Surviving the Holidays and Vision Loss

What’s a picture of two people in love hugging on skis got to do with a piece about suicide? A suicide attempt is the cause of my blindness. Creating a life worth living from the apparent ashes of my life thirty something years ago took a lot of work. And I needed a lot of help. I had great teachers. I worked hard. And I had support. This piece is dedicated to the person who has supported me over a thirty year marriage, my husband, Jim. Thanks sweetie. I couldn’t have done it without you.

sue and husband hugging on snowy slope

Warning: This piece of writing takes an honest look at a difficult topic, suicide. Further warning: I’m not going to sugar-coat my story. If you’re depressed, if you’re thinking life might not be worth living, stop reading right now. If you have a support system in place for times when you’re in crisis use it. If you don’t, pick up the phone and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800.273.8255. Stay alive. Stay alive and ask for help. Because life is worth living.

On a Winter Night Thirty Three Years Ago

Two years ago, just before the Christmas holidays, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs published my guest blog post on their official blog, VAntage Point, “Why is This Time of Year So Difficult?”. They recognized that surviving the holidays can be difficult. Thirty-three years ago I tried to kill myself. It wasn’t a gesture. I wasn’t asking for help. I meant to die. Instead of dying that act was a beginning. It was the beginning of my life with blindness.

When I tell people I have no regrets over the path I’ve walked to this point in my life I’m often met with disbelief. In all but one area I stand by my words. My one regret is the anguish I caused my family, my friends, my community. That’s it. As someone who does not know me well on Facebook said, “You got some splaining to do.” So let me try to “splain.”. Just because I shot myself that didn’t mean I wasn’t still just as depressed as I had been when I pulled the trigger. But now I had blindness to deal with on top of the depression. How can I describe the struggle of those early days?

The Aftermath of My Suicide Attempt

Then things started happening. Before I even left the hospital I went to see a vocational rehabilitation counselor from a local vocational rehabilitation services office. I don’t remember a lot about that meeting beyond the fact that two people would soon be coming into my life, a rehabilitation therapist and an orientation and mobility instructor. Who these people would be and what they’d do remained a mystery for only a few weeks.

I had quite the surprise when my rehab teacher came to see me the first time. She was blind. Blind? How was this going to work?

Work, and work it did. Once I got over being intimidated, we got down to work.

Orientation and mobility lessons were the best. The day my instructor, Jeff Elliott, gave me my first cane is clear in my mind to this day. The lesson was on a Saturday and lasted several hours. Oh the level of concentration as I learned to move safely and independently in a world I could no longer see.

“Time Like An Ever Rolling Stream”

I was lucky. I really had no choice in the matter. It was either learn a whole new way of life or languish. I had good teachers. I had great support. I worked hard.

There’s really no shortcut to learning to live with blindness.

The process of vision rehabilitation has given me a lot. It gave me my life back. Adjustment to blindness isn’t something that happens overnight. It happens while you’re busy living. And my life is better than I ever could have imagined on a cold dark night in December of 1982.

The Facts About Suicide, Ma’am

Based on my own experience, I assumed suicide rates were highest in the darkest shortest days of the year. Not true. Suicide rates are highest in the spring. Regardless the time of year depression and suicidal thoughts can happen to anybody, anytime. Mental health issues are just that, health issues. They’re no different from other health issues. And there’s help out there. If I had cancer I’d be out there researching my treatment options. Then I’d make a decision and go for it. Same with mental health issues. There’s help out there. You may have to work to find it but it’s there. Find the right option. If you can’t do it yourself ask friends and family for help. If you don’t get what you need seek professional help.

Mental Health Issues: An Often Hidden Disability

My blindness is an obvious disability. Mental health issues aren’t. When I became blind I got all the help I needed, almost without asking. If your disability is hidden, that’s not as likely to happen.

Ask for help. Stay alive and ask for help.

Survival Points

  • If you are in crisis talk to someone you trust.
  • Free confidential help is available any time at 800.273.8255
  • If you suspect someone you know is in crisis, ask them about it.
  • Ask with genuine concern
  • Do not be judgmental
  • Be supportive. One of the best resources for facts, figures, and support may be found at Live Through This.

Bottom Line

Living through a mental health crisis or a suicidal episode isn’t a life sentence. There’s life after such an episode. Just as there’s life after a mental health crisis there’s life after blindness. A year after my suicide attempt I applied to the master’s program in blind rehabilitation at Western Michigan University. The first day of classes I met Jim Martin. In July we celebrated our 30th anniversary zip lining in the North Carolina mountains.

My Latest Contribution to Suicide Prevention Effort

I am involved in a support group called Kismet Outloud. Just a few weeks ago I participated in a sky dive tandem jump with others from this group with lived experience of suicide to bring attention to the need for suicide prevention. Enjoy this audio-described (by me!) youtube video of my jump.

Additional Articles

Sue Martin, Story of a Suricide Survivor

From Personal Loss to Personal Growth

Support Groups and Adjustment to Vision Loss