I’m full aware just how delicate a topic like this is. There’s no getting around the weight this topic has on behalf of someone’s life. Although it seems daunting to address, what I hope to foster from these words is the truth of my own experiences, the reality in which many teenagers (perhaps your own son or daughter) are experiencing and how your role as a parent can tremendously make a difference.
Now, I also bring this topic to the light, not just to share my story nor to share how my relationship with my mom changed the course of my life. I share to give you a perspective of what most recently has been going on at least in the last year and the reality of what’s being talked about nowadays. If you aren’t familiar with the original Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, then for point of reference, you can read concerns and insights from this former blog.
It’s crucial I preface this blog by including that one, because, a Netflix series based on the story of a teenager who commits suicide, leaving behind evidence of the 13 reasons why she did (specifically who caused her to), is officially being renewed for a second season to air this year. But, before you form your own decisions what this means for your teens, there’s a deeper reality sweeping our culture.
A new study has been released which offers statistics on suicide-related inquiries from Google searches. Here’s a bit of what they found:
All suicide-related queries were 19 percent higher than expected following the show. Some of that bump came from a higher-than-expected number of searches for phrases like “suicide hotline” (up 12 percent) or “suicide prevention” (up 23 percent). But an alarming percentage of the spike also came from phrases like “how to commit suicide” (up 26 percent), “commit suicide” (up 18 percent) and “how to kill yourself” (up 9 percent).
Now, I know what you must be thinking, I need to ban my kids from watching this television show! Or, my kid would never watch that…they aren’t ones to think such thoughts – this doesn’t apply to them. Although I don’t know your son or daughter, what I do know is that you are a parent, a parent that has a voice that makes a huge different in the lives of your children. But this isn’t just a matter of suicide or not, this is a matter of love.
The Build Up
Entering into freshman year of high school as a 15-year-old, I had so many ambitions. I had prepared in middle school to join the water polo team as a goalie for high school. I was already practicing with the high school team the summer before school even started. I had so much excitement to learn, to grow, to foster meaningful friendships, to be, well … a normal high school student.
Spoiler alert! It was in 8th grade that my life took a drastic turn. My math class was in a rundown portable building and had mold in it (which I had no idea I was allergic to at the time). I found myself sick every day after class, with unbearable migraines and unable to focus during the day and retreating to the nurse’s office to lie down. Eventually, my missing out on class and horrible headaches became worrisome to my family. Because no over the counter pain relief pills were helping, I eventually sought out an ENT doctor. It was then that I found out I was incredibly allergic to mold (among cats and trees) and my sinus cavities had a severe infection. After countless doctor appointments each week, getting pricked with allergy shots constantly, eventually getting MRIs and CAT scans done, and being told I couldn’t play water polo anymore because of the high risk of infection I lost hope.
At first, I thought nothing of it. I figured everyone has allergies whether they know it or not and I would get my sinuses cleared out and back to normal soon enough. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. My doctor called us in to review the CAT scans; his words still haven’t left me today:
“Kellie, I was reviewing your scans, and we need to schedule a surgery. There’s no distinction on these scans when you look at them where your cavities start and end. We need to do it soon. I’m afraid to tell you that I’ve never seen cavities so bad before and I can’t even guarantee this will work.”
Over the course of that summer, I heard an array of information that would eventually swallow me with darkness. I was told countless times this surgery might not work, we will have to send you to Stanford for a second procedure, there’s a possibility you might come out of it handicapped because of the proximity we will be to your brain…so on and so on.
Even after my surgery, knowing I had come out of it alive and well physically, my anger grew even worse. I couldn’t understand why I had to endure so much pain, so much suffering. So I spent the rest of that summer lifeless. I felt like I was just moving bones, no breath or energy within me.
The medication I took after the surgery forced my body to grow tired, so I slept and would even find more opportunities to sleep so I could forget about the hurt, the fear, and to keep to myself. I grew up in a Catholic household and went to Mass every Sunday because my parents remained faithful to the sacrament of the Eucharist and I had to go. And I hated it. I would sit there in Mass and curse God under my lips, and I refused to show any form of fleeting happiness to spite my parents.
The darkness I felt became addicting. I didn’t want to be bothered, nor did I care to put time and effort into relationships. My parents, of course, were disturbed from my behavior and grew unsteady at every opportunity I took to argue with them and make them mad. Even though I knew they were merely concerned and loved me, I wanted other people to just understand the emotional trauma I had gone through … even if that meant proclaiming to be atheist and pointing fingers.
