Live Through This

Live Through This

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By Dese'Rae Stage

I'm an artist, a writer, a suicide prevention advocate, an "agitator" for social justice. I'm a tattooed person, a married person, a queer person, an animal lover, an avid reader, a turn-it-up-loud-and-sing-it-out-er. I've lived with depression since I was 14. Add to that: anxiety, overwhelming negative thoughts, codependency. I hurt myself as a coping mechanism for 9 years. I lived through a physically and emotionally abusive relationship that shook the very foundation of who I thought I was. I tried to kill myself when I was 23. I tell my story about my mental health struggles to make it feel okay for others to share their own. Our stories give us power—over the minds that sabotage us, over the traumas we’ve lived through again and again, over the stereotypes people heap on us. Our stories give us power to make change and even, potentially, to save lives. Just by speaking up, showing up, making ourselves known.  But I didn't see anyone doing that. I didn't see anyone like me anywhere. All I could feel was shame and the expectation of silence. It felt dangerous, and I decided to do something about it. Dec 5, 2015

I'm an artist, a writer, a suicide prevention advocate, an "agitator" for social justice. I'm a tattooed person, a married person, a queer person, an animal lover, an avid reader, a turn-it-up-loud-and-sing-it-out-er. I've lived with depression since I was 14. Add to that: anxiety, overwhelming negative thoughts, codependency. I hurt myself as a coping mechanism for 9 years. I lived through a physically and emotionally abusive relationship that shook the very foundation of who I thought I was. I tried to kill myself when I was 23.

I tell my story about my mental health struggles to make it feel okay for others to share their own. Our stories give us power—over the minds that sabotage us, over the traumas we’ve lived through again and again, over the stereotypes people heap on us. Our stories give us power to make change and even, potentially, to save lives. Just by speaking up, showing up, making ourselves known. 

But I didn't see anyone doing that. I didn't see anyone like me anywhere. All I could feel was shame and the expectation of silence. It felt dangerous, and I decided to do something about it.

Dec 5, 2015

I've struggled with suicidal thoughts and compulsive urges to hurt myself since I was 14 years old. After I attempted suicide, I made a promise: I would stop hurting myself, in every way, no matter what it took. I was alone in a cold, beige room in a hospital, and I was scared, but I made that promise to myself, because it took me trying to die to realize how deeply I value my life. That was nearly 10 years ago.  Despite my best efforts (which, admittedly, weren't always great), I didn't know what a normal range of emotions felt like until I was 30 years old. I existed in a land of emotional extremes for half my life: I was golden, or I was sobbing in an inconsolable heap until 5am. Now, I can cry when I need to and go on about my day; I can feel happiness without skyrocketing. Now, there's middle ground. Dec 5, 2015

I've struggled with suicidal thoughts and compulsive urges to hurt myself since I was 14 years old. After I attempted suicide, I made a promise: I would stop hurting myself, in every way, no matter what it took. I was alone in a cold, beige room in a hospital, and I was scared, but I made that promise to myself, because it took me trying to die to realize how deeply I value my life. That was nearly 10 years ago. 

Despite my best efforts (which, admittedly, weren't always great), I didn't know what a normal range of emotions felt like until I was 30 years old. I existed in a land of emotional extremes for half my life: I was golden, or I was sobbing in an inconsolable heap until 5am. Now, I can cry when I need to and go on about my day; I can feel happiness without skyrocketing. Now, there's middle ground.

Dec 5, 2015

In 2010, I created a series of portraits and oral histories of suicide attempt survivors called Live Through This. I've criss-crossed the country for this project. I've met, photographed, and recorded the stories of 131 suicide attempt survivors in 19 US cities. Their ages range from 19-69, and they come from all walks of life.  Here's what I've learned: We could be anybody. We could be your sister, your friend, your mom, your partner, and 90% of us go on to live full lives after an attempt.  Our voices deserve to be heard. People connect to stories. They connect to art. There’s something visceral about looking into the eyes of someone who has experienced what you’ve experienced and hearing their truth. Something healing. Something powerful.  I believe that, until our voices are heard, until we all understand that no one is immune, that suicide does not discriminate, nothing will change, and the suicide rate will continue to rise, as it's done for the past decade. Dec 5, 2015

In 2010, I created a series of portraits and oral histories of suicide attempt survivors called Live Through This. I've criss-crossed the country for this project. I've met, photographed, and recorded the stories of 131 suicide attempt survivors in 19 US cities. Their ages range from 19-69, and they come from all walks of life. 
Here's what I've learned: We could be anybody. We could be your sister, your friend, your mom, your partner, and 90% of us go on to live full lives after an attempt. 

