Below you will find the video taken on Saturday September 13, 2014 at Ala Moana Beach Park for the 2nd annual Oahu Out of the Darkness Walk, where I was honored to be a guest speaker. I have also included a transcript below.
We did suffer one malfunction during the ceremony in which the microphone went out. The video is in two parts, but stitched together as best I could. The volume is a bit lower until the mic gets restored.
Over three years ago, I made a choice that could have changed my course and affected my family in a way they may never have understood. My name is Melanie, and I’m a suicide attempt survivor.
In my life I have worn many hats; sister, daughter, solider, mom, wife, auntie, realtor, and I’m proud of them all; but the one hat that never fit right was “attempt survivor”. The word suicide itself makes people feel uncomfortable, they don’t always know what to say. It’s a part of my life and I don’t always know what to say. That began to change when I met my friend Kerry. She had mentioned she was going to coordinate an Out of the Darkness walk on Oahu in her step sons honor. When I met her, I knew we were meant to be friends, I felt an instant connection to her. We don’t always know why people come into our lives, but Kerry’s reason revealed itself quickly. What I didn’t know is how much her friendship would help right the compass in my life.
While stationed at Fort Hood, Texas in March 2011, after years of struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, I’d had enough. Between my husbands 5 deployments, my then teenage son out of control and the loss of my sister to cancer I felt overwhelmed by the weight of my circumstances.
I vaguely recall the events of that night, the ride in the ambulance, the emergency room, the guard posted outside my door. What I do recall was the sadness on my husbands face, and the guilt and shame I felt for what I had done. Those feelings stayed with me for years. A handful of people knew my story and my pain; my husband and son, my niece (who’s like my daughter), my cousin and best friend. After that night I spent time with a therapist and spoke about relational issues I had with my mom, and how I heard threats of suicide from her my whole life. These threats were so familiar to me that it became a way to handle difficult situations. I tried to work through those issues, but I didn’t realize how much more work was still needed. Although I shared some of the pains and reasons why I felt like I did, I couldn’t open up and say the word suicide out loud or fathom forgiving myself for what I had done.
In the years before that night, one of my most difficult tasks was putting on a brave face, but I felt I had to. My sister had bravely fought throughout her ordeal with esophageal cancer, and my husband had deployed five times to a combat zone and I was too stubborn to show weakness. They say hindsight is 20/20 and if I knew then what I know now, I would have spoken up and been honest about how depressed and dark I was feeling.
Volunteering to help with the walk last year was a turning point in my life. Before the walk the thought of breaking my silence and sharing my story was frightening. I knew to move forward I had to purge the details of that night. For me, it was important to remove the albatross on my heart that I knew was holding me back. When I shared the accounts of that night with Kerry and her husband Boz, it was the beginning of a healing process. In opening up, I felt more free. Last year at the walk I was nervous but with Kerry by my side I went to the tent and found strength to put the green beads around my neck, making my first public declaration that I struggle personally. I wear a green bravelets necklace every day to remind myself of those beads, and to be brave! That evening I rode with Melissa to a post walk dinner for the committee members and shared my story with her. She showed compassion and told me that sharing my story could help other people. I had spent years afraid to share my secret for fear people would look at me in horror. I can say, that has never happened, not once. Each time I share my story, in person or on-line, I forgive myself a little more. In the recent months since I have shared my story, I have had friends reach out to me and let me know that they have lost someone to suicide, they have struggled personally or had children that have struggled. In the words of TS Eliot “survival is your strength, not your shame”
In so many areas of life we are not given a second chance, but I feel like I have been given one. I am also fortunate to have an amazing spouse who never gave up on me, even in the years that followed when I wanted to give up on myself. I have been married to Doug for 11 years, and known him for over 20, no ones knows me as well as he does, and he still didn’t know how depressed I’d become. I know the years leading up to that night had highs and lows and last 3 years has been a roller coaster, that at times felt like it was going off its tracks. The words “Thank you” cannot even touch the depth of gratitude I have, Doug thank you for never giving up on me and loving me unconditionally. I have other family like my son Seth and my niece Deven who never gave up on me and continue to love me. Thank you both, I love you to the moon and back. I am grateful for the friendships I have made through this walk, and those who knew me before and have supported me throughout this process, I am lucky to have each of them in my life.
That walk last year changed me, for the better. I’m a work in progress and everyday I make an effort to forgive myself for what I did but that doesn’t come overnight, it takes work. These events, these walks, a coming together of one community, one ohana that share a common thread is where healing can begin.
In July we learned of the loss of my sons friends Kevin, and I was reminded why these walks and this organization are so important. I have learned a great deal about human nature and myself over the last year. People are more understanding than we realize, and although I use to put on a brave face just to get through the day, the one before you now doesn’t need a mask because I am now who I was meant to be.
We are all connected by invisible threads of suicide and mental illness. I learned this when I was brave enough to open up and share my story.
As I stand before you with paradise all around me, I’m grateful to be here. I now have a 3 month old grandson Reid, a good life full of friends and family who love and accept me; flaws and all. I am forever grateful that my husband is here with me today, it lets me know I am not alone. He never gave up on me.
One of my favorite writers Augusteen Burroughs said, “I myself am made of entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” That quote sums me up!
In closing, my hope is that you know that this is a safe place, a place of hope, a place where healing can begin. It did for me because I was ready. When you are ready to share your story, be bold and know that someone out there will help you, or will get help from your story. Last year my attempt survivor hat didn’t fit so well, but this year I am learning I don’t have to wear the hat full-time, but when I do, on a day like today I am brave and unashamed.