My disrespectful behavior was escalating. I would say hateful and hurtful things, feeling nothing but numbness. Numbness. That’s what I desired most. I remember it was late that night. Looking back, I just remember finally letting myself unpack the last few months of the summer. I wept like a baby in my room that night. I figured if I wanted to rid away of all the dark clouds that seemed to follow me everywhere, I needed to rid of myself. I recall hearing my dad snoring in my parent’s room across the hall and my mom watching television downstairs.
I can’t do this anymore. You’re a wimp; you’re worthless … just do it already!
In all determination and anger, I got up, locked myself in the bathroom and attempted to do what I knew would forever change my family. I attempted suicide.
Without giving too much detail, it obviously failed. My thoughts began to race miles at a time. I lay in the bathtub hysterical.
Wow, you’re so weak. It said to me.
No! I screamed back. I’m not weak…I’m just…tired.
Oh, come on! You wanted to do this a LONG time ago.
In the midst of the darkest point I had ever reached, I shakily got out of the tub, rushed to put clothes on and slowly walked downstairs to do something I knew I should’ve done a while ago.
I proceeded to walk downstairs with caution. I made slow steps and deep breaths with every stride I made. I was scared. I was scared to finally admit to my mom, whom I know I was treating horribly, the truth about my darkness. I was afraid to admit my suicidal tendencies because I didn’t want to see my mom hurting.
I entered the family room, saw her lounging on the couch and I let my little voice whimper.
Mom, I need to tell you something. I’ve been horrible to you. I’ve been so depressed, I feel like this darkness surrounds me all the time and no matter how hard I try, I feel like it won’t leave me…like it wants to stay.
I saw my mom’s eyes well up with tears as mine had already begun streaming. She tried to speak up, but I cut her off.
Mom, I just…I tried to kill myself. I need help. Can you find me help? I’d like a therapist.
She didn’t have to say much that night, she pulled me into her lap … and there I was, like a child again, needing a mother’s protection. She rocked me for hours and as I lay in her embrace, and I finally felt at peace.
Whenever I reflect on that night, I’m always in awe of how God has worked in my life. Although it took all of high school to reclaim my faith again, my journey with my therapist brought light back into my life. But I know none of that would have been possible without my parents.
After a few years of therapy and working through my pain, I was able to finally see with fresh eyes. I was finally free to see my mother’s utter faithfulness to Christ through all of her patience with me, her steadfastness to the Lord’s plans even when she wished to take matters into her own hands and in her joyful conviction to never give up on the Church even when I let myself try and tempt her otherwise.
Above all, my parents’ not once scorned me with judgment. I weep out of humility and thankfulness because my mother’s first response to my troubled heart wasn’t to condemn me, to ask a lot of questions at once, but to hold me. Like the Prodigal Son story goes, I felt as if I returned home – with bruises, shattered wounds, and all – thirsting for a parent’s healing touch.
Never the End
I’m still pretty broken, but in ways that are a bit different now. I can’t tell you it’s easy what my mother did, or how my father supported my family to grow in a closer relationship. What I can testify to is that my mom and dad gave everything to God and they held nothing back.
At the peak of my darkness, my mother didn’t push confirmation on me because she knew all along that God had a sweeter vision for that day to unfold and I was in no position to commit. Even though during the mess she doubted if she was doing the right thing, she has since told me that something within her, the Holy Spirit, kept speaking to her to just be patient and something beautiful was coming. I can tell the payoff to trust relentlessly in God was worth it, especially when I came back from a retreat going into my senior year and the first thing I told my parents was, “I want to be confirmed.”
I was never finished; I was always just a day closer to encountering love Himself. My parents never believed I was a lost cause or too far-gone. Because of their trust in this, I was able to come to just start my personal journey with God.
Reflecting on my own experiences, I know that my tendencies to sleep all the time were side effects of the pain medication I was on. Unfortunately, I became addicted to the feeling of not “being bothered” and got into a horrible habit of removing myself from my family.
As parents, you can bring intentional family time back into your routine. If you’ve fallen away from eating dinner together at the dinner table, begin to implement that more. Do something different with each of your kids as a way to just unwind. Consider making a point to reach a goal of walking a certain amount of miles each week and use that as a way for your family to bond together, but to also spend intentional time together. You could also try bringing back family traditions (i.e., Monday movie nights, night prayers together, etc.) as a way to create a stronger environment in your house for moments of strengthening relationships. Do so without force, but with heartfelt conviction and genuine desire.
Lastly, know you are NOT alone. Unfortunately, a lot of families go through similar difficulties, but there is also beauty knowing that God created us to be in fellowship with one another. I urge you to begin being the light in your home, to remain kind, yet convicted with your kid(s) and the importance of Mass. Find comfort in my prayers and may the Prince of Peace be with you always.
If you think you or a friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts, ask for help from someone you can trust and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (available 24 hours every day).