This week’s post is by Karen Neumair, a literary agent and mom who describes herself as “a lover of God and a lover of words, especially when those two things come together.”
“You need to recognize that depression comes as the result of a failure in self-control and self-discipline. … Depression comes when we fail to handle the blues, the disappointment, the perplexity, the guilt, or the physical affliction God’s way.”
I read the ancient 1970s pamphlet over and over as I sat across from a lay Christian counselor I had met just a few minutes earlier. I was speechless.
Welcome to a new group of readers who found this blog after The Associated Press published a long story over the weekend on attempt survivors and the trend in speaking out. “We’re not that fragile,” one woman told the reporter. “We have to figure out how to talk about it, rather than avoiding it.”
The story has gone all over. It showed up on the sites of The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, and elsewhere. Responses so far have been wonderful and strong. “One myth that needs to be laid to rest: People do not attempt or commit suicide because they are cowards. They do it because they are hurting,” one woman commented on the AP’s Facebook page.
A note to the media: Interested in pursuing your own story on this, or including those with thoughts or actions of suicide when reporting on suicide? Let us know. We can talk about what is, as the AP story notes, a serious public health issue _ and we want to.
Before handing off this week’s post to Sabrina Strong, the outspoken founder of the Waking Up Alive crisis respite house in New Mexico, two quick notes.
First, PsychCentral blogger Sandra Kiume kindly posted last week about this site, saying, “If you want to keep up with the cutting edge of suicide prevention, this is truly it.” And for those of you who are interested in pursuing support groups for attempt survivors in your areas, the National Empowerment Center is organizing an online presentation this month by a peer-run group in Massachusetts. Space is limited, but they can fit 500 people. You can sign up here. And now, here’s Sabrina:
I don’t remember the exact date I tried to kill myself, but I know it happened right around this time of year. Spring was on its way, and I was determined not to make it to my 27th birthday. That was eight years ago.
I asked Jack Gorman to consider writing a post after I noticed a comment he left a few weeks ago identifying himself as a former psychiatrist who had treated many suicidal patients. “One of the many things I learned is that I never knew what it was like to be suicidal until it happened to me,” he wrote. “No clinician can possibly know exactly what that depth of hopelessness is like.”
Gorman came across this site while doing volunteer work with a suicide prevention organization in New York, where he lives. “I decided to share my story because my recovery involves trying to make amends for the many errors I made, and this includes being open to telling what I did, if it can be helpful to another person,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It is not, of course, easy for me and I am wary of the consequences of being public, but I think it is the right thing to do.”
The push to give suicide attempt survivors more of a voice might actually be working.
While the Live Through This portrait project takes off with mentions by Brain Pickings, PostSecret and Upworthy, one national suicide prevention group has pointed out the trend and asked for more.
“Two examples of efforts to provide forums for survivors of suicide attempts are Live Through This and What Happens Now?” Suicide Prevention Resource Center director Jerry Reed wrote earlier this month. “We need to expand efforts to encourage and support attempt survivors in bringing their expertise to the struggle against suicide,” including through peer support networks.
That call for more peer support _ for more people who’ve had suicidal thoughts or actions using that experience to help others _is more significant than you might think. Here’s why: The suicide prevention and mental health fields already have plenty of peers, many more than we know. Many of them just don’t feel comfortable identifying themselves.
Stigma? Among the very people who should know better? Oh, yes.
A quick note to begin: This blog was part of a live segment by The Huffington Post last week, along with three attempt survivors and a handful of sites on the topic. You can watch it here and explore the resources linked under the video.
This week’s story is about someone who worked for years in suicide prevention, knew and preached the coping skills and still ended up trying to kill herself. Natalie De Stefano wrote to us last month, and her story leapt off the page.
Imagine having a migraine, or living on the brink of one, for 20 years. And finding no medications that help. And being told, “Hang on ’til after menopause.” Natalie tried. As she counseled suicidal veterans as a case manager, she wore sunglasses and kept her pills nearby. She loves her work, And then last year, the pain got worse. She began having migraines every day, with nausea and vomiting. After her attempt, she was in a coma for more than a week. She woke up angry.
Morning in Toronto. Barb Hildebrand gets up, feeds the dog, has coffee and sits down to another full day of talking about suicide and mental illness online. Many who lose someone to suicide want to turn the experience into something meaningful. Barb lost her husband, Rob, over Christmas in 2000. Eleven years later, she created the Facebook page Suicide Shatters and turned it into the rare space where attempt survivors, loss survivors and those with mental illness mingle. On Feb. 27, she reached 10,000 members.
What began as a few random posts has taken over her life and become her passion.
Before turning today’s post over to contributor GC, who writes forcefully but anonymously because of family concerns, here’s an example of how some of us are taking the silence around suicide and shoving it aside.
Last week, I walked into a Brooklyn bar where several people who had attempted suicide had gathered to celebrate a unique project, Live Through This. New York photographer Dese’Rae Stage is taking a series of portraits of attempt survivors just moments after they tell her their stories, and now she’s raising money to take the project national and visit other cities. There’s no anonymity. Everyone shares their real names. One person involved is Kevin Hines, who’s well-known for speaking publicly about his attempt and recovery. In his portrait, he looks totally at ease, smiling.
Other beautiful portraits lined the walls of the candlelit bar, and in the young, impossibly cool crowd I could barely pick out Dese’Rae’s mingling subjects from anyone else.
Before handing today’s post to Craig Miller, a quick thank you to the group To Write Love on Her Arms, which wrote about us last week and sent our page views jumping _ almost 3,000 in two days’ time. We’ve now been online for a month, and we hope more groups will include this site in their resources.
Craig self-published his memoir, “This is How it Feels: Attempting suicide and finding life,” last year and has just started speaking publicly about his story. He says the biggest question he gets is, “How did you overcome your issues?” He’ll be writing about that here in future posts. And he’ll be speaking at the Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Conference on April 2-3. That’s sure to be a far bigger audience than for his first speech in a small town in western Massachusetts, where he faced a modest crowd of three.
I don’t remember how long it was after my suicide attempt that I knew I wanted to live. It wasn’t immediate, I know that. I didn’t wake up in the intensive care unit, fill my lungs with oxygen from a plastic tube and think, “Thank God I’m alive.” What came to me first was that I didn’t want to die. And as a person who has lived nearly 20 years of struggling with suicidal thoughts, I can tell you that there is a very big difference between not wanting to die and wanting to live.
For a person who’s tried to kill himself and is trying to understand what happened, there’s no awkwardness like Googling “suicide survivor support group” and walking into a room full of the bereaved.