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8 Things I Wish I Had Known When I was a Suicidal Teenager

Tools to open the lines of communication, stamp out stigma and seek the support that is required.

 “Everyone is talking about me. Their voices whisper and whirl just outside of earshot like the hum of a washing machine. My skin is on fire from their stares.

I walk through the hallways with my head down, heading for the cafeteria. I feel them watching me the same ways animals stalk their prey: bonding together to take down a weaker species with the strength of the group. That’s what I feel like – a different species.

I used to get along so well with my classmates. I used to be happy. I used to laugh and have friends. What happened this year? When did I become the target?

I hide as much as I can. I hear people talking about how pretty I am. I attract attention even though I’m trying to avoid it. Somehow, I laugh too loud. I smile too big. I’m too animated. I walk differently.

The attention I used to enjoy now feels dangerous. I can sense people picking me apart and now I do the same.” ~ Book excerpt from The Other Side of Bipolar

Sadly, the scene above is not unusual in adolescence. We all go through this uncomfortable stage where our child-like openness contracts into figuring out how we fit in and if we measure up. Where other people’s opinions of us matter more than our own. Where one stare, hurtful word or sense of exclusion is enough to push us over the edge.

That edge is different for everyone. Some may need a bigger event or trauma to reach it – and God willingly they never will.

Those of us who are sensitive and highly aware of our environment live a bit closer to it. We set up camp on the fridges in an attempt to get space from the noise of life. To get breathing room when the world feels like it is closing in around us.

The more crowded we feel the more we begin to peek over that precarious cliff. And when the upset, noise, stress and emotions get to be too much we go back to the same old contemplation – should I stay or should I go?

If you’ve never had suicidal thoughts then this may be hard to understand. It can seem a bit dramatic; feeling that there is no hope, that living is too much to handle, that the world may be better off without you or that killing yourself may be the only way to change your current circumstances.

This inner battle and the suicidal thoughts that follow aren’t talked about a lot. The stigma around this topic keeps those who are suffering silent.  No one wants to be seen as the weak one who can’t handle it. Add to that the confusion of what’s going on in your mind/emotional space, how to speak to it, who to speak to and the fear of how people may react and there seems no other choices but to stay silent, search for answers on your own or just give up.

For me the relief came when I was finally able to speak. Granted it was a long time coming, my suicide note was written, I had already tried once and was planning on trying again that evening. Fortunately, I came home to find both my parents bent in tears over my suicide note. Mom had a ‘God Whisper’ that told her to search my room after a teacher called about another failing grade. She found my 10-page rambling letter tucked inside my desk.

I was whisked away to a counselor that worked in our church and sitting next to this open, non-reactive woman I was finally able to speak. Once I opened my mouth, I couldn’t stop. The flood-gates lifted and all the confusion, doubt, pain, sadness and other turbulent emotions came spilling out. I can’t even explain the sense of relief…

During that two-hour conversation, it became very clear to me that I never wanted to end my own life, I never wanted to die. I just wanted – really needed – things to change and I had no other way to achieve that from my perspective then suicide.

It saddens me to think of all the people currently struggling and due to lack of support, information, tools on how to handle their awareness of the world or how to change what needs to be changed, they see no other option but taking their own life.

From one who has walked this cliff edge and worked her way off of it here are some things I know now that I wish I had known then. It’s my hope that this conversation will open in the world, that seeking support will become easier and less stigmatized, that tools to assist will be more readily available and that the beautiful lives left to live will get their chance…

I don’t know how to talk about this.

It’s hard to talk about something you don’t understand. The thing is you don’t have to understand it. If you are waiting for the perfect words or to figure out why you are feeling the way you are then you are wasting precious time and not able to receive the support you require. Speak up. It doesn’t matter if you don’t make sense, if you can’t find the right words or if you are just too confused to know what to say. Just start with ‘I’m struggling and need help.’

It’s not a real problem.

During the months when I was contemplating suicide I was at the school’s counselor’s office at least once a week. But never for myself. I had a few friends who were going through ‘real problems.’ One was being touched by her step-father and another was being beaten by her brother. From my perspective, those were real problems. They were unsafe. There was something concrete to report. The issue could easily be identified and therefore there should be a solution.

