Live Through This is a collection of portraits and stories of suicide attempt survivors, as told by those survivors.
“Suicide” is a dirty word in this country. It’s a sin. It’s taboo. It’s selfish. It's not an easy topic to discuss and because we, as a culture, don't know how to approach it, it's easily swept under a rug. The problem is that suicide is a pervasive public health issue (the 10th leading cause of death in the US). I get it: we’re afraid of death. But avoiding it and pretending it doesn’t exist is nothing more than willfully perpetuating ignorance.
The intention of Live Through This is to show that everyone is susceptible to depression and suicidal thoughts by sharing portraits and stories of real attempt survivors—people who look just like you. These feelings could affect your mom, your partner, or your brother, and the fear of talking about it can be a killer.
Historically, suicide attempt survivors, in particular, have spoken under conditions of anonymity in order to save them from being discriminated against. The silence and shame created in that act are dangerous. Live Through This encourages survivors to own their experiences publicly—using both their full names and likenesses—and thereby works to strip the issue of anonymity and raise awareness by, simply, talking about it. It's the first known project of its kind, exploring a world that has remained a taboo for far too long.
Live Through This exists for many reasons. Here are some of them:
· It humanizes the issue of suicide by putting faces to the statistics that have represented those with lived experience of suicidal thoughts and actions for years. The survivors who share their stories here are real people who have been through hell. They are also engaging, fascinating people whose voices deserve to be heard. It asks you to look into their eyes, to see their humanity, to find empathy.
· Everybody should know the basic tenet of suicide prevention: If you're afraid a loved one might be suicidal, ASK. The thought that asking might be putting the idea into your loved one's head is a myth.
· Depression affects 1 in 10 people–a huge number–but stigma is everywhere. That stigma often results in shame and silence, and the severe depressions that result in suicide frequently go unnoticed. What if this was affecting your mom, your partner, or your best friend?
· The media sensationalizes suicide for stories. You've inevitably heard of Aaron Swartz and Tyler Clementi, but how often do you hear about suicides that don't come with a snappy headline? How often is a story on suicide presented with a sympathetic view of mental illness, or information on warning signs and strategies? Not often.
· Each death by suicide affects 115 people. That's 1 million new people affected every year. I have lost dear friends to suicide. Have you?
· Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, and it's on the rise. And here we are, afraid of it. I'm convinced that the simple act of getting people to talk about it will save lives. It's a serious public health issue, and one we can do something about if we can just set our fears aside.
The portraits and stories are the main product of Live Through This, but the website is the vehicle, and the accessibility of that is incredibly important. It [hopefully] provides comfort to those who are down, insight to those who have trouble understanding depression or suicidal ideation, and a sort of catharsis for those who have lost a loved one. I know for a fact this project has already saved one life–and there's even a Live Through This tattoo out there in the world.
In March 2013, I completed a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter that is allowing me to take the project on the road. There are hundreds of attempt survivors across the country who want to share their stories.
Eventually, I'd like to create a mobile exhibition that will serve as an educational tool for universities, organizations, and anyone else who might like to promote suicide awareness in a unique, relatable way. In the meantime, I am booking speaking engagements. When all is said and done, I hope to have enough material for a book or film, but that's likely several years in the future.
The meeting is broken down into two parts: the story, and then the shoot. First, the survivor tells their story. I let them go at their own pace and include only the details they wish to share. I try not to interrupt—I prefer it to be as purely from the survivor's perspective as possible and don't want to throw it off course. I do often ask questions at the end, but it's more of a conversation than an interview. There is no structure, and the content of the questions comes from the story. Everything is recorded. Afterward, while the survivor is still in that experiential headspace, we make a set of portraits. Again, my direction is minimal. My only request is that the survivor look directly into my lens. The entire process usually takes about an hour and a half.
Each portrait is presented on the website with a curated snippet of the survivor's story: something poignant or a unique perspective. When paired in this way, the portraits and stories work to de-stigmatize suicide as a topic unworthy of everyday dialogue and to serve as proof of life on the other side of a suicide attempt.
There are a number of survivors across the country who are interested in telling their stories. The following cities act as pods (meaning that there are a minimum of three survivors in each who have contacted me about participation), and are where I am currently focusing my travel efforts:
· New York, NY (Ongoing)
· Philadelphia, PA (Ongoing)
· Seattle, WA (TBD)
· Minneapolis, MN (TBD)
· Norfolk, VA (TBD)
PLEASE NOTE: Due to the volume of emails I receive, it may take some time before you get a response, as I answer each and every one personally. Your patience is greatly appreciated.
LTT is a labor of love requiring a lot of time and care. I do most of the work myself, but do have a small team of volunteers taking care of tasks I simply don't have the expertise to handle on my own.
At present, I'm seeking the help of someone familiar with grants to research arts/mental health grants that might be a good fit for the project; a Squarespace developer for some basic tweaks; as well as long-term transcriptionists. Sadly, as I have no budget, these positions are unpaid. If you are interested, please email me.