Content warning: I’m going to discuss suicide in this column. Please don’t continue reading if you aren’t in a place where that’s something you can read about — I know that I wasn’t for a long time. Take care of yourself, and if you or anyone you know is suffering, know that you are not alone, and that help is available. Please see the bottom of this article for a list of resources.
This column is not an easy one for me to write. In fact, it is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to write, and I have tried to write it several times before. I’ve tried writing poems and stories and articles and letters, and nothing has ever felt quite right.
But just as I don’t feel like I’m truly ready to write this now, I don’t think I’ll ever feel like what I do finally write is right or enough, so I’m just going to give it my best shot and hope that for someone, somewhere, this helps.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. There are a number of heartbreaking statistics I could tell you here, but I truly can’t bring myself to do that. So instead I’m going to tell you a story.
On August 20, 2017, I set off for Pre-Orientation with a group of strangers I was about to spend the best part of a week with, without phones or watches or showers. We spent the days backpacking and hiking, rock climbing and kayaking.
And, every evening, a few of us told our life stories.
Everyone in the group got to know each other on fast forward. It brought us together. It made us reflect on our lives and think about the future. It was incredibly moving.
I grappled for days with what I’d say. But when it came to my turn, I brought everyone right up to the day before we left Baltimore, to when I sat in a car parked outside Chipotle and read a Facebook post vaguely explaining a childhood friend’s passing. At the time, I could only assume that the cause was suicide.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have thought about that friend at least once every day for the past three years. That night I thought of her and felt devastated that her story had ended. Mine got to continue — in many ways it felt like it was just beginning — and hers had already ended.
I was even sadder on the day of her funeral, when the girls from my primary school filled the church in London while I grieved from afar in Baltimore. During my freshman fall, I cried randomly in classes and on quads to friends who had only just become friends.
Today, I think about her through tears, as I try to write something that does justice to her memory. For a long, long time I would cry whenever I thought of her. But since then there have been so many moments that bring me so much joy. Any time I hear someone say “cool beans,” or I watch the movie Hairspray, or I see Hello Kitty or Doctor Who or eat lamb chops, I think of her and I smile.
She was one of the most incredible people I have had the privilege of knowing. From the age of four, she was funny and caring and kind and made every single person feel loved and important.
Part of the reason writing this is so difficult for me is that it feels like I’m placing myself at the center of her story. But unfortunately her story is now left for others to tell. All I can do now is make sure that she is not forgotten and that her story continues to be told, and that as many people as possible will stay around to tell their own stories. And to make sure that happens, we have to talk about it.
I have a real fear that I will lose another friend to suicide. Any time someone makes a joke saying something is so bad they want to kill themselves, I explain why that makes me uncomfortable. And when friends have shared suicidal thoughts with me, I have quite literally gone running.
While no one person is the reason that any other person makes the tragic decision to end their life, we can all do our part to be there for the people we care about. Right now people are feeling even more isolated than usual, and it might be the case that just one text or sharing one resource is enough to make a difference.
So take the time to be there for the people that matter to you, and most importantly, be there for yourself. Don’t suffer in silence.
You are in my thoughts and my heart this month and always. I miss you.
If you or someone you know is suffering, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free, 24/7 and confidential support through a hotline at (800) 273-8255.
Counselors at the Crisis Text Line can be reached anytime by texting HOME to 741741.