The past two weeks have been incredible! I collected 11 stories in Boston, where I stayed in a giant brownstone that my friends at the Neurocognition of Language Lab (who were in town for a conference) were gracious enough to let me work out of. After that, I was home for an eventful day, where there was a secret photo shoot (secret then, anyway) and I photographed Martina McBride for an intimate show to promote her new album, Everlasting.
I flew out to LA the next day for the 47th annual conference of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS). That was a doozy.
The first day, the AAS announced that they’d created a new sixth division for suicide attempt survivors and those with lived experience of suicidal thoughts. There was quite a bit of lobbying behind the scenes to make this happen, and I’m so glad it did. It’s one step toward busting stigma and having our voices heard in terms of our treatment, among other things.
They also announced the creation of a national Speakers Bureau, on which I was chosen as an inaugural member of the lived experience division! All the while, the social media team was hard at work creating content. That was exciting, exhausting, and so much fun—we were all fast friends.
And the panel… mind blowing. It’s hard to describe what happened in that room. The four of us (myself, Samantha Nadler, Misha Kessler, and Craig Miller) sat up in front, with our backs to the audience. I was sitting next to Samantha. She’d turn around every few minutes to see more and more people in the room, and she’d smack me on the leg and say something like, “Holy crap!” I was too nervous to look. Eventually, the room was packed—standing room only.
I went first. I’d just finished my talk the night before and I was so nervous that I shook the entire time I was speaking, but I felt (and feel) really good about it. LTT portraits were cycling through the entire session, and we all got standing ovations in the end. People hooted and hollered for us like they were at a concert, which you’ll get to experience if you listen to the audio or watch the video (below). By the end, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The feeling that we were finally being heard in a place we hadn’t been heard before, that there was solidarity there, and that we’d just made history, was palpable. I still get the chills when I think about it.
Lisa Klein and Doug Blush (Madpix), the makers of Of Two Minds, a fantastic documentary about bipolar disorder, spent a good amount of time chasing us around for a new documentary on survivors of suicide (loss and attempt survivors alike), too. They were kind enough to film the panel for us.
Somewhere in the middle of all the madness, I went to Van Nuys to record an episode of Mental Illness Happy Hour with Paul Gilmartin. That man is a force, and an intense prober of minds. I’m excited to hear the episode, but it isn’t likely to be out for a long while.
The last couple of days I was in LA, I collected another 7 stories (bringing the grand total to 85 so far). Here’s a video of a portion of Shayda Kafai’s interview. We spent a lot of time talking about semantics.
The day I got home, magic happened. The New York Times published an article about the momentum the attempt survivor movement is gaining, and I got to be their cover girl. Carey identifies the ways in which the system fails attempt survivors, how we have historically been silenced, and some of the ways in which we’re pushing back. It’s a great start, but not perfect, by any means.
There are a few problematic issues where the article is concerned:
- Describing the methodology of a suicide attempt can be dangerous. Usually, it’s sensationalistic and unproductive.
- Use of the word “commit” comes with some pretty hefty implications. More objective language (e.g. “John Doe died by suicide”) better serves to reduce stigma.
- It’s always a good idea to include some information on warning signs and/or resources at the end of the piece.
You’ll notice that my method was published (inaccurately, I might mention). I did specifically request that this information not be included, only to be told that I’d be pulled if I didn’t ‘disclose.’ I approved hesitantly after a bit of editing—we worked together to get a little closer to language that was less ‘dark and stormy’—and tried to remember that it’s not about me, that it’s about the movement and that it would shine a light on the project.
Luckily, it has, and for that I’m grateful, but I’ve learned a big lesson about disclosure in the media and how, even if the goal is a positive one, any piece still needs a hook. As it stands, the media shares gory details because they catch our attention. I want other things to be more interesting to us as readers. Who cares how I tried to die? What about what led me down that path? What about the people who saved me and what happened next?
Personal misgivings aside, Carey was very informative in his writing and really gave us a huge platform to spread the word and raise awareness. On that note, it’s so wonderful to share that platform with people like Heidi Bryan, Leah Harris, John Draper, and Eduardo Vega, who have been out there working tirelessly to fight indifference to, or hostility against, attempt survivors for years. They blazed a trail for me to follow, and I feel lucky to even be included. Things are finally changing and this article is proof.
The other night, after I got home from LA, my girlfriend and I sat down with a couple glasses of wine and we toasted to one another’s recent successes. I’m paraphrasing, but she said something like, “This moment is important, but what’s more important is that you kept going way back when, when so few people cared, but when you knew and believed that the project was so important that you couldn’t stop, even when it felt lonely.”
This feels like a pivotal moment for the project (and the movement on the whole), and I want to thank all of the many, many people who have supported me thus far. Thanks to: every single person who has shared their story and their voice to help break the silence; Michelle and Bonnie Crawford-Bewley for lending me the money to buy a proper camera with which to do the damn thing; Lisa Lombardo for guidance; Felicidad Garcia for inspiration, patience, constant volleying of ideas, and more guidance; Helen Hedberg and Cat Downs for hours and hours of interview transcription; Monica Orta for her mad management skillz; Emily Lupsor for PR help; Lisa Klein for believing/poking/prodding and caring enough to make a film about it all; April Foreman, Bill Schmitz, Jr., Cara Anna, and Leah Harris for mentoring me (even though the party’s just getting started); Paul and Tom at Postcardly; Austin at Print Peppermint; my fellow panelists at AAS (Samantha Nadler, Misha Kessler, Craig Miller); my social media team buddies from AAS (Tony Wood, Ursula Whiteside, Keris Myrick, Quintin Hunt); every single one of the people who supported and/or promoted the Kickstarter campaign in any way; and anyone else I may have left out because I’m exhausted.