I interviewed Megan Alldredge in Morehead, KY on October 14, 2015. She was 24 at the time, and a student of Equine Science at Morehead State University.
My dad [died by] suicide back in 2007. It was March 22. It was just a somewhat normal day. Wake up. Have breakfast. Go to school. And then, notice that people were starting to act weird. Normally, I’m bullied every day of school. Thrown into lockers, having fistfights, that sort of thing. That day, people just started coming up to me. Hugging me. Telling me how sorry they were. Saying that they wouldn’t wish that on their worst enemies.
I didn’t know what they were talking about. I thought everybody was completely nuts. But it turned out that my mother had called the school, saying that my father had [died by] suicide at 3 AM that day. She didn’t tell me, personally. She had my best friend from church come to my house with her father and the children’s church pastor and tell me face-to-face.
Ever since that day, my world turned completely around. I turned my back on everybody. I didn’t want to do anything. Didn’t want to socialize or anything. I just wanted to give up. I wanted to die. That’s when the self-injury and the suicide attempts started. It was just when I started high school.
As soon as I got into high school, I started getting bullied all over again. I was already numb enough from my dad’s suicide that I didn’t care anymore. I’d think, “Go ahead, bully me. Go ahead, send me further into the ground than I already am.”
I started writing suicide notes. I started drawing different ways of killing myself. I started talking a certain way that even my friends in school started getting worried about me. I tried slitting my wrist, slitting my ankles... any way to just get the pain out. I know now that it’s not healthy to do that, but back then, I didn’t know what was happening. Nobody would talk to me; nobody would explain to me what I was feeling. They just said, “You’re suicidal. You either stop what you’re doing right now, or you go to a mental institution.”
So I hid what I was doing, but I kept doing it. I would wear long sleeves and long pants to school even though it was seventy, eighty degrees out. I would stop associating with my friends. I would just back off from everybody. Act out in class; pick fights. Then I got into the music program at my high school, and that really helped a lot, just to get to graduation. Music is a good way to express yourself, especially when you’re feeling lost and depressed and all of that. I was in marching band for all four years of my high school.
Des: What did you play?
Megan: I played clarinet, tenor sax, bari sax, a lot of the pit instruments… I got switched to pit because, my sophomore year, I had a knee injury that ended my marching, so I helped the band further by being in the pit for the remainder of the four years. That was really cool. I learned a lot about the different instruments.
To be quite honest, a lot of my band friends pushed me harder than anybody else in the school to get better, to start looking at things from a different perspective, and to fight to live. I use that a lot, especially during Christmas and Thanksgiving and all of the family holidays, because now I don’t have a dad to do stuff with.
We used to do all kinds of things. We used to shoot bows. We used to bowl. Basketball, walk the dogs, go to the park. Anything a normal father and daughter would do, I guess. He was my world, and I still can’t imagine my life without him. But I’m living life without him. And not a day goes by that I don’t regret starting to cut and trying to end my life. Not only is it unfair to me, it’s also unfair to my mom and my grandparents. Whoever I have left. It would be unfair that I, too, go away permanently. I’d just be spreading the pain to other people.
Now that I’m in college, I still struggle with cutting and I still struggle with self-injury, but the spacing between each one is getting longer as time goes by.
Last Sunday I spread my dad’s ashes. That was a big move for me, because I held onto that for eight and a half years. When I spread those ashes, it was like a huge weight came off of my chest.
Des: Did you take him somewhere good?
Megan: Oh, yeah. I took him up to Eagle Lake. He can overlook the lake. He can see the deer. He can go pretend that he’s fishing. He can see the sunset. He can see the geese landing on the lake. He can also look over campus and know that I’m okay.
Des: Tell me about your feelings about your mom not telling you, and what happened after with your mom. Does she communicate about it? Were they together?
Megan: No. My mom and dad divorced after I turned nine, so he moved away and I got stuck with her. But I really wanted to be with my dad, because he actually wanted to do stuff with me, whereas she would rather work.
Des: What did you think about her not telling you?
Megan: Quite frankly, I was pissed. I just couldn’t believe that she didn’t have the courage or the audacity to tell me herself. She had to call three other people just to tell me. She had to drag my best friend into this, and I did not like that whatsoever.
But then again, who wants to hear that their father has [died by] suicide? I would much rather hear from someone who loves me than someone who doesn't, so I’m actually glad that my best friend told me.
Des: Does your mom talk about it at all? I’m getting a sense that you guys aren’t super close.
Megan: No. We’ve never been close. She doesn’t talk about it at all. When I try to bring it up, she just shoots me down: “Shut up, or get out.” I’m living with my grandparents now.
Des: Do they talk about it?
Megan: Yeah. They talk about it. They bring up good memories.
