It’s not just our teenage suicide statistics that drive me. Or the awareness of how close these statistics are to our family. And it’s not even the outpouring of grief after another teenage suicide. Instead, I am driven by the unshakable belief that teenagers choosing to take their lives is not ok, and by the hope that I can make a difference.
I’m choosing to start with our story, the one that has already impacted our own little family more than I realised at the time. So far, we’ve been lucky. That day wasn’t our day to grieve. But the ripples of change that have spread from that one day are actually getting bigger instead of fading away. So I know this is important. And I keep working with them.
By now we were 6 months into my eldest daughter’s intense experience of depression and anxiety. We had seen the specialists, taken the medication, worked hard at the counselling sessions, and I thought our home was free of any potential suicide weapon. It felt like she was getting better. She no longer spent every waking minute in her room crying uncontrollably, or just staring vacantly into space. It was easier to coax her out for a walk. She’d been going to school a little bit and was happy to put on her uniform in order to slip in and out of the school day. Sometimes she smiled in response and she was joining in with our day-to-day family activities voluntarily, even sitting in the lounge with us now and then. We were all relieved that she was getting better, that the depression and anxiety that had plagued her off and on over most of her teenage years was finally loosening its grip on her mind. We relaxed, we trusted that she was going to be okay and we resumed our busyness again; once more slipping back into the unconscious habits and patterns that ran our lives.
Our day of change began like any other day. In the morning there was nothing, nothing remarkable to alert me to what was about to unfold. I went to work. The twins went to school. My eldest daughter slept in but was due to go to school later that day. Unknowingly, we had provided her with the time and the freedom to follow the plan that had been sleeping in her head for some time. As it turns out, for about six weeks. The plan had been sleeping so quietly it had managed to avoid detection by me, her counsellor, her boyfriend and her close friends. I think a lot of the time it had also managed to avoid detection by herself, only revealing itself in smaller fragments. Never in the bigger picture.
Waking that day and realising she was alone for the first time in several months, the plan pushed its way into her consciousness. “Now is the time” it whispered seductively in her mind. “If you don’t try now when will you try?” “I thought you were depressed.” “You said you wanted to die.” “You’re so useless, you’ve got nothing to live for.”
The voices were unrelenting. They kept on coming. Not stopping until she spiralled into panic attack mode. Breathing fast, sobbing hard, holding and rocking herself as she gave into the nasty, spiteful messages that came up.
Stuck in panic attack mode, the plan to take her life took on a dream-like quality. Reaching under the kitchen sink she took out the almost full bottle of household cleaner that had been bought after every other potential poison had been removed from the house. It had been there for a while, its presence forgotten by her mother. Silently taunting her. Turning the bottle around she read the ingredient list, did a quick Google search and confirmed there were lethal ingredients in the bottle.
Being the kind and considerate teenager that she was, she paused her activities to put her dirty washing in the machine and switch it on. She didn’t want Mum having to deal with her dirty laundry.
As the washing machine worked on her clothes, erasing all traces of her touch, she poured the cleaner into a glass. It was right at the top. It tasted disgusting but that wouldn’t matter. Pretty soon the taste wouldn’t be anything to worry about. Picking up the glass she held it to her lips, opened her mouth and poured the contents down her throat. It was revolting but that didn’t matter. She’d done it. Those bullying voices in her head were quiet now. She’d shown them. She’d proved to them that she wasn’t a coward anymore. She’d put an end to them running her life, making her miserable and giving her nothing to live for. They’d be dying with her, but dying was going to be better than living this pretend shell of a life any longer.
Was it, was it really? Was dying what she really wanted to do? No, actually. No it wasn’t. “No, I don’t think it was what I wanted to do after all.” The thought filled her brain, telling her to do something now, before it really was too late. Dying wasn’t what she wanted after all. She scrambled to find her phone. Texting her boyfriend she said “I’ve drunk some cleaner,” then she lay down on the kitchen floor to wait. She knew when he got the message he’d come. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she simply waited.
Time ticked by. Her boyfriend was in class, learning all about graphics and his phone was switched off. He was anticipating lunch and the arrival of his girlfriend at school during lunch time. Heading out of class he checked his messages, and froze. It was a while ago. Had she really done it? He headed straight to his car, only pausing to ring his Dad and briefly tell him what she’d done.
Downing tools and rushing from work, his Dad also headed to our home, wondering what would greet his arrival but knowing that whatever they found, he would be there to support his son.
Her boyfriend’s Dad arrived first and found her lying on the kitchen floor. She was alive. As his son arrived he was able to run some first aid checks and phone the ambulance.
The next phone call was to me. At that stage of the day, I was enjoying the remaining few minutes of my lunch break before the bell rang to bring the kids in from the field. Eventually we realised the phone was ringing and no one was at the desk to answer it, the first call went unanswered. When the phone went again, my boss answered and came back saying “It’s for you.” “Odd”, I thought “who would ring me here?” Answering the phone, I knew something wasn’t right. I said “There’s been an accident. I have to go.” My boss said “Sure. Go. I’ve got this.”
I went. Grabbing my bag and saying a hurried goodbye to the surprised looks on the faces of the kids I’d been teaching that morning, I left. A colleague came down the stairs and hugged me. Just what I needed, but I had no time to return the hug or fill her in. Wriggling free of her hug, I ran to my car.
The trip home was frustratingly slow as I followed all the road rules and did my best to stay focused on the important job of getting myself home safely. All the while I repeated to myself, “Not today. Not now.” Like a mantra I kept this phrase in my head, repeating it over and over. Feelings of despair washed over me. I couldn’t get her through this. I wasn’t enough. Why did I think she was better? Pushing aside the thoughts of self-blame and guilt, I simply repeated my mantra, “Not today, not now” as I drove.
And thankfully it wasn’t that day. We had a long wait for an ambulance, then a trip to hospital and another even longer wait while the professionals all did their jobs. After the officials decided to discharge her, we were allowed to return home to the sanctuary of our little family.
The next day driving to her counselling appointment, I simply said “Is this rock bottom?” And she said, “Yes.”
Since that day we’ve only gone up.
There are two things I would change prior to that point in time:
- Have a conversation. And do it more than once. Here is a link to my previous posts on conversations with teenagers and suicide.
- Don’t leave it. Ever.
If you’re wondering what to do, or if a loved one could be at risk, book yourself in for a free call with me and together we’ll work it out.