My daughter’s class is graduating from high school this year. My daughter, however, is not. Three years ago, when she was 15, she took her own life.
She was a darling, spunky and enthusiastic pre-schooler. When she got to kindergarten, things started to change. We thought she was just shy. There were still good times in elementary school but they were less frequent. She struggled with friendships, low self-esteem and learning disabilities. By the time she got to middle school and the hormones started raging, she was already losing her battle. Her battle with life. We could see it in her. She wasn’t happy. She was self-harming, spending much of her time alone in her room, falling behind in classes and not wanting to do the things she had previously enjoyed. Life was hard for Ana.
We tried everything we knew to help her. I read every book I could find on depression, adolescence, mental health and learning disabilities. We took her to counselors, therapists, psychologists, social workers and regular doctors. We took her to church, we engaged her in family activities, we encouraged her in the sports she had played in the past. We instituted outdoor time, family time, volunteering time. She wasn’t happy doing any of these things.
Ana was a victim of suicide. She was a victim of a brain that turned against her and a system that couldn’t help her. (Sadly, I am not the author of that statement. I read it somewhere and I can’t remember where.) She was unable to see past the pain she was in. People who take their own lives don’t want to die. They want the pain to stop. They aren’t selfish and they’re not trying to get back at us. Again, they want the pain to stop.
In the last few years of Ana’s life, she had wanted to get a semicolon tattoo. The semicolon is meant to portray that, instead of ending your life (like a sentence is ended with a period), take a breath and pause (like in the middle of a sentence with a semicolon), because “your story isn’t over yet”. It’s a reminder to continue on. Clearly Ana never got her tattoo. I did get a tattoo. My tattoo is a little different. It looks like this: “ana;” It reminds me that her story isn’t over yet. And to keep her story going, I promote mental health awareness, suicide prevention and research, fighting to stop the stigma of the disease that is mental illness. I will never stop telling her story.
My daughter died from depression that was unable to be treated. Mental illness is rampant, under-researched and under-funded. When you start hitting those graduation parties this spring, be extra proud and extra grateful for those young people. Many of them likely had struggles and I’m sure at least some of them suffered from depression, anxiety or worse. Somehow they made it. And that’s something worth celebrating.