Not too many months ago I watched my then 10-year-old son double-loop a rope around his neck, pull with both hands and scream that he wanted to die.
That scene is just like you might imagine. It was loud and emotional and there were a lot of tears. There was a lot of fast motion, restraining. How I felt during that one episode and many others has never left me. It wasn’t long after this day, I found myself signing over my son to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. He’d been spiraling downward for months and even though we pushed and pushed, the treatment he was getting was inappropriate.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It would have been hard to pass the day and not acknowledge that suicide was and is still a part of my conscious thinking as I move through life raising Gage, now twelve. It’d be impossible not to acknowledge how bad things were for Gage and for our family; today in particular.
For eighteen months, maybe more, Gage could not be lifted, pulled or bribed out of despair. He came to wanting to die with little reserve. In the prior year, he’d survived failing kidneys, dialysis, a kidney transplant and a PTSD-inducing surgery because he was awake.
Yes, you read that right.
He was awake during a surgery and couldn’t speak or move. There was no way to tell the people in the room he could hear them and smell and feel what they were doing. We didn’t know at the time his memory held this terrible secret. I won’t go as far to say this was the only reason for his emotional breakdown, but it certainly played a big part. Before we had him committed, each day was a daily battle for him to live.
What did that look like?
It looked like that picture above. His body language said he wanted to die. His face says “I want to be anywhere but where you can see me. I want to be anywhere I don’t have to feel, to talk, to think. I want to be dead.”
He never smiled.
Sit with that a second. Our child never felt joy. Nothing made him happy. He was as unconnected as he could be and very little brought him out of that dark place. His friend Laura, and our dog, Lucy, sometimes, maybe.
He quit doing everything that he previously enjoyed. He quit soccer and karate and piano. He stopped making friends and having play dates. He quit climbing trees. In fact, he’d stopped going outside altogether.
It was just too much trouble to go outside to play.
We used every ounce of support we could find to help Gage get through a typical day. We worked with his educators to lower the demand on him, including additional modification on his work, a reduction in his schedule including removal entirely from music and the option for him to sit out of other non-required school activities. We quit going out as a family and he quit going anywhere that wasn’t required. Grocery stores? No. Restaurants? No. Run an errand with him? Absolutely no. He stayed unengaged with those around him. Always avoiding connection at all costs.
He was living a bare minimum life.
Plus, he wanted to die. He wanted us to kill him and told us several times a week. During one particularly horrendous outburst he ran into our kitchen, grabbed a knife out of the block sitting on the counter and while sobbing a low, painful cry, asked for us to stab him in the stomach and to end his life already. His horrible life.
“I hate this life and I hate me, and I know you hate me too! I just want to die and get it over with! Kill me, please, please just kill me! Do it now!”
I wish I could tell you each and every time something like this happened I reacted properly, but as his parent I was scared out of my mind and many times the tears could not be stopped from running down my face with pleas for him to let me help him. The team of mental health professionals we worked with at the time told us, “Keep calm. Don’t react with too much fear and panic in your voice and expression.”
Professionals were telling me not to react to my 10-year-old putting ropes around his neck and pulling. They were telling me to calmly take away a knife from the same 10-year-old and simply tell him we loved him. “Don’t make a big deal out of it to him in case he’s trying to get attention!” They said.
He was trying to get attention. He was telling us he felt so bad inside about himself and his life that he wanted to leave us. He was telling us that no amount of love could make him want to hold on. He was telling us every single day that his depression was consuming his light. His spirit. He had nothing left inside himself for anything remotely resembling a life.
Waking up took energy he didn’t have. School and interactions he had to have with people took energy he couldn’t find. He hated everything about himself; from his body to his voice. He hated how he learned, what he attempted to do. He hated himself for how he wrote, how he thought. He was stupid. He would never learn, or be a better person, he reasoned calmly one day, “so why not end it now?”
Many days he would barricade himself under beds, inside sink cabinets, behind chairs and under sofa cushions. He was trying to float away from us. He didn’t have the skills to develop a plan to kill himself but that only heightened our fears that he could stumble upon a way to do it; because of his outbursts and impulsiveness.
Luckily for us, medication helped his depression, anxiety and finally months later, his suicidal thoughts and actions have all but disappeared. He laughs again. He’s engaged. We’ve been able to have Gage come back to us but we never forget the families that don’t have the chance we do. Their loved ones pull away and never come back, even though, like us, they fought like hell to hang on to them.
If you are thinking suicide is an option for you, please reach out. And if someone misses your cry for help, reach out again. Whatever you do, call a suicide hotline. And I will tell you what we told Gage for months:
Suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary situation.
If you need help for yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and they can offer support. Their phone number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). What you are feeling isn’t permanent and there is a way out. There are people who care about you and want you to live. I care and I want you to live.
If you think someone you know is at risk for killing themselves, here is a warning sign list. Out of 11 items on the list, I saw 9 of them in my 10 year old. If you are worried about someone, you can call the crisis line too. This is from their site:
Looking out for friends and loved ones is an important part of preventing suicide. You can call the Lifeline to speak with a crisis worker on behalf of someone you are concerned about. The crisis workers have access to local resources, and can help you identify ways to get help to your loved ones. So call 1-800-273-TALK today to help save a life.
What does life look like now? It looks pretty typical; he smiles and plays. He’s engaged in activities again and wants to see friends and make friends. He wants to do well in school and he wants to learn.
His desire to kill himself and act out on it was temporary. I know this, yet, I can’t forget how it felt to know that he was immersed in a pain so great he saw no day light and no way out except to die. To leave this life.
By sharing his story I want to tell you that I see him. I want to say, even though he’s challenged with a heap of issues, he deserves to be happy and fulfilled. He deserves for us to fight for him when he cannot. He deserves respect, not pity, he deserves consideration, not shunning. His life has value. Sometimes even he and others may not see the value in his life, but I do.
Until we publicly share our connections to suicide we won’t be able to tell people to hang on because they won’t see themselves in anyone. They won’t see themselves in Gage and know that he’s survived and they can too. By sharing our stories, we’re really saying “you don’t want to die, not really…there is a way out, don’t leave us, we love you.”
Gage will likely always be a person at risk of killing himself but hopefully we all gain more skills at dealing with it over time and reduce his risk. World Suicide Prevention Day makes me want to go hug him tightly, kiss the top of his head through his unruly curls and I want to tell him…
“Gage, there might be days when you want die but there will always, always be a way out. There might be times when you feel alone, we know that. Just know we will always fight for you. Please don’t leave us. Live. We love you.“
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