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Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week. Many organizations take part, and you may have noticed commercials on TV and announcements on social media. There is a non-profit organization called To Write Love on Her Arms, and as they share on their website, they are:
depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.
TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire
and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery."
They aim to raise awareness about taboo but serious topics that affect millions of people. Over time, those who have a history (of any of the bolded topics above) and supporters have taken pictures of the word "love" on their arms and shared them. It's something that I had never done before last week, but I guess my new love affair with Instagram called for a change, as you can see from the picture above!
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A lot can change in eight years. In October 2004, I was in the hospital after four years during which wonderful things happened but I rarely felt worthy. After a hard life lesson and intermittent health issues with my mom, I struggled to piece "normal" life back together and balance all the moving parts. I filled my time with the activities that brought me joy, but I rarely dedicated any time to healing or making sense of what happens to those left behind by death.
I was having the best academic semester of college to date, I had regular social commitments with friends, I was a student director for a choir on campus, I spent the summer playing the lead in a musical I had a ton of fun in, I enjoyed multiple jobs (university admissions, theme park performer, choir soloist), and I was head-over-heels in love with my boyfriend. But for the year before that, I was fighting a hard battle. My lack of sleep and emotional well-being dictated my self-esteem. Somewhere in all the excitement of everything going right, a small internal whisper told me it was too good to be true. It threatened to topple my Jenga tower of mounting successes. Loving the praise of being "so busy and accomplished," I didn't want to blemish the illusion. Doubt morphed into fear until, one day, it was hard to just be with myself.
I had a menagerie of private self-medicating techniques. If I couldn't be the happiest or most outgoing, I wanted to be the thinnest. If I wanted to fool people into thinking I could eat "eat like the guys" and still be thin, I would lose my food afterward. If people upset or disappointed me, I spitefully showed it on my body, though they would never see it. I did not discriminate against any tool. I was creative in making my marks.
I will forever be grateful to two people who confronted me, on separate occasions, in the most heartfelt manner without baby-ing me. It was with their encouragement that I started regular visits with a counselor at my university's counseling center. (It's one of the most important free student services at a university, in my opinion!) It was a bumpy ride at first but got better and better every week. But one day, I knew I was on the verge of a complete melt-down. I made an emergency visit, and after an intense two hours of being brutally honest with her, I was on my way to the hospital. I was reviewed by three doctors. I was questioned about the marks on my body. My 90-lb. frame was weighed and photographed. I was put on a strict in-patient schedule for a few days. It was my rock bottom. It was a terrible reality check but the necessary break from life that I couldn't give myself.
Now I can speak very honestly about my experience with people who ask about it, but I don't think this public blog is the forum for all the details. There are people very dear to me who supported me through it, and while it's my story, I feel like it is theirs as well and that I don't have the full authority to share it at will. Isn't that odd?
One of the most important lessons I've learned from those darker days is how every action and word has a ripple effect. At the time, I felt like the world was crumbling in on me and me alone, but the things I did took a toll on everyone around me, thus proving that one person can make a difference. Back then, the difference I made may not have always been good. (I lied a lot. I had a sharp tongue. I distanced myself from good people.) But now, no matter what kind of day I've had, I make a conscious effort to make a positive difference, or at the very least, maintain my status quo. I haven't taken a poll recently, but I think I'm doing a pretty good job. :)
Sometimes, it's a feat to survive life's circumstances, but I feel so accomplished to see how I've grown. With more clarity and confidence every year, I feel like I am stretching myself into every corner of my being in the best possible sense. With last week's awareness campaign, this was a worthwhile time to share something so personal. I am positive that I am not perceived as a hardened soul. Even people who knew me during that time have admitted that they had no idea something so serious was happening. I guess I feel like I am proof that everyone is fighting a hard (and different) battle, but more importantly, the hard battle does not have to be life-long.
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To those who know something is not right with a loved one but don't know how to approach him/her, there is no "right" way. Sorry to have to tell you this! :) My best advice is to:
S.A.F.E. Alternatives (1-800-DONT-CUT)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK)
National Hopeline Network (1-800-SUICIDE)