#todayistandup is a new series of selfies by attempt survivors on Instagram, thanks to Dese’Rae Stage of Live Through This. Dozens so far. Who’s next? And now …
This week’s essay is by Melanie Gibson. “I am a 43-year-old mom, wife of a soldier, homemaker, athlete and a suicide attempt survivor,” she writes. “I have served my country as a soldier and been a real estate agent, a barista and a single mom. A suicide attempt is what I did, but it is not who I am.”
In life it is not just about who we are, where we’ve been and what we’ve done, but more about the people who come into our lives to help shape us. They come in, and we can be changed for the better. One of my favorite musicals, “Wicked,” put it like this:
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you …
Before my suicide attempt in March 2011, I would consider myself friendly and outgoing. After that night, I did not allow myself to make friends, for fear they would learn my secret, that I had overdosed. At that point, it wasn’t that I had lived to tell my story, but that I had lived and was cloaked in shame.
I had grown up in a house where threats of suicide were commonplace. From my youth and into adulthood, there were always threats of “I’m going to the beach,” which I translated to mean she wanted to leave the house and her responsibilities, not to die. When my dad passed away in 1984, the threats increased, and it created a larger gap in our relationship. I moved away in 1988 to join the Army, start my own life and move away from the drama. After the Army, I came back home and became pregnant. In 1992, I had my son and remained a single parent until I married Doug in 2003.
One thing that had pushed me for years was not becoming like the person who had raised me. Overdosing that night, with the weight of my failures on my shoulders, I decided I would not just throw empty threats out again but end my hurt.
I had no idea the day I met Kerry that so many things would change. She became my friend first, and then my confidant. The day we met in Waikiki, we realized we both shared a love for “Wicked,” and we became fast friends. A few months later, I saw a post about her stepson having committed suicide, and that day would have been his 21st birthday. She was going to do an American Foundation for Suicide Prevention walk here on Oahu. I had no idea what that would entail, but I felt an even closer bond to her when I read that, thinking maybe this person can understand me, maybe she is in my life for a bigger reason. So I decided to do the walk, and when she was forming a committee, I signed up. The walk was one of the first steps in setting up an AFSP chapter on the Hawaiian Islands.
I sent Kerry a text and shared with her about my overdose. Doug and I had gone out to dinner, and I remember sitting at the Dixie Grill and wondering if I could hit the “send” button. I finally did send it, and she assured me that if I needed to or wanted to share my story, she would be by my side. I postponed meeting with her a few times out of fear, but eventually I sat down with her and shared my story. Kerry and her husband, Boz, were the first new friends I had felt okay to open up to about my suicide attempt.
The gravity of sharing such a dark secret was not something that I was taking for granted. Every part of me wanted to get up and run from the table. For me, I had so much shame from overdosing, not just for me, but for my husband. If his coworkers found out, how would he be judged? Furthermore, if his chain of command found out that I had attempted to take my life, how would that affect him? The military lifestyle is like living in a small town. Everyone knows your business, but some things can hurt your career, not just your feelings.
Although my husband’s command is still not aware of the circumstances, I’m no longer afraid to share my story or my struggles. Suicide is not a stranger to service members.
From the moment I first shared with Kerry what I had done, she has only shown love and support. I recall at one point, with tears in my eyes, Boz got up from the table, and I could see Kerry displeased, like, “What is this man doing?” He went to get me a box of tissues. In that moment, I knew her first concern was for me to feel accepted, loved and supported.
I think that finding a support system or friend after a suicide attempt is paramount to healing. One thing I know for certain is that having met her, allowing myself to be open to sharing my story, knowing I have a friend to hold my hand as I walk through this new chapter, I know I have found a friend for life.
I feel she has brought so much into my life over the last six months, and I struggle with the weight of being able to repay a debt so enormous. To have the freedom to unburden my soul seems like a priceless gift that cannot be repaid, but I think she sees her payment in my growth. I hope she will always know that I would do the same for her anytime. She certainly has left her handprint on my heart, and I am changed for the better.
Although I know she has seen the changes in me, I don’t know if I can ever express in words just what her friendship means to me. Having spent nearly three years after my overdose isolating myself, to have someone like Kerry come along and let me know its gonna be okay, and that she’ll be with me in this journey, is priceless. Kerry has helped me grow.
To my beautiful friend, inside and out …
Because I knew you … I have been changed for good …