When I was still living with my parents, about a year before I turned 18, I planned to kill myself by hanging. I had thought about it many times before, but that was my most serious plan. I really believed I would die, so I gave myself a few weeks to prepare for it. During that time, I bought a rope, cleaned my room and put some of my things in boxes. I also gave away some of my possesions and looked up articles on the net about how to hang myself so it would not be very painful.
I tried it twice. The first time, I was in the school bathroom. I took out the rope I had been carrying with me each day and stood on the toilet so I could tie it to a water pipe. After I tied the rope to the pipe I made a noose and put it around my neck and stood there for about an hour or more, but I was too scared to jump. I guess it was just the basic survival instinct. Now I see that when a young person is feeling suicidal, and is fighting such a strong instinct in our fundamental human nature, it means that they must be suffering from intense pain which has been building up for a long time.
The second time, I also intended to hang myself, but I thought it would be a good plan to overdose first. The idea was that I would be dying slowly, so it would probably motivate me to get it over with as fast as possible and make it easier to hang myself after. So not long after my first attempt, I returned to the school bathroom and swallowed a handfull of prescription pills which I had been saving up. But this time I never got as far as making a noose because I started to feel numb and I panicked. I asked the teacher who I trusted the most for help, and she took me straight away to the hostpital. She also called the school counselor, who I had been seeing for some time. I didn't want them to tell my parents because I was afraid of their reaction. It is sad now to look back and realize how scared I was of my own parents for so many years. From talking to other teens through my volunteer work, I have found out that they also live in fear of their own parents or caregivers.
Before that, I came close to jumping out of a window, but when I stood there and looked down, I realised it wasnt that high, so I knew there wasnt a very good chance I would die. On another occasion I also planned to climb up the emergency fire exit staircase and jump from my school roof, but I only ever got as far as a few steps.
There was another time at school when I seriously thought about killing myself. This was right after talking with one of my teachers who was concerned about my lack of participation during his lessons. I found it almost impossible to speak in class, so I felt pressured when he began lecturing me about not being able to talk. He implied that I would not do very well in university if I wasn't able to communicate my ideas to others. Listening to him, I started to feel hopeless about the future and thinking of myself as failure.
I feel frustrated now, because I can't remember his exact words, nor did I write them down at the time. I guess when teenagers feel powerless and begin to believe that nobody is going to take them seriously about these 'little' things, it is natural for them to try to forget quickly, instead of remembering. But if they know that someone will stand up for them and support them, or if they are taught that something is wrong and somebody will care, they are more likely to want to recall exactly what kinds of words and actions hurt, so they can tell others about it later. I encourage depressed teenagers to write down what hurts, discourages and depresses them, so others can learn from the causes of their pain.
During that period of my life, standing with a rope around my neck was the closest I ever got to killing myself. I cant think of a reason why my attempt would not have worked, except for the fact I was too scared to die. I guess there was always a chance somebody might have walked in on me because even though I was alone, I was still within the school building. Looking back, I realise that I wanted people from school to find my dead body so they would finally know how much pain I suffered in there. It seemd like I had to go through such lengths just to have my pain acknowledged and accepted.
I believed I would be better off dead, so I was planning for everything to work out that way. I thought of putting things against the door, so that no one would be able to come in, and I waited until I knew it was least likely for there to be people around. Because of this, I felt very offended and not at all understood when one of the mental health workers not so subtly implied that I hadn't really intended to kill myself. He asked me questions like, "So did you really think the pipe would hold you?" He quickly concluded that there was nothing wrong in my life excpet for some 'behaviour problems' to be dealt with. I could tell he wasn't taking me seriously at all.
This is something else I'd like people to learn about teen suicide... that a person who tries to kill themselves needs to be listened to and taken very seriously. Ideally, we need to be listened to long before we become suicidal. Failing this, once someone has tried to kill themselves, or has even thought seriously about it, I feel certain that caring and compassionate listening could help prevent future attempts.
