July 15, 2009

I Can Make a Difference

You asked, so here it is.

I stood precariously on a wall overlooking the ocean. The sky was a flat gray, and there was a strong and chilly wind. The entire world seemed to be tinted gray; the only color left was the tan of the sand and the greenish gray of the ocean water. It was the sort of setting a movie would have for a suicide, and, at that moment, I wanted my life to end. It is by far the most terrifying moment of my fourteen years of existence.

The first person I tried to tell was my mother. Through tears, I told her that I thought about bad things, that I might be depressed, that I needed help. She responded by telling me that I should exercise to get more endorphins and feel better. I ran up and down stairs, but there was no improvement. Telling her the first time had been so painful that was not willing to go through it again, so I attempted to wait it out. Two weeks later, I was getting worse, and she seemed to have completely forgotten about my problem.

I spoke again, balanced precariously on the edge of a bathroom sink. I began to speak, the words slipping through the tears. My friend looked on, concerned, not understanding why I was crying. "I almost, I almost." I was sobbing so much that a gasp worked its way into my words, but I forced them out. "Killed myself." She was shocked. I continued my story, filling in the details, explaining that I did not know why, that I did not know if it would happen again, that right then I did not want to die. I was scared out of my mind. I was shaking, and the automatic sink behind me went off, spraying my pants with water. I cried even harder. She asked if I wanted to go to the guidance office. My guidance counselor, a creepy old man who didn't even know my name, was not someone I wanted to explain this to, so I shook my head no. My friend promised to keep my secret, and we returned to lunch, me with tears on my face, hers expressing her uncertainty as to what she could do to help.

A week later, I stood in the shower under the pounding hot water, fear flooding through me, trying to let the heat and the noise drown out my sadness and loneliness. I clearly remembered the feeling of standing on that wall. It hit me that I would need only seconds to slit my wrists and finish what I had considered beginning. A battle was raging in my mind. "You don't want that" screamed between my ears, but a little fragment managed to worm its way through the noise, whispering seductively of how easy it would be to let it all go. I rand from the piece, hiding beneath the shower, but running from myself I couldn't get very far. The conflict built to unbearable levels in my mind, so I shoved my fingers into my mouth, biting down so hard that my gums began to ached, trying to give myself a tangible reason to hurt and to make the pain and sadness fade with the marks on my knuckles, just as they had so many times before. This time it didn't help. I sank down to the bottom of the shower and promised myself that Tuesday, tomorrow, I would tell.

I had written about that colorless afternoon no the wall near the ocean. It was a poem in which I tried to figure out how to put my pain into words that people could read and possibly understand. It was scribbled in my worst handwriting in the back of my science notebook. It was accompanied by footnotes and doodles in the margins, everything I felt was needed to explain. The next day I showed it to another friend, one who also wrote poems, not mentioning that it was autobiographical. She said it was creepy but well written. I had promised myself I would tell, so I whispered to her that I was the suicidal girl in the poem. She urged me to go to guidance. It took her about fifteen minutes to talk me into it. We sat across from someone I did not know, a counselor for another grade. I handed her my poem; she called my parents. I was suspended from school for being a danger to myself and others, pending a letter from a mental health professional. I felt worse than I had before.

I saw someone the next day who gave me a letter to get back in school. It was another two and a half weeks before I finally started seeing a therapist and was allowed to close my bedroom door.

A few weeks ago, that second friend moved away. I was walking home from school and trying to console myself. I reminded myself that she was just and friend, and that, without her, I'd still be in the same place I was that day. It was then I realized that I was completely wrong. She brought me in. I have no idea where I'd be if I hadn't gotten help. It could be that I would have found another way, but I could just as easily be dead. She was gone, but I was so lucky to have had her there, and to have been able to survive. I was lucky, and I felt the good luck wash over me in a wave incomparable to the pain in the shower. I was alive, I was happy. I was walking through the first snow of the year, a snow I came so close to never being able to see. I breathed in the flakes and yelled out to a street silenced by ice, "I survived!" "But," I added inwardly, "only just." It was five weeks after I first told my mother that I got help, and I was troubled long before then. I may not have scars on my wrists, but I had a problem, and it is far more common than one might guess. Approximately one in every hundred and fourteen teenagers injures themselves. For some of these teens, five weeks may be too long.

I think mainly it was so difficult for me to get help because people do not really know what to do. I think my mother may have denied the problem, although we don't talk about it at all now, so I'm not sure. Gretchen tried to be a good friend by keeping my secret. Amy finally brought me in, but I was only placed in the care of my denying parents again. People need to be educated about what they can do to help in these situations.

I can make a difference in the world by telling my story and educating people about what they can do to help. Self-injuring and suicide are topics I have yet to cover in health class. I think that some who have not experienced it misinterpret it as a plea for attention, thinking that because people are hurting themselves, they alone are to blame. I do not believe that this is true. No one wants to hurt, and causing physical pain is not a healthy way to deal with painful emotions.

