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‘You train yourself to believe’

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This week’s essay is by Megan Cotrell, a 23-year-old who works for two crisis hotlines in Ohio, is a field advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and is applying to graduate school with the goal of being an advocate in the public policy field. “I’m really inspired by so many people sharing their experiences,” she writes.

First, quite a bit of news, starting with this change of heart by a psychologist who recently wondered whether disclosing was harmful for attempt survivors. Now he sees “a potential bonanza of therapeutic benefit.” Here are powerful new pieces by Leah Harris and Dese’Rae Stage. Sue Martin brings a strong new voice to the Veterans Administration. And Marie Claire Australia’s new issue has a beautiful story about attempt survivors that mentions this site, though it’s not available online.

Finally, anyone with interest in support groups for attempt survivors should check out this webinar tomorrow via the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It features a pioneering program, Skills for Safer Living.

Here’s Megan:

“When communication is cut off, we all suffer. When no one listens to us or understands us, we become like a bomb ready to explode.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)

I didn’t always feel unheard, not that I can remember. When I think back on it now, though, I don’t seem to remember a lot. I have been depressed for about as long as I can remember, and, back then, it seems like no one ever seemed to notice. Or maybe they didn’t know what they were looking at.

In my family, children were supposed to be seen and not heard. This wasn’t to be cruel, it was respect for our elders, but of course to a teen with low self-esteem and an absent sense of self-worth, the lesson was that problems were not to be discussed. Even when I had real issues _ someone was bullying me; I was bullying someone else; my boyfriend cheated on me _ I was too young to have problems. So I moved 100 miles away to go to college and find myself, make new friends.

After feeling depressed and invaluable for so long, you train yourself to believe that you truly are not valuable and you can only see the darker side of things.

Eventually, that’s all you can remember. So that’s how I went to school, terrified and disempowered, holding on to the few close friends that I had (who had moved elsewhere for college). By the end of the first 10 weeks, I was exhausted and lonely. I fell out of touch with almost everyone and was trying to maintain a GPA high enough for me to keep the scholarship that had gotten me to school in the first place.

I hadn’t managed to make any friends. It was all I could do to drag myself to just a few of my classes those last couple of weeks, choosing to sleep through the rest.

On December 7, 2009, I turned 19 and the people on my floor got me out of bed, gave me balloons and went out to dinner with me.

Feeling so bad for so long must also teach you how to put on a very convincing mask.

The next night I wrote on my blog: “I am going to kill myself tonight.” I tried to overdose that night but woke up the next morning, feeling sick and uncertain.

The following day I received hurtful news from a longtime friend, and it was the last straw. The last time I would be rejected. All I wanted was to feel like I had some control of my life. I needed to get out of there, away from everything.

I wrote on my blog a second time: “Tonight, it will work.” I tried to overdose that night and lay down on my dorm room bed. I woke up sick, and my roommate found me on the bathroom floor. She asked me what had happened, and I spoke.

We called the police for transport. First, a young male cop showed up and started to crack jokes (while I’m vomiting and we’re both crying): “Ohhh, you tried to hurt yourself, huh?” We waited for a few minutes, and a second police car showed up. A female cop brought me over to her car, pushed me up against it and began searching me, my bag: “Do you have any weapons, any drugs?”

I just wanted help.

An ambulance pulled into the parking lot and pulled up next to the police car. They transferred me over. My roommate could not come. It was like I was floating outside of my body watching all of these horrible things happen.

I just wanted help.

This is the moment when everything became real: The two men in the ambulance looked at me with such sadness. They started to hook me up to fluids and get my information. One of the men repeated it all back to the dispatcher: “19-year-old female, attempted suicide.” He looked up at me and said, “Megan, you just turned 19.”

I spent nine days in the psychiatric unit, and I didn’t have to deal with my reality. That is, until I went back to my parents’ house for the remainder of Christmas break. Things were back to bad. No one really wanted to talk about what had happened. My brother wrote me a letter full of anger and sadness. My friends held an “intervention” to tell me never to do anything like that again. I spent the whole time defending myself and comforting others, feeling guilty and angry. I still felt out of control.

But this time, I decided to speak up.

