Your Color is your Why. What’s Your Why?
This past weekend I went to Liberty Park in Salt Lake City to join thousands of others as part of the "Out of the Darkness" walk put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. At different places around the event there were tables with thousands of beaded necklaces of different colors. Each color had a different meaning or significance of someone who was lost to suicide. As I stood at the table gathering my honor beads, almost too weak to stand, let alone to speak, I started to cry. There were multiple tables each stacked two feet high with the nine different color strands. The fact that the event coordinators suspected that many people would be dealing with suicide hurt my heart. The fact that they were right hurt worse.
Everyone should be wearing blue as an indication that they are supporting suicide prevention.
My daughter said “that’s the only one I want.” Me too, but I gathered more. I gathered three teal. My 25-year-old daughter attempted suicide for the first time at 8 years old. I’m glad I didn’t have to grab a white strand. It has been a long battle but she is still alive fighting hard to hold on despite a broken mental health system she repeatedly falls between the cracks.
My 16-year-old daughter started cutting 2 years ago after coming out as gay at school. Being rejected hurt, not just by mean peers but by unhelpful, unsupportive adults at church and school as well. The school’s response, “There is nothing we can do. Kids will be kids”. I am happy she is still here and for the support I found outside of school with organizations like Encircle, Northstar, I’ll Walk with You, and Mama Dragons. Today I dawn a Mama Dragon’s Pin and Necklace with my honor beads. Thank God for unconditionally loving and supportive people.
The last teal necklace is for my dear friend Topher. A beautiful gay man working to affect change in the LGBTQ community; to save lives while struggling to save his own. His goal is to start a nonprofit called OneBreath Suicide Prevention. He told me if we can get them to take just one more breath maybe we will have time to reach them, to save them, and if not they will die knowing they gave it their very best shot.
Which leads me to the green strand. The hardest to pick up. I don’t want anyone to know. February wasn’t my first dance with death but on that day I did what my friend said, I took One more Breath. With a bottle of Percocet in one hand and a cup of water in the other I cried on the bathroom floor because there was nothing else to do. That day, the bankruptcy finalized (after my work fired me 5 days after my dad’s death) I picked up the mail and read 4 shut off notices, and notification that the house was being taken and then a knock on the car window where a very nice Polynesian man said he was there to take my car. The uncontrolled pain from the recently severed ACL flared up and I grabbed the meds, some water and headed to the bathroom. I heard Topher say "Just take One More Breath" and I did. In that breath I thought of my kids and how they needed me. I thought of all the attempts before and how glad I was that those didn’t end my life. And then the words to my favorite song by Imagine Dragons and my motto for life came to my mind, Whatever it takes
Whatever it takes 'Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins I do whatever it takes 'Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains Whatever it takes You take me to the top I'm ready for Whatever it takes 'Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins I do what it takes
For my kids... I will do whatever it takes. The strength that comes from choosing life in a times like these fills me with adrenaline and I’m ready to break these chains one more time.
I’m grateful for Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons for saving my life with this song and for the tireless work they do with LoveLoud Foundation’s mission to “to bring communities and families together to ignite the vital conversation about what it means to unconditionally love, understand, support, accept and celebrate our LGBTQ+ friends and family” and look forward to cooperating with, supporting the Foundation and being at the next LoveLoud Festival!
I have walked out of the darkness and share my story. My family doesn’t even know. I put on a pretty good face. Who wouldn’t be suicidal in that scenario? Life did get better. I learned coping skills (meditation, Hooponopono, Chi Kong) and returned to art, music and writing. I surrounded myself with people who are unconditionally loving and supportive (oh that meant leaving family out (for now)), and I turned to personal spirituality undefined by any one religion.
I could have grabbed more necklaces. I have many friends who have lost children. I swore I would do something. The only way I can keep from crying is to move to action. If I slow down I fall into despair.
I learned a new word recently. Sherpa
A Sherpa is a member of a Himalayan people living on the borders of Nepal and Tibet, renowned for their skill in mountaineering. Sherpa's are local people who are highly skilled and experienced climbers. They are paid to do things such as prepare the route for foreign climbers to follow, fix ropes in place, and carry the necessary climbing kit up the mountain. Climbing Everest is tough and being a Sherpa is a really risky job.
My Everest was overcoming suicide. I have Masters degrees in Special Education and Psychology. I’m highly skilled in behavior change and education and experienced in overcoming suicide. I desire to prepare the route for others to follow, fix supports in place and help carry the burden of those struggling up this mountain.
I suppose I’m a Sherpa of sorts. Let me show you the way to summit the Everest of overcoming Suicide. The view from up here is phenomenal.
After being part of the IM Team for about a month, Paul Feyereisen, IM CEO asked, “What’s your IM statement?” IM Alive. It’s not a minor thing. Sometimes that has meant just barely living. Sometimes that has meant I can fly. It comes from the song I'm Alive by Michael Franti and Spearhead.
Ohhhhhh, I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive Ohhhhhh, I can fly, I can fly, I can fly Ohhhhhh, I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive And I'm loving every second Minute, hour, bigger, better, stronger, power
I got that power I got that power I got that power, power power power
It’s more than a song for me, it’s my anthem. I’m not just alive... I’m loving every second, minute, and hour. I’m bigger, better, stronger. I am powerful because I survived. Not because of a medical miracle or by first responders saving an unwilling patient but because I took one more breath and Chose to live. #Chooselife
“Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen, to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee… to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, to be this vulnerable means that we’re alive.” Brene Brown
At this moment of terror I walked out of the darkness to be deeply and vulnerably seen with gratitude and joy to love with my whole heart. I truly am Alive.
Karmel Pehrson (Mel) received her Masters Degree in Special Education from Grand Canyon University and completed coursework at the University of Utah for her BCBA- Board Certified Behavior Analyst towards a second Masters Degree. She taught in elementary behavior units for over 13 years and has worked in client homes using behavior strategies to treat Autism and comorbid disorders for 6 years. Mel was diagnosed with Bipolar at age 16 and is a suicide survivor. She is a single mother and 4 out of her 5 daughters have been diagnosed with special needs, including Schizoaffective disorder, Bipolar, Depression/Anxiety and Autism. She is also the mother to openly gay children and a proud Mama Dragon- fiercely standing up for and protecting all children. She owns HELP and Educate Us, Inc which provides education and support to leaders and parents who love and serve children with special needs.