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Pablo Escobar is a 29 year old Master’s student, researcher, and dog owner. He has dealt with self-injurious behaviors for many years and attempted suicide five years ago.
People tell me all the time, “Your suicide [attempt]—it’s not really serious, it’s not that big of a deal,” which, to me, seems kind of weird. I don’t think it was extreme, like, violently, but I think the intention was definitely really real, and the fear was real. I remember at one point thinking like, ‘This is the last thing I’m gonna see and then I’m dead, and this is how I’m gonna feel and then I’m gonna die.’ It was not pleasant.
We have this belief that the more aggressive and the more violent and the more destructive it sounds, the more serious of an attempt it was… But, I mean, an attempt is an attempt. No one’s pain and no one’s suffering and no one’s desire to do that is less than someone else’s, you know, and they all deserve some sort of recognition and aide.
How I stopped it – I just kind of, one day, went through everything and I thought, ‘Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? Do you want to be this person that… at the end of the day no one is out there trying to hurt you. You are the only one who is hurting yourself. You are the only one hitting yourself. You are the only one cutting yourself. Do you really want that?’
And I was like, ‘No, I don’t.’
One, I don’t want to explain. Sometimes, you know, if it was down a little more on my arm it had been visible, and I don’t want anyone to see that. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to walk around wearing long-sleeved shirts. I didn’t want to walk around bloody nosed or bruised all over, you know?
So, I just kind of thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I can’t. This is my goal. I don’t want to do it. How am I gonna start it?’
The way I deal with stuff is I try to stay active by exercising, doing stuff, and also rewording everything. For some reason that kind of works for me. If things seem bad or if I’m all of a sudden I’m starting to get really down and I want to do something, I just breathe, you know, take a deep breath and just kind of…
Like, before, for example, I would say, “I’m worthless because blah, blah, blah.”
Now it would be like, “Okay, you feel worthless.”
It’s just getting into the habit of recognizing it and then putting the brakes on it. And you just kind of keep doing that.
Jaime Niedermeier is 31 years old, lives in Oakland, and is an artist, teacher, and dog trainer. I photographed her with her emotional support dog, Beacon. Below, she discusses why she attempted suicide and we talk a little bit about companion animals as an option for those of us who live with mental illness.
I moved to San Francisco about five and a half years ago with my now ex-wife who was in grad school here. And I ended up staying. I totally love it, so that’s been a blessing, but I was with her and then, all of a sudden a year ago, not with her. Then we had to do the legal thing, which was really, really difficult and expensive and really messy and really emotionally draining and I also lost my housing because of the divorce.
I lived in my truck for quite a while—last spring, summer, early fall—and then eventually moved in with friends when they kind of figured out my story was bogus.
My friend Frances was like, “Jaime, this is just awkward, but are you living in your truck right now?”
And I said yes.
She said, “Come home with me.”
So, just a hard year, this last year—financially and emotionally and logistically and basically every other way I can think of. I got sick all the time when I was living in my truck because I wasn’t able to take care of nutrition the way I would normally… not being able to cook, not having a fridge, just not being able to keep stuff, so I didn’t eat a lot of fresh foods and, you know, just a lot of stress, I think, made me often sick and just rundown in general.
And the meds I was on, I think, were not the right ones for me, according to my current psychiatrist. What he’d say?
“Oh yeah, that Paxil, that’s dreadful.”
I had been feeling really depressed, like, kind of extra depressed and hopeless starting last summer and all of a sudden the idea of just dropping out of life occurred to me. Like, ‘Oh, that’s right, people commit suicide. That’s an option. If other people do it, that means I can do it.’ And I felt so relieved and so, kind of just… the pressure was taken off, you know? Like, ‘I don’t have to show up every day and keep trying. I don’t have to be here. I could if I wanted. That’s an option. I can opt out of being here.’
Jaime: One great thing that’s come out of my time at the hospital is my social worker encouraged me to get Beacon, not certified exactly, but registered as an emotional support dog, which I did, and it’s fabulous.
