When I was 15, I wrote my first suicide note. I’ve never told the story before. Today I shared it with my wife and many memories came flooding back.
I had already been thinking of suicide for many, many years. I remember it as young as 5-6 years old. But from 12-15 years old it had continually gotten worse and worse.
I had just started high school, my sixth school in seven years (without ever moving). I felt like I had no friends. I was depressed constantly and coped by trying to do everything and do it perfectly. This did not appear to be a bad situation though as I was making straight A’s, extracurricular activities, I practiced piano. I was even a youth leader in our church.
I was on the swim team, playing the important position as slowest member. We swam four hours every day. The fast swimmers had a break after each set of laps while they waiting for the slow lane to finish. Us slow pokes didn’t get breaks. I remember there were some days I was so tired I couldn’t raise my arms to take notes in class.
I heard we should take AP classes so I was determined I needed to take every one offered. My brother did it, so could I!
It was in an AP history class the year that I wrote the suicide note.
I hadn’t done the reading homework the night before and when I came to class, we had a pop quiz. We had to write a short essay about the reading. I had no idea what to write. So instead of doing nothing, I just started writing my feelings. I wrote about how stressed and overwhelmed I was. I wrote about how I was a lonely loser with no friends. I wrote about the smart, talented girl on the swim team I had a crush on and how she’d never like me. And I wrote about how I wanted to die…soon. I wrote that life wasn’t worth living.
When the teacher asked for the quiz, I didn’t know what to do and turned it in with the others. Afterward I thought about sneaking into her class, somehow finding it, and then throwing it away. But I didn’t. Part of me was calling for help and desperately wanted the care and empathy I had never had.
A few days or weeks later I was in a class and got called to go to the counseling center. I was so scared. I had no idea why. Was I in trouble? I had somehow totally forgotten about the note. When I arrived, the school counselor had my “pop quiz” lying on the table. My heart stopped.
“Hey, is everything okay? We got this note from your teacher. There is some pretty hard stuff in here.”
I didn’t know what to do… I was afraid of getting in trouble. Therapy was taboo. My parents wouldn’t understand. No one understood. No one could know.
So… shaking in my seat… I lied.
“Oh that’s a creative writing piece I’m working on.” I said.
“Okay, I hope you know we’re here if you want to talk.”
Honestly, I kind of wanted to, but no one talked about mental health. In fact, my family made fun of people who struggled. I was constantly told to man up. “Rub some dirt in it. Spit on it. You’re fine. Grin and bear it. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
I grabbed the note and quickly got out of the counseling center, heart racing. I went into the bathroom and grabbed a stall to hide in. Luckily everyone was still in class.
… and then I cried. I cried like a baby. I was so incredibly lonely and sad.
But then I got angry. How could I have been so stupid? Now the counselor knows. Now my history teacher knows! What if they told my parents? Maybe they did?! What would people say to me? And what would they be thinking? I’ve heard what people say about others. What would they say behind my back?
I got out of the bathroom stall. I wiped the tears away with the paper towels. Then I looked in the mirror and promised myself that I would never make that mistake again. I would never share how I was feeling. No one could know.
I crumpled up the note and threw it in the garbage on my way out. When my classmates asked why I got called out of class I lied. And I lied and lied and lied for many years. I thought it wasn’t okay to not be okay.
Years later I’m grateful for that teacher. She did the right thing. And now I’ve forgiven that school counselor who never told my parents or pushed to get me help. They didn’t know, and I was really good at wearing a mask (I even wrote a poem about it in high school).
If you’ve thought of suicide, please know that you’re not alone. It’s okay to get help. It’s okay to share. Maybe not everyone will understand and maybe some will not know how to respond. But there are people who do understand and will listen.
It’s okay to talk about it. We are not alone. You are not alone.
Now I’m a dad. My daughter is still little now but I know that when she grows up she will have struggles of her own. And I still struggle too. But I’m grateful for what I’ve gone through so I can empathy for others. My number one goal as a parent is to be a safe place for her. I hope I can be someone she can talk with about anything, especially the invisible demons we all face.