Please consider helping sponsor my walk for suicide prevention this October if you can. I am so close to my goal of $150 (thanks to some generous anonymous donors) and it would be amazing if I could reach the rest of the way before October 25th.
As many of you know, mental illness is a recurring character in all of my poetry. How could it not? I have, over the years, learned to thrive with my mental illness. I have learned to introduce her to parents, how to comfort her to sleep, and how to make sure she never controls my life again. This November will mark six years since the last time I would ever hurt myself. Six years of hard work, six years of learning to drive with a (frequently carsick) passenger. Since 2009, I have:
a.) moved to NYC
b.) earned 2.5 college degrees (and became a social worker)
c.) greeted "happiness" at the door like a distant relative I hardly had remembered the face of.
I want to take this moment to let you know a little more about me- I currently work with adults with major mental illnesses in a recovery-oriented setting. This means that my organization doesn't try to cure anyone, instead, we teach people to live with their mental illness. There are no quick fixes, no immediate "cures", but it is the most beautiful journey anyone could ever take. I've had the opportunity to work in suicide prevention as well. Here is the issue we are currently facing, suicide and suicidal ideation are two different things. Suicide is action, planning, gathering means. Suicidal ideation is the horrible waiting room, a purgatory of "I don't want to kill myself, I just want to stop feeling this way but I don't know how". Suicide has outlined treatment plans, hospitals, and therapists as trauma surgeons. Suicidal ideation is much harder to treat because it's continual, recurrent, and unique for each person.
Once licensed, I will be dedicating my life to researching suicidal ideation and self injury in adolescents. My theory is that when adolescents experience suicidal ideation or self injury early in the onset of their mental illness, they form an attachment to it. "I want to die" becomes comforting. Recovery involves years of untangling that mess of half-broken christmas lights and relearning coping mechanisms. Recovery is real and obtainable, I have felt it, I have learned to soothe the scared little girl inside of me and to forgive her for the things she did when she was caught in a snare. I also had a stellar support system and the financial means for medication and 11+ years of therapy, most people don't have those things.
A year ago, my mother and I drank whiskey and spoke about my childhood for the first time since my attempt. She told me that she had seen the warning signs in me, in my brother, in my uncle. She knew our genealogy, she just didn't want to know. She told me that she was proud of me for how far I've come. She told me that I should write a book for parents of adolescents with self injury. She told me that she wished she knew before I did the things I did, that she would lay awake at night and pray that I was in some accident that would have broken my hands so I couldn't hurt myself, even if for an hour. She told me that the only thing I could have done in the world to make her stop loving me would have been to kill myself. I am so glad that I never gave her that chance.
"Suicidal" was a place we visited when our ladders ran short. It was the canary in the coal mine, somewhere dark and screaming, "go back, there is poison here". Many of us have seen suicide as an exit sign in a burning theater, an already written end chapter to grow into. Sometimes, it is our genes- a rusted link of DNA. Sometimes it's framed in the family pictures, sometimes it grows in the closet while everyone is sleeping.
Suicidal is not the end of the road. It is not a life sentence. I know that now and all I want to do with my life is show others that happiness exists even if it has been painted over a thousand times. The house is still there, they've just been sleeping in the garage so long that they forgot where the doorknob was.
I am doing this walk for me, I want to surround myself with other survivors, other families who have seen suicide as a dinner guest, other professionals who realize that suicide steals nearly 6,000 teenagers from us each year. Professionals who realize that someone with a mental illness has a life expectancy of 15-25 years less than someone who is neuro-typical. I want to celebrate six years of happiness by showing just how alive I am. No one ever taught me that you could be Bipolar and okay, I thought I would always be caught in a whirlwind of mania and depression, I didn't know I was allowed to live. I am. You are. Recovery is a process that is never finished, it takes a lifetime of work, but it is the only option and no one has to do it alone. I'm going to make sure of that last part.
"It has been a long trip," said Milo, climbing onto the couch where the princesses sat; "but we would have been here much sooner if I hadn't made so many mistakes. I'm afraid that it's all my fault."
"You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them."
The Phantom Tollbooth- Norman Juster
It has been six years. It has been a long, long trip. I'm home now, I'm not going anywhere.