Friday, March 31, 2017

Mourning the Loss of an Advocate: Amy Bleuel


My heart has been heavy the past few days since the report of mental health advocate Amy Bleuel's death was released.

For those who don't know who Amy was, she pioneered a network of peer support via her non-profit organization, Project Semicolon, founded in 2013. Project Semicolon exploded into social media consciousness in 2015 when pictures of semicolon tattoos inspired by the Project took off and started spreading like wildfire, but I was a follower of the Project since 2014 when I came across a photo on Facebook dedicated to Semicolon Day:

(The above photo is from 2015, but the one I came across was the same or similar.)

Project Semicolon defines itself as "dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury", and "exists to encourage, love and inspire."[8] While they are devoted to achieving lower suicide rates in the U.S. and worldwide, they do not themselves practice psychiatry, and the staff are not trained mental health professionals.[4] Rather, they recommend contacting emergency hotlines (e.g. 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) or seeking mental health professionals.[9]
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. with 42,773 reported deaths in 2014.[10] (from Wikipedia)
I can't stress enough how important the Project was to me as someone who has a past history of self harm, who has struggled with depression and anxiety, and as a suicide attempt survivor and the mother of a suicide attempt survivor.
Amy made it okay to talk about these things more openly for so many and touched so many lives with a small punctuation mark. By nature, those who self harm tend to hide what they do. There are differing reasons and methods of self harm that I won't go into here, but the nature of the stigma has prevented many from seeking help or having hope for recovery. Suicide attempts often have similar stigmas attached, and many survivors, suicide loss survivors, or those considering suicide tend to feel alone even in the mental health community. Amy gave us a place there.

As an advocate for mental health as well as chronic illness, I admired and continue to admire Amy and her message of inclusion and support.

Amy was a suicide attempt survivor who struggled with depression and trauma PTSD herself, and whose father died by suicide. As many know, survived suicide attempts increase the risk of death by suicide in an individual. Yesterday, it was indeed confirmed that Amy died by suicide.

People tend to think mental health advocates have the answers and have conquered, but we're really still in the battle with them.

We're navigating the same waters, but don't necessarily have a lighthouse in sight, a life jacket, or even know how to swim in uncharted waters...we just know we're called to help others.
Sometimes in helping others, our own self care takes a backseat; sometimes because it's easier to focus others' problems, sometimes because we get caught up in what we do, and other times because we just don't see that we have that same safety net we try to be.

When an advocate dies by suicide, people wonder what will happen to those they reached out to.
Will they feel "cheated" or abandoned?
Will they lose hope and give up?

Such a loss does not invalidate the message or their work. It makes it more important.

Rest in peace, Amy Bleuel. Your story is still not over, and neither is your legacy.

~ Selena Marie Wilson ~