Our community has been rocked by tragedy over the last several weeks. Ryan and I live in a small town crippled by drugs, poverty and hopelessness. In our community, we are unfortunately not strangers to tragedy. This week our community experienced the accidental drowning of a 4 year old girl and the suicide of a 15 year old boy. That 15 year old boy attended our church and occassionaly the youth group that Ryan and I help lead. Death is hard. Death caused by suicide/mental illness is even harder. Seeing teenagers mourn the loss of their friend and peer rips at your heart. It makes my eyes well up with tears when they question the “why” or play the blame game. This weekend was extremely difficult as we said goodbye to this young boy who barely even had a chance to start his life.
It’s conjured up a lot of emotions in my own heart. In some ways, I can relate to his journey. At his age, I too thought about suicide. I’ll never forget when my older sister found a notebook that I had written goodbye notes to my family in and gave it to my mom. I tried to pass it off as creative writing. The truth was, I wanted to give up because life was hard and depression was an overwhelming pit that I thought had no escape. How I wish I could sit down and talk with my 15 year old self and tell her that she would rise out of the pit and life could (and would!) be good! How I wish I would have known this boy’s struggle so I could have told him that life gets easier and more beautiful the longer I live. He had people who loved him and cared for him and were in the trenches fighting for him, and my heart breaks for what they are experiencing today.
There are things I have been able to experience since those dark times in my life that I can’t imagine never knowing or having the opportunity to experience. I’m so glad I was wrong about life at 15. I’m so thankful I had friends, confidants and spiritual leaders who I was able to talk to through those dark times and fought with me and for me. I’m thankful for my faith in God that ultimately was more than enough to keep me holding on through the storms. I’m thankful that I was able to make a different choice.
I have found an enjoyment and fulfillment in life that I never dreamed possible at 15. I have dug deep into my relationship with God. I have fallen in love, accomplished goals, formed new relationships, and one day in the (near) future, I will have the privilege of being a mom. I have a church family, nieces and nephews, in-laws, siblings, friends and pets that I never would have known. I have spent time near the ocean, visited Manatee’s, learned to live on my own and bought my own car. You see, when I was 15 and felt that my life wasn’t worth living, I realize now that I didn’t even really know what life was.
Let’s be honest, life since 15 hasn’t been all beautiful. I’ve also experienced hard things. I battled a 12 year addiction to cutting (thank you Lord for freedom!), I’ve experienced the death of my best friend and several family members, had my heart broken, and faced the heartache of infertility. I’ve learned that the hard times will come and heartache will always be around the corner, but there is a purpose for my life. I choose to follow Christ. I choose to trust in the ups and downs…and His promise not to prevent the bad times from coming, but to use it for my good and for His glory.
Statistically, 8 million people considered suicide in the United States last year. Over 50% of college students consider suicide at some point during their college years. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and over 800,000 people die by suicide every single year. Yet, the conversation about suicide and mental illness is usually held in whispers because people don’t want to talk about it. Nobody likes to use the word. It’s scary. There’s an attitude of shame surrounding mental illness and it makes people uncomfortable. We worry about obesity related deaths, cancer and heart attacks, but death because of mental illness/suicide is often considered selfish. There’s a double standard, and I’m afraid that this double standard is causing more of those people who consider suicide each year to become part of the 800,000 who die because of suicide/mental illness.
I keep thinking about the teens in my life today. Working in youth ministry and having much younger siblings exposes me to some pretty great kids. I’m learning more every day that the life they live at 15 is so much different than the life I lived at 15. Things seem harder now. The world, in all of its goodness… and in all of it’s darkness is at your fingertips. It terrifies me. I’ve spent my nights over the last week worrying and praying for these kids that I love, and kids that I only met this weekend. Suicide and tragedy have wreaked havoc on our small community and the destruction and pain left in the aftermath of losing a loved one in this manner seems to have touched almost everyone I know. Especially the kids in my life.
There needs to be more open conversation about mental health. I could write a book on my opinions on that particular subject, but I’ll save it for another day. (I know you’re all waiting with baited breath…lol) Depression isn’t shameful, it’s an illness. In some cases, I think it can also be a spiritual battle that a person faces. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s what Paul talked about when he spoke of the thorn in his flesh. (2 Corinthians 12:7) If you’re worried that someone in your life is struggling with depression, don’t be afraid to ask them. Sometimes the questions are hard, and the answers are uncomfortable. Sometimes it gets weird, but having people in my life who listened to their gut (and I believe were led by God) saved my life.
I know that the purpose of this blog is to write about our adoption journey, but I needed a place to write about what’s on my heart. I hope that Ryan and I are the kind of parents who talk to our T-bird openly about our struggles (in an appropriate way) so that he/she is comfortable talking to us about the struggles they are facing.
If I’m asking the tough questions or seeming to “be all up in your business” (I may have jokingly heard that phrase this week…lol) it’s because I love you and I want you to know that I’m not afraid to ask the tough questions and listen to the tough responses. I’m not going to judge you because if I haven’t been in your particular pit, I’ve experienced some pretty deep pits of my own. Maybe you’re pit isn’t depression. Maybe yours is bitterness, or anger, or porn or drugs. It doesn’t matter, as long as there is breath, there is hope. Maybe, just maybe this is the good that God us going to make out of my own pits (Romans 8:28). I want to point you in the right direction and lift your struggles up to Jesus. I want you to know that there is someone in your corner and someone who understands. I want to point you in the direction of HOPE.
and I never, ever want to attend another funeral like the one I attended this weekend.