This week’s post is by Tracey Medeiros, one of the stars of a new video on attempt survivors that’s drawn responses of “amazingly done” and “sharing it far and wide.” It’s been tweeted by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Suicide Prevention Australia and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, among others:
I’m part of the crew for a local cable program called “Voices of Hope,” and it has addressed domestic violence, teen dating violence, bullying and cyberbullying. A few years ago, we began to do more shows about suicide prevention. Typically, I’m the one behind the camera or in the control room. If I shared my lived experience, it was one on one. Until now.
During the Massachusetts state conference for suicide prevention in April, I was excited but nervous. I didn’t expect so many people to come see the new film, “A Voice at the Table.” A number of people were psychologists, psychiatrists and other clinicians. I thought, “Oh, my God! I hope they won’t be offended by what I say in the film!”
How did I get involved with this? I’ve been a member of our local suicide prevention task force for years. Early last year, our coalition director, Annemarie Matulis, announced that she had invited an author and attempt survivor, Craig Miller, to speak. Later, Annemarie asked me to participate in a documentary she was going to produce. She said others needed to hear more about my lived experience as an attempt survivor.
The tapings were nerve-wracking. I hadn’t felt anxiety like that in a long time. I was trying to be this perfect person during the interviews. I mean, I was so perfect and not like myself that they had me do the tapings over. Annemarie and Zak Swain, our director of photography, kept telling me to relax and just be myself. I have to admit that I am rough around the edges, and I was trying so hard not to be that person because I really thought that’s what they wanted. But they just wanted me to be me, attitude and all. We all laughed hysterically.
I currently work as a peer specialist, a person with mental health issues who is in recovery, shares her lived experience and learned coping skills and provides hope and a reason to live for others. My job requires me to attend provider meetings; do crisis intervention several times a week, which might include lots of trips to the emergency room for self-harm/suicidal situations; do lots of documentation; support peers who need to attend 12-step meetings; and assist in running groups and weekly staff meetings.
I also volunteer at a teen center in the Boston suburbs as the youth coordinator. I offer most of the same insight that I use at work, but youth are different. They are much harder to engage. You have to prove that you’re real. Many of the kids that we get are troubled with issues like depression, cutting and suicidal thoughts. The first thing the kids see are my tattoos, and that
opens the door. As they get closer to examine the tats, they realize that under the tattoos, I have scars on my arms. First thing out of their mouth is, “How did you get those?” I did think about not telling them, but if they were asking, I thought they should know, so I share my story: I used to cut myself, but I don’t anymore, so I got some tattoos to try and cover them up.
I share with them and my peers at work that I was abused as a child and began cutting as a coping skill. It was the only way I could ease the emotional pain, not realizing that I had mental health issues. I started cutting to cope at 15, and that turned into suicidal thoughts and actions. I really had no idea what was
happening to me. I felt so hopeless and had no one to turn to. My family was no support and said whatever happened was my fault. So I thought suicide was my only option. I didn’t want to keep feeling that way. I couldn’t control it anymore. This information is shared with the kids carefully, and in a very safe manner and environment. Someone has to convince them that we do understand. It happens to be me.
Now they trust me enough to tell me almost everything, even about simple things like dating. The kids also know that I am a gamer, so we do have a lot in common. They don’t see me as an adult; they see me as their equal. The point that I am trying to make is that they understand me and they know that I understand them. And understanding them is the most important thing they need. They know I don’t judge them.
What I don’t share with the kids, but I do with my peers, is that I attempted suicide five times. It was the last time that I attempted suicide that I realized in shock, “What did I just do?” I actually slept for three days in the hospital and didn’t even know where I was.
And that’s when I started to turn myself around. It wasn’t easy. All I knew was that there had to be something better. I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to die and was battling back and forth with dying and living. I entered a DBT program that did help a little bit. The program taught me to rethink how I think about myself and relearn a lot of different ways to be positive.
Eventually I came off all of my meds, only to find out I had been on the wrong meds and over-medicated. I fired all of my doctors and the therapist.
About seven years ago, I started to experience suicidal thoughts again. It was hard work to get myself out of the pit in the darkness and into the light. I had to dig deep within myself and really ask the question, “Do I want to live?” My answer was, “Yes!”
I had developed a strong friendship 16 years ago with someone who had become a mentor. I owe her my life. She helped me get to a doctor and back into therapy. I swear, when I met with this new doctor and she put me on different medication, I thought it was a miracle drug or something. I was able to balance myself emotionally and use the coping skills I was taught in DBT. I started to be honest with my therapist and my doctor because I know now that if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here today. I wanted help, and they had the key. All I had to do was take it and use it to the best of my ability.
The doctor diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. You can’t imagine the relief to finally know what was wrong with me. Now I can continue to grow and be a positive power of example.
Slowly, it became a little easier to make the right choices and have the right people in my life, positive people, who can show me what it’s like on the happiness side of life. I learn to live my life one day at a time and practice my coping skills each and every day. I also learned that the hardest thing in life for me is to pick up that telephone when I need to talk to someone. These things are key to my life, and I hold them close to my heart. I have learned that talking to someone else who can understand how I feel is the most important thing in my life.
In the last five years, I have taken what I have learned and brought that to my job, the teen center and my personal life. Sharing a part of myself with others has strengthened my desire to live. I want to take what I have learned and use that to help others achieve a productive and happy life. I never again want to feel the way I did.
I would like to see all therapists and doctors who have mental health issues and suicidal thoughts or attempts step out of their darkness into the light – to break the boundaries as professionals and actually say, “Yes, I too have been there and know exactly how you feel.” We need them to begin to share their lived experience and not just what they learned in school and in books. I remember once thinking to myself while speaking with a therapist, “What do you know? How do you know how I feel? This is just a job for you.” I remember those words, and I am glad today to be a peer specialist and be able to come out and say, “Yes, I do know how you feel.”
Try it! You may save a life. I wish that I had a peer specialist before I attempted suicide.
Being part of the film “A Voice at the Table,” and part of the attempt survivor movement, means everything to me. Telling my story is so important to me because I don’t want anyone to feel that despair and hopelessness that I felt for so many years, thinking that there was no one to talk to who understood how I felt and hearing people say, “Just get over it.”
I’m here to say that it just doesn’t work like that. I want others to hear my story, and I hope that more of us out there will step up, too. We do know how you feel, because we really have been there. I had to come to believe that I matter in life, and I want others to know that they matter, too.