A Lesson In Hope

When I was fifteen, I tried to kill myself.

Both my sisters had left home. One left a note behind and didn’t look back. The other moved in with a different family just a few houses away. I stayed. I had a medical condition I couldn’t get my family to face and I hid from the rest of the world. I had just been diagnosed that September. Shortly after my diagnosis, a boy who went to my school and lived up the street died by suicide the same day we received our report cards. Peers recalled him being scared to tell his father he had received a B. Two other students attempted suicide after him. Then, I became attempt number three.

The day after Thanksgiving, my parents went to my grandma’s house for leftovers. I asked to stay home that night. Looking back, maybe that was a sign I knew what I was doing and I planned it. Honestly, I don’t remember. The truth is, I was so ambivalent in my attempt and so pressured by everyone’s reaction, I lied. I claimed my overdose was caused by distraction and a horrible migraine.

Years later, a college essay forced me to reflect on that day. I stayed in denial about a lot of things. I stood by that migraine, which I did have, and shifted my focus to the abuse I endured at home. At the end of the essay, I was required to declare whether I did or did not support the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. I couldn’t figure out where I stood on the matter, so I took a break from college to decide.

(That’s another lie.)

When suicide isn’t talked about in the community or the home, it’s easy to feel like we have to hide those thoughts. So, at age thirty-one, I repeated the past and my self-destructive uncertainty with a suicide prevention campaign on Facebook to mask mine. Just over a month into my campaign, my dear friend and affectionately-adopted sister took her own life.

During our last conversation, she mentioned feeling “broken but not suicidal.” She even asked me to check on her. I wish I had understood that she was opening a door, crying for help, even if she didn’t know it. I wish I had told her, “It’s okay if you are feeling suicidal! We can talk about that!” I wish I had gone to her house. I wish I would’ve remembered to reach back out. But I didn’t know the risks; I didn’t know the signs. I couldn’t save her.

With denial and grief in one hand and suicidal thoughts in the other, I began educating myself. The more I learned, the more I realized chronic suicidality has always been a part of my life, and my inability to heal from the loss of my sister, my hesitation to finish that college essay, those were a reflection of my own unresolved suicidal thoughts. The more I learned about suicide… the more I learned about my self.

Eighteen years and one tragic loss later, I finally understood why I tried to take my own life as a teen. And it wasn’t because my sisters were gone or because I lived in an abusive home. (Although, those were certainly stressors!) It wasn’t major depressive disorder like the doctors at the inpatient youth facility tried to throw at me. It was because I was trapped by my illness. It was because I was being rejected for medical treatment. It was because I couldn’t fight for myself, and no one was fighting for me. It was because the biggest stressor in my life was was looking in the mirror, seeing the diagnosis I was facing, and knowing there was a solution, there was a way to address it—for the rest of the world, for those who could afford it. But not for me. Insurance wouldn’t cover the treatment. Hope had a price.

I kept myself hidden and protected for as long as I could. I ran from the reason for my suicide attempt as long as I could, until I had my daughter. Then, I rose from the ashes to confront the demons still burning inside, and when I found my options for medical care hadn’t changed, I learned the hardest lesson of my life: Hope is temporary if solutions are out of reach.

I don’t know if you’ve ever felt sick and alone. I don’t know if you know how it feels to look at the future with fear in your eyes while family and doctors fail you, but I can tell you how to survive: Fight. Even when things seem hopeless.

It’s okay to fight dirty when you’re fighting for life.

If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1.800.273.8255 or text HOME to 741.741 to chat with the Crisis Text Line. 

We Were Oil In Water

We stood against the waves, you and me
Faced hurricanes down on our knees like we were thirsting for water
Balled fists and bruised knees, we wouldn’t sink
We were oil in water

We held revenge in our hands, you and me
Bedridden with trauma, praying to doctors for compassionate release
Damn this terminal grief
Balled fists and bruised knees, we wouldn’t sink
We were oil in water

Now I see the light is gone, sister
Gone in you and me
Lost in darkness and fire, and the demons are screaming.
I don’t know
Damn this terminal need for the love we can’t breathe
I hear sin calling to me
Balled fists and bruised knees, we wouldn’t sink
We were oil in water

I don’t know if you’ve seen the same hope as me, but I’m hungry and my arms are tired
Hungry for life I crave for you, I crave for me
And they pray
They pray to a god they can’t see, and we scream for miracles we can’t feel

But we don’t reach, you and me
Lifejackets and boats, dead lighthouses with no ropes
Balled fists and bruised knees, we won’t sink
We are oil in water

Life is Temporary. Grief is Not.

My sister died by suicide February 26, 2015, less than two weeks after her father’s funeral. Her daughter is the one who found her. Today is her birthday.

I wonder if she still wakes up and looks for her. I wonder if she cries at night, missing her mother, wishing she were holding her tight. In five days, it will be her birthday.

On that day, I will continue to mourn her and respectively acknowledge the anniversary date of the death of the woman who loved me as if I were her own daughter, stepping in to fill the shoes of my own family when they failed to support me. I was so consumed with grief and loss I didn’t even know she was sick and hurting. I never said goodbye. I wish I could’ve told her how much she changed my life and how much I loved her.

April 29th is my father’s birthday, but that’s not why I remember the date. It is also the birthday of my friend, with whom I ministered for years at our church. She was age 25, on vacation in Hawaii, heading to watch the sunrise with her husband, when they were hit by a drunk driver. She died instantly. That was six years ago. It took three years to acknowledge that loss and finally grieve her.

On this day, twenty-one years ago, I was in middle school when my friend died from a gunshot wound to the head.  I sat in the cafeteria, in shock, as the entire school finally took the time to acknowledge him as more than a trouble maker or juvenile delinquent. At first, it was investigated as a suicide.

In the end, his death was dismissed as another instance of a teen with a gun, who should’ve known better. I still drive by his house. I can still see him and all of his siblings. I wonder how many people knew he missed so much school because he was also their caretaker. There are consequences that come along with forcing children to be adults. Dangerous consequences.

The same year my friend was shot, a lady in my mother’s Multiple Sclerosis support group took her own life. I didn’t know it then, but I experienced firsthand what suicide contagion looks like. Two other support group members died by suicide in the months that followed. My mother discontinued her support group, and “suicide” became a permanent, routinely used word in our home. For ten years, I listened to my mother threaten her own life or encourage me to kill her. So, later that year, it didn’t seem unnatural or abnormal when I attempted to take my own life.

People believe death and loss are something we experience, something we feel, for a moment in time and then heal from. People assume the pain leaves the heart once the stages of grief have ended, but, often, it doesn’t.

We bury the loss. We hide the guilt, and we forever carry the grief in our hearts until we finally reach the end of our own lives.

Life is fleeting— temporary. We must cling to hope to survive.

If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.