So, times when I feel like I almost can’t get through something, like sitting at home and feeling like, ‘God, I don’t know if I can go to the free clinic and sit for seven hours’—which I did last Thursday, waiting to be seen for ten minutes—‘I just don’t think I can get through it, sitting in this waiting room, and I know exactly how the waiting room’s gonna be, and it just feels like torture and I would rather be off meds for a week until I can go to my real appointment.’ Like that kind of thing that’s really, you know, would fuck everything up, but with Beacon with his little vest on, I can get through it. So I think, ‘Okay, well, I’ll bring Beacon. I’ll indulge myself and bring Beacon and then I can get through it.’
Beacon is with Alameda County. He’s my emotional support dog, which is different from a service animal. He’s not legally allowed to come everywhere with me, but I do have a letter that says he can come on planes, I can’t be denied housing because of him, other stuff like that, so it’s kind of a lower level of service animal.
He does get to come in with his vest because no one questions me. He comes most places so he comes to the supermarket, he comes to the bank. I didn’t bring his vest now because I think you mentioned that you guys were sitting outside, but I bring it just in case usually, and it’s been amazing. It’s really changed everything for me to just have him there.
Des: What do you have to do to get a dog registered?
Jaime: They have a certain minimum of training. They just have to be well behaved in general, housebroken, obviously, and, you know, he’s not allowed to go up and initiate play with strangers or beg for food or eat stuff off the floor or be bratty, you know? But, companion dogs— that’s the legal title, companion animal, not service animal—he doesn’t have to be trained to do a specific task for me, so that’s the main difference. Just having him around makes things better for me and makes me able to do things.
Although, since I’m a dog trainer, I’ve been teaching him to wake me up in the morning and remind me to take my pills. I’m hopeful that one day, maybe in a year or so, if I can think of some other stuff that he can do for me that relates to my mental illness, that I could get him reclassified as a service dog. Then he could come everywhere with me legally. I’m working on it.
Des: Is it an option for anybody?
Jaime: Yeah. It’s something I think people just need to talk to their doctors about. You get a letter from your doctor. The ADA website has the specific regulations, so it has the information that would need to go in the letter.
To be licensed by the county, they would need to know that and then what the dog would do for you. Then you just take that to animal control, where you would get your dog licensed normally, and show them the letter and they give you a little tag to put on the collar. Some other animals are also eligible.
Des: I’m getting a companion chinchilla immediately.
Did it cost anything?
Jaime: No, it’s free.
Jaime made an amazing short film about her time living in her truck called girl+truck+dog. Take a look.
I met Patty Overland at her home in Berkeley, California. At the age of 19, she became physically disabled as a result of her suicide attempt. Now 59, she is a LGBTQ and disability rights advocate. Here, she talks about being a survivor and the power and unity to be found in sharing our stories.
And, for the first time (thanks to Kickstarter backers), below Patty’s interview, be sure to check out some video I made of her performing a poem she wrote in 1986 called “Super Crip Girl.”
I decided I’d like to tell my story because… Besides the initial shock of somebody saying, “How’d you get in that wheelchair?” and I tell them, and they go, “Why did you do that?” People think they can just say that. So I’m supposed to do, like I just did, a brief thing about my adolescence, and then somehow they’re gonna understand it? It’s like, “No, no, it’s a very invasive sort of a question…”
I think it’s important for me to tell my story because people survive all kinds of things. People survive rapes. They survive car accidents that are also violent. In a way, my friends born disabled don’t consider this, but to me, I feel like they are survivors too, being born disabled. ‘Cause they’ve had to go through the whole experience of their life as disabled people, and so they’ve had to put up with all the attitudes about that.
I think it’s even more important now, with the suicide bombings back there in New York and then what I’ve seen of people jumping off the Golden Gate out here on the west coast. What I’ve seen coast to coast, if a person is a survivor, it’s important that people should know that.
And people that know me know that, and maybe they’ll know more from your project. But when I’ve hung out at the White Horse Bar, the local gay bar, I’ve met survivors there that are lesbians. It’s mostly a men’s bar but women started going there. The minute I tell them, they’re like, “Oh, I am too.” And somebody else will say, “Oh, I am too.”