Des: His parents?
Megan: No, my mom’s parents. His parents live in Texas. Well, my grandmother lives in Texas. My grandfather passed away a year before my dad did, so I’m guessing that’s what pushed him over the edge. But I don’t know. There was no note, there was no indication, there was nothing. Just, like, poof.
Des: Are you angry at him?
Megan: I was for most of the time, but as the years have gone on, the anger current dissipated. Just pure depression set in. I’d think, “Yeah, I’m angry that you left me, but I’m sad that you’re not here now. ‘Cause you’re not here to see my graduation. You’re not here to see me go off to college. You’re not here to see me ride horses almost every week. You’re not here to see me use what you’ve taught,” and it’s frustrating.
Des: Why’d you wait so long to spread his ashes? What made you decide to do it when you did?
Megan: I felt like that was the time. It was time to let go and it was time to move on. Yeah, I’ll miss him forever, but I can’t keep holding onto to the past. If you keep holding onto the past, you can’t move forward in your life, and you can’t help others who’ve been in your situation.
Des: Do you still have suicidal thoughts?
Megan: Sometimes. Mostly, it happens around the holidays. For instance, Halloween is coming up, and that’s one of Dad’s favorite holidays. He would pull all kinds of pranks on teenagers. But it’s getting better.
Des: How do I ask this question? Cutting versus suicidal thoughts—what do those different kinds of thoughts look like for you?
Megan: For me, cutting is just a quick release. Suicidal thoughts are, “I actually don’t want to be here anymore and I’m thinking about ending it.” But I don’t want to go that far as to actually doing it, so I immediately start contacting my friends on campus. I immediately go to my roommate and be like, “Hey, you need to keep every sharp object away from me right now.”
When I was a freshman, I wouldn’t talk to anybody. I would just go and cut, but now that I’m a super senior, I’ve grown a lot since being here. Not only have I gotten so used to not picking up a knife or not picking up a razor with the intention to harm, I’m now using those tools for what they’re meant to do.
Des: How did you learn to do all that?
Megan: Mostly through my friends’ stubbornness. And repetition. A lot of repetition. For instance, my third year here, I had the best roommate of all time. She knew my backstory, she knew how I was, and every time that I got a suicidal thought, she would give me this look like, “Don’t you do it. Don’t you even think about it, don’t even look over there.” And every time I don’t do it or I don’t even look at it or I don’t even think about it, she rewards me. Kind of like what you would do for a dog or a horse. Positive reinforcement.
Des: Sugar cube.
Megan: Exactly. Only for me, it was Pizza Rolls. Or Twizzlers.
Des: Whatever works. So, you said you still struggle with cutting. I do too. It’s been ten years since I “quit.” How do you feel about that when the thoughts come back up, and you kind of make the decision, “Hey, I’m gonna try to stop this now?”
Megan: If I’m suicidal and I really want to cut, that’s when I’ll go to my friends. But if I’m cutting just to relieve stress or whatever… I try my best not to do it, but sometimes, I end up doing it. I don’t know. It’s really difficult to explain.
Des: How do you try not to? What do you do?
Megan: I personally hide—let’s say, my keys—because that’s what I like to use a lot of the time. I hide my keys wherever I can’t get to them, or I sneak them onto my roommate’s side of the bed, ‘cause I’m not allowed to be over there. So I just sneak them somewhere and I’ll go for a walk. Sometimes, fresh air helps. Or listening to music, something like that. Whatever can stop the mind from going on that track.
Des: Do you do the same when you’re having suicidal thoughts?
Megan: Not really. Suicidal thoughts tend to be more serious than just wanting to cut, so I have to take a more serious route on that. I have to contact the first person I can think of and let them know what’s going on. They’ll ask, “Do you need somebody in the room? Do you need somebody to talk to? Do you need a counselor? Do you need to call the police? What do we need to do?”
I’m like, “Right now, severity about an eight, which is like, ‘Come get me. No police, no counselor.’” If it’s a nine, it goes to a counselor thing, and if it’s a ten, it goes to a police thing. And you know you’re in deep trouble.
Des: Have made use of the services on campus?
Megan: Yeah. We have a twenty-four hour counseling service. Someone is always on call, no matter what. If you need to get ahold of them, you can either get ahold of the police and they’ll get ahold of the person on call for you while staying with you, make sure you don’t do anything.
Des: Do you feel safe using those programs?
Megan: Yeah. Just being with people of authority gives that kind of calm. Usually, I don’t like being near police, but when I’m in that much depression, or just wanting to end it all, I look for comfort in authority figures, whether it be the police, the RAs, the student directors, or whoever is available at the time.
Des: So, you’ve had good experiences, which is awesome. How many times have you attempted? If you know.
