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Author Talks About His Own Attempted Suicide At BCC

Jim Levulis
Craig Miller speaking at Berkshire Community College

A forum at Berkshire Community College yesterday focused on handling depression and suicidal thoughts. A note that some listeners may find the language in this story upsetting.Craig Miller starts his talk with a heavy series of words as he opens up to a room full of strangers.

“The greatest lesson I’ve ever learned in my life is the need for balance,” Miller said. “To be more specific, the balance of a heart and the balances of our minds. To take it even a step further, belief and trust.”

The 40-year-old father of two takes the audience back to when he was eight years old alone in his house doing his daily chore, the dishes.

“In the sink was a chef’s knife,” he described. “I just kept looking at it thinking about what it could do and how it could hurt me. The thought of that felt attractive to me. I saved it until the very end.”

Miller says he had a very difficult childhood, growing up with a mother with undiagnosed mental illness, a stepfather Miller says tried to drive a wedge between him and his mother and a father full of empty promises.

“What made things most difficult at that age wasn’t just the broken home, the alcoholism, the fights, arguments and the violence,” Miller said. “It was the fact that I was being molested. I was being molested in some very dark circumstances. There was a mentally handicapped man in our neighborhood who used to do these things to me and violate me in a room beneath my mother’s house. A crawlspace that went below the house. I remember there were so many moments, I would be laying there with my hands in the dirt and I could hear the footsteps and voices of my family above me while these things were happening.”

But Miller says what really created imbalance in his life was that he was bullied at school for being from a broken home and a victim. He didn’t trust anyone around him.

“I remember standing in front of the sink looking at that knife and thinking with my heart, believing with my heart, truly, truly believing that there’s got to be reason,” he said. “There’s got to be a purpose in life. There’s a passion in me that just said ‘Hang on man, hang on. It’s going to get better. It’s going to get easier. Life can change. This will be worth it someday. Someday it’s going to add up to something great and someday you will be something great.’”

He says at eight years old he had a mindset of not wanting to die, but not wanting to live. He says he remained like that for the next 15 years. When Miller was a teenager, his family moved to a smaller town, something he saw as an opportunity. But he never dealt with his mental health. When he was 15 Miller says he went to a psychiatrist, starting a series of doctors who told him what was wrong with him, but not what was right about him.

“The hospital determined that the rituals and behaviors associated with OCD took up 95 percent of my waking hours,” Miller said. “Ninety-five percent of my life was spent in complete, total, irrational fear.”

When Miller was 16 he started staying in his friend’s rundown barn, what he calls the darkest moments of his life, thinking no one around him could help him, especially not doctors or even himself. When he was 20, Miller decided to end his life by taking pills and going to sleep. He says he woke up in the ICU three days later. When he was waiting to leave for a psychiatric hospital his brother leaned toward him.

“And he says ‘Craig, what’s going to take to make you want to stay?’” Miller recalled. “What’s it going to take to make you want to stay? That question still hits me every time I say it. I’ve given this talk hundreds of times in the last few years all over the country and my eyes fill up every time I say that question. The reason I think it hit me so hard is because I didn’t know the answer.” 

He says he attempted suicide because he wanted things in his life to change and he felt incapable of changing them. Eventually he realized life had changed, but he hadn’t. Miller says he didn’t have one pivotal snap-of-the-fingers moment that changed his life. Instead it was a journey during which he realized he was at the lowest point possible and he turned that feeling into determination to get as far away from it as he could.

“My fear of ‘What’s tomorrow going to be to like?’ became ‘What happens if I don’t try to make tomorrow better?’”

Miller says he embraces his suicidal thoughts now, using them as an alarm that he needs to fix something. After he completed his memoir This Is How It Feels: Attempting Suicide and Finding Life in 2012, Miller began speaking out about his suicide attempt. He now serves on the executive committee of the Massachusetts Coalition of Suicide Prevention.

A report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health finds suicide rates increased 42 percent from 2003 to 2012 to 9.4 suicides for every 100,000 persons. The number of suicides in 2012 was 4.5 times higher than homicides. The national suicide rate is 12.5 per 100,000 persons.  There were 23 suicides and no homicides in Berkshire County in 2013, according to data provided by Berkshire Community College. The national suicide prevention lifeline number is 1 (800) 273-8255.

Lisa Mattila is a licensed mental health counselor who works at BCC and invited Miller to speak.

“My goal at the college is to continue to decrease stigma around mental health issues so that students feel more comfortable seeking help,” Mattila said. “I know with Craig, he said that he didn’t initially use therapy or counseling. But also for students to be aware of the issues.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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