15 Suicide-Attempt Survivors Tell Their Stories

Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
National Suicide Prevention Week runs from September 7-13, 2015.

If you or someone you care about is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.


Years after her suicide attempt, Dese'Rae L. Stage Googled "suicide survivor." "What I found," she shares on her website, "was people who had lost someone they loved, not people like me, who had tried to die and lived instead — people who were confused about what happened next, who felt so much shame that they couldn't talk about what had happened to them, people who felt misunderstood and alone."

Stage knew firsthand that isolation could be deadly. "I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder in 2004," she writes. "I'm also a survivor of nine years of self-injury and a suicide attempt catalyzed by an emotionally and physically abusive relationship." Stage was compelled to action not only by her own struggle with mental illness and self-harm, she says, but also by the loss of friends to suicide and the egregious lack of resources available to suicide-attempt survivors in this country. So, as a self-taught photographer, Stage created the multimedia storytelling project Live Through This, which draws suicide-attempt survivors out from under our culture's shroud of anonymity and encourages them to share their experiences — with faces and names attached. The project also aims to raise awareness of the "basic tenet of suicide prevention," which is: "If you're afraid a loved one might be suicidal, ASK."

As Stage points out, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. What's more, it's the only one of the top 10 causes of death that increased from 2011 to 2012. Today, life expectancy is higher than it's ever been, but the suicide rate is on the rise — perhaps indicating that our country's mental-health management is lagging behind the rest of medicine. Dismantling the stigma around suicide is a literal matter of life and death for tens of thousands of people: Some 40,000 Americans die by suicide every year. With Live Through This, Stage provides a platform for the people behind these numbers and amplifies the stories — the devastating, diverse, uplifting, uncertain, hopeful, despairing, healing stories — of those who have survived attempted suicide. Click through to meet 15 of these individuals.

From the Live Through Us website: If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you don't like the phone, check out Lifeline Crisis Chat or Crisis Text Line. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.

This post was originally published on February 20, 2015.
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Anita Estrada
"[The depression] really became more obvious, more of an issue, when I got in my late teens and early 20s. I was diagnosed with depression when I was in my early 20s — depression with atypical anxiety — and then, when I had my first suicide attempt, they changed [my diagnosis] to bipolar disorder. I’m like, 'Well, that explains all the racing thoughts and all that.' I would spend money I didn’t have. I had all these ideas...it was the mania. I just never really knew what was going on, so I couldn’t control it.

"My first suicide attempt — I guess that was in 2005, so I was 24. I attempted suicide again in 2008 which, at that time, was awkward because I was working at a hospital in the ICU, and that was the same ICU where I was treated... The one thing I don’t want to tell anyone I love is that I will never do it again, because I don’t know if I will never do it again. I can’t tell the future. I don’t know if it’s going to get worse, if the medications are going to stop working, if my circumstances will change where I can’t afford medication and therapy."
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Melody Moezzi
"The thing about the mentally ill is [that] I had never been familiar with that community until I was diagnosed and went into the hospital and realized that this is an incredibly vulnerable community that is so silent and is not some tiny minority of people. You’re talking 25% of the population in a given year. 50% of people in their lifetime will have a mental illness. It’s not some tiny minority of people, but they’re so fucking quiet about it, and that was the thing that really pissed me off when I went into the hospital and realized that."
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Carlton Davis
"[After my suicide attempt] I remember lying in bed next to a man who did die, and I heard his death rattle throughout the night. I said, 'Okay, I want to live.' I said, 'I'm gonna live.' And, I made it through that. I ended up in a psychiatric part of the Yale New Haven Hospital for a while. I got out and then I got into art and design stuff. It kept my life going. But, I also realized I was a person who was subjected to periods of depression and severe depression, and cycles of great mania and excitement, and I'd stay up all night and do things.

"I recall reading Sylvia Plath at that time, 'cause I felt a lot like her. This is a thing that she said that I felt sort of described my life: 'It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous and positive and despairingly negative; whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it. I’m now flooded with despair, almost hysteria, as if I were smothering.'"
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Keris Myrick
"My first therapist would tell me — which was very helpful, I don’t understand why — he would say, 'I’ll hold the hope for you.'