Megan: Roughly seven or eight total.
Des: Over the course of eight and a half years, I’m guessing. What kind of advice would you give someone who’s there, in the place you’ve been?
Megan: I would say, “Fight. I know you don’t want to be here, but please fight. There is somebody who cares about you. I care about you, even though I don’t know you.”
Someone completely random came up to me and said I’ve gotta keep fighting.
I’ll even help you, personally. If you need that. If you want that. I’ll help you. I’ll walk you through it, ‘cause life is too precious to throw away. For every person who dies of suicide, you’re leaving at least ten, fifteen people scarred for life because you couldn’t see your worth. You might not see it now, but down the road, you will. You can look down the road and see that you came very far. You came from a dark place, and now you’re in a better place.
Des: Do you see your worth?
Megan: Yeah. I do.
Des: What is it?
Megan: I’ve helped so many people just by telling my story. I’ve not only helped people, but I’ve helped animals. I’ve helped horses get over their fears, and I’ve helped horses learn that people aren’t that scary. Yeah, they might do stupid stuff, but they’re not that scary.
Des: I want to come back to the horses, but tell me the story about the stranger. What was happening?
Megan: I was getting bullied in the middle of my high school gym. It was a bunch of guys. They were picking on me because I was overweight and the new kid. She literally jumped in the middle of the fight and started backing them off. Once the guys had left me alone and the teacher broke up the fight, she literally sat with me the whole entire time that I had a nervous breakdown.
She told me, “You have to fight. You have to fight back. I don’t know your whole story, but I’m gonna help you survive this.” We’ve been best friends ever since. At least until we graduated, and then we kind of drifted apart because I went to college. But she’s doing really well.
Des: College will do that to you. Tell me about the horses. Why equine therapy, and how’d you get into it?
Megan: I’ve loved horses since I was little. Every time I’m around them, I feel so much happier. I feel so much like, “This is where I need to be. This is what I need to start doing.” I’ve done a little bit of research on equine therapy, and I’ve seen so much.
I’ve seen the proof of it, because my brother has Asperger’s. He came up to visit me at school one time, and I took him out to the farm and showed him the horses. I showed him Diamond, an Appaloosa mare. She loved him, and he loved her. I could see from the minute he saw her, his eyes just lit up and he was a happier, calmer person than he would normally be. He would be so zigzagged around that he couldn’t focus on anything, but when he was with Diamond, he was perfectly calm. He was able to focus, [and] talk normally.
People with emotional scarring or emotional issues tend to open up more to animals than to people, because they know that animals don’t judge you, whereas people can be pretty cruel. I know I can help more people through that than just offering regular counseling. There’s only so much that counseling can do.
Des: PTSD. Do you have it from your grief over the loss of your dad?
Megan: It’s been officially diagnosed as PTSD from a counselor that I went to over summer. And it is from my dad. They confirmed it because, before my dad’s suicide, there was no problem with me besides being bullied in school.
I used to be happy. I used to play music all the time. I used to sing all the time. Draw. Run around like a horse-crazy lunatic. Ride my bike everywhere. Just a normal fifteen year old.
Des: How does the PTSD manifest itself?
Megan: I get really depressed really quickly. Even if we’re in a happy situation, I’ll just suddenly feel all depressed and moody. Or I just start doing scratching motions on my wrist or whatever. I get really uncomfortable with people. I get angry. I start spouting stuff that sometimes doesn’t make sense to other people. It’s a lot of things combined, but the biggest thing is the severe depression. Once I’m in that, it’s very hard for me to get back out of it.
Des: Is suicide still an option for you?
Megan: No. I will not consider suicide, not in the near future. There’s just too much to be done.
Des: I am really fascinated by how well your friends seem to be machines about helping you. Where the hell did they get these skills? Most people don’t know how to help someone in crisis.
Megan: Well, a lot of my friends have similar backgrounds, or they know someone [who has struggled]. Especially my roommate. My current roommate knew a friend in high school that actually [died by] suicide, so she doesn’t want to lose another friend like that. She’s literally pushing me to do better and better. But she’s also comforting, and she knows when to back off and give me space. ‘Cause eventually, if you keep pushing me, I’m gonna push right back.
I also joined, not a religious group, but a cultural group. It’s called PAN—Pagan Alternative Non Denominational Practices, I guess you could say. They were really welcoming. They also had experiences with that. They know different ways to bring calmness and serenity into my life. Whether it be through spells or incantations, rituals, whatever. So far, it’s worked.
Des: Say more about faith. Where are you? How important is that to you? Do you feel like it helps? Or not? Go down any of those paths.
