BANGOR, Maine — Though she has been blind for more than half of her life, Sue W. Martin has compiled a long list of accomplishments.
Now 56, Martin holds a master’s degree from Western Michigan University and works in Alabama as a management analyst with the Veteran’s Health Administration’s Section 508 Office, where she currently manages the accessible e-learning project.
She’s an avid hiker, swimmer, gardener, cook and blogger and a former coastal Maine resident who hopes to return. And although few people knew it until recently, she’s a suicide survivor.
During her visit to Maine this week, Martin said she is in the process of adding another accomplishment to her list — published author.
On Thursday, Martin will talk about the events in her life that made her the woman she is today, as well as the book she is writing, during a visit to the Bangor CareerCenter at 45 Oak St. She’s scheduled to speak from 12:30-3:30 p.m. in the center’s Kenduskeag Room at the invitation of former university classmate John McMahon, director of the Maine Department of Labor Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
While in Maine, she and her husband Jim also are reconnecting with friends they made as residents of Lamoine from the late 1980s through 2002, when the two accepted VA jobs in Alabama in 2002 to be closer to her recently widowed mother.
The working title of Martin’s book is “Out of the Whirlpool: The Story of a Suicide Survivor and the Rebuilding of a Life,” which also is the name of her blog. Both are named so because Martin felt as if she “was being sucked into a whirlpool” during the depth of her depression.
On Wednesday afternoon, Martin talked about why she has decided to go public about her suicide attempt and why she believes her story can help others — whether they see or not.
“Several years ago, I wrote about my own process of rehabilitation — of learning to read braille; to cook; relearning to type without being able to see; learning to use a cane and travel independently,” Martin said, with her guide dog, Kismet, a German shepherd, by her side.
“But I put it aside because I couldn’t do anything with it until I could be honest about the cause of my blindness. I’m blind because in 1982 I tried to kill myself with a gun. The suicide attempt obviously failed, but it did cause my blindness,” she said.
The suicide attempt left her with a prosthetic left eye, she said. The bullet passed through the optic nerve of her right eye, but after the bleeding and swelling stopped, she was able to distinguish light and dark with that eye.
“Things were bad. I was depressed enough to think I had no options, but then I was blind on top of that, on top of the depression,” she said. She said it was undergoing the process of rehabilitation that gave her the skills to live independently and “pulled me out of the depression. … That’s when I began to move forward again.”
She had been working on her book about what it is like to rebuild life after becoming blind when in January, she learned of a blind woman in England who died at her own hand.
“There really is a worldwide blindness community out there, you know, social networking and the whole nine yards,” Martin said. “Friends who knew my story were contacting me with ‘What if I had?’ or ‘If I had only.’ It was witnessing that anguish that made me realize my time had come.”
“I already had the story of my own [blind] rehab written. I had to almost redo the first chapter because I made it sound like adjusting to blindness was a walk in the park — and it wasn’t,” she said.
“One of the things I’m trying to do with this writing is shed a light on the mental health issues that so often don’t see the light of day. I certainly felt I was the only person in the world who had felt as rotten as I felt,” she said.
Martin said she was blown away by the response she got after she posted some of the first chapters of her book on her blog: “I’m stunned by how many people tell me they have thought about suicide, that they have attempted suicide or know someone who attempted to kill themselves. To be open and to be honest about what I went through is, I hope, something that will give other people courage to reach out, to ask for help.”
“My life right now — it’s just wonderful,” she said, chuckling over a description included in a news release about her talk Thursday. “It says, ‘Sue remains blissfully married to her husband of 27 years, Jim.’ The person who wrote that is my editor. At first I was like, ‘Oh come on, Bobby, how corny is that?’ But then I thought, he’s right. I really am blissfully married and my job is exciting. It’s cutting edge. I never know what to expect. And if I can rebuild my life from being suicidally depressed — and then blind on top of that — anybody can.”
Despite the good times Martin now is enjoying, she notes that her hard work isn’t over yet. She is addressing those in her book, still a work in progress.
“I’ve still got bulimia to deal with,” Martin said, adding that she dealt with the eating disorder for 13 years, both before and after her suicide attempt.
“There’s plenty more adversity. That’s what I am trying to convey. … But by the time we get to more adversity, I think the reader knows they can trust me. They can trust me to take them by the hand, take them through the adversity and come out safely on the other side of it,” she said.
“From where I stand right now, boy, if I can do it, anybody can do it. I want people to know that life is beautiful. It is so worth hanging in and working through adversity, depression, vision loss, whatever it is. It’s so worth it to come out on the other side.”