"I was like, 'Okay, that’s nice. You do that. I don’t know what the hell that means. You just hold that hope for me. I’ll be over here killing myself. Have a good time with that hope. You’ll be holding it, I’ll be dead. It’s all good, it’s all good.'

"Then, I'd be in the act of, and I would hear his voice saying, 'I’m holding the hope, I’m holding the hope.' Then, I'd think, 'I don’t know what that means, but it must mean something important for me to try to see if I can put this off for another hour, another two hours, another day, another whatever.' It was something that resonated, I don’t know why."
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Marie Lindsey
"[After my suicide attempt] I knew what I felt and I knew what I thought, but I didn’t want to think that way anymore. I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. It was a really difficult time with doctors that I felt weren’t really receiving my situation very well. I felt like I was still lying, that doctors looked at my stories and felt like [they weren't] real. I felt like I was fabricating what was really happening.

"I was put on lithium for a little while, and of course that made me fat, so it was up and down a lot for me right after I got out of the hospital. People started to tell me flat-out, 'We don’t believe that you were raped. We don’t believe you. Your suicide attempt wasn’t real. We don’t believe that happened, either.'"
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Jennifer Nykanen
"Last time I [cut], I was 26... Let’s see, that was the first time 911 was actually called. I spent probably a good week in Shoal Creek, the 1950s psych ward. I swear to god, they pulled it straight out of the 1950s, 1960s. It’s not okay.

"I can’t say that anything necessarily good came out of Shoal Creek. Nothing really does. Shoal Creek is a holding tank and nothing more. That is how the majority of psychiatric hospitals are treated. They hold people. They drug them into their own particular forms of oblivion, and when it’s decided that they are no longer a danger to themselves or others, they are then released back out into society, generally with no actual help because that, of course, is the best way to keep people alive.

"I have heard horror stories of people going to psych wards in tears, truly terrified that they are, in fact, going to kill themselves, and being turned away because the staff there has decided they don’t have a 'real' mental illness. The staff!"
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Natasha Winn
"One day, he just woke up and decided to be mad at me. He just decided, 'I’m gonna be mad at Natasha — no matter what she does or what she says, I’m just gonna be mad at her.' I started crying and I told him that he was making everything worse and that I was going to kill myself, and since we’d said it so many times before, he was just like, 'Whatever, whatever'...

"I really felt worthless, and I really felt like I didn’t deserve to be alive and all the things were true and that... I don’t know. I just thought that I was a horrible person and the only way to not be horrible [was] to die...

"Even if your friend or your girlfriend or whatever always says, 'I’m gonna kill myself, I’m gonna kill myself,' you should take her seriously and not say, 'Oh, that’s something you always say.'"
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Suzanne Miller
"I was upper-middle-class — probably the wealthiest of my whole friend group — and went to private school and went to summer camps in the summer. I had everything tangible. We had a nice house. I had a boyfriend. Had lots of friends. And, I just didn’t care about any of it.

"Everything, really, in our family was about my mom. How was my mom feeling? How was she gonna handle things? You didn’t really have time to feel bad. You weren’t supposed to have time to feel bad. If you started to feel that way or express that, [you would hear], 'Well, your mother grew up with a schizophrenic mom, and she didn’t even have a dad. You have a dad and you have a nice house,' so there was a lot of guilt. She would say, 'Oh, you’re sad about that? Well...I was homeless at one point.'"
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Tile Celeste
"I think the aftermath was really constructive. I needed to know what was worth saving about me. After that, I spent so much time alone because I felt like I needed to give myself rehab. I started writing and photographing things and living with myself, being my own girlfriend… I started figuring out who I wanted to save: the Tile that I didn’t want to be gone.

"For me, in the moments after I had actually done everything that I had been planning for so long, I realized that I didn’t want to die. But, that’s unique. That’s not everyone. It wasn’t a release; it was afraid. I was afraid, and I said, 'There must be someone that I like in there,' and that was what I realized."
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Grace Kim
"I grew up really, really religious. My parents sent me to church every week, like three days a week, and so I genuinely believed I was going to hell for most of my life. I also thought I wouldn’t be able to be happy in this life, because I had this horrible secret that I couldn’t tell them, because they were just so fucking religious, and I believed it... [Ed. note: Grace realized she was gay when she was 4.] I just thought there was no hope in life... My eternal soul was damned, and...I couldn’t be happy in this life, so what was the point?

