Content warning: This article discusses suicide.
Writing is how I express my emotions. It is always how I express my emotions. Putting them on a piece of paper, making the words visible and tangible, is how I can extrapolate what I mean and what I feel. I don't like talking to people, never really have. My writing is what I hold dearest, even if they've gotten me in "trouble" before.
I don't even know what I'm going to fill this with. It's been four days and I'm still shell-shocked. I figure if I write, maybe I'll be able to let go of everything that I'm holding, all the things I feel that I don't know how to explain.
Finding out that someone you went to elementary and middle school with committed suicide from a social media post is devastating.
It's the last thing you expect to see when one of your closest childhood friends texts you out of the blue.
The empty seat behind you in class used to be a person. Something that lived and breathed just as you did. Someone who had a mother and a father and brothers and sisters. Someone who had hopes and dreams and wanted to be a teacher or a surgeon or an astronaut. And when you see that chair that had this living breathing person suddenly be empty — you just know. And everyone else in that class will cry over this small piece of their history that they knew and loved and won't forget. And kids from that class will go into their basements and pull out old assignments and yearbooks and pictures and wonder when it all went wrong. They'll cry for days and debate whether or not to go to the wake and funeral.
Maybe they'll decide against it to just want to remember the laughing breathing boy who sat in the chair rather than the body in the casket who left an empty chair behind.
That could have been me in some parallel universe where I wasn't strong.
It could have been me or any other person that I loved sitting in that casket. Sometimes I wonder if I'd be missed, but I don't want to die. Not until I'm old and gray and crusty and have traveled the world and met my grandkids and ran marathons.
I don't ever want to be an empty chair.
And I'm hoping none of my friends want to, either.
Death is mysterious. And for most people, it's scary. The idea of that being the end is unsettling. You don't know what's out there, you don't know what's next, if something even comes next. It's spontaneous. It could come from nowhere.
Sometimes it feels like everyone is dying.
I've never experienced the death of someone close to me. My grandfather died when I was four months old, my other fifteen years before I was born. My grandmother died when I was eight, but I never knew her well enough to mourn the loss.
I'm afraid that someone close to me will die, and that's inevitable, but I'm afraid it'll break me. I said I have been broken, that we're all broken, but being broken from that kind of loss is something that only comes from death. And you never truly recover from that. There will always be a sad undertone in your eyes, no matter how much time passes.
I think there is a fine line between being dismal about death and being appreciative of what we know we have, which is whatever life we are given. We don't know how much time we have. When our time is up, it's up. If you're lucky, if you've got a guardian angel, then you've got good luck. My dad says he was saved by an angel when he almost drowned in Mexico. He could have died that day. So, I'm not afraid of dying. I'm afraid of someone near me dying. There's a difference. People die in car crashes and on roofs and in hospitals and in airports and from cancer and there is nothing you can do about it. Death is mysterious and inevitable, and it hurts...but most of the time, it's harder to survive than it is to die.
Let me start from the beginning. When I was in the second grade, there was a new kid in our class. It was pretty noticeable because there were only three classes of our grade, and we all knew each other. He was funny and fun to talk to. He was in the "gifted" group with two of my best friends. The three of them would run off to another class (and play on a trampoline for God's sake), and I would be angry that I wasn't considered "gifted."
He was also best friends with my "boyfriend" (the guy I fake-dated in middle school), so the two of them were a package. He was friends with all of my friends. He was in all of my classes. He was always the one providing comedic relief. It was a running joke that all of the teachers would yell at him for flirting with the girls in all his classes. That's just who he was — chatty, smart, funny. He also had the voice of an angel. Years of us begging him led him to eventually joining the choir. He was going to college for engineering and was in some leadership thing.
He was definitely the type of guy that would go far in life. I never doubted that.
In our eighth-grade skit, he ran across the stage wearing a tutu and holding a picture of our eighth-grade reading teacher on a stick. It was a joke originating from one of our friends dreaming our teacher was a ballerina. It sounds immature, yes, but it's the memory of him that I want to treasure and will hold onto for the rest of my life when I think about him. He also performed in all of the high-school skits we did. These videos are all we have left of him, besides the memories and the pictures.
And I know I wasn't close to him. I feel bad talking about him like I lost him. I didn't lose him, not as much as his mother and siblings and closest friends did. And there's a small part of me that feels guilty, even though I haven't talked to the guy in years. Maybe I could have done something. But I hadn't talked to the guy since middle school. As far as I know, most of my friends hadn't talked to him since high school graduation either.
I don't know the details. And I don't really want to. I don't need to. They won't change what happened. Bullying. Problems at home. They all lead to one thing: feeling alone and not feeling able to reach out for help. They lead to failed attempts and being discharged anyway. They lead to someone sending a text and never getting a response.
His favorite musical was "Dear Evan Hansen." One of the biggest themes in that musical is suicide awareness, with the biggest song being "You Will Be Found."
But no one found him, not until it was already too late.
It's one thing when a teenager dies in a car crash, but it's another when they die because they want to die. Both are tragic. There won't be college graduations, or weddings, or first days on the job. No lives. No picket fences. All these things ripped away, either by fate or by choice.
And of course, my religious friend pulled out the "at least their soul is at peace" card and my other friend and I just snickered. Religion is a free choice, but I just can't agree. Someone kills themselves to stop the pain, to stop living. It's a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There isn't some floaty place where everything is OK after you make a choice to leave. They're just gone. Maybe they're not suffering anymore, but they're never going to be at peace in the sense that it will all be OK. They're just gone.
So, what can we do? People die, and life just keeps carrying on. Suicide rates have skyrocketed. Maybe it's the added stress that being in this generation carries, as well as the lack of care. But there are certain stigmas and issues that need to be addressed.
5150s (a 72-hour ordered psychiatric hold, generally following a suicide attempt or attempt to hurt others) are treated as a punishment. A 5150 is often gruesome and generally involves faking a recovery just to get out of the hospital to go home and be with loved ones. They are not helpful in the sense that they do anything to ease the anxieties, and they're expensive.
There is also a general stigma surrounding therapy. With how messed up our world is, pretty much everyone could use therapy. But there's a stigma that says something is wrong with you if you're in therapy. And it's expensive. Insurance is expensive. People would rather suffer or die than go into the debt that therapy or mental healthcare comes with.
As mandated reporters, teachers and schools, in general, do a terrible job of checking in on their kids. My personal experience with this was terrible. I didn't feel better. It didn't feel like they had my interests in mind. I felt like I was just a box on a checklist. They didn't help me. They made a big show of showcasing everything that was bothering me and telling it to my parents, and then completely dropped it. Don't even get me started on the parent part.
This is a general statement — parents minimize. They claim the problems we have aren't important or valid. That doesn't mean that we don't feel them. Some of the biggest insecurities and issues are constantly minimized by parents. "You're not starving or being abused, so stop complaining" or "you make problems out of nothing." Stop complaining is the other way of saying to stop feeling. Stop expressing. It is why people shut down. It is why people decide to kill themselves. They feel like their problems are insignificant, and that they can't talk about them.
I'm here to remind you that you're significant.
You matter. Your problems matter. And you are never alone. I am always here for you. I will always listen. Even if we aren't close. I will hug you, feed you, and listen to you.
I am with you.
To the boy in the tutu, I am devastated you left. I always considered you a friend. I hoped someday I would hear about all the great things you were going to do. You deserved so much better.
Please please please check on your friends and check yourself. It's OK to acknowledge that things aren't OK. It's OK to not be OK.
I am always with you.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255