By Skye Thomas
One of my long time best friends called me the other night with a horrible pain in her heart. She needed someone to talk to. Rumor had it her daughter might be suicidal and she was trapped on a business trip until the next evening. Her husband was home handling the situation, but she wasn’t going to be okay until she could hold her daughter close. She needed to look deep into her daughter’s eyes to get a ‘read’ on what was really going on inside her mind. Until she could really sit down and talk to her daughter, she could at least pick my brain as to what to do. We talked a bit about when we were seventeen, and I tried to commit suicide. Now, all these years later, what could I say to my friend or to her daughter to make it all better?
I grew up in a very dysfunctional home and had no reason to believe that I was loved or had any sort of an emotional support system. That’s not what threw me over the edge although looking back I think it set the stage by insuring a very low self esteem when entering high school. I wanted to die because I was in love with two boys who were best friends and I knew I’d never be able to choose between them. It was more than I could bear. I wanted to escape the pain of dating one and longing for the other. Both were amazing wonderful souls.
I had met one when we were fifteen and we’d fallen instantly into a wonderful relationship. He was my first true love. He was struggling with his mother’s new husband and became very distant and moody. In my insecurity, I assumed he wasn’t interested in me anymore. To test my theory, I scribbled out a heart he’d drawn on his notebook with our names in it. He took it to mean that I was dumping him and seemed at peace with the idea. I was too hurt and insecure to admit that I was just testing him and didn’t really want to break up. He was too hurt and insecure to stop me. Neither of us knew how to speak openly from our hearts. He occasionally asked me out on dates after that. I would think we were about to get back together and then he’d be gone again. He had moved to a nearby town to live with his dad and stepmother. He gave me the telephone number of his best friend to call if I ever needed to reach him.
One night after a year of him dropping in and out of my life and stealing my heart every time, I finally called his friend to find out when he’d be back in town and more importantly, would he ever get back together with me? According to his best friend, the love of my life thought I was a slut even though I was still a virgin and he had no intentions of getting back together with me. However, his best friend was there to pick up the pieces of my broken heart. The best friend was every bit as wonderful and amazing as the first, but in his own unique different ways. We really loved each other. We were sixteen and planning to get married when we turned twenty.
Since they were best friends, my ex would drop in on us to visit and hang out. It was extremely difficult for me to see him during those visits. My head said I should hate him, but my heart still danced a jig every time he walked in the room. My ex and I ended up having a long talk one night. He confessed that he really did say that I was a slut, but that he regretted it and never really felt that way about me. It was just stupid sixteen-year-old boy emotions tied up with our past together He thought I was better off dating his best friend and gave his blessing. It killed me. I was still in love with him and he was telling me to stay with his best friend. His best friend was the sweetest kindest boy I’d ever dated. Neither of us would ever dream of hurting such a beautiful soul. I couldn’t tell either of them that I was in love with both and for months I slowly went insane unable to speak openly with either, terrified they’d both reject me.
Eventually, I snapped and couldn’t bear the pain of wanting one and the guilt of never wanting to hurt the other. I suspect that it’s some kind of a primitive fight or flight mechanism that gets triggered when we become bombarded by negative emotions. When we feel that the situation is hopeless and we have no way of changing the dynamic, then we can’t fight it. So, we need to flee and suicide is the ultimate form of taking flight. It’s really hard during that time to stop and logically realize that emotions are ever changing and as such they don’t have to be fought nor avoided. You just have to wait them out and make positive choices and changes to promote the shift in dynamics that are creating the overwhelming emotions we want to run from. At seventeen, I couldn’t see that.
I also think that if a teenager doesn’t believe that anyone will cry for them when they’re gone, then suicide becomes a very real consideration. Years later when I had two toddlers and my life was a mess, I found myself wanting to escape from life’s pain again. It was completely different that time. I knew that my two children would be heart broken and psychologically screwed up for life if I committed suicide. As a single mom, I was their only sense of security. I was their whole world. I could get depressed enough to want to run away from my problems, but I could never seriously consider suicide like I had in high school. Someone needed me and would be destroyed if I left. Perhaps that’s where the answer to teen suicide lies. Does the teenager believe that someone else’s life will become unbearable if they die?
Almost two years ago, my son came to me in tears and told me that he was suicidal. The idea of life without my child was, more than I could bear. I knew first hand what it feels like to be in so much pain that you just want to die. To imagine my own child feeling that way was worse than anything I’ve ever endured. We talked a long time about the things that had destroyed his will to live. We talked a lot about the ‘feeling’ of being suicidal. We talked mostly about how it’s bad enough to have someone you love die unexpectedly in a car wreck or from Cancer or something. It’s an entirely different thing to lose them because they chose to leave. I told him to imagine how he would feel if I committed suicide. The pain he felt just imagining it brought him close to tears. He said he couldn’t bear it if I did that to him. I told him with tears in my own eyes that I felt the same way. My daughter joined in and in tears she put aside all of their sibling rivalries and poured out her heart regarding how incredibly painful it would be for her if he ever died. We were very close in those next few weeks as we worked together to make a lot of changes in his world and in his outlook. He’s doing wonderfully now. He is very happy in a new school, with a girlfriend that is the love of his life, and he’s found his old zest for life’s adventures again.
So, I guess my advice is this…. Tell her what her death would mean to you. Does she really know in her heart of hearts how much you love her? Don’t assume anything. Yeah, you have to take her in to some kind of a therapist. But, whatever you do, don’t make her feel like some kind of a screwed up nut. And don’t ignore this. Even if she’s just talking about suicide to get attention, find out why. She may be testing the waters, looking to see if anyone would even care. There’s nothing more depressing than finding out that nobody would care if you dropped dead tomorrow. Find a way to make her see that emotions are temporary and that together you can fix anything that life throws at you. Does she know you’re in her corner? Help her change her life. Find out what it is she’s struggling with and coach her, guide her, help her to create positive changes. Teach her how to overcome the pain rather than to succumb to it.