“I am not going to beat around the bush, my life has not been easy. When I was a child, there were circumstances I could not control which made it hard for me to cope with traumatic events in my environment. I was the child who hid what was going on in my head for fear of being seen as ‘crazy’ or ‘weird.’ I was a kid who acted overly happy, too afraid to reach out for help.
Though my life, on the surface, was perfect, I dealt with my inner demons from a young age.
Those inner demons came to fruition when I had attempted suicide four times before my 22nd birthday. I had no means of coping, so I would hurt myself. The only escape I had from my demons was in literature. I would scour through pages of poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, and their words transported me to a ship with an ancient mariner, or a frolic in never-ending acres of golden daffodils. Their poetry silenced the negative voices in my head and gave me a sense of hope when things looked bleak.
Because life seemed so perfect, July 22, 2018 started off as a normal day. When I woke up that morning, however, I did not think I would attempt suicide later that day. Right before deciding to attempt, I was in Starbucks. An older lady approached me, and we got into a conversation about the significance of my semicolon tattoo on my ankle. She had just moved to my small Louisiana town from Michigan, and her daughter had her own mental health struggles. I lovingly refer to the woman as the ‘angel in Starbucks’ because she gave me a glimmer of hope in the wake of darkness. Though I still ended up going through with the attempt, I still look at that moment as proof there is good in the world.
After my attempt, my aunt found me in my car. I had intentionally forced an allergic reaction, and she called the cops. I was beyond terrified. The cops came, I was transported to the local hospital, and changed into a ‘suicide gown.’ I was more alone that night than I have ever been. I was worried about my study abroad class and its paper, my role as an orientation leader, and the fact that I had failed so many people. I thought the support system I had was going to abandon me because I was ‘crazy.’ I questioned whether or not they were going to love me for the person I was, or if the attempt was going to define me.
I ended up spending a week in the mental hospital after my attempt. The sterile walls and paper-thin scrubs are what I remember most about that experience. The mental hospital was a place of controlled chaos, but I somehow found light when it got dark. Life in that hospital was not pleasant, but it did teach me that I am not alone. Other people in that hospital had similar experiences to mine, and there was an odd sense of belonging and safety among the chaos.
After I got out of the hospital, I felt more alone than I ever had. I questioned how I would tell anyone, who I would tell, and who would be there for me. I was terrified, too, to meet up with the professor of my summer class. When we did meet, I had been out of the mental hospital for a few hours, and I still had my hospital bracelet on. My professor helped me cut off the bracelet, and it felt like I was breaking off the link between myself and the place that had become my safe haven. All of a sudden, I was alone. I was terrified of being alone for extended periods of time, and I sought out stability in people and familiar places.
I had meetings with many people in the weeks after, but the most important one was with my thesis advisor. When we met up, she hugged me, and said, ‘I am so glad you are here to give a hug to.’ I thought she was going to be mad at me for not reaching out to her before I attempted suicide, but all she wanted was to be there. In that meeting, I, through tears, recounted the experience of being in the mental hospital, and she listened. In my most vulnerable moment, she was my saving grace. To this day, she is the ‘mom-tor’ and the woman I most look up to. I am immensely grateful for her presence in my life.
Since attempting suicide, I have learned the value in a chosen family. My ‘blood’ family never really supported me in the ways that members of my chosen family did. When I got out of the hospital, my chosen family were the ones to offer me hugs, support, and even the occasional laugh. I am so spoiled to have so much love in my life, as they love me without obligation and help me when times get rough.
While I still struggle with my mental illness on a daily basis, they are my sunshine in an often-overcast world. It was as if I realized I had a whole network of surrogate aunts, uncles, and sisters to do life with. I may not have known what love was before college, but I know it now, and there is no going back.
I have also learned more about the world as I know it. I found clarity a few months ago when I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I can now identify when life is getting out of control, and I am able to use coping mechanisms to help when that happens. Having Borderline Personality Disorder does not mean I am a monster, but it does provide a basis for my repeated suicide attempts. Though the attempts were traumatic, as I learn about myself and the world around me, I am figuring out how my BPD fits in with my life.
As a society, we need to recognize stigma is stopping us from moving forward. People immediately get uncomfortable when I mention I am a suicide attempt survivor. The biggest obstacle we face in combating stigma is ourselves. I believe if we recognize the stigma, we can more effectively talk about mental illness and help those who are suffering.
I also want people to know I am not selfish for attempting suicide. I was so desperate to escape the life I was living that I forgot who I was living for, whether it was myself or someone else. A common echo I hear among fellow survivors is that they ‘just wanted the pain to end,’ and that was the case for me. I thought of the people who I would have left behind, of course, but I also did not want to feel much of anything. I was desperate for the pain to end and was willing to go to whatever extent to make that happen.
One of the ways I am slowly coming to terms with my attempt is by helping others. In my senior year of undergrad, I had the ability to make my mark on my university by holding an event dedicated to mental health. It was at this event where I was able to talk freely about my battles with mental illness for the first time. After that event, I made it my mission to help as many people as I possibly could by sharing my story.
My life could have ended after my suicide attempts, but I think I survived because the world needs my voice. To help fellow suicide attempt survivors gain their voices, I have developed an acronym known as SALT. Broken down, it stands for Stop, Act, Listen, and Talk. It is a way to (hopefully) help both survivors and those willing to help survivors after suicide attempts. The first thing you do is stop and recognize that the situation is not about you. Then you act and find ways for you to help. Next, listen to the person who needs you or is confiding in you. Finally, talk to them, not about them, and realize the very fabric of this person’s life tapestry has been forever altered. This acronym allows people to understand the traumatic event that is a suicide attempt, and I am hoping to make it bigger in the coming years.
One of the things I repeat to myself on a daily basis is that I am ‘here, alive, and breathing,’ and that is enough. After my suicide attempt, I thought I was not going to be able to look forward to anything, but I am looking forward to a bright future. I know how hard it can be to approach life with a glass half full perspective, but I hope people learn how to do that with my story. I have made it my goal to make my impact on the bigger world. Even though the darkness can often seem all consuming, it is the tiny glimmer of light that gives us energy to persist.”
[If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help is out there. You are not alone.]
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emily Rasch of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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