Surviving Suicide: From a Mental Hospital to the Emmys

Suicide Prevention LogoSeptember is National Suicide Prevention Month. For me, suicide awareness is personal, because I have lost family members and friends, and almost died myself by suicide as a troubled teenager.

That’s why in August, while folks were freely expressing their opinions about the tragic death of actor Robin Williams, the inappropriate comments made it painfully obvious that our nation still understands little about the complex reasons behind suicide. As in Mr. Williams’ case, suicide is most frequently accompanied by a mental health issue like depression. This lack of education has been my catalyst for spending almost twenty years championing for suicide prevention.

Sharing my story publicly began while I was working as a reporter and producer at Lima’s WTLW TV 44 in the 1990s. My former supervisor, Ginger Stache, a talented journalist, who is now with Joyce Meyer Ministries, decided to create awareness about suicide by producing a documentary, and I agreed to be interviewed for the project.

To explain, as a depressed teen living in a dysfunctional environment in the early seventies, a near fatal suicide attempt landed me in an Intensive Care Unit hovering between life and death. Following that, much of my senior year of high school was spent in Toledo State Mental Hospital. After a couple other serious suicide attempts, and intermittent hospitalizations, a psychiatrist in charge of my case said I would probably die by suicide or in a mental institution.

Instead of fulfilling this dire prophecy, almost three decades ago, I found emotional and spiritual healing through faith, counseling, and living life one day at a time. Depression and shame about the stigma of mental illness gave way to the gradual understanding that my testimony offered hope to others still hurting. Like taking part in Ginger Stache’s documentary, “Before You Say Good-bye,” which aired nationwide and in Europe. She was nominated for two regional Emmys for the half-hour film.

When Ginger invited me to attend the 1999 black-tie Emmy Awards banquet to be held in an opulent ballroom of an historic Cleveland hotel, I felt like Cinderella. There was only one problem, being a single mom on my meager journalist’s budget didn’t allow for ball gowns.

When I found a dark green crepe formal at 85 percent off, I could hardly believe my good fortune. It was my size and fit perfectly. I handed over my hard-earned $20.00 bill and triumphantly left the mall with the dress. In the days that followed, I tried to be grateful, despite the fact that I didn’t care much for the nondescript gown.

A couple of my female colleagues were also attending the celebration. While they were excitedly describing their formals and accessories, I couldn’t help but envy them. They weren’t wicked stepsisters, simply women who had more disposable income.

Cinderella in VelvetOne day, another producer, Sheri Ketner noticed that I wasn’t thrilled with my dress. While I was expounding the virtues of finding such a bargain, Sheri candidly asked, “But, you don’t like it, do you?”

My countenance must have visibly fallen, as I dejectedly answered, “No.” Then I saw a determined look on my compassionate co-worker’s face. A couple days later, Sheri brought a large cardboard box into the TV station and handed it to me. Inside was a breathtaking burgundy velvet gown with a beaded neckline, and a skirt made of countless yards of translucent tulle over the velvet.

At the bottom of the box were matching velvet heels. Instantly I was saddened, since shoes rarely fit my narrow size 9 feet. However, I was amazed to see that the shoes were marked, “9N.” Sheri, smiled with satisfaction, and told me, the outfit was “borrowed,” and would have to be returned after the Emmys.

Larry & Christina Ginger Stache didn’t win a regional Emmy that night, nor did I get my prince. But a few years later on the evening of June 8, 2002, Ginger’s documentary about smuggling Bibles into China garnered the coveted prize. At the same time, I was marrying my handsome husband, who is a public school administrator in a candlelight ceremony.

Battling depression is still an occasional struggle, but if I would have died as a teenager, I wouldn’t be here to share this Cinderella tale. Tragically, every forty seconds someone dies by suicide and 800,000 people die annually according to a September 2014 Newsweek article. Before you say, “Good-bye,” please call the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-TALK, or seek professional counseling. After all, the life you save may be your own.

