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‘I survived, and he didn’t’

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Not too long ago, Harry Miree sat down in front of a camera and opened his journal. It’s best to watch his video before reading further.

Harry was pleasantly surprised to learn about this growing movement of “out” attempt survivors. “It’s like the past seven years, this entire universe has been contained in my own head,” he said in a recent phone call. “It’s such a ‘don’t talk about it’ kind of thing. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The first experience I wrote about took place in 2007. I sort of went through a personal suicide journey, then spent a couple years finding my way out of those woods. I stabilized and have been living a totally different life. Then my cousin, who I had not been in close contact with lately, I found out he shot himself. I didn’t see that coming.

There I was, back at the exact same hospital, the same floor, same ward. I survived, and he didn’t. I saw the visitors’ side of that experience. Man, the room was just full of people asking the same questions, the classic questions from people who just want to understand: Did he say anything to you? Did you see the signs?

It occurred to me, this was the first moment in my life that my own experience could really be an eye-opener. A less obvious angle for people to consider, for thinking about the anguish that we shouldn’t take on our own shoulders. Because suicide is such a personal journey.

How are you doing? It’s only been a month.

My biggest concern was for the people who wanted answers. If this is what my cousin wanted, it makes me sad in a deeper way. I know in that moment it doesn’t seem like there’s any other way. That’s the nature of that moment. I was sad that there could have been a better way. He didn’t end up with the opportunity to see that.

But my immediate concern was for the people around him who were very confused about it, wanting to blame someone or something.

Personally, the only thing that freaked me out was that I wasn’t freaked out. But I spent a lot of time in this psychological territory. This was familiar in a lot of ways.

How did you go about speaking up? Did you start there in the hospital?

Yeah, there’s a human tendency for everybody to want to show up and say, “You know, my goldfish died one time, I know how you feel.” That’s unfair, but everyone is in a big hurry to share their views and wisdom. I wanted his family to not necessarily be inundated with a lot of platitudes. It’s not that it’s a total waste of time for people to say things that are comforting. In a dark way, you turn into a bit of a celebrity you don’t want to be when a kid dies, a brother dies. Everyone is vying for attention, saying how God will get you through this, a wide spectrum of beliefs.

Honestly, at the time it was most important for me to be quiet, be present. If someone was thirsty, to bring water. For people who hadn’t eaten in hours, to at least bring some bagels in there. You know what I mean? The presence, you’ve communicated enough by being there.

How have people responded to your message?

I asked my parents what they were thinking. My dad was especially confused, that my cousin had made some mistake, his brain was obscured by drugs or something. That was the moment I realized that “Wow, I might have a perspective to throw into people’s consciousness.” I didn’t really say it right then, but at the moment I realized that if I can deliver this message in a heartfelt way and not be forceful to anybody … It’s important not to get into anybody’s face and tell them how to think.

“Wow, people are really asking for someone to speak about this right now.” I went home and just rolled around in my room the next three days. It was a very private, quiet thing, my experience. Almost no one in my life knew it had happened. I’m sort of this happy-go-lucky guy, the last person people expect this to happen to.

It was important not to make any of this about me. And yet, I had a message I wanted to spread to people. And this absolutely was the time for this message to come out. My cousin’s not the only one. This stuff is happening everywhere. I thought it would maybe have some sort of ongoing relevance. This is really not a rare thing at all.

On one hand, this could bring some comfort to the family. On the other, this could be super-insulting and maybe damaging to my own reputation and my family’s reputation. Like you said, it’s a coming-out sort of thing. It changes the way people see you. I had a cognitive dissonance about that for a couple days.

The day I made that decision, it was clear as day to me. I think any message worth conveying, yeah, it’s gonna have those sharp edges. It won’t be something people pass over. We are gonna get an intense reaction. I think it’s the most important thing I could have done that day.

In that moment, I didn’t care what it would do to my reputation and my family’s reputation. It wasn’t add my issue, or even my cousin’s issue, but for humankind.

And you just sat down and did it?

That hospital, just being in that place, immediately triggered memories. It was sort of a two-step process. One, I dug up my journal and read it. Even reading it on its own, it was like a description of what it might have been like for my cousin if he had been conscious. And I was like, I really don’t have to say anything separately. I could just read what I wrote in 2007 and what I wrote in February, just say the exact words into the camera. Yeah, that’s all that happened.

I woke up Monday at 11 and put that out on Monday night. I was done shooting by 3. I chopped it together for no dead space. As you can tell now, it takes me forever to get my sentences out.

What really took a long time was seven years of dwelling on those experiences. And those three days of itching about it.

There are two really striking thoughts in the video, about wanting someone to notice what’s going on and then not wanting anyone to notice.

I think a lot of us, once we’re really committed … I think there are phases. As I said, I would hate to force anything. This whole thing is just sort of what it felt like for me, and if there are any parallels with what anyone else feels, great.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, there are two possible states of being in the suicidal mind. There’s one, like, where you’re thinking that way and don’t want to think that way and just want some kind of salvation, a person to rely on or something to hold on to. Then the second phase, locking in: “This is what I want.” It sort of becomes essential to the mission that you not imply what’s going on. If people had the idea that anybody was about to kill themselves, they would go to great lengths. I was afraid that if anyone found out they’ll put me in a straitjacket, a padded room, and give me drugs so I’m not me anymore. In a pretty horrible way, that means you’re really careful in that state about not leaving clues.

