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to tell the tale {8/25/17}

Kelley Clink

One afternoon about five or six years ago, I was searching the internet for suicide prevention advocacy. I wanted to be part of something, to make a difference. I'd participated in walks, I'd raised and donated money, but what I really wanted to do was share my story. I was writing A Different Kind of Same at the time, and  some parts of it had been published in literary magazines, but the larger movement of mental health awareness and suicide prevention intimidated me. I didn't have any professional background in psychology or social work. I wasn't famous. Why would anyone care about my story? As I scanned the web in search of a way to contribute, I found a project called Live Through This. The woman behind the project, Dese'Rae L. Stage, was a photographer and suicide attempt survivor. She was taking portraits of other attempt survivors and sharing their stories. These were regular, everyday people from many different kinds of backgrounds. They weren't doctors and researchers. They weren't famous. But their stories and faces were powerful.

Instantly I knew--this is what I was looking for. 

I immediately started an email to Dese'Rae. I rambled and deleted and re-rambled and deleted again. Everything I wrote sounded awful. I saved a draft and vowed to work on it some more the next day. But the next day came, and the day after that, and a week went by, and then a year, and I didn't go back to it.

I was afraid that my story wasn't "good enough." That it didn't matter. That no one would want to hear it. 

And maybe, just maybe, I wasn't really ready to tell it.

A few years later, after I finished my book, I took my first unsteady steps into the world of advocacy. I wrote some articles, and a few people actually read them. I did some interviews, and a few people actually listened. It turned out I didn't have to be an expert and I didn't have to have all the answers--being willing to share my experience was helpful, and it was enough. And then, lo and behold, I met Dese'Rae L. Stage. 

Even though so many years had passed, and I'd done a lot of work to feel comfortable as an advocate, I was still nervous to approach her. Live Through This had become much bigger. It had been featured in The New York Times and The Washington Post; it had received grants and spots on national TV. But I took a deep breath and shyly asked if, maybe, I could be a part of the project, too?

Dese'Rae said "Of course, dumbass." (Not really, but I always imagined it was what she was thinking).   

Getting to know Dese'Rae and the other survivors has been amazing. Like finding a long lost network of family. Like finally finding my tribe. Suicidal thoughts and depression can be so isolating. Just knowing you aren't alone can change everything.

Yesterday my story was added to Live Through This, and I couldn't be more proud (even of the part that talks about my bowel movements). I survived. And I'm grateful every damn day.

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