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April’s Columbine Challenge 20 Years Later

Columbine exteriorThe threat of school violence is all too real for me. As a school administrator’s wife, at two different public systems, I’ve lived through a bomb threat and lock down with my husband inside the endangered buildings. Yet as a journalist, there is no violent episode more personally memorable than the one that occurred in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. Twenty years ago, employed as a west central Ohio television reporter, I was horrified by the live footage of bloodied bodies being transported on gurneys from Columbine High School that afternoon. What we were witnessing was one of the firsts in school violence. Sadly, I fear the public is now almost hardened to horrific scenes of mayhem at learning institutions. 

Unfortunately, April has a history of violence. For example, John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. On the same date, 47 years later more than 1500 crewmen and passengers perished with the Titanic. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis on April 4, 1968, and the Oklahoma City Bombing claimed 168 victims on April 19, 1995. On April 16, 2007, tragedy struck on the campus of Virginia Tech, when a student killed 32 individuals, while wounding 17 others, before taking his own life.  On April 15, 2013  Continue reading

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Warning: Valentine’s Day is on the Way!

With St. Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I find myself confident that I won’t be forgotten. Being a hopeless romantic and having spent years of Valentine’s days alone, I know firsthand what it is like to not have any expectations Valentine's Candyfor the holiday. But for a dozen years, I’ve been married to a man who wouldn’t think of forgetting.

Still for over a decade as a single mom, I knew that no bouquet of flowers or balloons, or even a card bearing my name would arrive. Back then, I worked as a reporter at WTLW TV 44. With a videographer’s assistance, I went out into the community and did a “Man on the street” investigating what Valentine’s Day meant to other people.

One 90-year-old gentleman I polled proudly told me that he would definitely have a surprise in store for his wife. When I asked him if he had ever forgotten the day dedicated to lovers, a grim look crossed his countenance. With the camera rolling, he replied hesitantly, “I don’t think I better talk about that.” So he had forgotten once.  I could tell it had been such a painful experience that it had never happened again. After all, a woman scorned can be a formidable foe.

Anyway, other folks freely told me about the cards, chocolates, roses, and teddy bears that they were planning to present to their beloved. Although one honest young man revealed that he couldn’t remember the last time he had received a Valentine’s Day card. The fact that he look like a ski model from the cover of GQ soothed my own wounded ego back then.

My quest for more information about Valentine’s Day led me to investigate its history. There are conflicting stories about the day’s origin. The one that I like the best deals with St. Valentine as a third century priest. At the time, Emperor Claudius II decreed that marriage be outlawed, deciding that single men made the best soldiers. The History Channel website reports that, “Valentine realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.  When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.”

The demise of Valentine was as melodramatic as any opera one could attend. Coincidently, a decade ago on Valentine’s Day, I surprised my spouse with opera tickets. This was a real sacrifice, because opera is his love, not mine. Still, I thought that I would never outdo the display of undying affection that I assumed my hubby must have planned, since we were still almost newlyweds.

When that fated Valentine’s Day dawned, I awoke with the expectation of a kid on Christmas morning. Despite the fact, there was no breakfast in bed, or even a rose anywhere in sight, I excitedly guessed it was only a matter of time before I would be presented with some token of his enduring love. That Saturday passed quickly in chores, errands, and general weekend routine. By late afternoon, I began to get suspicious that the love of my life might have forgotten. However, being married less than two years I rationalized away that ridiculous fear.

Finally in the car on the way to the opera, Larry confessed that he had overlooked the arrival of Valentine’s Day. Being a bachelor all his life, he tried to find a good excuse for his lapse, but none of them were working. Needless to say, it was a rather subdued evening after that.

Yet when we returned home, there was a small bag hanging on our front door. Inside was a beautiful Valentine’s Day card with a silver bracelet bearing one heart charm. There was also a note from my husband’s best buddy explaining that Larry must have accidentally left these items at his house on an earlier visit.Valentine's Couple

Sounds too good to be true? It was. Something about the card just didn’t seem right. So being a former investigative reporter, I simply asked, “Did you buy me these things?”

Larry’s honest character caused him to immediately blurt out, “I called my friend right before we left for the opera, and told him I needed help.” All I could do was laugh, because I knew that in the future my hubby would understand even “old married” couples should celebrate the gift of love. I guess people like me are born hopelessly romantic, while others become romantic desperate for survival. No matter what kind of romantic you are, Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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