A friend I met teaching online lost her son to suicide

by Julie

I can’t even imagine the heartbreak. The helplessness those left behind are feeling. The hopelessness her son felt in the final days when everything went so dark there was no turning back to find the light.

Suicide isn’t a desire to die; it’s a desire to end the pain. Too many beautiful young people have ended their lives trying to end the pain because they can’t see the light at the end of the darkness. We often wonder how they could do this with so much going for them. If only they could see themselves through our lens for just a minute. But unfortunately, that’s not how depression or mental illness work.

The numbers are staggering and growing with the backlash of a year in lockdown

This pandemic has fueled an already raging fire. If you join any number of teenage parenting groups, you’ll see a common theme: suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, loneliness, emptiness, thoughts of suicide, cutting. It’s horrific that in 2021 we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and have access to free mental health services everywhere we type or read the word suicide, yet this is happening to our youth.

I hated being a teenager. It was the darkest time of my life, and I remember clearly how hopeless and endless the depression can feel. Drowning in it. Gasping for air and searching for light to find none. My heart aches for these kids.

If you ever watched the Peanuts cartoon growing up, you remember Linus. He was the adorable, huge-hearted, super-sensitive little guy who sucked his thumb while clutching his cozy blue blanket. Linus dragged that blanket everywhere he went. That blanket was his life; his security, his magic anxiety shield and his comfort.

In some shape or form, we all carry a security blanket

A mechanism that we use to tolerate the pain, trauma, hurt, anxiety, and shame that comes with life. Our blankets are different colors and sizes, but they serve the exact same purpose: try to make the pain less painful. Because as humans we are programmed to avoid pain and seek pleasure. As humans emotional pain becomes crippling to us because we don’t know how to manage it.

Our soft fuzzy blankets grow bedraggled and heavy over time with all the anxiety, fear, pain, shame-inducing sh*t they comfort us through. Disappointment. Death. Abuse. Neglect. Anger. Failure. Embarrassment. Traumatic events. Verbal insults. Adults. Bosses. Mean kids.

Anything and anyone who influenced who we are today or altered our personality or self-worth is trapped in the fibers of our protective blanket, and we drag this thing with us through life, just like Linus did.

Every emotion, tear and trauma our security blanket ever absorbed is deeply entombed in its threads. It becomes very cumbersome to remain enshrouded in this weighty collection of personality-altering events, and the once comforting armor loses its effectiveness as over time, every soft, soothing inch is overtaken by a wounding incident it attempted to console us through.

Eventually carrying our security blanket through life becomes more difficult than shedding it like a snake sheds his dead skin, a natural process called ecdysis. Ecdysis occurs because the old skin doesn’t fit anymore. Shedding this old skin allows for growth and removes parasites that may be living off the snake’s old skin.

Just think how freeing it would be if humans were programmed for an emotional ecdysis. If we could see depression or the dark thoughts of despair like a skin that doesn’t fit and shed it to enable our growth. Think of how freeing it would be to simply discard the parasite-filled membrane holding us from the evolution we’re destined for.

Often, we refuse to let it go because the pain/shame/hurt has been with us our entire life. It becomes part of us. The parasites we haul around in the blanket start to shape and define us just like the adults and peers in our life did in our early childhood.

One day the trauma, anger, hurt, pain, anxiety, and shame grow so eff-ing heavy and burdensome we can’t carry them anymore. Not for one more step. We feel paralyzed by hopelessness. It’s terrifying drowning in these emotions, watching the light slip away as your mind enters the abyss of darkness.

We are so busy surviving the daily challenges along our journey that we don’t stop to clean the parasites of emotion from our blanket. We trudge along our chosen path one step at a time often forgetting that feeling stuck on our journey stems from what we carry within us, not the perplexity about where we are going or how to get there. We forget to look up. To see the forest through the trees. To follow the light. To ask for help from above.

When our coping mechanisms – whether they be a security blanket in the form of alcohol or drugs or prescriptions or food – stop working (because they never did; they just momentarily suspended the pain) we feel completely out of alignment with who we are. Our passion, dreams and purpose get buried deep in the threads of our blanket of bullsh*t. And we must pause to untangle and release the ropes tethering us to the past, one event, one trauma, one memory, one person, one fear, one forgiveness at a time.