But yeah, I totally understand the sentiment. I don’t want to say it too dramatically, because I don’t feel suicidal at all these days, but I still, even to this day, know the feeling of not wanting to be in anybody’s way but really wishing that something about me would make someone ask, “Hey, what’s the deal with that?”

I know a lot of people have a hard time. Some things are just really hard. If you’re struggling, it’s hard to come to somebody else. That move feels like a bigger boulder than it is ultimately. But “Hey, can you stop everything you’re doing right now and talk to me?” That’s hard to do for someone struggling.

I remember the day. One of the last things I did was go to the house of a person who was pretty central in my life, hoping he would react in a way to do something to save my life. But the newspaper was up in his face. He knew it was me. He knew I was bringing something. I put it on the counter, but he was in his own place. “Thanks. You can put it on the counter.” I was like, “Man, there’s no connection here.” Then I went and took the pills.

I do feel a heightened sensitivity that every single human being we encounter, no matter how stoic they seem, they have feelings and are thinking something right then. Not everyone can access everyone all the time. Maybe what I like about thinking this way is, it doesn’t require political change or medical or psychiatric breakthroughs. It’s just something everyone can think about all the time and make a difference. On a level, anyone can be really hard to fully understand. We could just be constantly revolutionizing other people’s day by showing the desire to be in tune with how they’re feeling. It has an effect on how people are feeling. You throw it out and not get anything back sometimes.

It does a lot for me to shake someone’s hand or ask somebody what’s on their mind. I think people seem shocked by that sometimes. A lot of us are in a day-to-day grind where we’re designed to talk about the business or weather. I’m not saying do a psych intervention with everyone, but warmth goes a long way. The best thing you can do with people is interact with them and spread it around. I try to keep that with me all the time.

Who else are you?

I’m a touring drummer. I live in Nashville, where all country singers set up their home base. I’m on buses and airplanes and sometimes vans. That’s all I do every day. I wake up and play drums.

The video’s being seen by more people than you might have expected. Surely your family has seen it.

That was the whole debate with myself. The moment I decided, it wasn’t reluctantly. This is part of my identity. If anything, this gives who I am some significance other than being able to put a roof over my head and eating and sleeping. So yeah, I embrace that.

I did wonder, of course, my parents especially. They’re kind of well-to-do Southern culture, where it’s important to see and be seen at church every Sunday. I had respect at least for the notion that this is not what they would have wanted, but I think it just, the immediate response, it’s been though a number of concentric circles. First immediate friends, then my cousin’s family. and then it kind of spread to outer and outer circles.

At this point, people seeing it are people like yourself, who I’ve never met. You’re right, more than I could have imagined. But that makes me … a very fulfilling feeling, that it means something beyond my cousin’s family or friends. It seems to have meaning to a world full of people. Yeah, the sky’s the limit.

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8 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Thank you for this. I think you did an incredible job explaining what you went through. Please keep sharing, your voice is so needed.
    My son lost his life to mental illness and then suicide Nov. 15,2012. I have gotten help with the grief but still deal with guilt at times. I have visited a couple families after their loss from suicide. I wonder if I might burn this to a disc and give it to the families for later viewing? Would that be ok? I have never tried this off youtube, I don’t even know if that’s possible.
    This video helped. I am so glad you made it, and that you are doing well now!
    Do whatever you need to take care of yourself from here on out please.
    Love,
    Seth’s mom

    Reply

  2. Harry, thank you. Your words and your presence as you spoke have touched me deeply.
    Helen (Clay’s mom)

    Reply

  3. I am also an attempt survivor and can identify with much you wrote here. About there being two “states of being”. I was also one who did everything I could to assure no one knew what I was feeling and doing when I attempted. I didn’t want to be “found out” and have someone ruin my plan to finally find the peace I was missing for so long.

    Now writing and discussing it gives me a different kind of peace. And reading your story did this for me, too. I think the more we talk/write/BE, the less stigma becomes such a barrier for people like us to find ways to survive.

    Thank you so much for sharing this part of yourself with us. I am glad you are here.

    – Christine

    Reply

  4. Thank you for sharing. I am also feeling compelled to “come out”, but, like you, I do not want it to “be about me”. I just want to help others and help eliminate the stigma. Stay healthy!

    Reply

  5. Thank you for the video and the comments you shared. Both as a fellow attempt survivor and one who keeps it hidden most of the time (I have a counselor who knows and told me about the new voices rising up of survivors) it is giving me some hope to hear from others who made it through.

    Tonight I wanted to go and see a new documentary on suicide survivors (4 sisters) to see if there was some way to lessen the impact on my family if I do go through with it some day (I am safe) but I was worried that people I know who would be there and realize I was so close to attempting again.

    Your video really captured how this is so totally just about me and yet the impact is so deep to those around us. Hopefully one day if I end up being less hopeless I too will come out with a survivor story also.

    Reply

  6. Wow. Anyone who can talk that eloquently that fast must be on drugs, even if it is just endorphins. Anyway, thank you. I’ve been thinking over whether or not I could possibly be of help to other people and it seems that the answer to that is yes and no. Thanks for telling me there is nothing I can really do except to be there and pay attention. Essentially I am powerless over other people, places and things and for my own mental health, as well as theirs, it is best that I remember that. Good luck to you, whatever you decide to do next.

    Reply

  7. I lost my 16 year old daughter to suicide 15years ago and needed to hear you say : it’s not your fault. Of all the stories I read yours most spoke to me..thank you

    Reply

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