It was a mixture of sadness, of hope, of anger, of consolation. As the day turned out, there were also expressions of joy and thanks.

HAWLEY - It was a mixture of sadness, of hope, of anger, of consolation. As the day turned out, there were also expressions of joy and thanks. Feelings and memories, expressed and more often private, cannot but help be generated at an event such as this, the third annual Share the Journey Suicide Prevention Walk held at Wallenpaupack Area High School’s track.

The event on Saturday, September 29 was hosted by the Northeast Suicide Prevention Initiative (NSPI), a nonprofit organization based in Scranton, which started in 2010.

Kathy Wallace, the director, said at these events, people who have suffered the loss of a loved one through suicide, can mix and connect with one another. They find they are not alone. Together they can rebuild hope.

Anyone was invited to clip a photo or a note to a “memory wall” set up, commemorating loved ones lost to suicide.

This year they introduced something different, the stories of two local people who survived attempts at ending their own lives. Just before the walk was started, the crowd of participants assembled on the track and heard them testify and unburden their souls. Both said this was the first time they were coming out in the open like this. Both later agreed to have their accounts in the newspaper. Only summaries are repeated here.

Cindy’s story

Cindy Batzel, a social worker, said that three years ago she was at work, feeling sad about news of someone’s suicide. After sharing her grief, a co-worker invited Cindy to attend a NSPI meeting.

It was in 2010, when Cindy had lost a friend to suicide; she struggled at her failure to be able to help and was angry her friend had escaped her pain, but she (Cindy) hadn’t. One month before, Cindy had been diagnosed with an eating disorder, anorexia. Her body was starving; she was in depression.

“Even people who seem to have it all together are broken inside,” Cindy remarked. She said she was one of those people, a wife and mom, and worker.

She loved to run, and despite her suffering, she ran on few calories, which was destructive.

She was told she was sick and would never get well. Cindy said that gave her ‘permission” to end it all. She had a rope on a hook all set in the basement stairwell, for when she thought the time was right.

Her story didn’t end that way.

“Everyone needs someone,” she stated. She said she felt lost and feared that no one will see her pain and help her.

Eight years ago, her boss noticed, and insisted that she seek help. A local physician was also a big help to her with her physical problems. Another doctor advised that suicide, is yes, an option, but quickly added, “Can we try this first?”

This tactic played a key role for Cindy, who stressed that she did not, and does not, want to die.

“Recovery is a journey, it is not a destination,” she said. She added it was important to give oneself permission it take steps forward and well as backwards, in the gradual path to healing.

“Recovery is the hardest work I have ever done,” she said, “It is painful, it is exhausting, at times it is frustrating and may seem impossible.” She added, “And yet recovery is my hope, and what keeps me here.”

Somedays, she feels immovable against the opponent. On days when her foothold is not quite as strong, she said she needs to move much more slowly from task to task. “But the victory is won every day that I show up.”

That morning, before leaving the house, she was reminded of this journey, when seeing the hook in the basement, which no longer had a rope attached.

“I am healing, and slowly gaining ground,” she said.

She added that in a place of pain, you need someone else to believe in you. “Look for them,” she said.

Jason’s journey

Jason Merrill, a local musician and educator, said until that day, the first time he ever shared his story about his struggles in public, was in the safety of other musicians at an open mic at The Cooperage.

“My journey never ends, but I’m stronger now,” he said.

He is from Long Island. He was raised by a single mom who worked long hours; there was a lack of supervision at home as a result. He described his environment then as “unstable.”

He moved to Hawley to live with his father and enrolled in the Wallenpaupack Area High School. This school district, he said, “was like heaven” but he had brought his problems with him. He was in drug treatment programs.

“A cult found me,” he said. He was 15.

Jason became deeply involved in this religious movement. They offered him love, structure, family and a thing to do, he said. The whole time, however, he was still dealing with depression and suicidal ideas.

The advice of the group was to “get exercise,” study more and be more active. The message to him, he said, was that this was all his fault.

He was 25, and living in Canada. He fell in love with a girl who was not connected to this religion, and this caused him problems within the organization. “The cult kicked me out,” he said, and with it, his support network.

On January 16, 2007, he tried to end his life. Jason said he had taken a mixture of pills and alcohol; he passed out. He was awakened by a paramedic.

He had tried to appeal his “shunning” by the religious group, but instead, Jason was told he had put himself there. The truth, he said, was that he had an ongoing problem and was ignored. He added that the people involved in this group can be wonderful people, but can be victims as well.

He returned to Hawley. A friend gave him a place to stay. Government programs also helped him get back on his feet.

He said he had potential to be a productive citizen. This starts, he said, with personal responsibility and internal resistance. “I didn’t want to die anymore,” he said. His journey, he said, is ongoing, but he is stronger now.

The opposite of death, he said, was a life of doing things. For instance, he went to college, and also became active in his community. All this helped a great deal.

He expressed thanks for his wife Jill Carletti, who “has been a massive support.”

In closing, Jason stated that, “We need to change our attitude about all of these things. We need to be more understanding of people… we need to treat this issue as a real issue… If we or the people we know have attitudes about mental illness that it’s not real, we’re not going to be helpful. We cannot be helpful if we’re not following the path of science, and we’re not following the path of love.”

Initiatives of NSPI

The Suicide Prevention Walk raises funds for the many initiatives conducted by the Northeast Suicide Prevention Initiative. Linda Vose, a member of the NSPI Wayne/Pike Board, explained how the funds are being used.

Among recent initiatives are training sessions for first responders who through their duties have increased rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, post traumatic stress syndrome and suicide.

NSPI also does adult and youth mental health first aid training.

Scholarships are provided for people to attend the Prevent Suicide conference in Harrisburg.

“QPR” training is available for small groups. QPR is a practical and proven suicide training for anyone to help save lives in a crisis.

NSPI has also purchased “The S Word” documentary film to have viewings locally. The documentary is made from the perspective of suicide attempt survivors, which helps to dispel stigma and assist others to talk with those who have made attempts.

Kathy Wallace said that when Jason Merrill shared his struggles at an open mic, four young boys attended, and felt prompted to have an open mic fundraiser. They raised $1,200 for suicide prevention.

NPSI is entirely funded by donations and is operated completely by volunteers.

Kathy added, “It’s people like Cindy and Jason that are going to change the world.”

Help is available

For more information about NPSI, visit online at www.northeastsuicidepreventioninitiative.org.

Anyone who is struggling or feeling lonely, or is concerned about someone, is welcome to call their “Lifeline” at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Survivors of Suicide Loss Support group meets monthly at Wayne Memorial Hospital, 601 Park St., Honesdale. This group is of people who have lost a loved one, friend or relative to suicide. The group provides positive support in dealing with the issues you have as a survivor left behind. The support group is not intended for children under the age of 16 years.

The support group meets on the fourth Thursday of the month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. They meet in Conference Room #3; take the Orange Elevator “A” to the second floor. For more information contact Michelle Valinski at 570-253-9200.