Unsolicited incidents shape us from a very young age

Events that we don’t deserve or ask to happen to us, and they alter who we are. As children, our tribe is dictated by geography, by school, our neighborhood, family, church, or our activities. We don’t choose our people.

As children and teenagers, we don’t realize one day we’ll have a choice about who we let in our circle. We have no idea that the power to release those who hurt us is a superpower from within because until we become adults, we don’t even have the power to escape these people. Kids can’t pick up and move, or just choose a new school or a new neighborhood. They can’t undo the pandemic lockdown that is sending them into the darkness. As kids we chose from (or are chosen by) the 20 people in our class. Or the eight kids who live on our block. We have to survive the hand we’re dealt until we’re old enough to change our environment.

Adults start telling us “no” at a very early age. Don’t touch. Don’t jump. Don’t say that. Don’t wear that. Don’t be this loud. Again, shaping us into something we are not. “Can’t you be more like straight-A Sally? You need to go to college, or you won’t be successful.” And we slowly and sometimes unknowingly morph into the identity the adults in our life dictate because we want to please them. To be good. To be accepted as part of a group.

Sadly, we are encouraged to dilute our authentic selves to please others at an age when our intuition, creativity, and passion are the strongest. It’s challenging to reignite these powerful, individually assigned unique superpowers after they’ve been extinguished.

We are taught very young to avoid pain. Don’t touch a hot stove. Don’t be mean to others. Don’t fall of the slide. No one tells us that pain and anxiety are a natural part of life and when recognized and processed properly, they are integral parts of our instincts and survival.

When you feel anxious around a certain person, there’s probably a good reason

When something in our body feels physical pain, it’s the body’s warning signal that there’s an underlying problem. Pain and anxiety serve a purpose, but we work so hard to mute them with external elixirs. We’re taught to shove them down and march along.

The past walks with us into every tomorrow until we release its grip. It’s cumulative. The shit from 10 years ago hops onto the shit from 32 years ago and crams next to the shit from yesterday. It just piles up until we can’t carry any more.

Managing all this is the hardest f*cking thing we do because no one taught us how to when we first needed to know. There’s no homeroom class that teaches a 7-year-old how to cope with abuse or a 12-year-old how to cope with death.

The answer to “How do we manage the events that shape us today?” ends up being prescriptions or ineffective therapy or addiction or emotional paralysis or ignoring it or, so sadly for too many, suicide.

Having used and entertained all of these “coping strategies” at some point, I can say it doesn’t work. It’s heartbreaking that so many of our loved ones can’t dig out of the hopelessness and end up quieting the noise with a solution that can’t be undone. The pain may have stopped for our loved one, but it’s passed on to us. It was the only coping mechanism they had to stop the hurt. When you get to the point you are truly considering ending your own life, it feels impossible to overcome. It’s the hardest uphill sprint you’ve ever run.

None of these other “fixes” worked for me

The alcohol didn’t dissolve it. The food didn’t suffocate it. The pills didn’t eradicate it. The therapy didn’t teach me how to release it. Instead it was a painful reminder because we just talked about it. As if the painful past had nowhere to go but into that solemn therapy room with me every week so my shrink could point at it like, “Hey it’s still here riding the coattails of your security blanket so let’s empower it.”

How do we teach any of this to teenagers and young adults who need to hear it? What seems insurmountable today will look like an anthill in the rear-view mirror. Just stay with us. How do we tell them this when they don’t let us know how bad they hurt?

I have no answers. I have huge hope but no answers and having made it through the darkness and hopelessness as a teenager, I wish I could just tell each and every one of them that it does get better. You can be the change in your own life that you so badly want.

Suicide. It’s not a topic many people post about on social media. But look for it. Google it. Find the groups dedicated to it. It’s ubiquitous. And if talking about or admitting it has impacted so many of us helps save just one person, one person’s child, one child’s friend, it’s worth sharing your story.

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