I’m really sad today. I’ve received several messages about my post yesterday regarding the suicide of a 14 year old boy in my town. After getting home, I sat down in front of my computer and read the messages and watched tribute videos people had made for him on YouTube. I then scrolled through the Facebook R.I.P. page a friend had made for him. The supportive comments were overwhelming, but isn’t this always the case after someone suicides?
I looked at each picture of this boy and was reminded of myself in high school. In some of his pictures, his haircut was exactly like mine at different stages of my teenage years. In other pictures he hid from the camera, posed with friends and family and showed sides of him self he probably didn’t even realize at the time. We both had lots of people who bullied us as well as lots of people who loved us. We weren’t that different from each other. The only difference is that I’m still here.
So how do two teenagers with similar stories end up in two completely different places. How did I survive and he didn’t? I’ve been thinking a lot about this question the last few days since I heard about his passing. In looking back on my life, I don’t believe I’m here because I was any more resilient to pain or because I had a better support system. In fact, I don’t know anything about his support system, but from what I’ve found from many teen suicides, their family and friends weren’t much different than mine when I was in high school.
For me, suicide was just not an option. I think that’s the difference. I believe I’m organically wired differently than others because truly, to this day, I have never thought of suicide as an option for me. Truth be told, for a long time, I was too afraid of death, and maybe that’s what got me through high school. The fear of dying was greater than the fear of walking through those lonely high school hallways. But that’s not the case for many.
Even though I’ve written a lot about my bullying, I tremendously minimize how harsh it really was for me. The truth is that I was afraid every day I went to school because I didn’t know what new form of punishment I would have to endure. I always went to the bathroom during class instead of passing periods because I was afraid of being bullied in an unmonitored environment. Gym was a personal hell for me because there was no safe place for me to be or look. The other guys would always use any opportunity to say, “Hey faggot, stop looking at me”, when out of complete fear, I only ever looked directly at my locker. The cafeteria was just as bad. Teachers never protected me in class and in fact, several teachers laughed at other people’s jokes. Some teachers are the worst offenders. My counselor and dean were no better. Both told me to just “laugh it off” when I was “teased”. There is a strong difference between “teasing” and “bullying”.
I looked up the statistics on teen suicide today from the Center for Disease Control and The Trevor Project. Teen suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24. LGB youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning teens 3 times more likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers. LGB youth with rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide. Each episode of of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse(Yep, that’s bullying!) increases the odds of self-harm by 2.5 percent. EVERY EPISODE! Do you have any idea how many “episodes” I’ve endured, continue to endure, in my life? And I think teenagers today have it much harder than I had it in high school.
I’m not sure what the answer is to stopping all of these teen suicides, gay or otherwise. Since I’ve worked with teenagers most of my adult life, people ask me all of the time what to do to help teenagers get through these tough times.
The answer is easy, but not always successful. Get to know these kids. Whether their your children, nephews or nieces, neighbors or students, get to know them…really know them. Invest in them by talking to them about music and movies. Admit when you’re wrong. Get on their level. I mean…on their level. Sit on the ground. Ask questions about stuff you don’t know. Don’t tell them that they couldn’t possibly know what love feels like at 15. Most of us know the truth is that love feels the same at 15 as it does at 50. Talk to them. No teenager will ask for help or talk to someone if they don’t trust them. For years, teenagers have told me they don’t give respect or trust unless someone gives it to them first. Fine! I give it to them. They deserve it.
I receive tons of emails and messages from teenagers asking me serious questions about life. Why do I get all of these messages? The only two things I make a point of doing with each other them is treating them the way I would want to be treated and listening. It’s that simple.
And I’m not saying we’re to blame for these suicides, because we’re not, but I do believe that kids today don’t have outlets where they feel safe to talk. Maybe the more we change, the more these kids will have a chance. It’s just not good enough for us anymore to tell them it gets better. We have to hold their hand through the process.
People laugh at me because I freely give out my phone number and email to anyone who wants it in case they need help. It is at those times late into the night when I receive a random email or text message from someone wanting help that I know that my privacy is not as important as someone’s life. We need to continue to share our stories. We need to be the first to reach out.
We need to be willing to love unconditionally without fear, to even save just one precious love.
This one’s for you buddy…may you truly rest in peace.
To anyone out there, please feel free to contact me if you’re ever in need email@example.com