Yesterday my girls and I volunteered at the Out of the Darkness walk in Leesburg, VA. It was cold and windy and overcast and blah out, but wouldn't have stayed home even if it had been pouring. The reason we were there was too important. It is too important. It is the reason we are going to another walk next weekend. We must do everything we can to try to help the fight against suicide.
Being a part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a huge mix of emotions for me. On the one hand, it makes me feel powerful. I am actually doing something about a problem instead of just sitting on my couch feeling bad about it. On the other, it drags up a lot of emotions, especially when I listen to the stories of people who have lost someone to suicide.
When I was a little girl, I battled depression. Bad depression. I was suicidal by the time I was in fourth grade (nine years old). I was hospitalized because of my suicidal ideations in fifth grade and again my sophomore year of high school. It was a very long, very hard battle to come out of that darkness and become the person I am today. There were times I took one step forward, two steps back, but there were also times I took two steps forward and only one step back. Eventually, with a lot of help and support, I learned life skills to keep my head above water. I learned how to recognize when I was slipping back into depression and what I could do to stop that slide. I eventually was able to manage my life without the assistance of antidepressants (one common concern I hear is that people think they have to take them for life, but that isn't always the case). The girl I was, the one who didn't plan on living past high school, grew up to be a wife and mother.
Yesterday, one of the people being remembered was a teenage girl named Emma. As her family got up and spoke about her, and then as a long line of her family and friends filed off for their walk each saying her name into the microphone, my stomach twisted up in knots and I fought back tears. That really could have been me. That really could have been my family and friends saying Emma into the microphone to remember me. It really was that close. I had to shake off the What-Ifs and turn my attention to my daughters, though. I did survive and have them now. Instead of a memory, I am a mom. And I am so grateful.
That gratitude and my understanding of just how hard the fight is - not only to survive being suicidal but also to survive the stigma of mental illnesss - is what drives me now to support AFSP. At their walks, I am not the only person who nearly lost her life to suicide. I am not the only person who went to funerals for people who died by suicide. I am not the only person who wants more "struggled but lived" beads handed out instead of "loss of loved one" beads. Together we are stronger and we can change the discussion. We can support better research to identify what is causing suicide and how to help people before they die. We can get the word out about that research and break down the stigma. Nothing damages stigma like the truth. We can say SUICIDE over and over until others are willing to talk about it, too, without lowering their voices. We can support each other as we struggle.
My daughters are involved because they owe their lives to suicide prevention. They are involved because I want them to grow up knowing that mental illness is just like physical illness and should be addressed not hidden. They are involved, too, because on their own they care about people. Just as Yasya didn't want families broken by childhood cancer, the girls don't want families broken by suicide loss.
Next week they are walking in the DC walk and are fundraising to help support the life saving work AFSP does. If you would like to support them and help them be Super Heroes, please click their links.