I presented three times over the course of that week. The first was a workshop where I teamed up with Dr. April Foreman, Amelia Lehto, and Tony Wood to teach attendees how to harness the powers of social media at conferences in order to more widely spread the valuable information shared there. The second was a reprise of last year's historic panel at AAS—with Sam Nadler, Craig Miller, and Misha Kessler (the four of us make a fantastic team, if I do say so, myself)—on the wild ride that was 2014 in terms of the successes and struggles each of us encountered in our advocacy. The last was entitled, "Here There Be Dragons: New Voices in Suicide," in which I gave an overview of my experiences with suicide and my mental health, alongside David Covington, Craig Miller (yes, again), and Dr. DeQuincy Lezine. They were each wonderful in their own ways. I still feel so lucky to be able to share my lived expertise with professionals in all areas of the suicidology and behavioral health fields.
What I'm really here to talk about, though, is this amazing thing that happened at the AAS conference: I entered the inaugural Paul G. Quinnett Lived Experience Writing Contest (that's a mouthful) and won first place! The purpose of the PGQ contest was in line with my own mission in my work with Live Through This: to encourage those of us with lived experience to tell our stories, because giving voice to our experiences makes for a powerful tool—not only to inspire hope in others who may be suffering, but also to educate those who need guidance (loved ones, service providers, policymakers, and more).
Here's an excerpt of my essay, entitled "Redeemed":
My story is not unique. There are so many others out there just like it, but the society we live in tells us that we can't talk about suicide, that doing so is attention-seeking behavior, that it only happens to "crazy" people. The truth is, this can happen to anyone, and until we stop sterilizing it by talking in figures, stereotyping it, romanticizing it, sensationalizing it, or avoiding it completely, we're not going to save any lives...
I'm not trying to normalize suicidal feelings. I tell this story and I do this work because I want people to know that this doesn't happen in a vacuum. The suicidal mind can't be stereotyped. When we do it safely talking about these feelings can be empowering. It can create identification and breed compassion. It can heal. It can open us up to possible solutions, both for ourselves and the system at large. Maybe it can even save lives, but we won't know until we try.
I wish I could say that I didn't still battle my mind and the thoughts that I'd be better off dead sometimes, but I do. The difference now is that I'm not afraid to talk about it. I'm not afraid to ask for help when I need it. I know I'm loved even when I can't feel it. And I know I will be able to power through any difficult moment because I know, without a doubt, that I'm not alone.
Wanna read the whole thing? You can do that here.
Thanks, as ever, for your support and encouragement. Big changes are afoot!