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 Ginger Stache, my former supervisor, who is a talented, award-winning 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 a 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. Eventually, I graduated from college, and later began working in the broadcasting field. That’s why I took 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 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 more than 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 battle like anxiety or depression. Plus, there are increased addiction issues.

That’s why, we must utilize all the tools of recovery available, while acknowledging that mental health issues still carry a societal stigma. 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. For those of us who are believers, 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.

The Danger of Glamorizing Suicide

Did you ever think of suicide as being romantic or glamorous? In September, as we observe Suicide Prevention Awareness Month it’s important to remember that young adults with impressionable minds might be persuaded to. That’s why it’s crucial to talk about suicide, because “one conversation can change a life.” This statement is from www.nami.org, the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, which also reports that “suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people.”

Yet Hollywood has sometimes glamorized suicide. A prime example is the recent movie, “Me Before You.” Billed as a drama/romance starring Emilia Clarke “Lou” and Sam Claflin,”Will” the film was released on DVD on August 30, 2016. It’s frightening to think of all the teenagers who will be viewing this movie and ingesting the deadly message that if you are disabled, it’s all right to put an end to your existence. (No apology for not offering a spoiler alert.) www.imbd.com describes the movie as, “A girl in a small town [who] forms an unlikely bond with a recently-paralyzed man she’s taking care of.” www.amazon.com says, “Will’s cynical outlook starts to change when Louisa shows him that life is worth living…their lives and hearts change in ways neither one could have imagined.”

I sure couldn’t have imagined that “Will” would decide to end his life in a physician assisted suicide clinic with his adoring love interest “Lou” at his side. This scene’s gushing cinematic drama is better suited to a royal event than the intentional death of a vibrant young man. moneySupposedly, the happy ending is that “Will” leaves “Lou” all kinds of money, so she can have a wonderful life after he’s gone. This too is a fallacy, because those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide will tell you that no amount of money in the world is worth their loss.

Another example of suicide being idealized is that of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard who was suffering with terminal brain cancer. She took her life on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. This young woman’s tragic story went viral through a YouTube video when Brittany described her plan to end her life with lethal drugs administered through Oregon’s Death by Dignity Law. She even moved from California to Oregon to fulfill her final wish.

Some applauded Maynard as a courageous heroine for stepping into the national spotlight while working with the group Compassion and Choices to herald the cause of what proponents call the, “Right to die with dignity.” My heart breaks for Maynard’s family and for the pain and suffering she endured. Her gesture of ending her physical suffering from this incurable illness might appear rational and even altruistic. It seems she spared her family the horrible progression that losing someone to a terminal disease can entail.

Pill bottleLike many folks, I have held the hand of a loved one dying of cancer and witnessed this end of life suffering firsthand. I am thankful for any medication that will alleviate their pain, but not death, because those last days can be precious gifts where miracles of reconciliation and preparation abound for them.  An essential point of this debate concerns the legacy suicide leaves behind. Especially, for the young and impressionable who will face life crises which can seem hopeless. Suicide appears to be an option, a way out of these difficulties that this earthy existence is guaranteed to present. Besides, statistics indicate that if an individual within a family takes their life, the probability that someone else within that family unit will die by suicide increases. According to www.nami.org, “Family history of suicide” is an important risk factor regarding suicide or suicidal behavior among youth.

As someone who almost died from an overdose resulting from debilitating depression as a young woman, I do not view Brittany or “Will’s” tragic choice as either brave or romantic, but as deeply misguided. After all, millions of folks live with daunting challenges each day. One in five American adults annually battle a mental health issue, returning military personnel fight post-traumatic stress disorder, countless individuals suffer with incapacitating physical illnesses, aging limitations, disabilities, and the list goes on. It was once considered noble and courageous to allow the end of life to come in its natural timing, because each day of our existence is vitally meaningful. Many people of faith still believe that it is only in the Creator’s way and His time that we should breathe our final breath – that truly is dying with dignity.

Suicide Prevention LogoIf you are someone you love is suicidal, please rethink this tragic decision by getting professional help. Call the National Suicide Prevention hotline or a local mental health center in your community. The life you save may be your own.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.