September was Suicide Prevention month across the U.S. Recently, I had the opportunity to read more about suicide through a series of articles on nmindepth.com called the Choosing Life Series. The authors spent two years researching and writing for this series, and I wanted to learn more. The articles I read were titled, Native Americans Face Higher Suicide Risk, Confronting A Long Tradition of Silence, Silence Can Be Deadly and Caring, Understanding, Help Combat Youth Suicide.
Reading these articles reminded me of how my family and I have dealt with suicide in our lives. I think back to when we buried my young and beautiful cousin who ended her life at 23. I was around nine years old and this was my first opportunity to learn what suicide meant. As I grew older, my family had two more deaths caused by suicide. This is when I realized that suicide was a critical issue.
As a teenager, I also began to face struggles with contemplating suicide. As a survivor of sexual child abuse, my traumatic past often took a toll on my mental health. For many years, I silently dealt with self mutilation and depression. Sadly, I also remember those experiences when I too almost ended my life. I remember my mother used to say that “suicide prevents a person from getting into heaven.” When I think about it now, this phrase is what always saved me from my thoughts of suicide. Those dark moments in my past are now a reminder of why I live healthy and strong today. It is now my goal to help and pray for others who deal with this same thing. Discovering the Choosing Life series was a confirmation that this is a serious issue Native communities need to discuss and take action on.
In the Choosing Life series the article that stood out the most to me was, Caring, Understanding, Help Combat Youth Suicide. Laura Paskus and Bryant Furlow wrote:
“It’s a lot to deal with because being where you are most of the time, in the Pueblo, you just have a lot of these leaders and elders telling you want they expect of you: being a leader in your community, being part of the culture, participating in the culture, and being there so you can continue that resiliency that Native people have had,” says Ryan Sanchez, who grew up at the Pueblo of San Felipe. “Not losing our language, not losing our culture: Those messages are being driven into your head every day — it’s one of the most important things you learn and one of the things you begin to practice every day.” Even when they’re proud of their culture, that responsibility can be hard to juggle.”
Coming from the Walatowa pueblo, I also heard these same things growing up and felt so much pressure to remain either traditional or spiritual. Since I came from a split family of traditionalists and Christians, I was either too spiritual or wicked by practicing our traditional ceremonies. It was a constant struggle to know where I belonged. As I got older, I finally found my own identity and beliefs. Learning about reciprocity and decolonization in college led me to search deeper for my individual identity. Since then, I have began to heal from the stress and trauma of my past. Although I still experience the challenges of balancing different worlds, now I choose to live and speak up.