Surviving Suicide: From a Mental Hospital to the Emmys

Suicide awareness is personal, because I have lost family members and friends and almost died myself. The tragedy of attempting to end one’s own life is often accompanied by a mental health issue like depression, as it was in my own case. 

Yet sharing about a mental health struggle can feel shameful and frightening. Despite this, with the catalyst of educating others, I started to share my story quite publicly while working as a reporter and producer at Lima’s WTLW TV 44. It was during the late 1990s, when my former supervisor, Ginger Stache, who is a talented Christian journalist, decided to create awareness about suicide by producing a documentary. I agreed to be interviewed for her project.

My story begins during the 1970s, when as a depressed teenager living in an extremely dysfunctional home I attempted suicide. Only a high school junior, my hopeless and unstable environment resulted in the near fatal, intentional drug overdose, which landed me in an Intensive Care Unit hovering between life and death.

I recovered physically, but not emotionally.  Months later, I would spend much of my senior year in Toledo State Mental Hospital. Back then, little had been accomplished in mental health reform, and the hospital was a barbaric place not offering any real hope for recovery. As the years passed, following a couple more serious suicide attempts, an ongoing battle with addiction, along with intermittent and lengthy 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, over three decades ago, I found emotional and spiritual healing on a psychiatric ward the last time I had to be hospitalized. A pastor visited me there and explained, “What happened to you as a child, hurt God more than it hurt you.” 

This supernatural knowledge changed my perception of our Creator. I didn’t realize God cared and understood the pain I felt as a frightened child living in an alcoholic home afraid to sleep at night. Before the pastor’s reassurance of our heavenly Father’s concern, I had never felt loved by God wondering why He didn’t protect me when I needed His help most.

My healing and faith journey began after learning people and circumstances can break our hearts, but that God’s heart is also broken when His children suffer. I gave my life to Jesus on that same psychiatric ward and started living a different lifestyle by reading the Bible, attending church and recovery meetings, exercising, eating right, and waiting on God’s intervention by praying instead of reacting from pain or panic.  

Depression and shame about the stigma of mental illness gave way to the gradual understanding that my testimony offered hope to others still hurting. That’s why I took part in Ginger’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 the 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 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 Velvet

One 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 of almost 20 years now, in a candlelight ceremony.

For me, depression is still an occasional battle. And quite truthfully, it’s been a fierce struggle again in light of this almost yearlong pandemic. We have to be honest, because too many people are giving up hope that things can get better. Media reports suggest 40 percent of Americans are struggling with some type of mental health issue or drug problem.

That’s why, we must utilize all the tools of recovery available, while acknowledging that mental health issues continue to carry a societal sigma. We have to continue the mission to destigmatize this illness, and applaud each one of the millions of Americans trying their very best to get through this unprecedented season one day at a time. As Jesus followers, it’s also our spiritual duty to show compassion and kindness to each other, because we never know who is the one experiencing some relentlessly dark days.

After all, if I would have died as a teenager, I wouldn’t be here to share this Cinderella tale. 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.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a National Amy and Ohio APME award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show and on CBN’s 700 Club. Her inspiring fictional, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is her most recent book. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

April’s Columbine Challenge 20 Years Later

The 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 two brothers exploded bombs at the Boston Marathon resulting in 3 deaths and about 260 individuals being injured.

April 20, 1889, is also the birth date of German Dictator Adolph Hitler who led a murderous regime of cruelty resulting in the deaths of more than six million Jewish people, and millions of other individuals. There has been some speculation that it was Hitler’s birthday that might have motivated the Columbine tragedy on the same date 110 years later. But we will never know for sure.

One thing I do recall is that as television commentators shared the biographies of the victims back then, I was drawn to the photo of a blue-eyed, blonde teenager named Cassie Bernall. While 17-year-old Cassie was studying in the school library, gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris conducted their bloody rampage leaving 13 dead and 23 wounded, before turning their guns on themselves. Nationwide, there were reports that one of the killers pointed a gun at Cassie and asked her if she believed in God. When she answered, “Yes,” he fired, sending her into eternity.cassie-bernall-book

Did this conversation really happen? We can’t be certain, but what we do know is that Cassie did not always ‘believe.’ Before a radical faith conversion, she dabbled in witchcraft, and was obsessed with suicide. According to a statement issued by her parents at her funeral, “….It was for her strong faith in God and His promise of eternal life that she made her stand.” In a generation where there seem to be no absolutes or steadfast conviction, it inspires me that a teenager sacrificed her life for what she believed. Following the Columbine tragedy, Cassie Bernall became a modern day martyr memorialized in t-shirts, books, and song lyrics, spreading the message, “Yes, I believe.”

Beside Cassie’s courageous story, there is the tale of 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott, who was the first student to lose her life that day at Columbine. “Rachel left a legacy of reaching out to those who were different, who were picked on by others, or who were new at her school,” this according to the Website Rachel’s Challenge, which is the national organization founded in the slain teen’s honor dedicated to preventing bullying in schools. There was great good that came from the tragedy at Columbine as Rachel’s Challenge based on her prolific writings has reached millions of students across the country. Rachel really did leave us with quite a challenge. In her own words, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

With education, conscious effort, and a little faith, we have the opportunity to transform April’s legacy from one of senseless violence to that of random kindness and courageous conviction. 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. She has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life. Her latest book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available at all major online outlets and through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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 for 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.

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!