"So, probably from like 4 to 24, I was really depressed. I told myself I was gonna kill myself when I was 8 years old, but I chose a day. I chose after I graduated from college 'cause of the whole Asian familial pressures of being a scientist or a doctor. I thought, 'I at least have to go to college and then end it,' for some odd reason. My logic doesn’t make any sense."
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Pamela Northrup
"The pregnancy itself was actually not bad. I was fairly lucky. Had sort of typical morning sickness, but nothing much... Now, all of a sudden, I’m at home. I’m alone with this tiny, helpless thing that is completely dependent on me...

"My doctor put me on Zoloft, hoping to stave off postpartum... Didn’t realize it at the time, but my body chemistry had changed just enough that it was no longer working, and I just slipped further and further and further, very slowly, so none of us really realized how bad it had gotten...

"The hormonal changes that you go through during and after pregnancy, they just screw with your mind. They really, really do. Plus, there’s the sleep deprivation and the pressure and…it’s rough... There’s the baby blues, which makes it sound like it’s no big deal, but there’s degrees of it clear up to what they consider postpartum psychosis, where it can get really bad."
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Nicole Keimer
"When you have a problem with food, you can’t just stop eating and cut food out of your life. So, there was a time period where I thought, 'I’m never going to get out of this. Every day is just going to be getting up and thinking about food.'

"There was a time where I was literally spending 16 hours of my 24-hour day thinking about food: how I could cut calories, how I could just get down to as little as I could. How am I going to get to a place where I can stop thinking about food? I just thought that was never going to happen, because you have to think about food every day.

"Once I started to feel like I was stuck in this for years, that’s when the suicidal thoughts started to happen. It was, The only way to actually stop thinking about food is to kill myself, because otherwise I’m going to have to think about food every single day."
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Rene Severin
"Some guy...I really want to meet this guy...this guy slapped me. He slapped the shit out of me. He was like, 'Hey. Hey, wake up. Wake up.'

"And, I just heard, 'He’s breathing.' They called an ambulance for me. I fully woke up in the ambulance in terrible pain — terrible pain. All I could think about was my mom... They were just like, 'Who do you want me to call?' I was like, 'My mom. My mom, right now.'"
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Dominick Quagliata
"They say time heals all wounds... I still have those thoughts every day. Every once in a while, I’ll think about it and go, 'Why am I here? What’s keeping me tethered to this, right here?'

"I’ve met a bunch of people, and they say that I’m a really awesome guy, that I’m really easy to talk to, I’m really funny. They give me all these compliments and stuff and I’m like, 'You might see that, but I don’t know how much of that is actually real.'

"I don’t know how much of that is actually just me putting on a face and smiling through my teeth, or an actual thing, 'cause I feel when I did that, I really lost a huge sense of my own identity. I didn’t know who I was for a while. I didn’t know this person that I became, because I really shattered what self-image I had. That became the hardest thing to cope with — my own self-image and trying to rebuild that. It took me a long time to do it, but in the end, I found part of myself again."
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Photo: Courtesy Of Dese'Rae L. Stage.
Dese'Rae L. Stage
"I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2004. I'd already been mis-diagnosed with depression and fed a steady stream of antidepressants, which did nothing but kill my sex drive and make me tired and even more depressed than when I started out. And, I'd been cutting myself for nearly a decade... [My first love] was one of those whirlwind romances, but it was volatile, too. We went through the textbook progression of domestic abuse. First, there were the threats; then, she started pushing me (literally), then hitting me in places only visible beneath my clothes, and then it stopped mattering. No holds barred.

"Someone, somewhere, will find this project, and they'll see a story that parallels their own, and they'll find strength in that. Maybe they'll share their own story with someone else, or they'll be less afraid to reach out to a friend they're worried about. Maybe they won't be so scared to just talk about it... I've collected the stories and portraits of attempt survivors across the country, people just like you and me, and I'm finding that the louder I yell, and the more people I convince to yell with me, the more we inch toward breaking down those walls of stigma and shame, and the easier it becomes to just live through this."
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