Let the conversation begin.
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder, Hope Xchange.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. I believe it should be a year-round initiative and, with that in mind, I'm re-posting an updated 2014 blog as I'm passionate about this subject and here's why: 50% percent of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder try and take their own lives, with 11 to 20% succeeding, 100% too many.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the first step to prevention is removing stigma by starting the conversation. It’s time to re-share my story in hopes of touching even one person who is struggling with either coming out and/or suicidal thoughts.
Here's my story. I'm gay, I'm bipolar and I'm a 3-time suicide survivor.
Being Gay Is a "Personal Choice!" - Would You Be Happier If I Was Dead?
I commented on a blog post Sunday, requesting clarification about the author's statement that implied being gay is a personal choice. Her response was that was indeed what she meant. "Personal choice my ass," I muttered. I wanted to reach through my screen and strangle this person, and ask them, given all I am today, would you prefer that I had succeeded in taking my life rather than torment your world with my gayness?
Towards the end of my second year at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, I found myself confronting this so-called personal choice: was I going to live the rest of my life as a gay person or was I going to end my life? I choose the latter. Yes, it was a personal choice for me. My own free will to swallow a bottle of pills. But, was it really a choice? Would I would have made that same decision independent of societal pressures and judgements? If we lived in a perfect world where everyone was accepted for who they were, would I have chosen death at that moment?
I'm happy to report that my roommate found me curled up on the floor clutching my Yorkshire Terrier, Chapman, with an empty bottle of prescription pills next to me. Just in the nick of time. I recall a disgusted nurse pissed that she had to take the time to pump the stomach of an uncooperative patient, a 48-hour stay in the hospital ICU where I was forced to drink charcoal and go potty in a beige plastic pan crouched on the floor like the pathetic soul that I felt I was. I recall the older man right next to me who the ICU team unsuccessfully tried to bring back to life when here I was trying to end mine. I recall grabbing a doctor's shirt collar, tugging him close to me, and vehemently whispering "get me out of here."
And, there I went to a 72-hour hold at Boston's finest mental health institution. I recall leaning against a cold concrete wall on my assigned bed the first night and the doctor saying to me, "Kerry, you can cooperate and get out of here in 72 hours or we can keep you in here." Didn't he know I was a Harvard graduate student working on my thesis and I simply didn't have time for this madness? I decided there and then that I would put on a happy face, say what I thought they wanted to hear, so I could go home to the same tormented soul.
Am I Strong or Am I Weak?
You see, I didn't want to be gay. I wanted the white picket fences. I wanted children. I wanted what everybody else wanted - to be accepted for who I was. But I wasn't.
Who in their right mind would choose to be in a minority in a country like America where the religious right is damming in their judgements of others not just like them. Who would choose not to be 'normal' in a country like this where outcasts are wrapped to a fence and the life is beaten out of them, blow by blow? Someone please explain to me how is being brave and accepting your true inner feelings and yearnings wrong? A personal choice gone awry? Am I strong or weak?
In retrospect, I am thankful this happened in 1992 and that the world has changed a lot since then. I am happy to report that I did finally come out to my family who love me despite my ‘choice.’ I am blessed and grateful that I’ve found my soulmate, a woman who loves me unconditionally. I am out and I am proud.
Since graduating from school, I have been diagnosed as bipolar and tried to take my life two more times, once while manic and once while depressed. But, I have also given back as Apical Marketing's cause-marketing strategist, as Hope Xchange's nonprofit founder, and launched a new innovative way to empower those living without hope - our new community and mental-wellness program, Hope Xchange Timebank. As an aunt, I have had a profound and positive impact on my nieces and nephews. And, as a daughter and sister, I have loved in the best way I know how.
A Personal Note to the "It's a Personal Choice" Tribe
I still am baffled by those who, if they only knew my story, my struggle, my despair, continue to claim that being gay is a personal choice. I dare them to walk in my shoes if only just for a single day. I dare them to look at what I've accomplished in my life so far and to say to me that the world would have been better off without me.
I’m standing up for myself. I am looking them in the eye and asking, would you be happier if I made the personal choice to end my own life? Would the world be a better place if I was dead? Would the world be better of if our mental health system was really there to help the bipolar community?
A Personal Note to Those Struggling to Hold On
Only 1 in 4 people seek help when they are depressed. I was not one of them.
If you find yourself in a dark lonely place and don't see a way out, please talk to someone. I survived my own suicide attempt but not everyone does. Trust me, I know how difficult it is to reach out but please let hope light your path.
If you need to talk to someone right away, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline open 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Here are some other resources you may also call.
It does get better. I've been there. I know.