My parents are well meaning, but not very understanding about emotions. Like other parents, they probably weren't taught anything specific about how to provide emotional support for their children. As a result of this, I never really felt safe to tell them very much about myself or how I felt. I have seen this to be the case too, with many other suicidal teenagers. We don't often feel safe to be ourselves with classmates or family, so we become secretive about our true feelings.
Apart from not knowing how to show they cared, they placed too much value on things that just added to my constant sense of stress and faliure. For example, I used to feel very pressured by them to get the highest grades in school, and later to get into the best university possible. But we never talked directly about important things. We lived in the same house, but we were more like emotional strangers.
I suspect most of the dysfunctional ways I learnt to deal with problems came from living in that environment. I feel sad when I think of the way they treated me and how they responded to the stresses of raising children, because it means that they themselves didn't grow up with very healthy role models.
When my brother, sister and I were smaller, they used to do things like hitting us, yelling at us, and washing our mouths out with soap. I remember one time when I was five years old, my parents were very angry with us. They were shouting at my sister and I, and one of them yelled for us to "get out of the house and never come back!"
I don't remember now whether it was my mother or father who said it, but I do remember standing there at the door, feeling terrified, and asking my sister "What should we do?!" I was too afraid to leave but I was also afraid to stay. My parents left the room and my sister said she wanted to wait a bit because she was scared to leave. But I'm pretty sure that if she hadn't said that, I would have left. Yet I don't know where I would have gone. This had to have been a traumatic experience for a five year old.
My father would get angry at times, and destroy our things right in front of us. For example, he smashed a small child's table that my sister and I used to play at. He also destroyed several of our toys. Mum used to hit us a lot... but the worst was living in constant fear of when the next time would be. She would threaten to hit us if we weren't 'good' or if we didn't do what she said. I remember at least two times when she slapped me so hard that I bled.
My parents also used to leave me alone to cry for literally hours. That really hurt me. I felt so uncared about and unimportant to them. From talking to other suicidal teens, I have learned similar things occur in their homes too.
These days, I am better able to understand why they did things like these in the past. I am feeling more supported and respected by them, so I am hopeful that someday we can work toward improving our relationship.
Trust and Betrayal
One teacher in particular helped me to realize that suicidal teenagers need somebody in their life who they can really trust and be open with. In my case, this teacher was somebody I could trust, and felt fairly safe in talking to about why I was depressed.
She knew that I was afraid to talk to my parents and didn't want them to know about my plans to kill myself. One day, she admitted that she wasn't sure how to help me, and had sought further 'consultation' about how to deal with my being suicidal. She told me the advice they gave her was to tell my parents immediately. Hearing this, I began to feel scared, but then felt relived when she continued... "I thought about it a long time, and I remembered you said you were afraid of your parents. So I've decided not to tell them. I'm not sure if that was the right decision... "
I now feel lucky she did not tell my parents. If this had happened, I feel certian that I would have had a much stronger incentive to kill myself, and I would not have called her for help like I did at the actual time of my suicide attempt.
Since I began talking to other suicidal teenagers, I've realized how my case could have turned out very differently. Often, we put our trust in adults who are in a position to help us, only to have them betray that trust. It's a difficult situation, since it seems that counselors are obliged to tell a teenager's parents when they know the teen is potentially a danger to themselves. But I am begining to question how helpful this policy really is to people like me. The teens I have been helping, for example, often don't seem to have a single person in their lives who they can trust without the fear of being betrayed in this way.
Because they are afraid of having their confidentiality broken if they tell the truth, they begin to lie to their counselors, teachers and parents. They feel more alone and less understood. In this way, the people that want to help us can actually be unintentionally adding more stress and secretiveness to our lives. And they could be making it less likely that we will talk to them the next time we feel suicidal.
My teacher's choice to not tell my parents appears to be a pretty rare one. I feel grateful to her for this, and want to reinforce that she made the right decision. This is especially considering she could have lost her job if I had killed myself, and would have felt responsible if this had actually happened. I guess there is always a risk involved in these situations, but from what I've learned in doing my volunteer work, it seems to be more important for a suicidal teenager to have somebody they can trust. Somebody they can feel safe to ask for help when they need it.