Megan: I have a fickle faith. I’m not all in, but I’m not all out, either. It just depends. Like, in all honesty, I hate Christianity. I hate Christianity, and yet I’m a Christian myself.
Des: Yeah, I was just gonna say, where does this fickle faith lie?
Megan: I hate how we say, “Don’t judge,” but we do it anyway. We say, “Don’t bash other people’s [faith],” but we do it anyway. I can’t stand hypocrisy. So, yeah. I’m gonna worship God in my own way, because I’m still with God. But don’t tell me, “You’ve gotta do this, this, this, and this.” No. That’s not how I work. What you do doesn’t work for me. I have to find some other way. So, no. I don’t pray every day. I don’t talk to God every day. No. He knows what I’m thinking.
Des: Yeah, do you really need to talk to him?
Des: Is suicide a sin?
Megan: I honestly don’t know. I’ve heard people call it a sin. I’ve heard people just call it being pushed too far without a lending hand. But for me, it’s more of an escape—like, a permanent escape. I don’t think it’s right, but I guess you can call it a sin.
Des: No, I want to know how you feel.
Megan: I just don’t think it’s right. But I don’t want to call it a sin, because I don’t want to condemn them. If you feel like you’re being pushed too far, you should either push back or take a leap of faith and ask someone for help. It might be a blind jump, but don’t go into the void.
Des: But it sounds like you’re strong in a way that people don’t know how to be. You know? Being able to push your pride away and your fear away to ask for help.
Megan: It takes a lot. It takes a lot of courage, but it also takes a lot of, as you say, faith. If you don’t at least trust yourself to get help, there’s got to be somebody out there that you trust…There’s got to be at least one person that you can think of who cares about you.
Des: We’re in a Southern state. Obviously, I have to ask you about guns and suicide.
Megan: I personally do not like guns, because my dad [died by] suicide with a revolver.
Des: Gun control is not going to be a thing in this country.
Des: How can we continue with guns—especially in the South—and reduce the amount of suicides?
Megan: I think we should do more of a mental background as well as a criminal background. If people have guns in their houses, they should at least have one or more gun safes with only one set of keys. That way, people aren’t more likely to just go and grab a gun and do something.
Des: Like how you hide your keys.
Des: Means restriction. When you get into mental health evaluations, though, what if they did that and you decided one day that you wanted to get a gun? Just hypothetically. I imagine you’re not going to get one.
Megan: Yeah. No.
Des: Because now you have this PTSD diagnosis.
Megan: Yeah. I mean, if they were to do a mental evaluation, I guess I could fib a little and say I don’t have any problems. But then again, I could say I don’t have a therapist, or any kind of medical records.
Des: Yeah. That’s a tough one for me. I want nothing to do with guns.
Megan: I hate guns. With a passion.
Des: I worry that trying to pair guns with mental health, the way we do, could really be damaging to our rights as people who deal with mental health issues.
Megan: Yeah. But then again, we’re also trying to keep the community safe.
Des: Right. We’re not doing a very good job of that.
Megan: No, not really. But then again, we don’t wanna take peoples’ rights away, like the right to bear arms.
Megan: Which would be totally unfair to those people.
Des: I mean, I’m fine with not having that right, I just don’t think it’s a thing that will happen.
Why did you decide to tell your story?
Megan: Mostly, because I know there’s someone out there with similar stories, or similar problems. Maybe my story can help them. Maybe it can convince them to seek help or seek a friend. It’s not to boost my ego, or anything. I don’t have an ego to boost, anyway. But mostly, it’s just to help other people. Pay it forward, I guess you could say.
Des: What does it mean to be an attempt survivor, especially after a loss? How does that feel?
Megan: In all honesty, it makes me feel like a failure, because I wanted to [die by] suicide after my dad [died by] suicide. I’m not thinking of the consequences that’ll go with that action. It just makes me seem like a selfish person.
It’s really hard a lot of the time just to fight that feeling—the urge to want to die, to want to completely end it, to want to join my dad.
Yeah, my dad is the world to me, but so are my friends. So are my grandparents. There’s more to life than just one person. Not that I’m saying one person doesn’t matter. Everybody matters. You have to look at the bigger picture.
Des: You know that’s normal, right? To feel suicidal after you lose someone?
Megan: Yeah. Now I know that. After like four years of not knowing it.
Des: You’ve gotta know this. Totally normal. It’s just terrifying. Normal and terrifying.
If you're hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out to one of the resources below. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can't feel it—and you are worth your life.
You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you don't like talking on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or check out Lifeline Crisis Chat. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
Megan's story is sponsored by a grant from the hope & grace fund, a project of New Venture Fund in partnership with global women’s skincare brand, philosophy, inc. Thanks also to Taryn Balchunas for providing the transcription to Megan's interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.
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