I was so tired of feeling like a pawn in my own life. I went back to school, called a meeting with all of my roommates and told them what had happened. I asked them to be a support for me and make sure to say something if I started to show signs again. I met a great friend out of that experience and began to learn that it was okay to talk about my experiences.

Slowly, I began to realize that I never want anyone to have to go through what I did.

It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy, there were days that I wished for relief, but with time, I began to feel worthwhile.

After graduating, I realized that my passion is in saving lives. I work for two crisis hotlines and provide suicide prevention education to youth in the classroom.

I have felt valuable as a person with lived experience working in the suicide prevention field, and I am lucky. There is still an incredible amount of work to be done.

There is more to this story, to all of our stories, and our voices should be heard.

Please continue to share your stories. Please do everything you can to be brave and stand up for yourself and ask for support when you need it. We are all valuable.

13 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. I sit here and read posts on several websites all by people who are in the suicide survivor and prevention field. And I wonder, how does that happen? What is that story? I feel so disconnected by listening to people who are “plugged in” to the “movement”, while I sit home quietly wondering, what can I do? My skills are not people skills, they are analytical, and I wait for an opening to interject them. But tell me, if you will, about your story, how you became involved in suicide-survivor- prevention. Thanks.

    Reply

    • Mary, after I started to get myself back to a place where I felt okay, I started to remember all of the conversations that people had with me that really weren’t helpful because they had never been there before. It’s hard to hear the perspective of someone who has never felt hopeless and wants to tell you that the world is glowing with happiness and possibility when you feel like that cannot be true. So that’s what sparked me to search for a crisis line where I could volunteer and try to be a voice of hope that wasn’t covered in all of that glitter and gold. I would not necessarily call myself a “people person” either, but I feel driven by the level of understanding that I have for the subject matter.I found that I really liked the work and was lucky to find a paid position where I could work with youth doing something similar. A part of my job is to collect statistics and analyze county-wide suicide information. Have you ever tried to reach out to a coalition or behavioral health facility in your area to see about something in that realm? I hope you find something that speaks to you

      Reply

    • @Mary,

      I’m very analytical and I’ve volunteered in suicide prevention for over four and a half years. Your story and skills would be welcome. People come to volunteer and work in suicide prevention for many reasons. Some are survivors themselves, others have lost someone to suicide. Some, like me, don’t have a personal connection with suicide. I knew I wanted to help people. I continue to do it because it’s incredibly rewarding.

      Reply

  2. I wish I could feel this way, grab some speck of hope from your story, wish I could be a story like yours sometime in the future but I won’t be. I am to tired to even put the mask on that everyone wants to see.
    if i am not a coward today, I will be gone.
    I do not wish this existence on anyone, ever

    Reply

  3. To Does-not-matter – YOU DO MATTER! Please know that you do matter very much. It may not feel like it right now but you do… You matter to me. I know where you are right now. I remember that pain. You WILL make it through this. You just have to hang on – one minute, one hour, one day at a time. Look you already made it through reading this. Even if you have to just lay in bed and stare at the wall – please don’t hurt yourself. You are not a coward – you live with immense pain everyday and that takes strength you may not realize you have. You have it in you to get through this you just may not know it right now. Just reaching out and reading these posts and commenting shows you have want help. I am 37 and have suffered from major depression since I was 15. I have tried to kill myself 6 times most seriously. The last time I was 32. After I took everything I started to feel sick and it made me realize that I didn’t want it this way I didn’t want to be sick and die. i just wanted the pain to end. I didn’t want to DIE – I just wanted to get out of my situation. I wanted to escape but not to die. I called for help. I have not felt suicidal since. Everyone’s story is different. You will find something that you can grab hold of and it will pull you out of this. Just hang on until you do!!! YOU MATTER!

    Reply

  4. I’m a survivor only I’m not sure I want to be I have tried and failed

    Reply

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. I myself am a suicide attempt survivor. In December of 2010 I took 20 sleeping pills and 10-15 anxiety pills because of a domestic violence relationship I was in. Thankfully I survived. I would like to be able to help others who are going through the same.

    Reply

  6. I’m not afraid of death. I don’t know if i can call myself a suicide survivor. I’ve been suicidal for almost all my life. I make plans, I get obsessed with the need to end it, but never tried.

    Reply

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