It never occurred to me to speak to the counselor about my inner upset – is hating yourself and feeling uncomfortable even a problem? YES, it is! The heart of the matter is that you should not have to struggle. At all. If you are struggling or are unhappy, confused, upset and especially if you are having suicidal thoughts that is a problem. It is time to speak up.

People will judge me.

This is a tough one. Some will. Everyone had wildly different reactions to the discovery of my suicide letter. Some judged and blamed me. Some were angry at me. Some called me selfish for even considering it. Some judged, blamed and were angry at themselves… As if they should have been able to see the warning signs and protect me from it.

This is a hard topic and people will react the way they do. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter. Carrying this burden and staying silent to avoid their judgment, hurting their feelings or because you are embarrassed creates more upset in the long run. Their reactions will die out, the waters will smooth and after the initial emotional response there will be more space to come together to move forward.

I’m the only one.

This is the biggest lie of them all. Suicidal thoughts are more common then you realize. I was shocked when I published my book and had friends from high school email me to say that they had considered it at times too. People I would never had expected reached out and expressed that. And all were equally surprised that I had struggled with those thoughts as well.

The truth is we don’t live in a bubble. What is going through our emotional/mind space is a mix of not only our stuff but what we pick up on from others. Adolescence is a hot bed of intense emotions, judgment and, unfortunately, meanness. Knowing that you are aware, that you don’t live in a bubble and that you may be picking up on things from your peer group will assist you in getting clear and some much-needed relief.

No one will understand.

Again, maybe. One of the biggest pitfalls we humans fall prey to is searching for people to understand us. We find validity in our thoughts and emotions if other people have them too or can relate. The trouble with that is we are all unique. You may express yourself only to find that others don’t understand you. That you’re different. You may make yourself wrong for this. Please don’t. Instead look for people who won’t judge you – even if they ‘get it’ or not.

I’ll let people down.

This one seems strange yet it stopped me from seeking help in the early days. In some weird way, I thought that my personal struggles were going to let the people in my life down if they found out about them. Was I going to embarrass my family for being picked on at school? Were my friends going to stopping liking me if they knew I didn’t like myself? Would the people in my life that saw the good in me start to see the bad if I let it leak out some way?

I recall my family doctor asking me during my routine checkup if I was happy and if I had a lot of friends. I saw there was an opening to say something. But I didn’t. The fear of what would come next and how it would impact everyone else kept me silent. Instead I plastered a smile on my face and simply said ‘yes.’ An opportunity wasted…

I have to keep this a secret.

I purposely hid my upsets because I didn’t want them to spread. I didn’t want the turbulence of my school life to cross into my home life which was my one safe haven. I wanted an escape so I hid my pain. This turned it into a secret.

Secrets hurt. They hurt us with all that we do to hide and protect them. They hurt us by keeping those who may want to support us out, isolating us more and keeping help just out of reach. They hurt everyone when they finally come to light, sometimes too late after irreversible action has been taken.

Secrets only have power over you if you let them. The buildup we give them in our head can be very disconnected from the reality of what is and causes undue darkness to envelop us. Shine light on your secrets by speaking up. Exposing them can be confronting but the relief that comes after is well worth it.

I’m embarrassed.

This was the biggest one for me. I was so embarrassed by my struggles; that I was getting teased, that I didn’t like myself and felt uncomfortable all the time. Mostly, that life seemed to be too hard for me. That I couldn’t hack it and that everyone else seemed to do just fine.

First of all, know that everyone struggles. Some just hide it better than others do. You are far from the only one who is going or has gone through this. There is no need to be embarrassed. Asking for help is one of the bravest things you can do. And you may be surprised in what you inspire and empower others into with your willingness to speak up.

Finding Relief from the Pain

In my perspective, if there was more space for these conversations – to share these thoughts and emotions, demystify and un-intensify them, to know that you aren’t alone and to be taught different ways of handling the ups and downs of life – then things would be different for all of us.

Relief and support come when you speak up – that’s the only way they do. The weight of carrying this secret will lose its intensity, clarity will come and the turbulence of your inner world will smooth. You will be able to back away from the cliff.

You are not alone. You are braver then you realize. There is hope for something different and support to make it so. All you have to do is ask for it.  

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