by Lauren Hope
September is Suicide Prevention Month in honor of this month I’d like to share with you part of my mental health journey and why I can no longer stay silent.
“Wait, please! Are they going to say my name over the intercom?” I ask the paramedic. My legs are growing cold, the pounding sound of my heart is almost deafening. Sharp pains are shooting through my chest. Is this what a heart attacks feel like? I’m only 24. I am too young for this.
I am in the throes of the worse anxiety attacks of my life to date. Aside from the physical pain I am terrified of being found out.
“Please my news stations listens to the scanner. I don’t want anyone to know I am here,” I say gasping for air.
The paramedic calmly replies, “I need you to just focus on your breathing. Do you feel light-headed? If you can’t control your breathing you may pass out. Please honey just focus on your breathing.” Her voice is soft, cool, and soothing to my ears. She takes a stethoscope and presses it against my chest.
“We need to bring your heart rate down.” My eyes are fixated on the paramedic near the ambulance scanner, the one I know that all the news stations in the market listen to for breaking news.
The paramedic’s velvety voice says, “Don’t worry we won’t broadcast anything about you over the scanner. They’re going to call for an ambulance.”
“A what! Wait, why? I need to finish my news story. There was this robbery at the pizza place, and if I don’t get back the story won’t make air,” I say rapidly, the words escaping my mouth faster than I can catch them. Each letter sending me further into pain, panic, and angst.
I am not going to make deadline. What will they say about it? I will be fired. My whole television career is over now.
I am growing more scared by the minute that everything I’ve done to conceal the implosion I am now experiencing is going to be exposed. What will happen if everyone knows messy contents of my mental illness; the insomnia, the anxiety attacks, the numbing depression, the times I have to fight to leave the house, the endless thoughts of worthlessness. I have vowed to myself and my family to always keep this secret what will happen now that I am about to be transported to a hospital for an anxiety attack.
That day at the downtown Lynchburg Fire Station I experienced the worse anxiety attack of my life. There is so much more to this story, the gracious way the paramedics and hospital staff kept my protected from the public. How my I even shooed my News Director away when he came to see me in the hospital or the amazing nurse married to one our web producers who stayed with me after his shift, took me to the pharmacy to get my anti anxiety medications, made dinner for me, and stayed at my tuna can apartment until I fell asleep. The grace and care each of these people showed me still brings me to tears. That day was one a hard time in my mental health journey, but not the hardest. And, during my television contract no one ever found out my mental illness. I attribute that to the good southern hospitality that Lynchburg is known for. But, I can’t hide anymore. I see now that silence does nothing but keep people in the darkness. And for me that meant years of not getting help, and not accepting my mental illness.
The road to acceptance has not been easy. I survived a suicide attempt in May 2014 just as my career at WAVY News 10 in Hampton Roads was taking off. I walked away from my television career, the depression destroyed my confidence, and focus. For two lived I lived in a major depressive episode, not eating, bathing, socializing. I essentially was the walking dead. The despair got deeper when I became homeless in 2016, and spent many nights sleeping in my car or a church shelter program. One of the many things that gave me hope in those dark times was living my truth, and telling my story. When I shared my story in speeches, blog, or YouTube vlogs I got tremendous feedback, connection to people around the world sharing the same struggle. They showed me I was not alone, and when I saw my story heal apart of them it renewed my purpose in life.
This is why I am now telling you. I am stepping out of the shadows of year of shame and guilt about living with suicidal ideation, and mental illness. I hope by seeing me someone in the Hill City who may be suffering in silence knows there is a way out, a way to recovery, and unity in speaking up. If you are struggling, experiencing suicidal thoughts or considering a plan, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.