Her first hand experience from planning a suicide in her early 20’s to helping others cope with their feelings today, 16 years later, is a testament to those she helps.
“There is a lot of different things that people think and really there are so many different things about what happens, that it’s really important for people to understand that,” said Erin.
Though she has been through much in her short life, Erin believes sharing her story, will help lead the way to unveiling the truth behind suicide, educating people to erase negative societal stigmas, and helping someone who might feel alone, as she did as a young adult.
“I think certain things that happen in your life where you will always be healing and it's always a process and you will be better and sometimes you will be a little bit worse,” said Erin. “It goes back and forth, but I think the journey that I’ve had so far, it makes me happy that I’m here. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be able to get through what I have.”
Erin recalls her own personal struggle with mental illness, peer pressure and support that ultimately brought her through her journey.
A loner for much of her young adult life, Erin explained herself to be a very private individual who isolated herself from those around her.
Erin explained she began to get into more arguments with her family members, but what her parents merely considered common teenage angst turned out to be far worse.
“I had two undiagnosed mental health needs, major illnesses, and they weren’t recognized as being something different,” said Erin. “My parents and most people, no one gives them class on what’s normal behavior and what’s abnormal behavior and what’s in between.”
Not only did her parents not recognize any patterns, Erin says she never truly realized she was suicidal herself explaining her mental illnesses allowed her to form irrational thoughts.
“It was more I want to deal with this pain, this anger, this hurt and so I really wasn’t thinking about getting help, that this is wrong, or that there is something wrong here,” said Erin. “90 percent of individuals who complete suicide have a mental illness, at least one, that is treatable, and I had two that were treatable, but they had not been diagnosed, so those were playing into my thoughts and really, it wasn’t a rational process so I wasn’t thinking something’s wrong.”
The two month window where things really hit rock bottom for Erin happened when she was 20 years old, where she says in a two month window, she began to not only verbally express her desires to “go away,” or “go to sleep and never wake up,” but she began to plan suicide.
Only until a friend who had attempted, but not completed suicide, began to share with her that the pain caused by a completed suicide would be far worse for loved ones, than any pain she might be experiencing at the time, she began to realize she needed help.
“Some of the points of view and some of the things they were thinking and saying I started really going ‘hey, wait a minute maybe this isn’t the right thing for me, maybe this isn’t the right thing,’ and that kind of helped me and I started really realizing I needed to get help,” said Erin.
Looking back on her story, Erin believes education is the ultimate key to prevention, and believes it could have also helped her during her struggles early on.
“I really wish there had been more education at that time and I think probably still today there needs to be more,” said Erin.
Through many school assignments such as “mood poems,” Erin expressed suicidal tendencies in her school work that portrayed emotions such as isolation, and being alone throughout her schoolwork, and though one teacher wrote on her assignment “it gets better,” Erin believes that people are scared to talk about it, and are unsure of what the next step to take is.
“People are afraid that if you say it, they’ll do it, but the idea is already there,” said Erin. “If they are planning it they are going to do it. If you say something it might actually prevent it.”
Today, Erin works with prevention, education and awareness in Gordon County and believes that if suicide is not talked about in a community, the more likely it is to become a problem.
“There are things that we don’t talk about, suicide is one of those things,” said Erin. “There is so much fear and silence around it. People don’t know what to say and they are afraid they are going to say the wrong thing, so I think the way we can change that is to start talking about it.”
Though Erin is not a survivor, she is helping to spread the word about the truth behind suicide, and the myths that exist today.
One large aspect that gaps societies true understanding of suicide is religion, Erin says, but she believes people hide behind their religion due to fear of what they do not understand.
This may lead to teasing and bullying, but Erin believes passing judgment on someone and condemning them to “Hell,” if they commit suicide, might isolate someone even more.
“I believe that there is a lot of different things that go into creating [stigma], but I think that it can be battled by creating awareness and talking bout it and getting the facts out there,” said Erin. “I am a Christian, I believe in God, I believe that my life is important and that God has a plan for it, but at that moment, I was in so much pain, that I couldn’t see past that moment, I couldn’t see what God’s plan would be or how God was going to help me because I was so hurt, it just enveloped my entire thought. So for someone to tell me that if you commit suicide you are going to hell, that wouldn’t have helped me. It would have hurt, it would have made me feel more conflicted and more guilty about the process, more like I couldn’t talk to someone. It scared me, and generally when you are afraid, you shut down and feel more alone.”
Focusing on how a person feels and helping the person instead of isolating them more.
A second stigma Erin talked about is that the suicide attempter is an “attention seeker,” and that they only attempt when they want attention, and ultimately did not have a goal of killing themselves. This, Erin believes, is completely false because the end goal of suicide, is to end your life, not to gain more attention.
“When you have understanding, then you are more likely to have compassion and acceptance and those two things are the most important thing to a survivor or someone that has lost someone to suicide or is planning suicide,” said Erin. “When you are compassionate and you are showing that you are accepting, then that can make the biggest difference in someone’s life and that can save them.”
Through her work with teenagers, Erin hopes to be the same system of peer support that was provided to her to help her healing process, saying that there is no better medicine.
“Having someone who has been there and has gone through what you have gone through is one of the most healing things on earth. That person can understand things that no one else can, they can reach you in a way that nobody else can and I learned early that being able to turn around and reach out to somebody else and say hey I have been there and it gets better,” said Erin.
To help with advocacy and education, Erin has been deeply involved with the Gordon County Coalition participating on panels and in the informative setting in the last six months, since its inception.
Though Erin does not participate in the Surivors of Suicide support group, because she only planned a suicide, and did not attempt, Erin still believes the coalition is proving to be successful and will help her reach her goal.
“I really want people to understand that there is hope. Someone that is out there thinking about it, there is hope. The pain that I went through it seemed overwhelming, but it did get better,” said Erin. “I also want to work with peer supports. That is an area that is coming very active. Actually being able to go to someone in that moment and be there for them. To be able to do that is really where my passion is.”
Though the healing process is never complete, Erin says she wouldn’t trade any of her life experiences, good or terrible, and that it helps make her who she is, and knowing she can truly say that suicide is not an option makes her happy.
“I know I’m stronger. I think that the things that we go through, they have the ability to either hurt us or help us and for me I look at the things that I have experienced,” said Erin. “One of my favorite things that I say is: ‘I have been shaped by my past, but I am not defined by it.’
The Chalk It up Event, today at the BB&T park is one event Erin is very fond of and helps break the silence.
Sixty percent of all people know someone personally that will commit suicide, and events like Chalk It Up, helps spread the awareness that suicide attempters, planners, or loved ones of these, are ever alone.
On Monday, Sept. 17, the Gordon County Suicide Prevention Coalition is sponsoring a conversation about suicide prevention from 6 - 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Baptist Church.
The conversation will discuss warning signs, where to seek out proper help in the community, and others. For more information, contact 706-602-5139.