I learned last night that Amy Bleuel, founder of Project Semicolon, died by suicide last week. In sitting with the news and trying to find clarity, I keep thinking of my colleagues. Suicide prevention work is done almost exclusively by people who have lost someone to suicide or who have experienced their own suicidality. Often, the calling to suicide prevention comes close on the heels of a near miss with an attempt, or the suicide death of someone we love, and it comes with urgency. In that way, it puts many of us in a precarious position: we so desperately want to save others from suicide that we forget to save ourselves. We dive in with our life raft before we learn to swim.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned collecting stories for Live Through This and traveling the country sharing my own story, it’s that the most important thing we’re doing when we share is giving others permission to share — and what a gift that is to bear witness to. But it’s also a burden. It can be a heavy load, and if you’re struggling with your own mental health, if you don’t have the supports, if you haven’t mastered self-care, that load can crush you.
It’s no secret that we often clashed in our opinions, but when we were first introduced, Amy shared how she still struggled with thoughts of suicide, how isolated she often felt, how adrift. I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately, and the news of Amy’s death shook a memory loose.
In session last week, my therapist asked me, “Who do you feel comfortable being vulnerable with?”
“My wife,” I said.
“I have an incredible support system that I don’t often make use of when I really need to,” I said.
“Be careful,” she said, “You don’t want to find yourself lonely in a sea of people. That can lead you straight down a path…”
I finished her sentence for her: “…to suicide.”
We lost a powerful advocate in Amy, and I know the rest of us who do this work are really feeling that loss today. If you’re one of these people, please don’t lose sight of yourself in the work. We need you — and we need you thriving, not just surviving — so that when you hold your breath and you dive deep, you pull two people ashore: yourself and the person you worked so hard to save. And then you send up a flare to let the rescue boat know where you are, and you wait and you rest and you breathe.
I’m guessing Amy didn’t know how deeply she affected so many people. I’m guessing she didn’t think there was a rescue boat for her, but I think it was just a foggy night and she couldn’t see her lighthouse.
If you’re hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out. 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’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. And if you want to take action, consider donating your social media data for suicide prevention research at ourdatahelps.org.