1. As the title indicates, this post is about suicide.
2. I am not in any danger or actively suicidal.
3. I am not a mental health professional.
4. I won’t be offended if you choose to skip this post.
On September 18, 2011, Jamey Rodemeyer, a boy who was perceived to be gay, committed suicide. He did so only a few months after making a video contribution to the “It Gets Better” project. Jamey was 14.
The news outlet didn’t miss the chance for attention catching headlines. In one instance: ‘It Gets Better‘ Teen Commits Suicide (New York Magazine) , in the other: Teen commits suicide after making ‘It Gets Better‘ video (New York Daily News). Not so thinly veiled in those headlines is a sort of accusation. Here were two young men who were bullied and beaten down by ignorance and hate. No one could blame them for crumbling under that type of weight. Yet, they proclaimed to the world that things would get better. They encouraged others to hold on to their hopes, their dreams and their lives because there was something worth living for. They put on “brave faces“. And the world, in turn, expected those young men to hold on to theirs as well.
I’m not sure that the world knew just how much it was asking.
I have this theory about suicide and those who seriously contemplate it. I believe that being suicidal is a lot like being an alcoholic. And just like alcoholism, there is no cure. You are always at risk for relapse.
Now that doesn’t mean that people who are suicidal can’t live happy, productive lives. Coping mechanisms can work for them just as well as they work for an alcoholic. Therapy and medication keep people on the suicide wagon just like 12 step programs and sponsors keep people on the alcohol version. And when life gets hectic and bouncy and life-like, pills, and therapy sessions and programs go by the wayside, opening a window to those latent vulnerabilities.
You’ve probably guessed that I didn’t happen upon this theory by accident. I am suicidal. And after nearly a quarter of a century of contemplating taking my own life, I feel like I know a thing or two about it. I know that there have been some very low days when taking my own life felt very, very right. I also know that there have been some amazingly joyful days when I couldn’t imagine not being here to enjoy a thousand more. But most importantly, I know that those two days really have nothing to do with one another.
Being suicidal isn’t about a singular source of sadness or guilt. It’s not about a particular incident or person. It’s a mental illness that doesn’t go away because things get better. It’s an illogical
willingness conviction to end your own life that defies our self-preservation obsessed human nature even if things get better. And it’s a damned scary existence for any adult, let alone an adolescent.
So if Jamey and Eric were suicidal before they made their It Gets Better videos, they were just as suicidal after. But just like being an alcoholic doesn’t disqualify you from being a sponsor, being suicidal doesn’t make their videos any less sincere or meaningful. We can all be encouraged by their words that are so earnest in their longing to be applied to themselves and others. It is horribly unfair for the media or us to paint these young men as failures, or worse, deceivers, simply because they succumbed to a force greater than most can comprehend.
These teens are not headlines. Their lives are not news fodder. Their battles are not simple. Their stories deserve respect. Because without a level of respect that eschews any and all opportunities for sensationalism, we feed the marginalization that creates the bullying atmosphere in the first place.
It will get better. When we make it better.