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.
Like it? Share it!
<3 I wish I had more to give.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much. Every PENNY is appreciated. You are a treasure.
I'm so sorry to hear this. I have a family member who has BPD, and it's hard to see her struggle. I wish I could give more, but hopefully if a lot of people give just a little, it will make a difference. As someone who's also desperately attached to her own cats, my heart hurt even more to hear she's separated from her beloved pets. I hope they're reunited soon.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much for sharing and for giving. Your words are so touching. And I am most appreciative.
It could be any one of us. At any time. My own daughter has been close to a BPD diagnosis in the past. I worked for a Psychiatrist and medication non-compliance literally killed so many patients. Thank you for sharing Anne Marie. Stacey T also shared last week via Twitter. Erin has a community holding her up- I'm so glad she's still here!!!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Linda. Yes, it could be any one of us at **any** time. I'm hopeful this will help Erin get back to a less chaotic place (none of us does well when our lives are unsettled, more so when dealing with the things Erin lives with). I want to see her able to continue to do what she does best: advocating for others!Delete
Thank you for sharing Erin's powerful lived experience story.. As someone who both works in suicide prevention and has also nearly died from suicide I would ask for a minor edit.ReplyDelete
Instead of saying that "one suicide attempt that was nearly successful" those of us in the field would say "one suicide was nearly fatal." IE We don't want to suggest that "success" is death or that a "failed attempt" means they shouldn't be alive.
It might sound like word smithing to stop saying things like "a failed or successful suicide attempt" but it is important to lift the blame and shame of suicide. Sadly there over 1 million people are in enough pain to want to die by suicide every year; over 485,000 end up in the ER and 40,000 die (2x as many as die in car accidents). Over the last 10 years death by suicide is up about 20% while death by motor vehicle accidents is down 25%
Thank you and I am going to edit. I try to be very careful with my words when advocating in an area where I'm in less familiar waters. I am 100% in agreement with #WordsMatter. I'm still learning to be extremely sensitive with language and no where is is more important than in these circumstances. Death can not be undone.Delete
Thank you, thank you.....
I don't know Erin very well - I only know her a little through Medicine X - but I was deeply saddened to read this. So many people in our world carry such terrible pain and so many bear it alone, which is probably the hardest pain of all. I know this from personal experience. Thank you for your compassion, your humanity and your kindness in stepping into the breach here. I will be honored to contribute to supporting Erin and will spread the word to others. Holding Erin and all those who are in pain in my thoughts xReplyDelete
My Dearest Marie,Delete
I know there are a few people from MedX that know Erin. This has been heartbreaking for me. I see the beautiful interview she did at MedX and how she is determined to advocate for others and then I hear her on the phone, trying to sort out problems the are far more than any one person should have to bear.
I so appreciate you including this post in your Round Up. I know that is widely read and I hope people will help the small group of insiders who are trying to keep her safe and warm until she can find permanent housing. As Jack, founder of WEGO Health said on FB:
We'll all work together this year on the powerful issues that Erin embodies: financial disaster from illness, the stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness, and homelessness that makes both matters worse.
You're a huge-hearted champion of those in need AnneMarie. I've given, though of course it is not enough. At least I can share your post and hope it gains more attention. May Erin be boosted by this, and receive the support she needs.ReplyDelete
Your heart is enormous, sweet one. I think of you every day, read every blog post as it hits my email box. Thank you for reaching out, thank you for caring so much, thank you for being YOU.Delete
I cannot express my gratitude for your kindness and generosity. Thank you infinitely for your support during these difficult times. Know that I carry you in my heart as I continue to move forward. With much love for you and yours in the new year - ErinReplyDelete
"Person to person, moment to moment, as we love, we change the world." - Samahria Lyte Kaufman
"When nothing is sure, everything is possible." - Margaret Drabble
I am glad your comment posted, love. I want anyone who reads Erin's words to know this comment is meant for all of you. Whether you were able to help financially or are simply bearing witness or trying to understand the disease that is borderline personality disorder, thank you.Delete
I'm grateful that you understand you are not alone any more, Erin. There is an army behind you now. Keep speaking, keep writing. By stepping from behind the illness, you have already helped more people than you know.
You are changing the world.