Why I Shared My Suicide Experience Even After I Was Told I Acted Like a 'Victim'
I looked around the room, eyes completely locked on my every move. I took a deep breath to steady myself before my words started to spill out of my mouth. I had known I would be here for weeks now. With every day moving towards this moment my stomach tightened into knots more and more, but now I was completely lost in my past. I was too far into my speech to even consider stopping. I was telling a room full of 60 plus college peers my story about my struggles with mental illness and suicide.
Months before my speech, I had decided to join the Out of the Darkness club on campus. We promote suicide prevention and helped plan the Out of the Darkness walk in the area. As I started to become more involved with the Out of the Darkness club, I realized mental health advocates are a scarcity on my university’s campus. I had struggled with depression and suicide for three years before I finally dug my way out. I had cried myself to sleep again and again, afraid to even reach out for help. After some major thought, I decided to share my story to help promote the Out of the Darkness walk. This was my senior year of college and I finally felt I was doing something that was really worth it. I was battling stigma and talking about my mental illness.
Weeks before my speech, I spoke with an estranged friend whom I had fought with in the past. Her words echoed in my head: “You acted like a victim.” The words still stung. I was in a place where I could realize the truth of my self-defeating actions toward the world and the pain accompanying those words hinted at some past truth to their statement. Here I was, remembering the labels put on me by others, still recovering from my dysfunctional habits and I was terrified by how people would perceive my story in the following weeks. I thought, What if that is what everyone thinks? What if everyone feels I am just being a victim? That I deserved this pain?
It was a struggle to get out of bed the next day. After all, that same “friend” would be there. The days kept ticking down, but every time I tried to talk myself out of telling my story, I asked myself, “But who else will?”
Days before my speech, I kept rehearsing, spitting out phrase after phrase until I found the right words. I was set on making sure the delivery was the best that it could be — weeding out the tears, the anger and the blame I felt towards the people involved in my story. A part of me wanted to attack some of my peers, try to blame them for my pain I had experienced, but I knew that strategy would not help. The best I could do was to be objective and honest about my life. I focused on how much I overcame to be standing there in front of them and hoped they would understand. I wanted to articulate that making the personal choice to reach out and seek help is the main reason I was still here.
The day of my speech, I was terrified. I could barely think straight and was just going through the motions. The strange thing was that the room full of people did not even know how much I was going to open up to them. They did not even know I was a part of the Out of the Darkness club. If I really wanted to, I could have kept quiet and chose to completely forget about it. Maybe in an alternate timeline that is exactly what I did, but I would never want to live in a world where I did not speak up. As I rose to speak on the open floor, I felt more empowered and less terrified. I knew telling my story was something I needed to do for myself.
Afterwards, I watched the effect of my story. Some people looked away and acted like nothing happened. Some cried, expressed respect and opened up about their own stories. Some treated me differently and some treated me the same. You cannot decide how the audience will react to your story, but one thing is for certain: you can decide to tell your story. Your story will liberate you and allow you to accept yourself through affirmation. You are a survivor and are lucky to be alive. I would tell my story to everyone I have ever met if I could without making them uncomfortable or crossing boundaries. My story freed me from my cage.
The days after I opened up about my story I felt exposed, honest and authentic. It was uncomfortable to say the least, but it was truly healing. Wounds were brought to light after my speech, and it was an opportunity I could not pass up. I cried. I cried because things had finally changed. I cried for four reasons:
1. Instead of being angry and hurting people, I opened up about how much pain I was in.
2. Instead of being sad and pushing people away, I opened up about how sometimes I need help.
3. Instead of being hurt and blaming others, I opened up about how I took responsibility and changed my life.
4. Instead of feeling shame and hiding, I became proud of who I am and what I have been through.
Opening up about my story became one of the proudest moments of my life. It helped me be honest with myself. No one wants to admit that they have been through hell, were hurt by someone they love or did not want to live anymore. That is why suicide and mental illness can be so hard to talk about. There is a stigma about expressing what makes us human, but so many gifts come from our experiences and sharing those experiences. After opening up about my story, I had multiple individuals reach out to me to express their appreciation and to even share their own stories. It was empowering and gave me hope. We are so afraid to express who we are for fear of what might happen, but ask yourself this question: If you don’t tell your story, who will?
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Unsplash photo via Kait Loggins