Showing posts with label teen suicide. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teen suicide. Show all posts

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shaking the demons and a Thanksgiving message

This is the third time I’ve tried to write this post. Every time I try to write about my early high school experiences I get bogged down in the details. I feel like I need to describe all these incidents to get across what it was like. I feel that if I don’t tell certain stories no one will believe that it was as bad as I remember. And worst of all, deep down there’s this voice telling me that I’ve made a big deal out of nothing and I’m just a wimp who couldn’t hack it.

So let me get a few stories out of the way before I get to the point.

Late in grade nine I came to my locker to find a defaced picture of myself taped to the door with the words “DIE BITCH” written beneath it. It didn’t even occur to me to report it, even though I was pretty sure I knew who had done it. I just ripped it down and went to class. When I walked into class one of the guys snickered, “nice picture.” I later found out that my former best friend, whose parents had declared me a bad influence, had been involved.

On several occasions I had complete breakdowns, or “flip outs” as I liked to call them. Sometimes it happened at school, often it happened at home when my parents were out. One time it happened as I was walking from the bus stop at the end of my driveway to my front door. Halfway up the driveway I just collapsed into a sobbing, hyperventilating mess. This was one of the few times that someone sincerely tried to help. Eric made the bus driver stop and came running over to me to see if I was okay. For that I want to say to Eric H., thank you.

My time in that town, at that school was the hardest time in my life. I faced regular sexual harassment and out right bullying, I was often being warned that some girl or another wanted to beat the crap out of me. Aside from one or two guys that stuck with me consistently I was regularly being dumped or shunned by people who had been close friends. Between the bullying, the isolation and the fall out from an incredibly unhealthy relationship, it’s not at all surprising that by halfway through grade nine I was suffering from some pretty severe depression.

I went to a school where the administration wouldn’t intervene until someone got hurt. I had friends who had problems with alcohol and drugs. I had friends who had attempted suicide and friends who cut themselves. I had friends who were beaten at home and friends who had been sexually assaulted. I feel lucky that I didn’t have any friends die. There were so many broken people and sometimes I feel guilty about leaving them all behind.

At the end of grade ten I went to my mother and told her that I couldn’t take it anymore. She cried at first but then we found a way for me to move away, back to where my grandmother lived and where my old public school friend went to school, three hours away.

I thought that escaping the situation would be enough, and to this day I know that it was the right thing to do. Sometimes I still get angry that I was driven to leave home when I was fifteen, leaving a loving and supportive home in order to escape a miserable school. But I left, and I made new friends and my circumstances, while no less crazy, were immeasurably better.

The following Christmas while I was visiting my family I tried to kill myself. At some point in my first semester at my new school I realized that, even though I had left behind my tormentors and started a new life, the pain and the depression were still with me. I realized that escape is not that simple and I could see no way to escape the darkness and the demons. It felt like they would follow me anywhere and never let me go.

I didn’t plan to kill myself. I got in a stupid fight with a family member and ran up to my bedroom, once I started crying it brought all of the pain to the surface and it was excruciating. I blasted Nine Inch Nails and wrote in my journal. The last thing I wrote before I swallowed all my painkillers was, “I don’t even have the balls to kill myself.”

So here, finally, is the point. Bullying is cruel and vicious and can make a kid’s life a living hell. But it’s the depression that kills you. So yes, we need to stop the bullying. But, unless we find ways to reach out to those who are targeted and help them to pull themselves out of the situation and the depression, we will continue to hear about these tragic suicides and helplessly ask ourselves, “What could we have done?”

Just because there are no bruises doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like hell.

Postscript: To those who showed some compassion and liked me for who I was, thank you.

To Ollie, thank you for being there for my late night crying jags and thank you for caring enough to be angry at a certain crappy boyfriend.

To J, thank you for being completely un-phased when I showed up at your house in the middle of the night crying. You could have been angry, embarrassed or even flustered but you just looked at me and asked, “What happened?”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It gets better, but is that the point?

Lately it feels like every day on Facebook there’s a new post about a queer (or presumed queer) teen killing themselves as a result of homophobic bullying. My reaction to this has not been the predictable shock or sadness. Not because I don’t care and not because this isn’t appalling and tragic. No, the reality is that there is nothing about this that surprises me. This is not new. Queer teens have always had a significantly higher rate of suicide. Queer teens have always faced merciless bullying. Even teens who are not queer face homophobic bullying if they are deemed somehow unacceptable by their peers. The only thing I see here that is new is that the media is actually talking about it.

In response to these tragic stories Dan Savage has started a YouTube campaign aimed at giving queer teens some hope. Hundreds of people have posted videos to the “It Gets Better” campaign including the likes of Ann Hathaway and Kathy Griffin. I admire the intent behind this and I believe that it will provide some glimmer of light for some teens but I guess I’m also a little cynical. I imagine myself at 15 struggling to muddle on through the fog of my depression and I know what I would have been thinking watching all these videos telling me it would get better. I would have thought, “You don’t know me, you don’t know my life. Just because it got better for you that has nothing to do with me.”

And this is really what it comes down to. What is the line that divides the bullied kids who do try or succeed at killing themselves from those who don’t? The most likely answer is that those who take their own lives are suffering from depression. And the mind under the influence of depression has its own dark logic. Man, when I was in a depression I could ‘reason’ away anyone’s message of hope or sound advice. If someone said, “You’re a wonderful person, so intelligent and compassionate” I would just tell myself that they didn’t really know me and I wasn’t who they thought I was. If someone said, “I promise it will get better, this is just high school” I would just tell myself that it was a meaningless platitude and they didn’t understand just how bad it was. But beyond all of that there is the simple fact that at that moment when you’re standing on the edge of that cliff, it doesn’t matter if it will be better in five or even two years. What matters is that it’s unbearable right now and you can’t imagine how to live with this pain until that magic grown-up time when “it get’s better.”

When I tried to kill myself it wasn’t when I was in the thick of being bullied. It wasn’t when I couldn’t bear to face another day of school. No, when I reached my breaking point with the bullying I talked to my parents and we found a way for me to move away and go to another school. The suicide attempt came several months after I’d escaped that hellhole. It came when I realized that while I’d left the circumstances behind, all of the incumbent misery was still right there with me. The bullies may have been removed but the depression remained. When I realized that leaving the bullies behind was not enough, that was when I truly despaired.

So yes, give your message of hope. But lets talk about what’s really killing these kids. Homophobia and bullying are the circumstances that absolutely need to be changed but if you don’t address the depression in a way that’s more meaningful than simply pulling out a prescription pad, those kids who are at most risk will remain at risk.

I don’t have any answers, at least none that don’t require some massive cultural and policy shifts. All I can say is that the one and only thing that stopped me from trying again was that after my first attempt I finally understood what it would do to my friends and family.

To my mother, my sister and everyone else who was there for me, I am deeply sorry. And for all of your love and acceptance, thank you.