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Would The World Be Better Off Without CEO And Founder Of Hope Xchange: 3-Time Suicide Survivor, Gay And Living With Bipolar Disorder?
Blog by Kerry Martin, CEO & Founder, Hope Xchange Nonprofit.
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 and here's why. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the first step to preventing suicide is removing the stigma by starting the conversation. It’s time to re-share my own battle with suicide in hopes of touching even one person who is struggling with either coming out and/or suicidal thoughts.
I Almost Died Coming Out
Here's my story. I'm gay, bipolar, and a three-time suicide survivor.
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 try and take my own life. 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, 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 graduate school, I have been diagnosed as bipolar and tried to take my life two more times, once while manic and once while depressed. As someone who is bipolar I am not alone: 50% percent of those try and take their own lives, with 11% dying. It's also now believed that those with bipolar may account for up to 50% of all suicides in the U.S. (source NeuroRX); that's over 22,000 lives lost each year.
But, I have also given back as Hope Xchange's nonprofit founder, and we're launching a new innovative way to empower those living without hope, Hope Xchange Timebank, a "currency of hope and wellness." 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.
Hope Xchange Responds with Urgency and Compassion to Give LGBTQIA Youth with Bipolar Disorder Reason to Stay
Because of my own personal experience and based on what I have learnt from the LGBTQIA youth we mentor in our HOPE for Bipolars program, I'm fully aware of the struggles of the gay community, how grossly underserved this population is and that there is currently no program specifically tailored to help gay youth with bipolar disorder despite the fact that they are at the highest risk for suicide.
We are responding with urgency and compassion and have designed a suicide-prevention and mental-wellness solution, HOPE for LGBTQIA, which we are now seeking funds for to make a reality. Research shows our youth are not calling hotlines but are reaching out online and we must be there when they do so as suicide is now the leading cause of death in this community. This first-of-its-kind virtual safe space offers crisis intervention, social networking / online chat, peer mentoring, and mental health advocacy. Learn more about the urgent need for this program in this short video here.
If you would like to give LGBTQIA youth a reason to stay, become a HOPE Ambassador or make a donation today.
Personal Note to "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?
Personal Note to Those Struggling to Hold On
Even though one out for four people in this country struggle with a mental illness only one in three people seek help. I was not one of them.
I know you feel really alone - I've been there too - but you don't have to go through this by yourself. Just pick up the phone and talk to somebody. I know it doesn't feel like anything or anybody is going to help, but please trust me. If you can just get yourself through this immediate crisis, it will get more tolerable, not overnight, but with effort we TOGETHER can get you back on your feet again.
I have been where you are and I am still here to tell you this: the reason I started Hope Xchange is because I don't want others to be where you are right now and where I once was. You and I both know no one should have to be. Get through your immediate crisis. Our team can be there for you when you do if you would like a free HOPE for Bipolars mentor or mental health advocate.
Please pick up the phone. Please do it now. Do it for you. Dig deep. You've got this.
THEN, WE CAN DO IT TOGETHER. You are not alone.
If you are in a crisis and need help now, please reach out. Please do it now. To find a list of hotlines, including LGBT, transgender-friendly, and teen lines, please GO HERE.