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Finding My Voice to Speak Up About Suicide

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I’ve been staring at this blank document on my computer screen for a day now. I am picking at a scab on my chin that won’t go away, and if only I could just leave it alone. But no, I am a person who struggles with self-harm, either because I cut or because I pick at scabs and interfere with the healing process. I have been productive at work since 7:15 this morning, yet all that is on my mind is suicide.

Suicide. Suicide. Suicide.

It’s taboo to say this word. There isn’t enough conversation around the topic. I feel trapped and unable to share a part of myself that defines why I am here today and the experiences I have had.

I have lost two co-workers to suicide and mental illness. While we were not close, we still interacted with one another, said hello in passing in the hallways and collaborated on projects together. It was shocking when the first happened; I was called away from a group project to head up to lab to meet with my other lab mates. That’s when I found out about the first suicide. The second one I don’t remember how I found out, maybe it was in an email? It happened so suddenly. One day I passed him in the hallway, the next day he wasn’t to be found in his office.

Suicide to me isn’t just about losing these two individuals from my professional life. It is about the countless students lost too young from the suicide cluster in Palo Alto, CA, a city near where I grew up. It is about the students lost to suicide at my university I call my alma mater. It is about the two – arguably three – times I have tried to attempt suicide to take my own life.

I am a survivor of suicide. If you had told me in high school before my first attempt that I would be in a world class molecular biosciences PhD program, that I would babysit for the greatest kids on the face of the planet, that I would have an amazing rescue pup, that I would have had the opportunity to run a half marathon through the streets of Chicago, I wouldn’t have believed you. There are so many things I have done and experienced that I couldn’t have imagined in the deep, dark throes of my depression that hit me while I was still in high school. I never spoke of the first attempt to anybody until many years after, when I was being admitted to a psychiatric unit at the hospital because I was so scared people would judge me, would see me as weak, as less than.

I once read, if you attempt suicide once, you are more likely to attempt suicide a second, third time. I tried again as a senior in college, when it didn’t seem like the depression would lift, when it didn’t seem like anxiety would leave me alone. This time, like the first time, I didn’t speak up about it. I didn’t tell anybody I had tried continually to numb my feelings for days on end with self-harm. It wasn’t until almost two weeks later at a therapy session that I admitted what I had been doing. Why? Because I was (and still am) ashamed of myself, because I feared judgment, because I feared the very people treating me would see me as a hopeless case, as a failure and worthless.

I no longer want to be ashamed of my struggle and battle with mental illness. Suicide is not always a permanent solution to a temporary problem, as some may say. Telling those of us who are survivors does not help the situation, in my opinion. While I understand it is a permanent solution to what may seem temporary to most, it is sometimes the only option we see to help end our pain, our suffering. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that makes sense in the moment and the moments leading up to the act.

I hope to one day live in a world where suicide and mental illness are not stigmatized. I want to give a voice to those struggling and to survivors of an attempt or the death of a loved one. By speaking out and speaking up, I hope that those who don’t feel they have a voice will be able to find their own voice. It is through my writing that I have found my voice and the courage to share my story. So please, I hope this inspires you and gives you the strength you need to find your voice and end the stigma.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: January 31, 2017
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