at me, unsure of what to say to something so personal. But they are always glad I told them, and I haven’t once regretted it.

I never believed things could be different; but they are, and I am so glad I survived. It’s not as though each morning I wake up absolutely enthralled by my many responsibilities, chores and challenges. I do have hope, though, and I cherish the intimate relationships I have with friends and family more than I could have ever imagined. I have found strength and resilience within myself, a force which fuels my love of life and desire to help those in need. I am no longer ashamed, and I have found new meaning and purpose. And while I know things will not always go as planned, I have such hope for the future.

I dream of the day when suicide attempt survivors are widely sought out and consulted with regarding prevention and awareness efforts. I imagine a day in the not-so-distant future when our support groups will be as common as AA meetings. When a hospital’s follow up protocol will be more than an appointment card and a weak smile, and when attempt survivors will be showered with casseroles and flower bouquets for weeks afterward. When I won’t be the only one wearing the green “I have personally struggled with suicide” beads at an AFSP walk, and when we fellow survivors will hold on tightly to each other, crying tears of joy and relishing the power of our collective strength.

It may seem like a long way off from where we are now, but I know it’s coming because I intend to dedicate my life to the awesome work already begun by our peers. And when you’re ready, Survivor, I hope you’ll join us, too.

6 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Thank you, thank you. I am 11 months beyond my attempt and still struggling greatly to process and make sense of what has happened. I have found speaking publicly about it has gifted me with a bit of strength. The best and most helpful resources I have found are Cara Anna’s sites.
    I am thankful you are here to carry forward with your very important work. All my best, Jessica

    Reply

  2. Thank you Emily for your heartfelt and very well written post. I feel this is much needed in our society. Please keep speaking out and sharing your experience… who knows how many lives will be saved and enriched by your heart! Much love to you!

    Reply

  3. Emily,

    Every word you wrote could have been coming from my own mouth. My goal for 2014 is to finally share my own story; I’m proud of the struggles I’ve been through, and I know that my chronic depression is just that – an illness, as real as those whose conditions may demonstrate more visible symptoms.

    Do you have a Twitter? I’d love to follow along with what you’re doing, thinking, working on to fight the stigma.

    Hugs to you and Jessica (above),

    Kristin

    Reply

  4. Emily,

    I always look forward to the enlightening posts from this blog and yours is one that gives others so much hope. I am very glad you survived and are such a powerful advocate to help others have hope and let them know there is help and hope for them as well.

    I believe our personal stories are the most powerful way to educate about suicide and I am thrilled this blog started up giving all attempt survivors and those with suicidal thinking a safe place to come together, support one another and have a much needed voice in suicide prevention. I am bereaved by suicide, used to refer to myself as a suicide loss survivor, but after reading an outstanding post here on this blog that educated truly the only ones who should be using that term “survivor” when it comes to suicide is those who have survived an attempt. I have a special soft spot for all attempt survivors and even though I lost my husband Rob to suicide in Dec. 2000, I have always known we all can learn the most from those who have actually experienced being suicidal when it comes to “prevention”.

    It’s wonderful stories like yours and many others who share so openly on this blog that help educate on what suicide is and isn’t. I’m glad you connected with Dese’rae and are being featured in her project. I share posts from this blog all the time on my FB page “Suicide Shatters” which is comprised of those bereaved by suicide, attempt survivors, those with suicidal thinking and also those living with mental illness. I’ve scheduled this inspiring post to share with my members today at 6pm. I always encourage all members to read this, not only our attempt survivor members – for we all can learn so much from one another.

    Reply

  5. Thank you for your message of hope, Emily. As a fellow attempt survivor who helps run a group in San Francisco, I’m also looking forward to the day when our groups and voices are everywhere. I don’t want anyone who has lived experience of having attempted suicide or having had the desire to die to feel isolated and alone. When people like you share their experiences, that helps break the silence and stigma. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and courage.

    Reply

  6. This blew me away, thank you. I resonated with almost everything you said. I notice how much my relationship with myself and my attempt is changing over time, but also over sharing my story. It’s been almost two years since I attempted and until now I’ve shared it anonymously on my blog but now I’m beginning to tell it online, with my name attached, too. This, with more time between me and the attempt, has brought a newer, more confident, feeling in myself towards the fact it happened and where I find myself now. Writing those words I still shiver and squirm, because I don’t feel quite ‘there’ yet but I definitely definitely notice that my ability to advocate for myself, and have a voice of strength, rather than fear and terror and shame and a lack of confidence, is growing and growing. I feel blessed to have platforms on which to do this, and begin my journey with spreading awareness, telling my story, and bringing about social (and personal!) change. And breaking down stigmas, of course. Thank you for writing, I appreciate reading your story.

    Reply

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