Telling Your Story is Important

My story might make you feel uncomfortable.
It shouldn’t.
That’s why I’m telling it.

August 15, 2017 My relationship with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a very personal one. Many stories combined are what have brought me to today – alive and an advocate for suicide prevention. Perhaps one of the most important moments in my journey was the first time someone shared their own story with me, and how that impacted my own journey.

I was diagnosed at the age of 10 with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). My parents thought this was something I would grow out of, and so no treatment was sought. Unfortunately, I did not grow out of it. It only got worse.

By the time I arrived at college, things had hit a low point. I was no longer in the comfort of my own home while I wrestled with my demons. Instead, I was in a 10×10 dorm room with a complete stranger and no privacy. Students on my hall shared a community bathroom, so I couldn’t even have a moment alone in the shower. The constant fear that someone would notice one of my ticks or rituals filled me with anxiety. That anxiety led to depression, and that depression led to self-harm. I began to cut myself and eventually developed an eating disorder.

I was spiraling down a dark hole, and felt very alone. More and more serious thoughts of suicide began to consume my mind. Desperate for an escape, I joined an advocacy group for depression, self-harm, addiction, and suicide prevention at my university. I stood in that first meeting absolutely terrified about what would happen. I wanted to run and leave. It seemed as if no one there had actually experienced any of these things personally. Everyone seemed to have a friend or family member who struggled, but no direct experience.

I almost walked out without saying a word to anyone, but then a girl spoke up. She had golden blonde hair and a bright pink sweater. With complete confidence, she announced that she had been struggling with self-harm for some time. I was absolutely shocked. This 18-year-old had just told a room full of strangers her darkest secrets without even blinking. What shocked me more, however, was the look of love and support that appeared on all the faces of the room. There was no judgment—not a single drop of it. The girl continued, giving us a brief history of her struggles before also explaining that she had been seeking treatment for a while and that things were looking up.

For the very first time, I didn’t feel so alone. I felt some hope. That girl with the golden blonde hair and bright pink sweater became one of my best friends. To this day I make sure to remind her of how important that moment was for me.

I’d like to say that the next day I got my act together and was fully healed, but unfortunately things don’t usually work that way. Despite how much of an impact it had on me to hear someone open up about her own struggles so confidently, things got worse as time went on my freshmen year. My self harm worsened and that summer I attempted suicide.

The good news – and there is good news – is that I did not let it continue to consume me. I eventually sought treatment for my depression, OCD, and eating disorder. Therapy was rough. I endured a summer of both traditional and cognitive therapy twice a week. But eventually I recovered. Maybe not fully, but I still learned how to manage my mental health concerns. I still struggle with those demons sometimes, but have learned to fight them off and control them. I am proud to stand here today at 25 years old and say that I did not take my life those few years ago.

I was always nervous to share my story with others after I started recovering. I was scared of what they would think of me or how they would treat me. The first time I spoke publicly about my journey was at an Open Mic Night event my advocacy group was putting on. We had hoped to rally some volunteers to share their stories in between sets, but we only got a few. A member of the group told me she thought I should speak.

I immediately turned her down, explaining my fears to her. But she reminded me: “You’re standing here today because of someone else’s story.” She told me that if I reached just one person by sharing my story then that’s all that matters. She told me I have the ability to spark hope in someone else. She told me I have the ability to save a life just by telling my story. So that night, I got up on stage, and told a brief version of my story to a room of strangers.

Since that first time I shared my story, about five years ago, I never stopped; in fact, for the past five years I have used AFSP as one of my biggest outlets. I have participated each year in an Out of the Darkness Community Walk; in order to help raise money, I have written countless blogs and Facebook posts that talk about my journey. It’s never not scary for me to put it all out in the open, but the reactions I get remind me that it’s important that I do. AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walks have helped me meet even more people who have gone through similar struggles, and they have inspired me to keep speaking up and advocating for suicide prevention.

Our scars show where we have been, but they do not determine where we are going. Your story is important.

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