I was 18 at the time, into my first year of college.
I had no proper training in suicide prevention. It hadn’t been a conversation I had ever talked much about. I would spend the next 7 years researching suicide prevention, reading stories, joining a board and speaking on panels.
But at 18 the word suicide became very personal as it would suddenly change the life of a close friend and his family forever.
I remember sitting on the bus coming home from a volleyball tournament.
A conversation became very dark, very quickly. Then he told me he wanted to kill himself.
I responded, “How?”
One word and I was figuring, did he have a plan? How serious was this? When would he want to do this? How long had he been thinking about it?
I knew if I could keep him talking, he was here with us and he was safe. That was always my goal when conversations in the future took turns like this, “keep him talking.”
I knew if I could try and understand as much about this as I could maybe things could change.
I was 14 hours away by car. 2 hours by plane. And not scheduled to come home for a few weeks during Thanksgiving break.
I ran to my apartment and called my mentor and coach from home.
“What do I do?”
“You are going to have to make a very difficult phone call right now Kirsten. Call his parents immediately when you get off the phone with me.”
So I did. The house phone went right to voicemail. Followed by a callback.
In the many difficult conversations I’ve had with people in my life, this was the hardest one to date. My words were met with disbelief. And while I was still trying to gauge the severity of this recent conversation his family was trying also to wrap their heads around it.
Text messages were forwarded to everyone who needed to see them.
And initially, my friend was angry with me for not keeping his secret. I would have rather lost a friend living, doing what was right, then lost a friend to death knowing I could have prevented it.
I went to bed every single night praying I didn’t have to fly back home to attend a funeral.
A lot of 18-year-olds my age were at the latest party, drinking to get drunk and have nights they wouldn’t remember. Me, I just remember most my nights consisted of looking at my phone every few hours. I held a beer in one hand and engaged in college activities but I was so emotionally checked out dealing with this.
I went to bed every night telling him to text me in the morning just so I knew he was alive and still here.
Just keep fighting until I come home, is what I told him.
We will take it one day at a time and that’s exactly what we did.
It gave him something to look forward to. November 28th, 2010
His father and I sat in the living room as he got ready. And there was an unspoken dialogue between the two of us. Our eyes met and he said thank you.
It’s been 2,399 days since then. 343 weeks. 78 months.
He’s still here.
He’s still fighting.
And I still continue to learn as much as I can about suicide.
Maybe it’s odd how comfortable I am talking about death. Maybe it’s odd I get angry at these statistics. I just truly believe the second leading cause of death for people the ages of 18-22 should not be something within our own control. This needs to change.
My heart breaks reading another story about a college student who just couldn’t handle it anymore. Even though we are strangers it’s like I know them. I feel for them. I understand how hard it is sometimes. I know giving up might seem like you are taking away your pain but you are just passing it on to someone who has to live with the guilt of your absence.
In the seven years, I’ve done research on the topic, I don’t think it’s life people are trying to escape from, what people are trying for is no longer feeling pain or no longer feeling loneliness. No longer feeling heartbreak because the person they loved left. They want to sleep at night without dark thoughts consuming them. They don’t want to lay there awake at night as things get worse in their mind. Or as they cry alone for reasons they can’t explain. They don’t want to keep hurting and have to wake up and put on a brave face and smile when inside they are falling apart. Only no one sees it.
Suicide victims don’t want to die they just want to live without this pain that consumes them.
They want to know they aren’t alone. They want to know they aren’t crazy for feeling these things. They want to know things will get better.
I can’t talk to every person who is struggling like I did my friend. I can’t be there with you at 2 AM. But what I can tell you and what I will continue to tell every friend, every reader, every person who confides in me is it will get better. Things will change. This pain you are feeling will subside and it will be replaced with something greater.
If you’re reading this and this resonates with you even if a little, I’m going to ask you to make me the same promise I made my friend make. Give it one more day. Just get through one more day. And watch quickly as it turns into two then three then weeks then years.
You are not weak for feeling things this heavy, you are strong for being able to fight this as long as you have. But don’t stop fighting. Don’t give up so soon.
You are needed. You are wanted. You are loved. And things will change.