Today is my birthday and I was just released from the hospital. It was my first time to check into an adult mental health facility.
On my first day, the nurse yelled at the entire unit over cigarettes. She yelled about cigarettes while I looked at the ground, two floors down, wondering if the drop would kill me… I’m going to share more of my story in the days to come. But for now, I just want to say:
You can do this. You can make it through whatever you are going through! Stay one more day. I can’t promise it won’t be hell. I can’t promise you tomorrow will bring magical answers. But stay. New strength comes every morning.
If you are struggling, reach out. If your family and friends are not listening, reach out until they do! Pick up the phone and call the National Lifeline, drive to an emergency room, call 911, talk to your mom or dad, talk to your husband or wife, reach out to a teacher or a friend—anyone! Do whatever you have to do!
Because even if you don’t believe it, your life is worth the fight.
Just to paint a clear picture of the excitement: A random show is playing on Hulu, I don’t even know the title. My 4-year-old daughter is fully dressed in a bright red jogging suit and bright pink light-up shoes, trying to work the TV remote while dripping pickle juice all over the carpet. It’s a quarter ‘til midnight
Maybe I should be putting my restless Energizer bunny to bed for the thirty-ninth time, out getting drinks with friends, or pretending to hate a casual family dinner, but I’m not. To tell you the truth, I didn’t even get out of my pajamas. My birthday is the one day a year, no matter what, I feel suicidal.
I watch my friends with envy as they celebrate their birthdays and moan and groan about getting older. That part has never bothered me. I get tripped up by abandonment, insecure attachments, broken homes, missing family, and mental health. I get distracted by watching the hours fade away on the one day I should hear from my family. I get choked up by checking my phone and the mail, by checking painful doors and expecting lost love to be there.
I might be middle-aged, but I am still a little girl waiting to be surprised, waiting for her wish to come true when she blows out the candles, and crying herself to sleep at night. But I’m not writing this for me. I’m writing to those who know what worthlessness feels like. To the person who can’t stand being told they are never alone because every time they hear it, they’re surrounded by empty rooms and silence.
I’m writing to you. Maybe it’s not your birthday. Maybe there is another day of the year you always struggle to get through. Maybe you’re happy one minute and the next minute, you’re hopeless. Maybe you struggle with thoughts of suicide every day, you feel like your life doesn’t matter and nobody cares every day! Maybe suicide haunts you. Me too.
When you can’t celebrate your life because you are distracted by thoughts of your death, it matters. Because even if you get a million Facebook comments or tweets from random strangers, when you’re disconnected from friends and family, when the love you want to be there is missing, the only person really left to celebrate your existence is you. And if you haven’t found a reason, if darkness is screaming like a monster after five shots of vodka at a nightmare Sweet Sixteen party, no matter how many candles are lit, you fly blind.
Hopelessness and worthlessness become all you can taste. All you can hear. You play Russian Roulette year after year as they duel with your will to survive. Here is my biggest piece of advice: Prepare. Buy a new outfit. Find a reason to leave the house. Alone or with someone else, it doesn’t matter.
If you don’t make it, if you can’t open the door, dress up anyway. Get out of bed anyway. Text a friend. Answer all the Facebook posts on your timeline. Don’t have any? Announce it! That’s right. Seek love out! Celebrate yourself! Even if you’re struggling to understand why you’re alive. Fight. Have your favorite meal. Have a drink of your favorite wine. (Mine’s whiskey.) Do something you’ve been meaning to do.
Protect your heart. I’ve spent a lot of birthdays wanting to die. Enough to know a lot of other people out there have, too. And I want you to know, as my birthday ends, I am celebrating each of you!
Love doesn’t always come knocking the way that it should. And sometimes, when it does, things like depression, PTSD, and social anxiety, get in the way of us answering the door. That is exactly what lifelines are for! Build them. If you do not have them, seek them out. Build them.
Love will come. In the meantime, my wish for you is to taste the frosting. Have a cake made just for you. And keep choosing life.
Evade, avoid, repeat. That’s my motto. Lately, it’s become more of an anthem. Some days, it works.
Tonight, for example, I didn’t notice that my open letter to my friends and my family wasn’t liked by even one of my family members on any of six social media outlets. I didn’t notice that out of 338 Facebook friends, only a handful read my letter or liked it.
In fact, It almost slipped right by me that out of my last 20 posts, only three family members interacted and the exact same 25 people.
A few wrote to tell me “I wanted to share it, but…” I understood. It’s hard to think about that kind of violence.
I would know. I struggled to write it.
Approximately 3 million reports are made annually, which include more than 6 million children. But we all just continue to watch. Meanwhile, CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman, an “expert,” wants to refer to the line between discipline and abuse as a gray blur?
I guess she’s never been a victim.
The same thing happened the first time my work was published by Elite Daily. #YesALLWomen began trending on Twitter, sparked by the Isla Vista Shooting.
Instead of mourning the victims, we placed gender against gender and one kind of pain against another, rather than addressing that we have a culture of violence.
#YesALLWomen is an important and meaningful hashtag. As a woman and a survivor of sexual assault, I understood that. But as someone who experienced the death of two classmates and the tragedy of the Columbine Massacre when I was a high school student, it was frustrating to watch the world divert the attention away from the lives that were lost.
When I was 15, I remember thinking to myself that what I was hearing about would be a part of history one day. I never imagined we would allow it to become a way of life.
My friends and family struggled to congratulate me or share it the same then, too.
I called my mother and father and told them that day, even gave them the link to read it. Six hours later . . . silence.
No big deal. People forget how you made them feel, right? Maya Angelou reminds us that’s not true:
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Everyone is Talking About Homosexuality, But No One Is Talking About What Matters.
Less than 24 hours later, I realized that if I wanted my message to be heard, I needed to change the title. People wouldn’t read it and they definitely wouldn’t share it, if it alluded to a lifestyle they consider immoral, sinful, or perverse.
If I reference homosexuality or if I advocate on behalf of a transgender adolescent, I must be one of those people:
Leftward thinking people truly do whatever it takes when it comes to convincing others that their lifestyle — and other lifestyles — are simply equal expressions of human life.
Telling someone Jesus loves them is not the same as telling them you love them. Jesus can’t tell our children how much we love them or how important they are to us. Jesus can’t tell them how much they matter to us.
That’s our job.
Leelah just needed to know her parents loved her. She screamed it. She needed to know that her life mattered to them; she mattered.
When I was her age, I attempted suicide. It has taken fifteen years to admit that, but it took my church seconds to deem me unfit for ministry contract I had signed. In fine ink, it disclosed, “Perfection required.”
I guess I wasn’t called or anointed. I guess I’m not a leader. I’m just a sinner. My life didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. Only good Christians mattered.
At least that’s the message they sent. Now, as an adult, I know they were wrong, but back then I didn’t. I hid the truth, carried the guilt and blamed myself. I wish I hadn’t.
I’ve read the bible. For me, this was the verse that screamed among everything else:
Three things remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.
I can’t help but wonder how many people viewed Leelah’s suicide note the night before her death and chose to ignore it.
It doesn’t take a Bible or a hashtag to share your faith, show love or save people. If you want to change the world, it’s simple.
Go spread love throughout it.
Someone in your life is sitting at home right now and they’re wondering why they should go on living. They’re suffering in silence and painting a smile because that is what we’ve come to believe is normal, polite and expected. But they’re lying. They’re desperate, broken, hurting and alone, and silently thinking,
I don’t matter. No one cares. If I die tomorrow, nobody will notice.
They say pain changes people. I’ve come to find it true myself.