Monday, March 5, 2012

Surviving Suicide and Other Destructive Behaviors

Although I have committed to blogging on Mondays, I have been trying to write this post since Wednesday of last week. I say ‘trying’ because that is exactly what I’ve been doing; I have tried to articulate something that I’ve never discussed at length with anyone and it’s been an extremely challenging and emotional experience. It’s a subject that three people in my life know about and even they don’t know all of the details…

Did you know that Utah is ranked ninth in the United States for suicides and that suicide is the second leading cause of death (after car accidents) in the state? Beyond these staggering statistics, there has been an increase in teen suicides in Utah over the last several weeks and, last week alone, there were two students from Clearfield High School who killed themselves three days apart.

The young men who took their lives in Clearfield were described as “great kids” who “played in the band and were on the soccer and football teams.” These young men were active at their school and within their community. They had friends and families who loved and cared for them and now they are gone.

The descriptions of the young men who killed themselves closely mimic shadows from my past. I too did music and played sports and had friends and family that loved me. The main difference between me and these two young men, though, is that I failed where they succeeded.

I failed because I am still alive and they are not; I am a suicide survivor.

I first began thinking about killing myself as a child in elementary school and by the time I was in junior high I fantasized about it almost every night as I’d fall asleep. I would justify my behavior as a means to an end. If I were to kill myself, the bullies who tormented me would feel sorry. They would know it was their fault and they would feel badly.

By the time I was in high school my desires to end my life did not change but my reasoning did. Without going into too much detail, I felt as though I was never going to be enough (hmmmm. I wonder what I could possibly dealing with...), I was never going to be the student, the athlete, the musician, the faithful churchgoer, the son, etc., that I thought I needed to be. To combat these feelings of inadequacy I would find even more ways to get involved; if I wasn’t good enough, I was going to keep adding to my personal resume to prove to myself and everyone else that I had value.

I kept adding more and more to my life until I eventually broke. I had maxed myself out and I didn’t have the emotional strength to go any further. I didn’t believe I was worthwhile and, as a result, I didn’t believe anyone else thought I was worth anything either. So, one afternoon, as I was babysitting my sisters, I decided I could no longer deal with the pain, guilt, and overwhelming sorrow I was constantly feeling.

I took my sisters to rent a movie from the local Blockbuster and came home, made them dinner, and started their movie. Once I knew they were settled and completely distracted, I pulled my car into the empty garage, closed the door, and started the ignition. As I got out the car, I sat down on the cold cement with my back against the door and I stared absentmindedly at the exhaust pipe as it slowly puffed its toxic gases in my face. Sitting there, taking in deep breaths of the fumes, I began to weep quietly.

I don’t know how much time had passed but I remember I was starting to simultaneously feel light-headed and at the same time developing an intense headache. I knew I was getting close and I started to weep even more. I remember lying down on the garage floor and encouraging my mind to let go and fall asleep when, all of a sudden, I had an overwhelming sense of guilt wash over me.

Immediately I had images of my young sisters (10 and four) opening the kitchen door to find me dead. Then I thought about the possibility of the poisonous gasses leeching into the house and possibly killing them before my parents could come home and shut the car off. My parents had already lost one child, and I was trying to take one more from them. What if I ended up taking all three of us that were left? The risk was too great so I slowly picked myself up and haphazardly walked towards the garage door opener and opened the garage. Eventually I made my way to the driver’s side of the car and turned it off too and made my way inside.

In the ten years since that first attempt I have had many other self-destructive moments. As a teenager I ran jagged glass across my wrists. As missionary I would wake up in the middle of the night and twirl an Exacto Knife between my fingers with my arms propped over the kitchen sink. At college I drove my car to the top of cliffs and ravines and undid my seat belt and sat with my foot on the brake. And, as recently as last week, I went through my medicine cabinet to see if I had any pills I could overdose on (the list goes on and on).

You see, if I’m truly honest, not a day goes by that I don’t think about death and wish it would all end. It would really make everything easier – for me at least. But, I’m still here, writing this post. For whatever reason, I have overcome these thoughts and feelings each and every time.

Now, I am not writing this post to throw myself a pity party and fish for compliments or consolation. I am sharing these experiences to help raise awareness. I hope that if you read this piece, you will take the time to reach out and share kindness in place of hate, love instead of intolerance, and compassion rather than indifference.

