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The Privilege of Knowing Amy

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She landed the “gig” of a lifetime, an opportunity that would change everything. Months in advance she booked a hotel downtown, the car that would take her there and planned every other detail of her trip… except for her airfare. Just like every other trip, she would wait until the very last minute to book her flight despite the extra high fares she was bound to pay.

My friend, like 20 million Americans, was afraid to fly. It’s a condition called aviophobia, which is a bona fide anxiety disorder.

But, she wasn’t afraid of flying for the reason you may think. It wasn’t the crashing and dying part she was afraid of. It was the lack of control; being trapped 30,000 feet in the air with hundreds of strangers and no way out is what down right terrified her.

No, death she was comfortable with. Since a young age, she’d lived with chronic suicidal ideation. Overwhelmed with a persistent need to take her own life, she’d attempted suicide more times than she could count. She told me it was the only time she felt like the one in control.  

We used to talk or text long into the night about her “need to die” as she put it. She was embarrassed by it. Afraid everyone would find out she didn’t have it all together.

I used every crisis intervention approach I’d learned as a Mental Health First Aid instructor:

Assess for risk of suicide or self-harm. Check.

Listen nonjudgmentally. Check.

Give reassurance and information. Check.

Encourage professional help. Check.

Encourage self-help. Check.

I also used my personal experiences as the founder of NoStigmas. My father having died by suicide when I was 6, I know a thing or two about the ripple effects of losing someone to suicide. I shared my own struggles with anxiety and depression, even going as far as commiserating with her about my own thoughts of suicide and losing the will to live in high school. Peer support at its finest.

During those times, her desire to die was strong. Her guarded smile and self-deprecating humor would turn very dark. Going through it with her for hours on end was exhausting. I couldn’t hang up for fear that she’d kill herself. When I didn’t hear from her, I would worry and reach out to make sure she was OK. I became so desperate to help that I started neglecting my own wellness. I was losing sleep, constantly anxious and afraid I’d say the wrong thing and trigger an attempt.  

After months of this, I had to create some healthy boundaries and manage her expectations of me as an ally. This was really tough to introduce to her and even more difficult to adhere to. That was a year ago.

My friend Amy Bleuel died by suicide last week.  

Amy Bleuel going for a hike

I am devastatingly guilt-ridden at myself and helplessly angry at her all at the same time. I feel like I should have been there. I feel like I could have done more. I feel like I have failed as a friend. I feel like I have no business doing this work. Etiam atque etiam.

Is this what a doctor feels like when they “did everything they could” to save someone’s life and ultimately lose them? I know I did everything in my power to help. But, I still feel like a helpless 6-year-old fatherless child all over again.

I know I’m not alone in these feelings. Over 800,000 people die by suicide each year worldwide. It’s said that each of them leaves behind six people or more who are forever and irreparably affected by their death. Each of us carries a “survivor’s guilt” and all the “what if’s” with us wherever we go.

But another perspective is this: I had the privilege of knowing her in a way few ever have. Amy chose to trust me with her hopes, dreams and crushing realities. She lived through things no human should ever have to experience and used that to help others. For whatever length of time, we got to talk about taboo things and experience raw humanness in a way that frightens most people. And that connection will continue on.  

Let’s all remember those who are gone for the lives they lived, rather than they way they died.

Fly free, my friend; your story isn’t over.

P.S. I took this photo of Amy during a trip to Seattle for a shared speaking event. I’ll always remember her this way.

— — —

If you or someone you know is in crisis or considering suicide, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text “NoStigmas” to 741-741.

A special thank you to E.C. and those who have and continue to support me in so many ways. You give me renewed strength and perspective to continue ever forward.

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.

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Lead image provided by the contributor

Originally published: March 31, 2017
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