Chesterfield woman’s suicide attempt left her paralyzed, determined to help others

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — Jenny Maher does not often know what she is going to create when she sits down with a paintbrush and canvas. She likes to find inspiration with each stroke but always tries to incorporate the sun or moon in some way.

“The darkness and then the light shining in,” she describes one of her past works.

Maher has lived in darkness but now sees the light from her wheelchair.  It is a permanent reminder of the day she tried to kill herself.

“Just going through life, a lot of it,” Maher collects her thoughts. “I just didn’t really have a reason for wanting to live.”

In July 2006, Maher was 34-years-old and battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. They are illnesses she had been diagnosed with 14 years prior while serving in the United States Air Force.

Jenny Maher (bottom row, left) was diagnosed after being hospitalized while serving in the Air Force. (Photo: Jenny Maher)

“I’ve been fighting, like, basically my whole life,” she remembers.

Maher began cutting herself at age 13.

“The physical pain would take away the emotional pain,” Maher describes, pointing out rows of white scars on her arms.

Maher recalls carrying out “not serious” suicide attempts a half dozen times, including after a sexual assault following her discharge from the Air Force.

She calls her life-long relationship with her mother, who also has Bipolar Disorder, “strained.”

The two had an argument at a movie theater that made Maher reach her breaking point.

“Her pulling away just hit me like a ton of bricks, and it just hurt,” Maher says.

On Monday, July 26, 2006, Maher filled every prescription she had and took pill after pill after pill.

Her pets woke her up hours later when they were hungry. Angry her overdose attempts did not work, Maher says she swallowed even more pills.

“I went into my closet in the bedroom, and I sat in like a hunched position with my head forward,” she explains how hallucinations police were coming to look for her prompted her to take cover during the suicide attempt.

Maher sat in the closet hunched over for three days before neighbors called police to do a welfare check.

When she woke up in the Emergency Room, Maher knew life as she knew it would never be the same again.

“I realized I couldn’t move anything,” she says. “The blood vessels to the, my spinal cord, it was kinked, so the loss of blood flow to that part of my spinal cord basically died.”

The injury left Maher a tetraplegic, a type of paralysis from the torso down with limited use of her hands.

“Therapists are still amazed that I can push myself in a chair,” she discusses how she improved over the years with rehabilitation.

Jenny Maher wrote a book to let others who are struggling know they are not alone. (Image: Jenny Maher)

It is now 11 years later. Maher is still healing but has found peace through her faith.

“I took enough pills to kill a horse, so I know God saved me for a reason,” she states.

Maher sees her wheelchair as a symbol of how far she has come and how much she gained when she almost lost her chance to live.

“I always say, you know, you can’t change the cards you’re dealt, but you can change the deck,” she offers words of encouragement to anyone else contemplating suicide. “So I mean you just gotta fight through it.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

Maher has also written a book to inspire others and has other resources on her website.

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