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.