By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE—(April 1, 2014) In the 1960’s, the great American poet Anne Sexton wrote,”…suicides have a special language. Like carpenters they want to know which tools. They never ask why build….” The poem itself, entitled ‘Wanting to Die,’ was inspired by the suicide of Sexton’s friend, the poet Sylvia Plath. Sexton, who suffered from lifelong mental illness, ended her own life in 1974.
Today, Montrose mom and writer Juliet Carr wants to put some very different tools on the table—tools for staying alive and healing, even after a personal suicide attempt or an attempt by a loved one.
The non-profit that Carr founded after a close family member’s two unsuccessful suicide attempts, the Kirwan-Carr Foundation, has been transformed into a web site, www.attemptedsuicidehelp.com. Why the change?
“It’s hard to find board members for a non-profit,” she noted. “And I have found that there is a lot of support out there for those who have lost someone to suicide. It’s easier to talk about losing someone than about someone who has attempted suicide but who is still alive. There is a lot of anger that comes with mental illness and with suicide.”
The web site includes extensive resources and links for the loved ones, professionals and friends of someone who has attempted suicide, as well as resources for those who have attempted to end their own lives. The message is simple—acceptance, strength, healing.
“I hope that people will turn to our web site, and help us spread this information,” Carr said. “There are some great tools for setting daily goals, ways to help if you are struggling with suicidology and ways to help others who are struggling with this.
“Statistics clearly show that suicide attempts are 200 times more likely than suicide completions. So many families have no tools, and no resources,” she said. “You need to find the right people to support you.”
Carr hopes to complete her first book soon, now in its third edit. She has also used her writing ability to let go of the pain caused by her experiences and by her own struggles with depression and anxiety.
“This is my toughest battle,” she said. “But I am hoping to make a difference. I hope people can find the tools I put online. I don’t want anybody else to go through this, because it’s preventable. As a community and a society, we allow it not to be. It’s hard to be honest when you are fighting mental illness—you don’t know if someone is going to judge you.
“But you do get better,” she said. “After a suicide attempt, you might wonder, will this ever end? It does. There is a difference between violent and non-violent attempts, but the research shows that the average length of time for healing is two to five years after the most recent attempt.”
Carr’s web site also offers guidelines on ways to support someone who is suffering.
“If you look at a situation and you can’t deal with mental illness or be there for someone, don’t,” she said. “But if you want to help, be specific. Be incredibly specific, and if you can, be there for the messy stuff. Don’t say, ‘let me know if you need anything.’ Ask how you can help, and do it. Otherwise you are just walking away.”
Juliet Carr has also volunteered at the Oak Grove School at least once a week since her oldest child entered Kindergarten, and believes that being a mother is the most important job she will ever hold.
Her oldest child is now 17, and she has a fifth grader and a first grader as well. She has found it very rewarding to watch them grow and learn decision-making skills.
“As parents, at the heart of what my husband and I have done is to encourage our kids to be who they are,” she said. “I want them to know who they are–if that’s the one thing they leave home with, it’s good. I just love to hear them laugh; they are so awesome.”
She has also recently joined two friends, Kendra Morrow and Krista Montalvo, in an innovative project called Three Graces. The group holds regular women’s retreats focused on reflection, creativity and respect, with speakers and presenters from the community.
“I really have enjoyed being part of it,” she said. “We are all people, all one step from the street. And there are so many amazing people who choose to live here, and who are willing to share their gifts, talents and abilities. Really, Three Graces is not faith-based, but it is a soul thing.”
When her children are grown, Carr hopes to travel more. She has already learned many important lessons on the journey called life, however.
“My passions will stay with me forever,” she said. “We adopted our last animal from a shelter, which I believe in. Literacy and children’s rights are essential. And our freedoms and what our flag represents are very, very important to me. I am starting to write more again; I love interviewing people and finding their stories.
“As my friend Krista Montalvo said recently, ‘Do the Work.’”