Our voices deserve to be heard. People connect to stories. They connect to art. There’s something visceral about looking into the eyes of someone who has experienced what you’ve experienced and hearing their truth. Something healing. Something powerful. 
I believe that, until our voices are heard, until we all understand that no one is immune, that suicide does not discriminate, nothing will change, and the suicide rate will continue to rise, as it's done for the past decade.

Dec 5, 2015

I wish I could say that I was cured of the depression, the self-injury, or of the suicidal thoughts, but I’m not. They still rear their heads occasionally. In fact, I’ve had a hell of a tough couple of months. The difference now is that I have a community. I have people to turn to. I can swallow my pride and ask for help. So even when my mind is trying to sabotage me, even when I think that I’m the most useless, burdensome human on the entire planet, I know better. I feel my feelings, I wait it out, I talk to my wife or my friends or my mom or my doctors, and eventually, it’s okay again. Dec 5, 2015

I wish I could say that I was cured of the depression, the self-injury, or of the suicidal thoughts, but I’m not. They still rear their heads occasionally. In fact, I’ve had a hell of a tough couple of months. The difference now is that I have a community. I have people to turn to. I can swallow my pride and ask for help. So even when my mind is trying to sabotage me, even when I think that I’m the most useless, burdensome human on the entire planet, I know better. I feel my feelings, I wait it out, I talk to my wife or my friends or my mom or my doctors, and eventually, it’s okay again.

Dec 5, 2015

I met Brenda Hughes in Austin in November 2013. Everything about her struck me, from her eyes, to her tattoos, to her ability to drop Bible quotes like a boss, to her immense, radiating kindness to, of course, her incredible story of resilience. I stay in touch with about 95% of the people who have been a part of Live Through This. When we meet, we're not just talking about suicide, about how we each fought through our own sea of darkness. That's an entry point, a place of mutual understanding between survivor and artist(/survivor). We talk about life, about what happens after. We laugh. We're fast friends.  Brenda writes these amazing stories on Facebook—little anecdotes about her life. She ends every single one with, "I love you, I need you," to remind her people that they are worthy, that they are valued, that they are necessary, that they're not alone. Because we all forget sometimes. Sometimes we need a reminder, a spark of light, a nod of understanding, a Brenda. Dec 5, 2015

I met Brenda Hughes in Austin in November 2013. Everything about her struck me, from her eyes, to her tattoos, to her ability to drop Bible quotes like a boss, to her immense, radiating kindness to, of course, her incredible story of resilience.

I stay in touch with about 95% of the people who have been a part of Live Through This. When we meet, we're not just talking about suicide, about how we each fought through our own sea of darkness. That's an entry point, a place of mutual understanding between survivor and artist(/survivor). We talk about life, about what happens after. We laugh. We're fast friends. 

Brenda writes these amazing stories on Facebook—little anecdotes about her life. She ends every single one with, "I love you, I need you," to remind her people that they are worthy, that they are valued, that they are necessary, that they're not alone. Because we all forget sometimes. Sometimes we need a reminder, a spark of light, a nod of understanding, a Brenda.

Dec 5, 2015

If I could go back and talk to the girl who tried to die that night in June of 2006 and tell her all she'd come to see and feel and accomplish, she would never believe me, and sometimes I still can’t believe it either, but I am so, so glad I’m still here. Dec 5, 2015

If I could go back and talk to the girl who tried to die that night in June of 2006 and tell her all she'd come to see and feel and accomplish, she would never believe me, and sometimes I still can’t believe it either, but I am so, so glad I’m still here.

Dec 5, 2015

Dese'Rae Stage

Dese'Rae Stage

Occupation: Artists, Writer, Suicide Prevention Advocate

Dese'Rae Stage is a photographer, occasional writer, and suicide awareness activist. She is the founder of Live Through This, a portrait and oral history series on survivors of suicide attempts. Live Through This answers the questions of who attempts suicide, why, and what happens after. It breaks stereotypes about what kinds of people live with suicidal minds. 

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