I spent the entirety of the week before last working on LTT in San Francisco. It was quite the test run, I have to say. I met 19 amazing humans with equally amazing stories (if you’re not following LTT on Facebook yet, you missed my favorite outtake from Patty Overland’s interview, which should be up sometime soon). We met in coffee shops, bakeries, in the sunlight outside a Vietnamese sandwich shop, in Dolores Park (where I got half a sunburn). I worked with Wendi Koble of Swoon Films for two days. I even traveled to Oakland and Berkeley. I streamlined my process, learned more about my limits and the importance of self-care, and experimented with a tiny ethnographic-esque survey (thanks to my friends at the Neurocognition of Language Lab at Columbia University’s Teachers College).
In the evenings, I drank bloody Marys, spent too much money in bookstores, and drooled on things at Amoeba. The Meet & Greet was a pretty wonderful experience, too. It was the perfect mix of old friends and new friends. My only regret is that I didn’t get to have longer conversations with everyone, which was a running theme for the week. On the last day, I rested. At the beach. And it was good. Except for the part where we happened upon a pair of geese who were distressed because one of their goslings had gotten swept away by the water. By the time I realized the nature of their calls and made a rescue attempt, the gosling was no longer with us. I’m still sad about this.
I can’t wait to start sharing these stories with you. For now, here are snaps of two of the aforementioned amazing humans, Rose and Rochelle.
The next few weeks will be a whirlwind of organization (I collected ~30 hours of footage in San Francisco), my 30th birthday celebration (I get to drag my mom around NYC!), the wedding of one of my best friends, travel, and maybe, eventually, a nap. I’m thinking I’ll keep the next stop for LTT relatively close to home: a quick trip to DC in June, maybe.
Just a couple of press updates before I shut my trap:
1. David Crary of the Associated Press wrote an amazing piece about suicide attempt survivors and how we can be quite the resource when it comes to suicide prevention: Suicide Survivors Help to Shape Prevention Efforts.
2. HuffPost Live contacted me yesterday to pose a question to Mariel Hemingway (Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter) re: her film, “Running from Crazy,” about her family’s history with mental illness & suicide. My question and her answer run from about 16:25-18:30: Mariel Hemingway’s ‘Running from Crazy.’
3. A couple of weeks ago, I met up with Sahar Sarshar to film a segment for ZirZameen, a Persian and English series about underground artists and activists. I even got to help with filming some of the b-roll! Take a look.
As always, thank you for your support. I’m so grateful. Words fail me. I hope you’re all well, especially in light of recent events.
PS: If you’re reading this and you emailed me recently, I want to let you know that I’m not ignoring you. I’m a little bogged down and a lot slow, but I swear, I will reply. Even if it’s in August.
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry is a rogue feminist scholar and a burlesque performer who also happens to be blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. We met at a bar in Bushwick. She told me her story over a beer.
She wrote to me before we met: “I am willing to bet that there are a lot of people with disabilities who [attempt] suicide, or who have the kind of suicidal thoughts that will lead to it. What pushed me over the edge wasn’t my mental health issues, but my peers.”
I was sexually assaulted when I was 14 and I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t tell anybody for five years, so that was kind of in the back of my brain for the next two years. I moved to Seattle from New York shortly after that happened in an emergency move to take care of family, and sort of tried to reset my life in a new place, and I was 14 or 15 so it was kind of a rough time.
I’d gone to a middle school where they teased me for being the blind and deaf kid. The difference between being teased in middle school and being teased in high school and being the disabled kid is that, in middle school, they just think it’s a weird thing that you have. In middle school they don’t really understand what it’s like to be blind or deaf. They just kind of go, “Oh, you have a hearing aid, let me whistle into it,” or, you know, people will trip you down the stairs or they’ll make fun of you for looking like a witch, but they don’t say things like, “If I couldn’t see, I would kill myself.” They wouldn’t say things like, “If my father had died of AIDS, I would kill myself.” They wouldn’t say things like that.
