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‘It was no longer whispers’

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This week’s post is by a young Canadian named Alicia Raimundo, one of a very small number of people who regularly get on stage and speak openly about their experiences with attempted suicide and suicidal thinking. She’s just one of two people we know who’ve done TED-related talks about it. Hers is worth watching, and so is JD Schramm’s. While Schramm’s story is more personal, Alicia takes a broader approach.

Alicia’s 23, and she started battling depression, anxiety and suicidal thinking a decade ago. She’s been one of the Faces of Mental Illness, a national media campaign in Canada, and she works with the organization Your Life Counts. She asked that we link to her Twitter account so people can reach out with questions.

In the future, we’re going to explore not only how attempt survivors can make the transition to public speaking _ here are a few guidelines _ but also how we can make the move to simply talking about it at all.

Here’s Alicia:

Let me show you how the world is changing. When I started speaking, it was to a student life center at the University of Waterloo. When I said the word “suicide,” you could hear a pin drop. People afterward hugged me and told me how brave I was, and how they “would have never known.” It was clear to me that speaking out about my dealings with suicide would be almost therapy for me. It made it real. It made it something that would help me accept who I am. Embracing every part of me instead of hiding it away in the shadows.

As time passed, and speaking engagements came and went, I saw the world changing. At first, I started to hear stories of others, hushed in brief sound bites, almost as if they did not want to believe they were real. Soon after came people giving me their entire life stories, some hoping for an answer, others just looking for an outlet. As my speaking career grew, I grew with it. I learnt more about mental health, took suicide prevention courses like ASIST and QPR, and made sure the messages I was sharing were a good mix of truth and positivity to inspire others that recovery was possible. As I became stronger and shared more, my audience also became stronger. They started sharing stories in public places with others around. It was no longer whispers. It was slowly turning into the kind of conversations we hear about breast cancer. It was becoming accepted.

It’s a great thing, seeing the world change. My biggest speaking accomplishment to date would be my TEDxWaterloo speech last March. It was the clearest indication that the world is changing. I was a nervous wreck, so scared that the audience would be turned off by a message they don’t hear very often. But they weren’t. I was the first person that night to get a standing ovation. I had audience members tell me that if it wasn’t for hearing me speak, they would probably have continued their plan to die by suicide. I shook hands with those who had lost others to suicide. People who were waiting to speak to me started conversations with strangers about how to change the state of mental health.  It was beautiful and magical. The conversation was happening, and not because of a serial killer or a prominent suicide. It was happening because people wanted it to.

I started speaking in 2010, with people thinking it was absolutely crazy for me to share a story about suicide. I had employers tell me they would not have hired me if they knew I had been suicidal 10 years prior. I had family tell me what I was doing was wrong, and people insisting my story wasn’t “right” and countless people, including journalists, asking me, “So why do crazy people kill people?”

But I am seeing the world change. The negative voices are there, but slowly they are being overpowered by the positive ones. They are telling me it’s absolutely crazy to not share my story. They are telling me how my simple act of sharing my story of recovery with social media has inspired them to get help, to reach out to a loved one, or to share their own story. Our voices are getting louder. We are getting stronger. And stigma … well, it’s getting weaker too. We have a lot of work to do, but every time we share a story, we show the world that suicide doesn’t have a face, a name or a characteristic. It can and does affect almost anyone.

We are having conversations around suicide in the media because we should talk about it. Not because someone died, or someone did something violent. But because we know it’s an issue that, with all of our brilliance, we can start to overcome.

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