A Suicide Attempt Spurs a New Life of Advocacy
by Dan Luner
I have always been a person who puts the happiness of others before his own: a person who often wears a mask to hide his pain. A person who worked constantly so he didn’t have to socialize…. or at least didn’t have the time to.
Since my breakdown in late 2014, I realized how harmful that mask can be; not only to me, but to those around me.
Growing up in a suburb of Philadelphia, life was just about as normal as any other kid but, as third grade started, a big change occurred. I was in second grade when 9/11 happened and although I wasn’t a resident of New York City or someone who lost a family member, the horrific events of that day had a significant impact on my life. I recall not wanting to leave my parents for the day at school, often worried something would happen to them. On top of that, I began to develop and put on weight that wouldn’t be classified as “baby-weight.” Some may think this was stress eating and coping in a negative manner, but if we’re being honest, I simply wasn’t eating what was best for a kid my age.
I started getting bullied in fourth grade for my weight, which was what led to my depression. Transitioning into middle school with anxiety and depression, I was certainly what you what call an emotional kid. I was a regular visitor to the counselor’s office and, after the counselor pushed me aside, I was a regular in the social worker’s office. Looking back on this situation, I can’t believe a professional would do that during a pivotal point of my personal development. Yet at the time, this only intensified the feelings that I was different. Eventually, it got to the point where I needed help outside of school, which led me to therapy when I was eleven.
Anybody who has experienced therapy before can relate when I say it’s comparable to dating. In the sense that you’re trying to find the right match. For me, I had many therapists who categorized me, put me in silos… I even had one therapist, when I was fourteen, with whom I just played cards. At first, he asked questions, but I shut him out. Not long after, he just stopped pushing. No issues were resolved: just forty-five minutes each week of card games.
Throughout my grade school years and because of these experiences inside and outside of academia, I was often labeled as uncool, the loner, and my classmates would utilize a play-on-words with my last name, Luner, to ultimately dub me Luner the Loner.
At the time, I believed it. I had no core group of friends, which made me feel isolated. After high school, I had to make a strong effort to find my fit at college since I was commuting, but I found myself in the same rut early into the game.
For the most part, my time in college was successful and prosperous. Those who know me know that I didn’t shy away from getting involved, taking advantage of opportunities, and making myself known. Yet, when I was a junior, I was temporarily shaken.
I was involved in a campus activity where I was overworked, underappreciated, and constantly patronized. As one member on a team of approximately ten total, I was regularly left out, singled out, and falsely accused of not being a team player. I put in more work than many in my position had done in prior years, yet it felt as if I still wasn’t doing enough. I had never felt so worthless. This brought back the feelings of everything I had experienced years prior in a time in my life where I had been riding high for quite some time. The regression was overwhelming.
One night, my mental state deteriorated to the point where I attempted to end my life. It was impulsive and rash. To make a long story short, I took my car into oncoming traffic and while all of it is a bit of a blur, I remember passing it off that I fell asleep behind the wheel and swerved. The insurance information was exchanged, the damages to the vehicle were fixed and life was back to normal… or at least I had thought. When it hit me that I didn’t succeed, I realized it was for the better. After the attempt, it took me a long time to come to terms with things. Though each day since, I realize how fortunate I am to still be alive, and that I didn’t kill anybody else.
It wasn’t until a friend’s family member took his own life shortly after my own attempt that I realized the relevance and omnipresence of suicide. Through a retreat offered at the university, I decided to open up to those within a small group. After attending the retreat, I returned that following April as a leader, where I told my story to a group of twenty students on the first night of the retreat.
Search wasn’t just a retreat to me. It was a pivotal part in my relationship with my family, my colleagues, and God.
When telling my story, I was frequently nervous to how people would react. Every time, the response was one of support, love, and encouragement, which made telling my story easier as each opportunity arose.
Cabrini University Campus Ministry’s Search Retreat had a major impact in my story and how I helped get healthier. Search started off as something that I did because the Director of Campus Ministry wanted me to attend. Much to my surprise, it was not long after that I understood there was a deeper meaning for being there.
I also sought guidance through Cabrini’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS), where I came to better understand my decisions, how they can impact others, and how to tell my story in a positive and healthy light.
Through my experiences with Campus Ministry and CaPS, I not only learned to live a healthier life, but also learned to help advocate for those in similar situations. I have been proudly wearing my Project Semicolon tattoo for almost three years and I don’t shy away from telling people my reason for getting it permanently put on my body.
With Cabrini’s healthy campus approach, I went on to receive academic honors after opening up and my wellbeing improved mentally and physically. I lost thirty pounds between the year where I was in denial compared to after opening up and as I mentioned my grades got better than what they previously were (even though they were already good).
That was only the start. I have begun advocating more since graduating and instances like these are the first step in letting people know that my story isn’t over yet. I have connected with a local nonprofit to share my story to various audiences in the area and I have donated my time and photography skills pro bono to organizations like the Trent Stetler Play Day. After my crisis, there were three pieces of the puzzle that helped put me back together with the first being community. I spent much of my senior year of undergrad immersed within Campus Ministry. It is here that I met and was surrounded by a community that made me feel appreciated, valued, and included feelings I don’t think I had truly felt in college until then. Some of my best friends from college weren’t the ones I spent four years with, but more so, the ones I met during this last year and a half.
I returned briefly to therapy, which made me more self-aware of my decisions and I realized the Counseling Center was a vital resource that more students should utilize. At the end of the day, these professionals are an unbiased and objective perspective on life’s trials and tribulations.
Lastly, reconnecting with my faith helped me heal tremendously as connecting spiritually allowed me to find inner-strength, a connection to something bigger than all of us and, most importantly, a purpose.
This fall will be four years since I attempted to end my life and while I am not currently attending therapy or taking medication, there are simple things the keep me going each day. One of the biggest ones being my girlfriend (whom I met on my second retreat as a leader). The support, love, and understanding that she provides is beyond what I could expect and I thank the Lord regularly for bringing us together: she is my rock.
My unique jobs help me with routines and reminding myself of my strengths. As a communications professional, I get to regularly tell stories, whether it is through public relations or writing. My secondary jobs where I run my own freelance photography business and speak with Minding Your Mind allow me to express myself and help others, which are two equally important passions of mine that I don’t necessarily get to do in my primary job.
Overall, my emotional state is much better than during my college days and I can predict that being outside of the pressuring environment that surrounds academia has helped significantly. Between my girlfriend, jobs, family and friends, I have an extremely special network that has helped me heal well. I also regularly take the time to relax, de-stress, and unwind in an ultimate effort to not make rash, impulsive, and poor decisions.
I share this all, not as a public attempt for attention, feedback, or love, but because it’s an issue I deeply care about. One I have personal connection too as well as many of my friends, colleagues, and peers in my life. Let’s talk about this… it’s really that simple.
I am always willing to answer questions and concerns those may have. I am an advocate. I will supply resources (if need be) or simply provide advice. I am willing to do what it takes to lower the number of individuals suffering needlessly, in silence, in the shadows, thinking of suicide as their only way out. I hope you will join me.