I had people who were my peers saying that they couldn’t live how I did and that if they were like me they would have [killed themselves] already. So I started thinking about suicide. I didn’t really have any friends. I didn’t feel like there was anybody I could talk to about it and I was living with my grandparents who were not exactly warm and fuzzy. They’re good people and I love them, but I couldn’t have said to my grandmother, “I feel like a weirdo and I don’t want to be here.”
So it just kind of started cycling in the back of my head, and then in April of that year my sort of surrogate brother [killed himself], and I found out. It was very sudden. We didn’t see it coming, but we think he was probably bipolar and undiagnosed. It was like, “Oh my god, somebody actually did that.”
About three weeks later I was in a really bad place. Most of my friends were online people and I would do chat rooms and that kind of thing, so I made friends with people all over the country who were my age and depressed, and one day I came home because somebody had said the usual: “You’re blind and I wouldn’t want to be you.” Somebody else had said that my dad was in hell because he was gay.
It was just like a bunch of stuff spiraled together, and then [someone in the chat room] said to me “Well, you should just kill yourself, then” and I looked at it and I went “You know what… That actually sounds like a perfectly good idea.” Literally, the last thing I said to her was, “Fine, maybe I will just go do that” and her response was “Great.”
The Kickstarter campaign ends at 11 AM EST tomorrow, and we’re so very close to reaching the first stretch goal (filmmakers in every city)! Thanks again to everyone who contributed financially or behind the scenes, who shared and shared and shared on social media, who shared in my inbox, and who cared about helping me make this thing a reality. I am full-up with gratitude.
I can’t wait to get to work. The first stop on the Live Through This tour is San Francisco. I’ll be there from 4/14-4/20, so if you would like to participate in the project, be sure to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, I have another story for you. Davey Davis is a talented filmmaker and activist living in Brooklyn. He’s also a suicide attempt survivor. Below, he tells me about what might have stopped him from making his attempt.
I think the only thing that could have stopped me would be—‘cause I was a thoughtful boy, and I was smart—the only thing that could have stopped me would be somebody recognizing that this was a potential of mine and really patiently and clearly and lyrically and, you know, in the form of literature, explaining to me what the repercussions of this act would be for myself and for my parents and my family.
I mean, you live so many lifetimes and the 25 year old version of me still doesn’t have his shit figured out and still hasn’t lived every aspect of life. I’ve never had kids, I’ve never had some huge successful project that makes me feel like a validated human in terms of artistic output.
I’ve not lived through many historical things that humans are faced with. Like, what if when I’m 38, the American economy collapses and suddenly we have to like reform our notion of civilization? The anarchistic 16 year old version of myself would want to see that, but he wouldn’t even have conceived of it as a possibility.
On a much more fundamental and goofy level, I was still a virgin. I hadn’t had any adult relationships. If the 25 year old version of me could have just been like, ‘You have lived a great life, it’s true. You’ve had a great 16 years, but from this point onward it’s only potential and it’s only things that you can make up and you can put the reality into, you know? You’ll go here, you’ll learn this language, you’ll meet this girl, you’ll meet these great people, you’ll make this project. You’ll live here, you’ll live here, and everything changes so many times in a lifetime.’
So, that potential and also somebody just being like, ‘Look, no one that you love deserves to be hurt as much as you’re about to hurt them and they don’t deserve it at all. It doesn’t make sense. Why would you do that?’
WE DID IT! At about 7pm Tuesday night, as I sat in a bar sipping a beer and reading a book (I like to call this “location scouting”), I got the email informing me that we’d reached the 100% mark. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I still don’t. What I do know is that Live Through This will officially be funded!
Thank you so much to everyone who contributed financially or behind the scenes, who shared and shared and shared, and who cared about helping me make this thing a reality. My mind is blown. I’m ecstatic and so grateful. I want to hug all of you. Sadly, I will only get to hug some of you.
