This week’s essay is by Megan Cotrell, a 23-year-old who works for two crisis hotlines in Ohio, is a field advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and is applying to graduate school with the goal of being an advocate in the public policy field. “I’m really inspired by so many people sharing their experiences,” she writes.
First, quite a bit of news, starting with this change of heart by a psychologist who recently wondered whether disclosing was harmful for attempt survivors. Now he sees “a potential bonanza of therapeutic benefit.” Here are powerful new pieces by Leah Harris and Dese’Rae Stage. Sue Martin brings a strong new voice to the Veterans Administration. And Marie Claire Australia’s new issue has a beautiful story about attempt survivors that mentions this site, though it’s not available online.
Finally, anyone with interest in support groups for attempt survivors should check out this webinar tomorrow via the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It features a pioneering program, Skills for Safer Living.
“When communication is cut off, we all suffer. When no one listens to us or understands us, we become like a bomb ready to explode.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)
I didn’t always feel unheard, not that I can remember. When I think back on it now, though, I don’t seem to remember a lot. I have been depressed for about as long as I can remember, and, back then, it seems like no one ever seemed to notice. Or maybe they didn’t know what they were looking at.
In my family, children were supposed to be seen and not heard. This wasn’t to be cruel, it was respect for our elders, but of course to a teen with low self-esteem and an absent sense of self-worth, the lesson was that problems were not to be discussed. Even when I had real issues _ someone was bullying me; I was bullying someone else; my boyfriend cheated on me _ I was too young to have problems. So I moved 100 miles away to go to college and find myself, make new friends.
After feeling depressed and invaluable for so long, you train yourself to believe that you truly are not valuable and you can only see the darker side of things.
Eventually, that’s all you can remember. So that’s how I went to school, terrified and disempowered, holding on to the few close friends that I had (who had moved elsewhere for college). By the end of the first 10 weeks, I was exhausted and lonely. I fell out of touch with almost everyone and was trying to maintain a GPA high enough for me to keep the scholarship that had gotten me to school in the first place.
I hadn’t managed to make any friends. It was all I could do to drag myself to just a few of my classes those last couple of weeks, choosing to sleep through the rest.
On December 7, 2009, I turned 19 and the people on my floor got me out of bed, gave me balloons and went out to dinner with me.
Feeling so bad for so long must also teach you how to put on a very convincing mask.
The next night I wrote on my blog: “I am going to kill myself tonight.” I tried to overdose that night but woke up the next morning, feeling sick and uncertain.
The following day I received hurtful news from a longtime friend, and it was the last straw. The last time I would be rejected. All I wanted was to feel like I had some control of my life. I needed to get out of there, away from everything.
I wrote on my blog a second time: “Tonight, it will work.” I tried to overdose that night and lay down on my dorm room bed. I woke up sick, and my roommate found me on the bathroom floor. She asked me what had happened, and I spoke.
We called the police for transport. First, a young male cop showed up and started to crack jokes (while I’m vomiting and we’re both crying): “Ohhh, you tried to hurt yourself, huh?” We waited for a few minutes, and a second police car showed up. A female cop brought me over to her car, pushed me up against it and began searching me, my bag: “Do you have any weapons, any drugs?”
I just wanted help.
An ambulance pulled into the parking lot and pulled up next to the police car. They transferred me over. My roommate could not come. It was like I was floating outside of my body watching all of these horrible things happen.
I just wanted help.
This is the moment when everything became real: The two men in the ambulance looked at me with such sadness. They started to hook me up to fluids and get my information. One of the men repeated it all back to the dispatcher: “19-year-old female, attempted suicide.” He looked up at me and said, “Megan, you just turned 19.”
I spent nine days in the psychiatric unit, and I didn’t have to deal with my reality. That is, until I went back to my parents’ house for the remainder of Christmas break. Things were back to bad. No one really wanted to talk about what had happened. My brother wrote me a letter full of anger and sadness. My friends held an “intervention” to tell me never to do anything like that again. I spent the whole time defending myself and comforting others, feeling guilty and angry. I still felt out of control.
But this time, I decided to speak up.
I was so tired of feeling like a pawn in my own life. I went back to school, called a meeting with all of my roommates and told them what had happened. I asked them to be a support for me and make sure to say something if I started to show signs again. I met a great friend out of that experience and began to learn that it was okay to talk about my experiences.
Slowly, I began to realize that I never want anyone to have to go through what I did.
It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy, there were days that I wished for relief, but with time, I began to feel worthwhile.
After graduating, I realized that my passion is in saving lives. I work for two crisis hotlines and provide suicide prevention education to youth in the classroom.
I have felt valuable as a person with lived experience working in the suicide prevention field, and I am lucky. There is still an incredible amount of work to be done.
There is more to this story, to all of our stories, and our voices should be heard.
Please continue to share your stories. Please do everything you can to be brave and stand up for yourself and ask for support when you need it. We are all valuable.