Childhood can be terrible, my friend stated. It's important to remind people that it will get better. Between bites of breakfast, the discussion circled the table.
When we're young we don't have a lot of choices, she explained. Our parents and adults make choices for us. During a time of awkward adolescence, the high school we attend dictates the people we're surrounded with.
But as an adult, things change. We're able to choose where we go and whom we spend our time with. Childhood is different from adult life.
The friend next to her argued. Yes, but is that enough? Instead of the message that we have to wait for adulthood for things to get better, maybe we should teach kids to find things that make them happy and do those things, now.
The students who didn't have things that made them happy were the ones who ended up killing themselves, he said.
She chimed in. Sure, I found my place in theater when I was in high school...
As I listened to the conversation, it pulled me back to my own high school experience. I didn't join the theater group because it wasn't cool and I already felt like an outcast. It was better to be a loner, I thought, than to let anyone in. It was easier to protect myself.
I flashed back to the breaks I spent alone in the locker room or in a secluded corner of the library. My heart used to palpitate, at risk of explosion, when anyone would approach me. I felt like a cat with my back up all the time. Isolation was the space I felt safe to relax.
I didn't find what made me happy. I just hid and pretended I was fine.
I vividly remember a chapel service following the suicide of a fellow student. A few evenings before, she'd been laughing with her sibling and then had gone upstairs to her room and shot herself. Her entire group of friends lingered in the courtyard, distraught and confused. None of them had known that she was unhappy. Not a single one.
During camp later that year, a group question was posed.
Have you ever thought about killing yourself?
Who hasn't? I thought.
But as I moved through college and into my adult life, I realized that not everyone has, and it surprised me. I'd assumed that all people struggle to the point of making a life or death choice. My assumption was based solely on my own, limited, experience.
When I was 16 and thought about not existing, it brought me relief. I didn't try, but there was a haze when I thought of the actual deed -- a sort of numb detachment. As an adult today, I cringe with the thought of a deed to end my life. But depression makes things foggy, like living in a dream. It occludes the full picture.
I'd hidden in the library and the locker room for my own protection, for my own preservation. But as my friend at breakfast talked about finding things that make us happy, I realized that I was incorrect again.
I didn't just hide. I wrote. All. The. Time.
I spent every break writing poems, thoughts, stories, and song lyrics into spiral bound journals. I poured my pain into ink. I wove my dreamy depth of depression in poetry. I constructed pretty words so I could read them and then live, without having to go to those deep, dark places in real life. I created a way to tell the truth, safely.
In high school, I was fortunate to find a happy place with words where I could be transported to different worlds with the words I wrote or the ones I read. I could write a new story for myself and it could change as often as I rewrote. I could be the hero.
The strange thing about thoughts of death is that I don't think we really want to die. We just want the pain to stop. We want the black holes to be filled with freedom, happiness, love, and connection. But when we think these things elude us we are blinded to the possibilities the future can hold.
What both friends said at breakfast holds true. We do have more choices as adults. However, if our kids don't actively seek things that make them happy now, they may not reach adulthood.
So what do we do?
- Make sure your child discovers and knows what makes their heart sing.
- Teach your kids to be kind to others. Always.
- If you have a teen, help them find a place to belong.
- If you feel isolated, take the step to reach out for connection or community. (Or a therapist if necessary -- How To Find A Therapist You Love)
- As an adult, keep doing the things that bring you joy and share them with the world, especially the younger generation. They need to know they're not alone.