Now that we’ve reached the initial funding goal, we can work toward the stretch goals! Stretch goals, for those not familiar with Kickstarter terminology, are goals the project creator sets in excess of the original funding goal that, if met, will allow the creator to further expand the project. I have two in mind:
1. If we reach $22,683, I can bring in a filmmaker for one day of footage in each city I visit. This will work two different kinds of magic:
a). I can keep you all updated with a short video from every city! It’s like postcards from the road, but with less mailbox! I love the idea of collaborating with different filmmakers to bring you some behind the scenes action.
b). I’ll be accumulating footage along the way, which will [eventually] help me put together the documentary I occasionally reference wanting to make (always in the hushiest of hushed tones).
2. If we reach $25,000, I can have the website redesigned! With a more responsive design (optimized for all browsers and mobile devices), I can start to incorporate larger images and multi-media content, like video and audio in a more user-friendly, visually appealing way.
Truth be told, even if the stretch goals aren’t reached, I’m going to find a way to make them happen—eventually. It’s just how I roll, but it would be a lot easier (and speedy) if the funds were there to begin with.
A few things have happened on the press front, if you’re trying to keep up:
If you happen to be in Brooklyn on Sunday and want to avoid the disaster that is St. Patrick’s Day in NYC, you should stop by the BatHaus Coworking Space (279 Starr Street, off the Jefferson L Stop), where I’ll be talking about LTT at Presentation Party Night. PPN is a monthly lecture series founded on the idea that everyone has something to teach. BONUS: free beer by Brooklyn Brewery, free snacks from the Brooklyn Salsa Company. Doors at 7, Presentations at 8.
No matter what happens, I’m just so thrilled about this, and I can’t wait to get to work. I’ll see some of you as soon as 4/14 in San Francisco!
Thank you all so much.
A LTT supporter sent this link along last week, and it seemed worth sharing. It’s a Thrash Lab short on Patton Oswalt and the secret life of the comic. It starts to get interesting between 5:00-7:00, when he discusses depression and suicide.
This little gem is particularly insightful: “It’s okay to be depressed sometimes. It’s okay to just be gloomy. It is kind of funny that the one thing that makes you maybe more perceptive—and maybe more funny—also makes you a much more vulnerable, and thus, not as successful human being in a lot of ways.”
One week into the Live Through This Kickstarter campaign, and we’re already nearing the $10,000 mark! I’m shocked and amazed by the outpouring of support. It’s nice to see that suicide awareness means so much to others out there—sometimes it’s hard to hear questions like, “but why do you want to focus on something so dark?”
We’re in the midst of last minute preparations for the fundraising party at TUFFET, which goes down Thursday night, 2/28, at 7:30pm. TUFFET is located off the L train at 286 Graham Avenue in Brooklyn. Large-scale prints of the portraits will be on display, the amazing DJ Ashleigh will be spinning tunes, we’ve got drink specials, and several of the attempt survivors who’ve shared their stories will be on-hand. We’ve also got some really cool raffle prizes: CDs signed by Henry Rollins; jewelry by Nina Loren; mini-portrait sessions from Danfredo Photography; a 10 minute phone conversation with Charlotte Martin; a signed book by Neil Gaiman; art by Jason Sho Green; a signed Backstreet Boys canvas; swag from The Watson Twins; vegan skincare products from Level Naturals; and prints by me. Everyone who donates $10 or more at the event will get a super cute, super-secret LTT trinket (sponsored in part by Brooklyn Charm). You can RSVP on Facebook here.
The project has gotten a little love around the web in the past week, and it’s only right for me to link to that stuff here: Resource Magazine, the improvised life, Rose Runs Wild, and Snailbird. Bam!
Just yesterday, I booked tickets for my first LTT-related trip! I’ll be in San Francisco from 4/14-4/19. If you want to be a part of the project and haven’t contacted me yet, email me. I’ll start scheduling interviews/shoots in the coming weeks.
Our success so far has been due mainly to getting the word out via social media, namely Facebook and Twitter (click either of these links to share). The sensitive nature of the the project seems to be making it too cumbersome for the media to pick up, which means we have more work to do! We’re $5,942 short of the funding goal, so share the link (http://bit.ly/livethroughthis) everywhere you can (GOOD, Reddit, StumbleUpon, on forums, in comments on related blogs—anything you can think of). Every single dollar helps!