Bullying and suicide. You know, just your typical light topics. I almost put a trigger warning at the top of this post, but let’s be frank – this whole website probably needs a trigger warning attached.
So yeah, not a light topic, but it’s important, and has happened lately in my PTSD journey.
Kids Talk to Me About Bullying and Suicide
I think I have a reputation around my community as someone who is not afraid to talk about, well, anything. Kids in our social circles talk to me about a lot of stuff. I feel simultaneously honored and so scared that my bowels turn to liquid.
So it was no surprise when a junior high girl* had a conversation about bullying and suicide one recent afternoon. We sat on a bench in the park while other kids played in the adjoining playground and field. Our conversation started gradually, with the usual questions about school and homework and music.
“And what about the bullying on the bus?” I asked. We had talked about how a couple of kids were taunting her during the bus rides to and from school, and Husband and I had helped her deal with that.
“It’s better,” she said. “Now Jenny and Sarah are calling me names.” Tears filled her eyes, threatening to spill over.
“Weren’t they your friends?” I asked.
She nodded. “Not anymore, though. And other people – some I don’t even know – join in.”
You Feel Different Because You Are
“They call me names that I don’t even want to repeat,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. “They tell me to kill myself.” She paused. “And sometimes I think maybe I should.”
She started sobbing then, and I sat with her, willing myself to stay calm. I had initially felt a layered fear. A foundation of despair overlaid with sharp panic. I squashed it, forcing it down, down, down. You can’t think clearly and panic at the same time. This is a scientific fact.
My heart was breaking, but I squashed that, too. There would be time for that later.
“First of all, kids are jerks,” I said. “Second, the reality of this time of your life is that it largely sucks, but it will pass. Third, you are not alone in your feelings, even with suicide. And I’m glad you told me that.”
“I just feel so different than everyone else!” she said through her tears.
“You feel different because you are,” I said. “And that is an amazing and wonderful thing.”
She looked at me, wiping tears from her eyes and cheeks.
“Seriously,” I continued. “You are super smart, for one. You always have been. You are naturally curious and sophisticated and can talk about things that other kids your age either don’t know or don’t care about.”
“Systemic racism,” I said. “Astrophysics. Religion. How life is complex and rarely black and white. Plus, you’re very talented in a lot of different ways – music, sports, academics. The reality is that kids don’t know what to make of you. And that’s okay, because it will get better as you get older. They will catch up to you.”
We kept talking about the situation, coming up with coping strategies and agreeing to talk again on a specific future date.
Processing and Emotional Misdirection
Remember the despair and panic and heartbreak? It was several hours later when I realized 1) I had shoved them down and 2) they were ready to come back up. Kind of like the burrito you ate that you enjoyed but then gave you food poisoning.
I was scrolling through my email later that evening, and got some disappointing news. It was so mild as to be barely noteworthy, but I could not let it go. First I was annoyed. And then I was Hulk Smash Angry.
I talked about the mild disappointment with Husband, and halfway through a ranting sentence, I stopped.
“What’s happening?” he asked.
“It just occurred to me that this is a lot of emotion over this stupid little email,” I said. “It kind of doesn’t make sense.”
And then I told him about the conversation I had had earlier in the day with the junior high girl. And finally cried. And realized, again, that THIS is what my therapist refers to as emotional misdirection.
We Need to Talk About Bullying and Suicide
“Okay, this emotion makes more sense now,” I said to Husband. “The thing is, even with all I know about mental health and suicide, I still felt the stigma of talking about it. Like we were supposed to whisper it or something.”
He nodded. “It’s like talking about it will somehow make it happen, when the opposite is true.”
The World Health Organization estimates that one million people die each year from suicide. It’s time to stop being afraid to talk about it. Okay, it’s uncomfortable. So is anything worth doing, like stand up comedy or wearing pants.
It’s time to start talking about bullying and suicide openly and honestly, like our lives depend on it. Because they do.
*Info has been changed to protect privacy.
A Funny and Poignant Grief Book
For twenty years, I thought that I had been marching through the stages of grief in a straight line. I had been following the formula, crossing each processed grief experience off my list.
Except that I was totally deluded. And I didn’t discover that until Jim, my beloved father-in-law, died. I found myself drying off from my shower the morning after his death, really hoping he couldn’t see me naked. Or, if he could, that he was averting his eyes.
From that moment, my path through grief resembled a roller coaster, spiraling and twisting and turning, circling back around. Echoes of past trauma, including childhood abuse and cheating death, would no longer be ignored. I somehow needed to get from the beginning to the end of this grief adventure, and I don’t have a good sense of direction.
But what is always present during a journey through grief, regardless of the path chosen?
Caskets From Costco is a funny grief book that demonstrates the certainty of hope and healing in an uncertain and painful world.