January 4, 2017


Window with ice and cup

Last week, the 19-year-old brother of three of my high school classmates committed suicide. Yesterday his memorial service was held. It was standing room only in the synagogue with prayers, poetry, recollections, and tears.

N had many, many friends. He listened to people and made them feel at home. In school he was successful; in his professional life he worked several jobs with creativity and dedication. His family knew he was depressed, but N hid the extent of the depression from them and from everyone.

Sometimes in high school, I thought about committing suicide. Nothing about me was right, nothing was good enough. I lived at home and went to school and saw my friends and seethed inside.

Toward the end of college, I also wanted to kill myself. My life was more solitary then. I was furious and depressed and didn't know how to keep going.

I decided what to do with my cat, and how to get rid of my stuff so that no one else would have to clean out my apartment for me. I would just go off someplace alone (I didn't know where) and die. That was my plan for the end of senior year. Why the end of senior year? Because I would have finished and discharged my responsibilities: no missing work, no missing rent, and so on. I didn't want to miss classes or quit my job until the semester was over.

I didn't tell anyone about these times until they were over (and I never mentioned the part about suicide until it turned out that a family member was in the same boat). Mostly I acted normal. Telling people would have made no sense to me. It was my problem, not theirs. When things got better, it felt like the depression had been a dream. Then when things got worse again, the feeling grew until it became the whole world.

I now recognize my struggle with anxiety which, untreated, leads me into depression. I've taken medication for several years. I see a therapist regularly and do my best to face conflicts head-on. Sometimes I fall into depression for no apparent reason, and then I make myself talk to my husband to help get me through it. It does pass in the end. But it also keeps resurfacing, and I keep having to address it. That will probably never go away completely.

I don't know why some people who contemplate suicide end up following through while others don't. N and I grew up in the same town. He was sensitive, empathetic, intellectual, as was I. His family loved him as much as mine loved me.

God, I commend to you N's spirit. So many of us don't know where to turn. We feel unutterably alone. Please lead us to look for help at those times -- it's so hard because we feel like we aren't worth the help. But that's the depression speaking, and it lies.

Be with N's family and friends and the loved ones of everyone who has taken their own lives. Be with all of us. Please.

I told my students last semester that I had thought about suicide. I offered to talk to them and asked them to seek help anytime from a school counselor.

You can talk to me, too. Please.

I am in a much more stable place now, and I can promise that it gets better.

N's family has requested that donations in their son's (brother's) memory be made to Mighty Writers, the American Jewish Federation, or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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