How do you say this to loved ones whose losses to suicide were permanent? My mother lived; how do our experiences connect? How do you say this to people for whom this is simply morbid talk? You don’t. Right? How do you say it when you don’t know who’s listening? And why do you try? Is there ever a good direction for the conversation to go, after you’ve shared?
Today is National Suicide Prevention Day. It’s part of a week-long awareness campaign, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Because this happens – suicide happens – everywhere. Where you live. Where I live. Nearby. Closer than you think. Even when we’d like to believe it does not.
I don’t say that to scare you – only to suggest that you reach out. Reach out to the people you know and love.
Not because I feel reaching out is some magic bullet, some shiny pill, a cure. It’s not. But it’s part of what’s needed to beat back the fear, the loneliness, the isolation which leads someone down this path. To take their own life.
Or to try taking it.
I promised myself at sixteen years old that I would live my life to combat this horror – I would dedicate my every breathing moment to eradicating suicide from the planet. Sixteen is a good age to make grandiose plans. Pronouncements. Promises which are impossible to keep.
At sixteen, what actually happened was this: I stopped acting on stage with any real presence. My feelings all ran out my toes. I went through the motions each day – only that – and mostly, I failed to share. Except… one afternoon after her third attempt, after I slipped my friend a note in class and she ran out of the room in tears. Tears I never had. Tears I thought I’d never have. I envied her. That afternoon after school, I met with the vice principal to discuss a play I wanted to direct and he said no. He said that our school wasn’t ready for a gay play. He said he could not support it, no matter how good the writing was. My response? I stormed into Drama Club rehearsal on a rant, burst into tears, and slammed back out the door. I ran away.
It was years before I could cry again.
But I had made this commitment, with my back against my bedroom doorway in the middle of the night with loud, panicking paramedics across the hall. I wanted to be open. I was a writer, an actress. I had a voice. Muffled – okay – I wanted to scream. But I wanted to be mature, too. I wanted to help. I wanted to say THIS is what it’s like to be the daughter of a woman depressed. I knew that if I said THIS is what it’s like – enough – someone would feel understood. Not only me – but someone else, too. And yet – I wasn’t mature enough. Not then. Not yet. It was all I could do to pass Trigonometry and remember my lines on stage.
So I dug a hole for awhile instead, and lived inside.
Like mother, like daughter. Sort of.
In college later, my freshman year, I tried to write a paper for psychology class – Study what you wish to understand – on suicide. On its’ effects. On its’ causes. Science. Clean. Detached. I carried a book around for weeks, with “Suicide” in its’ title, daring people to talk with me. Some did. But I never could write the paper. I never could. I took an incomplete in the class.
Now, every year, National Suicide Prevention Week comes around and I promise again – I promise myself – that I’ll share. But share what? And to what end?
My mom bought a house with her partner last month. They moved to a new state. They’re starting fresh. There is a giggle in her voice when she calls to tell me they have arrived.
Maybe that’s what I need to say: She has arrived. They have. Arrived.
As have I.
But this story I’m telling now is just my life. Who I am. Where I’ve been. I am part of a family where Depression often sat down to dinner. And it doesn’t anymore.
I wish I could tell you how we got from there to here – although it might not help, since the journey is different for everyone – but I really don’t know.
Time? Love? Luck? Therapy? Caring family and friends?
I can only tell you with confidence that we did. Mostly.
And I’m grateful for that every day.
My heart goes out to everyone whose lives are touched by suicide, or suicidal thoughts. My heart goes out to you every day.