“Eating a bullet, overdosing, slitting my wrists, checking out of life all sounded like a vacation from the hell I had been living—I hated myself,” she remembers. “There I was, sitting in the bathtub with the water running, crying. My mind was racing and my thoughts were all focused on dying. I wanted out of this life. My mental illness had taken over full-force. Suicide was on the top of my list.”
Amy Elmore was 28 years old when she slipped out of her pajamas and into an assuming bath in a small bathroom tiled from the ’40s. There was a window, which she’d opened for cool air. It was a day like every other day, sunny, but it didn’t look beautiful to her. She had neither gotten out of bed all day nor eaten a thing. She had no plans. No one was home.
“I decided to run a bath with no idea of killing myself, just a plan to take another bath,” Elmore recalls. “I got in the bathtub. My mind started racing with all of these thoughts that I had lost my career, a relationship with a man I loved, friendships and I was really ill. I saw a razor and I thought it was my solution. I just want to die.”
The international teen cover model is just one of the 8.3 million Americans per year who has had suicidal thoughts. She is also just one of the nearly one million per year who has made an attempt on her life.
Elmore’s face was printed across international magazines for 10 years. She won the Seventeen Cover Model Contest, representing Tallahassee, had an eight-page spread in American Elle and graced the cover of French Cosmopolitan. Her friends were celebrities. She’s traveled the world.
“Being a model at such a young age was exciting,” she says. “I would go on casting calls, ‘go see’s,’ as we would call them, and show my portfolio… I would head out into the big city, whether it was New York City or Paris, with my map. I usually had six appointments a day.”
Her days began at 6:30 am and, though she’d only squeeze in a salad for lunch when she had the time, Elmore eventually became, at the very least, comfortable with the process.
“When I would get to my appointment I would wait usually nervously and then they would call me back and the casting person would look at my portfolio to see what magazines I had been in and what I looked like right now,” she explains. “They would spend an hour and half doing my hair and make up professionally. I didn’t recognize myself. Then they put me in front of the camera and took pictures of me. At first I felt uncomfortable, but then I felt good and natural. They would take six to seven pictures during the shoot.”
But when she was 27 years old and on a modeling shoot in Phoenix, Arizona, she caught a cold that’d change her life. That cold turned into Strep Throat and Elmore flew back to LA, where her doctor gave her an antibiotic to which she later experienced an allergic reaction. Her doctor then gave her an accidental overdose of steroids to stop her throat from swelling. She says that’s the night she lost everything.
“That sent me into a bipolar psychotic state,” she explains. “I learned later on that I had inherited the bi-polar. It ran in my family; I was born with it. The reaction to the steroids was the breaking point of the illness.”
Elmore lost 30 pounds in the next month. At 5’9, she weighed just 90 pounds.
“The day I was overdosed with steroids I felt fine, but over the course of the next 24 hours I started to get paranoid,” she says. “I thought there were people in my apartment when there weren’t. I felt off but I didn’t know what was happening. My mind started to race and I couldn’t sleep and over the next week I sat alone in my bed not eating, paranoid and with a headache from hunger. This all caught me from left field. I had no idea what was happening to me and was scared… I called my best friend and was desperate so he took me to the ER. They admitted me to the psych ward for the first time.”
Elmore spent the next five years in and out of psych wards, locked up against her will to keep her safe from her deep depression with psychosis. Days in the hospital were usually spent in bed, with no real interaction with other patients. She couldn’t handle the humiliation. She says she was abused in her doctors’ care, dragged down the hallways with her pants falling down and told she’d be tranquilized when she asked for help.
“I heard voices one night,” Elmore says. “They sounded like Angels. I told the doctor but he violated my confidentiality and told the nurse loudly in the hallway what I said and to up my meds. I would just take my medications and cope the best I could. It was a hard existence knowing there was this whole world out there enjoying life and I wasn’t. I wasn’t only locked up in a facility, but locked up in my mind.”
So, she’d pretend she was better to get out.
“You learn what to say and how to act to be released,” she explains. “I would do that. Then I would go home, run out of meds and end up back in the hospital again.”
Elmore was never alone in her suffering. An estimated 25 to 50 percent of all people diagnosed with bipolar disorder try to kill themselves—11 percent succeed. In regard to mental illnesses in general, there are 450 million people in the world that we know of who are diagnosed.
“The problem in our society isn’t mental illness,” she says. “The problem is the intolerance and lack of knowledge around the subject due to fear. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Most people with this experience are afraid to speak up and get help because they are scared to tell anyone. They are worried about being called crazy. They are worried the pain won’t stop. They are scared that the world will view them as inferior. So they don’t get help and live small and inside of their heads or they die.”
Elmore finally got the help, and medicine, she needed to live a life she now values. With the treatment and medicine, which she notes can take up to 30 days to kick in, she can now go through her days like everyone else.
“With the help of my therapist I have learned what the warning signs are and when I am going down hill,” she says. “If I am really down and therapy and medication aren’t working I know I need to adjust my meds. I am happy to know this today because it gives me the freedom and the will to live.”
And it was her underlying will to live that saved her in that bathtub.
“I saw what my life could be,” she says. “I wanted to be an actress, a writer, and a mother. I turned off the water and got out of the bathtub, being carried and led by a guardian angel. Deciding not to die wasn’t easy, when living was so hard. I knew I was up for the fight of my life.”
Elmore’s psychiatrist changed her medication and told her to take it, which wasn’t easy.
“I felt like I was losing who I was with each pill I took, while in reality it brought me back to myself,” she explains. “Each day I got up and endured. I dealt with the angst, the hopelessness and the despair. I took my medication, always knowing that I had the choice to go back into that dark hole of suicide.”
In support of National Suicide Prevention Month, Amy Elmore’s memoir, Brave: A Seventeen Covermodel’s Courageous Journey Through Mental Illness, chronicles her journey through the highs and lows of her modeling career, her attempt at suicide, being diagnosed with mental illness and learning to live again.
“Taking your life because of a feeling is a final act that can’t be undone, but the feeling usually can be treated,” Elmore says. “And 90 percent of people suffering from suicidal thoughts have a mental illness that, with the right course of action, is treatable. Life for those suffering with mental illness can be worth living. I’m telling you, as someone who knows, that once the fog has lifted, life changes. Everything gets easier.”