Finding Annie

Five years ago, at age 25, Annie Deramus attempted suicide. She and her mother share their journey to that dark place and their struggle for Annie to find herself and become a passionate advocate for suicide prevention.

By Dwain Hebda

Out of the Darkness walk

Annie Deramus entered this world the first time on New Year’s Eve, 1986. She entered it again in 2012 after trying to take her own life. She considers both dates her birthday. “Oct. 15 is the day I attempted suicide,” she said. “The first few years I was terrified of it. I remember the one-year anniversary very vividly. I bawled my eyes out. It was scary. Now as I kind of get away from it, it’s a special day to me because it reminds me of how far I’ve come.”

Dermaus’ attempt came during what she calls her perfect storm, brought on by a mental illness that disintegrated her relationships and shattered her self-worth so completely that she felt excruciating, unrelenting pain. “On the surface things looked good. Inside, I was the most miserable I had ever been in my entire life,” she said. “I had no meaningful relationships that I believed in. I had no selfesteem. I berated myself and caused others so much angst they no longer wanted to be around me, which in turn kind of perpetuated that cycle.”

The night the event occurred, Deramus’ mother, Laura Gladwin, was talking to her daughter on her way to an appointment. She’d spent the past two weekends with Deramus, lending moral support, but she held no illusions about how much good that did in the moment. “I hung up the phone and said to myself, ‘Tonight’s the night. It’s going to happen,’” Gladwin said.

Annie and hermother, Laura Gladwin, on her wedding day.

Annie and hermother, Laura Gladwin, on her wedding day.

Deramus’ journey toward that fateful day began in fifth grade, the year her parents divorced. It was the first time she felt the struggle of emotions within her, well before being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a mental illness that affects moods, interpersonal relationships and self-image.

Even at that tender age, she perfected a complicated matrix between what the world saw and what was devouring her from within. “I saw no red flags,” Gladwin said. “She was a dancer at a very young age then sports took over. She always made good grades, she always had good friends. Very normal.”

“I was scared of when’s it all going to fall apart. When am I going to make the move that throws this facade off?” Deramus said. “I was very anxious, very paranoid that people don’t like me or people are talking about me or people are lying to me. A lot of those feelings.”

The intensity of her condition and the pain it brought mounted daily until Deramus began to envision how to end the long-playing charade. But like everything in her story, it would not be that simple. Even as she marched toward what she saw as a comforting inevitability, part of her desperately wanted someone to intervene.

Annie and husband Jeremy on their firstanniversary.

Annie and husband Jeremy on their firstanniversary.

“I was dropping hints hourly, daily, pleading, all but on my knees screaming at my parents and my family and friends and everyone, saying I need help,” she said. “The majority of people who die by suicide have given some sort of invitation to have that conversation of ‘Are you thinking of suicide?’ Most people give signs.”

It’s a weighty thing to open your eyes after a suicide attempt. For Annie Deramus her second birth found her in much the same position as her first—surrounded by family and with no idea what life would hold from then on.

“There were two feelings: one, I was scared as hell. It was like, what do I do now?” she said. “The second was, there was hope. I was hopeful because there in the hospital was one of the only times my parents were in the same room since the divorce.”

“That gave me hope that I mattered, that I was cared for and that my life was worth being around for. And that was something that I had not felt in a very, very long time.” Therapy has followed that moment, both for Deramus and family members, notably her mother. Gladwin said she learned not only how to help her daughter, but come to grips with her own emotions.

“This is a really hard thing for me to say, but the night that it happened I knew there was nothing I could do at that point. If it happened, it happened,” she said. “I couldn’t save her if she didn’t want to be here. And that was the hardest thing for me to swallow.”

“For anyone going through this, go see a professional so you know how to react and interact with them during that time. As a mother, I want to fix and make it better. But she’s an adult and I have to respect that and back off and let her make those choices for herself.” Dermus has nearly completed nursing school and is eager to help others. She’s found a certain grace in educating people about suicide, serving on the board of the Arkansas chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She also talks openly about the dark places and thoughts which lurk still on the periphery of her life.

“Yes I have had ‘that day’ again. I have experienced that emotion. I have been in that place where I would like to not be here,” she said. “There are times where I have thought I would really like to not have this [pain] anymore, I would really like to just go to sleep and not feel it. Yes, most definitely I have, unfortunately, had those times since.”

One element of her perseverance has been her marriage, now approaching its second anniversary. She and her husband, Jeremy, even symbolically planned their honeymoon over the top of her suicide attempt anniversary. “[Jeremy] and I met about six or seven months after my attempt, so he was with me the first year. And the first couple years were really tough,” she said. “When we scheduled our honeymoon we knew that would be a day where it was more joyful than it was depressing.”

“Now I’m able to look at it and see it as a really exciting day for me, a day of growth and strength and overcoming. I enjoy that.” Somewhere tucked into her archives, Annie Deramus has a note she wrote at the urging of her therapist. It looks like she’s sketching out a story, with names of characters and a description of each one’s personality traits. There’s an Angela, an Amy and a couple others, all neatly catalogued with their likes and dislikes, their tendencies, what they believe and what they reject.

One of them, and the most important one, is a woman who loves people, who is a sucker for sentimental stuff, who loves her family, who’s carefree and funny and friendly. Her name is Annie.

“Annie is my true self and was probably one of the hardest ones to write,” Deramus said. “That whole exercise was kind of helping me figure out who is Annie and how do we getback there.”