World Suicide Prevention Day

Trigger warning: There are accounts of suicide in this article. Some names have been changed.

September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day. 2020 was the first time I’d heard about it, but it was not the first time I had to deal with the topic.  

When I was in middle school in the late 1980s there was a group of kids that would hang out and skate under the BART station (our metro system) after school. Today they might be referred to as emo but back then they were called mod. They wore long bangs, usually covering one eye, and clothes with holes and rips long before Yeezy made it  “couture” An easy-going group of touchy-feely kids, who tagged their skateboard and binders with the names of foreign rock groups like Depeche Mode and The Cure, they mostly stayed to themselves. They didn’t bother anybody and nobody bothered them. 

One day someone whispered in my ear that Casey’s older brother had committed suicide. He shot himself. I was baffled. He was probably 14 years old, too young in my mind to have the kind of despair that would make someone put a gun to their head. He’d just graduated from our middle school the year before and was supposed to enjoy the increased independence of high school that we middle schoolers dreamed of.  All I remembered about him was that he looked just like Casey and they both hung out with the mod kids. Although I didn’t know Casey well either, our school was small and I started to pay closer attention to him after this. Apart from maybe a few days’ absences, I didn’t notice any visible change in Casey’s demeanor. Because child suicide was so rare in Black and non-white communities at that time, I thought of it as a “white” problem and secretly wondered if Casey’s brother had been influenced by mod culture.

I didn’t hear of another suicide among my peers until I was a sophomore in college. A former high school classmate tragically lost his mom in a house fire around our senior year. He struggled through his suffering for a year before deciding he couldn’t live without her. Some 15 years later, one of my own students would choose the same fate for the same reason. He said he wanted to be with his deceased mother and threw himself in front of a BART train.

 Although I still didn’t understand suicide, I understood the why this time. At least, I thought I did. It wasn’t until my own daughter started to experience unexplainable sadness that I began to reconsider everything I thought I knew.

At the age of 10, my youngest daughter confided that she couldn’t remember the last time she was happy. It was a bizarre admission considering she was the family comedienne. Born with unusually high intelligence and comedic timing, I found nothing more satisfying than waking up Saturday mornings to the sound of her laughter. She found humor everywhere. How was it possible that overnight, it seemed, she’d forgotten she was ever happy? 

By age 16 she would make several attempts on her life. As hard as I tried to get her to explain to me where this urge to self-harm was coming from, she couldn’t. Through the years of therapy sessions, medication, and treatment programs, I reflected back on those boys I knew. Was this what Casey’s brother had gone through? Had he suddenly forgotten that he was once happy? I know that my student had been struggling with mental illness. I’m not sure if my high school classmate was dealing with any mental issues before his mother passed, but it’s possible. I thought about Casey’s nonchalance after his brother’s suicide and wondered how he was doing right now. I also thought of Casey’s mother and the times I saw her pick him up from school with tired eyes and turned-down lips even before his brother died. Did sadness run in their family or was she exhausted from caring for a suicidal child? 

I have found comfort in the company of others who walk this journey with their loved ones. They know that sometimes it gets better, sometimes it gets worse, and sometimes it stays the same. There are no real assurances and they don’t try to convince me there are with bland platitudes about how it’ll get better and it’s just her age. I also know that it’s hard for outsiders, like I once was, to understand the intricacies of my situation and that assuring me is their way of self-soothing in the face of the unimaginable. I’ve found great support with NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness). In fact, I was so inspired by their programs that I went on to become a NAMI Basics Teacher. The more I shared with others about what I was going through with my daughter, the more others opened up to me about their loved ones. I soon realized that mental illness is the new pandemic. More and more people are desperately searching for ways to support their loved ones through it.

Below is a poem I wrote for my daughter when she was two years old. We were in the car one day and I had pulled over to eat a burrito. I thought she was asleep in the back seat when I heard her huffing and puffing. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw her strapped in her baby seat with the disgruntled look of an old lady.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“You kept me in your stomach for so long!” She sighed. I turned in disbelief at what I was hearing.

 “Huh? What do you mean?” 

“When I was in your stomach! I wanted to get out but you wouldn’t let me out. You just kept walking and talking and eating burritos.”

I guess pulling over to eat my burrito triggered her. I laughed so hard. Here’s the poem.

Anelisa

I was bored  

in your stomach, mommy 

so bored 

I wanted to get out  

but you wouldn’t let me 

I was bored 

so bored 

I wanted to  

tell the world that I am here 

I wanted to 

tell you I love you  

a hundred times a day 

I wanted to 

make my sister mad 

‘cause I won’t listen to her 

I wanted to 

but you wouldn’t let me  

mommy 

you just kept walking and talking 

and eating burritos 

you wouldn’t let me out 

I was so bored 

 


 

Remember: There is help for suicidal loved ones and their caregivers. 
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255