My name is Charla Maclin. I am 24 years old and I am the impetus behind The Last Straw Campaign as well as the Koko and Friends Project. Our mission is to increase everyone's awareness and attention on the issue of bullying among youth in schools and other peer-group settings.
Bullying is not a rite-of-passage. It is cruel and inhumane treatment that is comparable to terrorism. I was a victim of bullying and I am also a survivor of three failed suicide attempts due to bullying that began at the age of eight.
We are all too familiar with the story where a camel was loaded down with straw to the point that the next single straw placed on the camel broke its back. Let me begin by saying I am not weak or mentally unstable, but everyone has a breaking point.
I began getting bullied when I was in the third grade. Kids were picking on me because of my skin tone. In hindsight, it was a bogus excuse because some of my tormentors were as dark skinned as I was. I remember coming home one day and trying to color my skin with baby powder. My mom didn't understand. No one understood. I didn't even know how to put what was going on into words. All I knew was I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. I was an eight-year-old child looking for pills so I could just go to sleep – forever. I just wanted the pain of my classmates' words and humiliation to end.
For the record, I was attending an all-black church school where my mother was paying tuition for me to attend. Moreover, the majority of my classmate's parents were upper middle- class professionals. My mother ultimately pulled me out of school two weeks before the end of the school year because I kept getting sick every morning before I had to go to school. She only found out about my first attempt a few years ago. She had no idea.
My teacher and school administrators, who were fully aware of the situation, did absolutely nothing to remedy the situation. In fact, I would go as far as to say my teacher actually condoned the other students' behavior. I can say that the pastor of the church called me three years ago to apologize. I guess being ten years late is better than saying nothing at all.
The last straw for me came on a school bus one evening when one of the most popular girls at the school I was attending at the time decided to make me the joke of the day. As I was preparing to exit the bus at my stop, she had everyone on the bus make earthquake sounds and rocked the bus as if I was the fattest most hideous person in the world. I zoned out at that point. I heard the other kids laughing and saw them pointing at me but it was as if everything was moving in slow motion. I totally zoned out. All I knew was this would be the day I die. Any last shred of hope I had of that things ever getting better was gone. They finally broke me.
After finally getting into the house, I collected all the pills I could find and swallowed them. As I felt myself slipping away, something kicked me so hard in the stomach that I threw up everything I had taken. I was so angry because I wanted out of this hell I was facing every day at school.
As I was looking for something else to take, my mother walked in. For whatever reason, she had gotten off from work early. When she saw what I had done, she had a total meltdown. It was only then that I realized what a terrible mistake I almost made. I never thought about how my decision to take my life would have affected her, my brother, my grandmother, or my cousins who I spent every holiday and summer with since I was born. Everyone who truly loved me was so upset because they didn't know. You see, even though the pain from being bullied was unbearable at times, I smiled and pretended that everything was OK.
People always say that "Time heals all wounds," but that is not always true, especially for survivors of suicide attempts. Time is necessary for healing, but healing comes through growth and sharing the pain of my story with anyone who may be contemplating suicide.
I went on to graduate from high school and junior college. In 2009, I auditioned for an acting school in New York City. Out of over 4,000 international applicants, I was only one of 180 students accepted into the program. I was accepted. I never would have had that experience had my suicide attempt been successful. I have learned that death is not the only way out of pain and depression, and having my family's support through it all has helped me so much. So many kids never got that second chance to experience that kind of love that I experienced knowing that God has a purpose for my life.
I hope someone will hear me and realize that everyone goes through ups and downs and life does get better. You think all the doors are closed, when all you have to do is knock and they will swing right open. There are so many people who care about you and will take the time to help you. You just have to speak up, make a call, or say, "I need help."
You may think nobody loves you, but that's not true. Suicide is not the way out! There are people out there who will help you. I am one of them.
Thank you for reading my story and I'm so grateful to say that I not only survived but I thrived.
(This is Charla Maclin's story as told to Dr. Clara West, founder and president of KoKo and Friends Foundation.)
("The Last Straw" campaign rolls out this month to address at-risk behavior, including bullying and suicide, in the Memphis-area community. The effort is a collaboration involving the Shelby County Office of Early Childhood & Youth's All Babies Count, Ask First Campaign; the KoKo Friends Foundation; Dress for Success Memphis' Professional Women's Group; and Pursuit of God's 7 P's ministry.)