The faces of suicide are vast and varied and you may never know who is struggling to survive each and every day. And every time you decide to go on a tirade about how selfish or narrow-minded a person must be to consider taking their own life, remind yourself that you don’t know their feelings, emotions, or challenges, and hearing ignorant comments like these are only making it harder on the person struggling and fighting to stay alive and keep going.

To conclude, I want to share a song from Glee. I know, I know, I really don’t like the show but I’m generally very fond of the music. Anyway, the last episode of the first half of this past season deals with teen suicide fairly well and one of the songs they sing is truly appropriate for this post. I am alive today and stronger than I have ever been because of the experiences I have had – both the good and the bad. I hope you take the opportunity today to realize the strength you have inside of you and remember all that you have to offer the world (even if it’s just a smile).

All my love,



  1. MJ, this is such a fantastic post. I mean, it's so honest and maybe I appreciate it because I totally relate. I felt the same way in high school. I could never be enough. So I added more and more and more, trying to prove to myself that I was worth something.

    I moved to college and then I had nothing. No one to recognize how great my resume was. I didn't have any clubs or bands or choirs to participate in and I felt, once again like I didn't matter.

    I didn't really try to kill myself, except once I took a bunch of pills. I think they were actually vitamins. I was eleven. In college I cut myself, my arms, my legs, all over. It was like punishment for not being what I was supposed to be. It was a release of my pent up anger and resentment. It was my way of controlling my life when everything seemed out of my hands.

    I still get really down on myself. Particularly lately. I feel like a failure. Like nothing I do matters to anyone. Sometimes I think about suicide, but I remember there is at least one thing to stay for. When I remember that one thing it's easier to think of a few more. All my reasons are people. But it's not out of guilt that I stay (although, I don't think that's a bad reason in this case). I worry about missing out on my chance at love. This is it. It might be the only chance I have.

    oh, and I love Glee...if I'm being honest. It's kinda like Saved By the Bell...except with music... :)

    1. Thanks TA, I appreciate your honesty and empathy. I am sorry to hear that you turned to cutting. I tried it a couple of times but was too much of a wimp. I have known many who have taken that path and I understand it can truly be heartbreaking.

      If and when you get down on yourself, I hope you realize that you have at least two things in your life that are here for you and want you to stay. I know the main reason wouldn't have it any other way and I wouldn't either!

      As for Glee. It's really a hate love relationship for me. I love the music and some of the messages they are sharing but SOOO much of it seems really contrived. The last episode, however, had me blubbering like a baby; I was a real train wreck. Saved by the Bell, however, LOVE!

  2. I love Glee too :) But beyond that point I get what you are saying. I think we are all suicidal at one point or another but we refuse to believe it and think we are alone. I get what TA was saying too. If you just think about one reason to stay you can hold on. That one thing can be that you aren't alone. Even though I don't know you in "real life" you're still one of my fellow bloggers and that means I'll always be there for you. I think any of us at this site would do that :)

    1. I agree with both of you but my main point was to build compassion and hope. I truly wish everyone in this world would reach out in love to everyone around them. If there was more love, tolerance, and compassion we would have much less suicide.

      As my fellow blogger, Dupree, I already have a love in my heart for you and all of our other contributors. We have a unique bond that I believe grows stronger day by day - even if it isn't quite in "real life." It's real to me.

  3. Okay, I have to admit, Addie and I LOVE Glee. I mean love. Except, I'm really not a huge fan of all. That's not true. I just love the voices of the other cast members and I want to hear more of them. Brittany is my all-time favorite character.

    Wow. That was embarrassing. I watched that episode. It made me realize something, and it certainly goes along with what you're saying, MJ. Here's this bully who makes a living hell for another kid all while going through his own personal hell. Everyone was out to punish the bully for being a jerk, but not even the adults made any efforts at all to see that maybe this kid needed attention/love/understanding.

    MJ, thanks for this post. I can't believe how honest you've been. It's brilliant. Beautiful. And, I think so many people experience the same kinds of feelings. Even if people don't get to the point where they try to kill themselves (or actually manage to kill themselves), I think everyone knows what it feels like to be rejected. To feel like a failure. To be unsure of the future and to wonder if anything ever feels better. Everyone knows what it's like to feel alone.

    You seem like such a wonderful, compassionate guy. I'm glad you stuck around. And, I'm glad you shared your story. The world can use more honesty. And I think once it has that, it will be easier to have the true needs--like you mentioned--of kindness, love, compassion.

    It's so true that you never know who is struggling. People can put on such good faces and just be torn to pieces inside. I hope I can follow your lead and be more understanding, more compassionate.

