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,