People can be healed. It was six months later, summer, that I saw that I was truly better. The permeating sadness that had hung over me seemed inexplicable gone. I was lying on a hill at music camp. The sun was beating into the back of my jeans, but rather than feeling too hot, I was pleasantly warm. Scales and songs wafted through the breeze, discordant as they mixed together, but rather than being annoying, it was soothing. I smiled into the warm grass, thinking about the friends I would see later, the music I would learn to play, and the new school that I would start in the fall. The warmth of the sun felt as if it had permeated my entire being. It took me a moment to find a word for the unfamiliar feeling: contentment. The happiness in life had come back to me. My life wasn't any better, but I was.

By using what I learned from my own experience, I can help others to feel the same contentment I am now able to feel. I am starting here. This piece of writing is not private. I am spilling out my story because it needs to be learned from. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults, but suicides can be prevented. Students need to be able to tell people more easily, and those whom they tell need to learn what they should do to help.

I am a living, breathing example that it can get better when troubled teens talk, but the people they talk to also need to know what to do. I had to talk to two people before I found one who was willing to help me stick around, so that I can taste snowflakes and feel sunlight, but many people are not so lucky. I can make a difference by speaking up, so I am going to talk.

The DMV call center is a bitch. It took FOREVER, but I finally got an appointment on September 19th. In other news, who wants to go see Harry Potter on Saturday night?


Gretchen said...

to be honest tea, it was more than uncertainty. i was scared. like really scared. i mean, i had always thought those kind of things happened in movies. they don't happen to me. to people i know. it just didn't seem possible.

maybe your parents were in denial. but i was too. my life was supposed to be normal. maybe i had hoped that your "condition" would go away by itself. maybe i should have tried to get you to the guidence center sooner. and i know that amy actually brought you there, but i felt guilty cause you told me, but i didn't really do anything about it. yes, you did get help and became better. but what if you hadn't? what if you hadn't told anyone else? what if today was different?

maybe, i should have been a better friend.

Gretchen said...

oh, and my parents said i could come see harry potter only if csardas could come too...

vicky/bruney said...

unfortunately, I didn't really know you then but I like to think that I would have also pushed you to go to guidance...or maybe not guidance, i'm not sure they're always the most helpful people. i get the feeling that they make all those presentations saying 'come to us with any issue' but when someone actually comes with a serious issue they only know how to deal with it based on guidance books (or where ever they get their knowledge). not really sure what i would have done, hopefully not inadvertently or purposely assumed you were fine but i bet i would have done something similar to gretchie, i definitely would have been scared too... it does seem kind of surreal/ something fit for movies. maybe that was the problem with guidance, they just assumed your situation parodied many others and failed to look at you as an individual...? ok that was my lame attempt at analysis, sorry, as long as it is cohesive i guess i'll keep it...

see, I can be serious on occasion, when I try!! anyway, unfortunately, I can't see HP with you guys b/c I have to leave for Brown saturday morning... :( I guess you'll just have to see "horny wizards pretend to care about Voldemort" movies.com, not me...without Vicky...

my word is blessed

Tea said...

Gretchen, at the time, I was so scared for myself it was hard to imagine anyone else feeling fear. And I loved you then (and love you now) for keeping my deep, dark secret for me. I may trust Amy to do what's best for me, but I know that if I had some torrid affair and told you about it, my future husband would never find out ;)
And you were still my best friend, even though you didn't tell. You did your best under the circumstances and with the knowledge you have. And I don't care if Csardas comes (my family will probably go to the same theater, so she could probably sit with Genie if you want to get rid of her), and you have GOT to come, cause Jackie probably isn't, and I need a fellow fanatic to commiserate with.

and Vicky, I agree. I came to them with an issue, but all they really did was push me out of school. My situation really was a lot like everybody else's, but it was also different. One thing I wish is that I had gone to a shrink more used to smart kids. I feel like the woman I ended up going to didn't really help much, but, even so, whenever I read what people say on the internet (Gretch, your conversations with Jillian stand out in my mind), I see how similar their problems are to my own. So, we're all unique, but also all the same.
And Vicky, I will miss you terribly, but have fun at Brown!

Julie said...

I hardly know what to say. I didn't really know you then either and I wish I could have been there to help when you needed it. I have never had an especially positive view of guidance counselors, and it is an awful shame that you were not able to talk to one who could really have helped you through this painful time. It's sad that people can think that situations like this are parodies, as Vicky put it, or jokes, when teens' lives are at risk.

Jackie said...

well i've already read this, but i don't remember what i said last time. i do remember, however, that i was on another continent at the time that this happened, and i know that we weren't the closest at that time because i wasn't in school. i still regret the fact that i wasn't there to help you out, and that i hadn't kept up correspondence with you very well while i was away. but at the same time, what's done is done and there's not much use in dwelling on it. but know that if anything like this ever happens again, i'll be there (cheesy as that sounds). and that goes for everyone else on this blog too.