    1. Ry, I loved Glee in the beginning. Now, like I said, I watch it more for the music but I still watch it - religiously. I also kind of hate Rachel. I hate her character at least, but I do love hearing her sing. I also hate Finn (and hearing him sing). And kind of Quinn - but if she dies I will be an absolute train wreck. I love Brittney too and I'm glad they're letting her sing a bit more and giving her and the "other Asian" more solo dance time.

      As for this post, thanks for your kind words. I simultaneously published this post on my personal blog as well and it has been interesting hearing the feedback I've been getting from the people I grew up with. It's been kind enough but I wonder how much of it's genuine (honestly a few of the comments were given by some of the people who tormented me growing up).

      Now, as an adult, I feel as though I have lost myself in the charade that has become my life. This blog has given me a chance to find my voice and the honesty I have been able to share has started to flow into all aspects of my life; it's been great.

      I hope to be truer to my own words, too. I have become so bitter over the last few years that I have lost a lot of the kindness and compassion I once had. I am trying desperately to find it but I think I need to first find it for myself...

      Thanks, as always, for your comments!

  4. MJ, this post is amazing. I didn't read all the comments, but I'd like to echo TA a bit. I've felt just that way before as well, particularly in college. Since I'm going into medicine, I especially worried about being enough. I looked around at all the brilliant students I'd be competing with to get into PA school and I was never sure if I had what it takes, if I'd look good enough on paper to have a school pick me over them. You get the idea. I never let myself cut, because I know how easily I get hooked on things. But I became mildly (ha!) anorexic, fell into deep depression, and began considering suicide. I had my best friend make me promise I wouldn't do anything, to slow me down. I began to go about planning the perfect suicide, also to slow me down. I didn't want to leave behind a gruesome scene for those I love. So since I was shadowing in a family practice clinic at the time, I finally decided to research medications, steal a lethal amount / combination over time, and then do the deed. But I kept myself plenty busy, and naturally never got around to researching anything. I also didn't have time to work on goodbye letters, so that all helped me buy time. And then my depression began to wane. But I still thought about death all the time. I thought it would make things better, and I thought that nobody would really miss me. I thought they'd be better off without me around to cry on them.

    That summer, I went on a study abroad, and I actually, truly enjoyed life consistently for the first time in almost a year. It was a great relief, and helped me long for death a little less. (Though, to this day, I have zero fear or dread of death. I'd just miss the people I love and the memories I could have made.) But, something else helped me too. One of my best friends on the study abroad had lost a brother to suicide. I had considering killing myself with the assumption that everybody's lives would go on like normal, that they'd all be fine. But three years after my friend's brother had died, she still struggled to cope every day of the month he left earth. She wasn't over missing him; her life hadn't gone on like normal. That opened my eyes. And later on, I realized just how badly I need others when I'm having a hard time. Part of me feels guilty when I lean on others, but I began to realize just how hard it would be to leave the people I love most when I need them most.

    For me, life honestly and luckily got much much better. I wouldn't mind dying tomorrow because I try to do my best each day and I've had amazing experiences. And some days I still like the idea of death more than life. It sounds so relaxing... But, I've luckily come to love life. Just today, my best friend texted me saying that she had been alive for 8,171 days as of today. I'm at 8,264 days, and I just marked off the date when I'll have lived 10,000 days. It's in 2016. I'll text my best friend to congratulate her on 10,000 days of life in 2017, and do the same for my little sister in 2021. It's all already on my calendar. :-) But even if one of the three of us doesn't make that long due to some accident, I'm glad for the time I've had with them so far. Optimistically, though, I'm looking forward to marking off and celebrating those milestones when we reach them.

    Thanks for your honesty in this post. I know just how it feels; I wanted death for years. But I'm happy now, and I hope that the same will happen for you. Because, although death is nothing to fear, enjoying life is one of the greatest things that's ever happened to me. Thanks for sharing, MJ! I haven't met you face-to-face, but you strike me as the sort of person who is good enough to qualify for any honor. But of course it's never easy to live with others' expectations. I just thought you should know that you strike me as a remarkable person, and I love reading what you have to say. Cheers, and TTFN!

    1. L., thanks for your thoughts and your kind comments. Death is this bizarre paradox for me. I don't fear it, sometimes I crave it, but I don't particularly like the idea of it either. I know that doesn't make sense on paper but in my mind it does so I guess that's where it will stay.

      I love living life but when I don't feel like I'm "living" is when I have problems. I need to fall away from the expectations of others and live for myself. When I can do that, I am confident it will get better. Thanks!