As a peer specialist working in the Trilogy Beacon, my goal for sharing my story on World Suicide Prevention Day is to let people know that I can relate to having negative experiences in your life and thinking that things can’t get better. If you are dealing with serious mental illness and/or suicide ideations or attempts, getting support can be invaluable and really does help. —Jamie
“Looking back on my life, suicide was always a part of my family’s story. My parents had two kids and were divorced by the time they were 18. When I was younger I lived with my mom, who suffered from mood and personality disorders. She would experience long periods of mania followed by long periods of depression. There were numerous suicide attempts. Each time she would do something like take a bunch of pills, I was the one responsible for taking care of her. This was my childhood. I thought that was just how families dealt with stress. My baseline for suicide attempts and the normality of them were really skewed.
I first attempted suicide when I was 13. It happened after I came out to my family, which was challenging for them to accept. My stepfather had just undergone back surgery and I decided to try taking my own life by taking some of his pain pills. The first time I tried taking his pain medication I just made myself really sick. The second time, I was almost successful. I took a few at a time and then the last thing I remember is my mom propping me up on her bed and slapping me, trying to keep me awake. I was taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Central Florida and woke up from a coma a few days later with a tube down my throat and my mom telling me not to talk to anyone about what had happened. Mental health services such as therapy were not given to me as an option. My mom instructed me tell the hospital staff that I wanted to live with my Aunt. I did live with my Aunt after being released from the hospital, but moved back home after a few months.
I left home when I was 15 and lived in New York City, Ohio, and then Daytona Beach, FL before finding my way to Chicago in 2009. When I moved to Chicago I had a job and an apartment, but I wasn’t functioning in a healthy manner. I was on a lot of drugs all of the time and on August 23, 2010, a friend and myself decided to go on a suicide run where we planned to drive into Wisconsin and take our lives. When we crossed the border into Wisconsin, I threw my wallet out of the car window, because I didn’t want anyone to readily be able to identify who I was and what I had done.
The two of us stopped to sleep in our car around Sheboygan and we were woken by police at our car windows. The person I was taking the trip with had left a note for his mom and when she found it she contacted the police and a tri-state alert for Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin was issued for us. We were both committed to the hospital for 72 hrs, but neither of us were released immediately afterwards. I didn’t have anyone advocating on my behalf so I was committed in Appleton, WI for six months.
In less than a week, I went from working and having an apartment to being committed to a psychiatric ward. This was my first introduction to psychiatric care of any kind, but I was only there for three months before they released me on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Once I was out, I felt like I started getting my life back together but I was staying in shelters, started using again, and wasn’t very involved in my treatment. I got sick again and was put into a nursing home. All I could think was that six months ago I had an apartment and a job. Now everyone is saying I’m crazy so they must be right.
On February 25, 2011, my father died as a result of suicide. He was a severe alcoholic and was living with alcohol-induced schizophrenia when he got a hold of a gun and ended his life. I was in the nursing home at the time and I didn’t find out about his passing until March 12, 2011 through a post on Facebook.
Then, five months later, I lost one of my brothers to a heart attack when he was only 25. I had not seen my family for years before I went to Florida for my brother’s funeral and when I showed up my two other brothers were shocked by how much I had changed since they’d last seen me. I had put on 30 pounds and was basically a walking zombie from the medication I was taking. I was 28 at the time and they encouraged me to leave the nursing home and move back down to Florida. The loss of my brother made me realize that I needed to snap my life back together so I moved to Florida for a bit.
I moved back to Chicago in February 2012 and started treatment in May. My therapist connected me to the Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS) Program. This program was an invaluable resource in helping me deal with my father’s death, as well as my own suicide attempts. Through my involvement with LOSS I learned there is almost a delayed reaction in the grieving process when you lose someone to suicide. Suicide is the only incidence of self-harm that is investigated as a crime and because of the stigma attached to it most people who know someone who has taken their own life don’t fully recognize the impact that loss has had on their life until one or two years later. For me, learning about my father’s death almost a month after it happened helped enforce the invalidation of that event and increased the stigma surrounding it.
The LOSS Program helped me get tools and strategies I needed to help deal with my grief. They offer workshops, individual supports, and support groups that help a person process the loss of their loved one with people who have dealt with a similar situation.
Being involved in LOSS also helped me with my own suicide attempts. I’ve learned that if you’ve lost someone to suicide it’s likely that you’ve attempted suicide yourself at some point. It’s also helped me to see the aftermath of what would happen to people I care about if I took my own life. My relationship with my brothers has strengthened over the years and their involvement in my treatment is important. At first, I was ashamed to talk to them about what was going in my life because when we were younger we always talked about how we would never turn into our mother. I felt like I had done just that. Now I have gotten really honest with them and have let them know that I need treatment to be effective and productive. My relationship with them has given me the awareness to accept people where they are and taught me that you can’t judge people because it invalidates what’s going on in their life.
Through the LOSS Program and other parts of my treatment plan, like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), I’ve developed healthy ways to deal with suicidal ideation. DBT helps me process that feelings are like the tide, they wax and they wane and I’ve learned that if I’m thinking about suicide it helps to talk or write about it. By expressing my thoughts I’m validating them and turning them into something real. It’s important, if you are dealing with suicidal thoughts, that you work that into your treatment just like you would medication management so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. If you think about suicide and don’t discuss it, those thoughts can snowball very quickly. Your thoughts turn into a secret, that secret turns into shame, and that shame turns into an act that can’t be reversed.
Throughout my treatment, volunteering and service for others has really helped me maintain my mental health and sobriety. I currently live in housing with other people dealing with dual diagnoses and have maintained sobriety. I was volunteering to work with people living with HIV/AIDS and was then encouraged to volunteer with Trilogy by Susan Doig and Samantha Handley. I began volunteering in the Trilogy Beacon in December 2012 and in January I was hired part-time. I am currently testing to be a Certified Recovery Specialist (CRS) and prepping to test for CADC-MISA certification. I’m working toward living independently. My five-year plan is to continue to increase my independence and to continue working as a Peer Specialist with people living with co-occurring disorders and dual diagnoses.
For anyone dealing with suicide, either personal attempts or living with the death of someone who took their own life, I would encourage you to talk about it and get involved in support groups like those offered by the LOSS Program. You can also support events like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk. There is one taking place in Chicago on October 26, 2013. Click here for more information.”