I have been told by many to not write this. Actually, I should say explicitly told by a couple but not so specifically those who said ‘no’ by changing the subject or cringing their nose or saying how awful the subject is and then changing the subject.
Here’s the thing…we need to talk about it. Part of the problem is not talking about it or pretending it didn’t happen or trying to silence those who do want to and are talking about it.
What am I talking about?
It’s hard to talk about and even more so because there have been 5 suicides in my town since September, two high school students and two college-aged young adults as well as a younger student in elementary school. So, unfortunately, it is a dark reality that needs to be discussed. Talked about. Cried about.
So, why aren’t people talking about it? Why not talk with, have a conversation with people instead of talking “to” them or “at” them or giving them a protocol to follow. There is no “right” thing to say. And trying to find the “right” or “exact” words will leave you wordless and silenced.
I lost an aunt and a cousin to suicide but I realize that is not the same as a sister or brother or best friend or son or daughter. I lost my aunt when I was 12 and I wrote about that HERE. We were close but but as close as I thought I was to her, it took a project assignment junior year in High School for me to get a much deeper look into Barbie. You see, the assignment was to write a biography/autobiography of someone. I chose Barbie mostly because I had been given her journals after she died and I still hadn’t opened them. So 4 years later, this project was the excuse I needed to read them.
Like most people, she was complex and her story was unique. She had a tough young adult life and after leaving the nunnery (after being kicked out for brining food to the local village children in a South American country), she went on to be an AP Spanish teacher.
Throughout all of this, she suffered from bipolar disease. She had great ups and great downs. She had treatments, some that are now deemed inhumane and pretty much every medication under the sun. After reading the journals, I could have blamed her doctors for giving her a prescription pad and letting her write her own prescriptions, or the school for seeing signs of her increasing alcohol problem but not saying anything because so many students loved her, or for the town she lived in not being acceptable of people that are different, i.e., gay because she had a ‘friend’ for years that she only called a friend but people knew it was more than that. She didn’t feel comfortable or safe enough to just say she loved another woman, and that woman loved her back.
We live in a world full of externalities. And we are influenced by them, whether we admit it or not. And it becomes easy to blame the ‘others.’ It’s their fault I’m:
- Not heard
- Trying to buy things to cover up my weakness
Or whatever else you want to blame others for. Yet no matter how much I wanted to blame her shitty doctors for hitting their own easy button and giving her a pad so she could write her own prescriptions, Barbie, at the end of the day, chose to write and fill them. She chose to drink. She chose to take her life.
She planned it. Hell, she even took a trip from Louisville, KY up to Boston to visit me and my mom and dad a couple of weeks before she killed herself. A trip, I now believe, she did to say good-bye. That day, before she got on that plane, she hugged me so tight - I couldn’t breathe. And for a long time. And she whispered: “I love you, Amy. You are strong and beautiful - don’t ever forget that.”
I never have and the night we got the call that she was dead, I wasn’t surprised. I got that sinking feeling like I knew it was going to happen and now it had. Yes, there was shock but not surprise. And anger - how could she leave me? Didn’t she know what she meant to me?
Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. But there were experiences that lingered with her, how she was treated, how she felt that led her to the ultimate decision to take her life.
And that’s why I got upset at a recent email that was sent out by one of our school administrators about the recent Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. It was a book published in 2011 and Netflix made it into a series. It is the story of a young woman who kills herself and leaves 13 tapes behind that are delivered to the people she talks about on the tapes - the 13 Reasons Why she killed herself.
Our school administrator said things like:
- The idea of suicide is romanticized throughout the series
- There is no mention of mental health and treatment options
- There are several scenes throughout depicting serious trauma, which the teens do not seek help or resources for (i.e., rape, bullying, car accidents, fights, alcoholism, suicide)
- It does not express what to do in harmful situations in terms of getting help or utilizing healthy coping skills
Now, I have read the book and haven’t watched the series but I can say this about the book:
- Suicide isn’t romanticized. To me, the focus of the book seems to be how people treat each other and how some things that may seem small to you can be big to someone else. It also is fairly close to some high school experiences I had or saw - and the many bystanders who let some things go by - myself included.
- It’s true that there are no mentions of treatment options - because it’s written from the young woman’s perspective. She doesn’t seem to be dealing with a mental illness. Rumors are spread about her, her name gets put on a list, she gets betrayed by 2 friends, she is sexually assaulted, etc. Depression may be involved but the way the book is written, it’s about how she interprets what is done and the affects of those incidents.
- The scenes in the book that are uncomfortable where teens don’t seek help ring true. While some teens may open up or talk about those things - many don’t. And I don’t see this book as condoning that - but quite the opposite - talking about it so we as people and me as a parent have some language to use to talk about what my kids may see or experience.
Instead of using this as an opportunity for dialogue:
How much does this reflect reality? Is it overblown? Do you related to anything talked about?
School administrators (and other parents) are using this as a way to shut down the conversation. How dare they make this series? How dare he write this book?
Just because you don’t want to believe it or talk about it - doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump and I don’t want him to be President - but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
There is clearly a problem, challenges young adults have growing up and problems we have as adults and parents trying to raise them and steer them in positive directions. One suicide is too many - and we have had 5. There is only so much blaming we can do - school, sports, teachers, coaches, etc. What about talking with ourselves and our kids, our community about ownership.
We all have choices. We can choose to blame the “others” or we can choose to take ownership and responsibility. We can say, hey, wait a minute…there is no perfect so why keep pushing people to be something that’s impossible? Why can’t we talk about our own contribution and helping others? What can I do to serve myself, my family, my community?
We are all in this together but when we don’t act like it…that’s the real tragedy.