I am choosing to bear witness. I am choosing to support a friend in need. I am choosing to share the needs of someone who has touched my life in such a profound way, I can't find the words to describe the depth of what I feel. I'm choosing to share Erin's story here and in doing so, I hope, if you have the means to help in any small way, you will consider doing so. A page has been set up on generosity.com. Perhaps you can assist navigating the programs available in Denver where she is presently living by simply providing information.
Technically, Erin is homeless. But for the grace of friends, she would be living in her car. In Denver. In the winter. She has attempted to end her life twice since November. In this season of good will and love and light, there are those among us whose very basic needs are not being met.
I met Erin at a meeting of a group of about 30 advocates and activists brought together from all different disease backgrounds. We were discussing patient centered care. She brings a wealth of knowledge and perspective from so many angles. Her view is truly from every angle and until now, a big piece of what she lives with has not been discussed.
Erin is dealing with so much as you will see if you click over to the links in the text of this post. It is only most recently, that she made a decision to share the darkest side of her story. It was after her attempt to end her life on November 5 that she made a choice to share what she lives with on a daily basis. Borderline personality disorder is a particularly insidious mental illness and it's one many medical professionals state they are told when entering their chosen field, "Stay away from the borderlines.... they are impossible to treat."
I'm not okay with that. I'm not okay with writing off an entire population and I refuse to accept the words "impossible to treat." I have watched Brandon Marshall share his struggles with the very same illness. I understand someone of Brandon's stature within the NFL make things a bit more accessible to him than to those living with far less, but the basic needs of shelter, food and needles to administer her insulin which are essential for a Type 1 diabetic? No, I can't accept any of this. I hurt for Erin.
When I first met Erin at that meeting, she introduced herself to the group as the microphone made its way around each table. After listing the myriad of things she endures on a daily basis, she concluded her introduction by saying, to a room filled with complete strangers, "I almost didn't make it here because of a suicide attempt." I am sure my gasp was audible and I am thankful that there was one person who would have to do their introduction before the microphone would be handed to me. We were shoulder to shoulder at adjacent tables. I think I may have started my introduction by acknowledging my own gratitude that I had a moment to collect myself before having to speak.
Erin is a MedX scholar and months ago, she was very upset about not being able to get to Stanford for this year's conference. At the 2014 MedX conference, this video was presented. It was a letter she wrote to MedX organizers about disparities that prompted the invitation for her to do the presentation. It was a surgery that stopped her from being there in person. The video is powerful just like everything that Erin writes.
In her own voice, Erin speaks about disparities in her "nice white girl clothes."
When interviewed about her participation as a MedX scholar in 2013, Erin speaks about how she wishes to help others.
What none of us could know from her words at that time? While she was sharing her gifts with the world, she was hiding something and that something is an enormous burden. Erin lives with a mental illness.
Erin blogs at Health As a Human Right. If you want to see what has been happening with Erin since 2013 when she spoke so beautifully about giving back to others, I'd suggest you start with her November 3 post, Bearing Witness. Continue reading each subsequent post.
From Suffering to Suffering, Erin shares that she had just attempted to end her life. She also "outs" herself publicly for the first time, in stark black and white. She had alluded to, but for the most part, chose to hide her mental health history. Fearful, I suppose, it would derail any career goals because we all know how those who admit to mental illness are stigmatized.
Erin raises points in Coping Skills that only one who has tasted those feelings could possible put on paper, including the need for coping skills to deal with her lack of coping skills. When people state, But You Have Your Law Degree, she is quick to share that there is no degree for getting through the system, only grit and determination. Erin has an abundance of both but she is being tested sorely right now. Today. In this very moment.
What Erin shares in Laundry will be triggering to anyone with thoughts of suicide. It's incumbent upon me as an advocate for all to include that trigger warning. There was one suicide attempt that was nearly fatal. It is briefly described. When she writes about doing All The Right Things, we glimpse into Erin's deepest thoughts and her feeling that maybe she didn't do enough of the right things, or maybe, just maybe, there aren't any answers.
Erin then attempted suicide for the second time just days before Christmas. She knew what was next and she wrote all about The Truth About Psych Wards. Readers of this blog may recall an episode where I was with a friend in a psych ward and Erin is spot on accurate. There is no treatment in a psych ward. Stabilize and release.
As of this writing Erin's most recent post, You Should Write A Book, captures the essence and beauty of the person I see when I speak to Erin or exchange an email or text message. She is not ready to write a book and she likely won't ever do so. She will simply offer her words as a record of what she has lived in the hopes it might resonate with another. In an hour of true personal need, she is still more concerned about advocating for all.
I'm concerned about Erin. I've watched this in real time, helpless from my warm home in New York while Erin was sleeping in a car, terrified when she was radio silent for a 12 hour stretch and today, I ask, especially for those in the advocacy community to help pick up a fellow advocate.
On any given day, this could be any one of us. "Life turns on a dime, Annie." One of my dad's quips. Today, I ask for your help in flipping the dime that is Erin's life in this moment so she can find her way back to the important things she does so selflessly for so many others. I have high hopes for Erin. Her intelligence, her ability to communicate and the fact that she has chosen to expose her deepest vulnerabilities.... putting the potential to better others above her own comfort, this is advocacy at its very very best.
And this advocate has fallen. We can not leave her lying there.
Note: If you clicked away in the middle of reading, I'd like to suggest you go back at your leisure and read this post from start to finish without clicking away. Read it in order. Listen to the videos as they pop up. Then go read everything else.
On a personal note, this will likely be the last post for 2015. I wish each and every one of you a wonderful start to 2016. I have lofty goals (no resolutions!) and I hope you will be by my side as I do my best to help when I can, to change what I can, to yell when I must.
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