This past Wednesday, I learned that on Tuesday, a friend had committed suicide, and I’ve been devastated ever since. This wasn’t the first friend I knew who took their life, but for some reason, this one has hit me harder than I could ever imagine– even though we were not that close as friends. This post is some attempt to start to get things put back together in my life and get ready to keep moving forward, as difficult as that feels at the moment.

A few years back, Dan Savage began the “It Gets Better” project, an on-line video effort designed to create an enormous number of videos and voices to tell our LGBTQ youth hang in there and keep weathering the storms of rejection and isolation, because it will get better. And, I still believe whole heartedly in both the mission and the method of that project, but the base message only holds true if you make it. It only gets better if you are alive, and even a trillion videos can’t simply stop the epidemic of LGBTQ teen suicide. A person has to do the very excruciatingly hard work of hanging on until it does actually get better.  Right at the moment, that awareness, seems huge to me.

I was also really a wreck after a few teen suicides over the past few years such as Tyler Clemente and Leelah Alcorn, and I’m a bit mystified why some deaths bring on sadness while others totally destroy me. Every loss is a devastating loss but I have yet to understand why some move me in ways different than others. That’s worth pondering for sure. Maybe some touch my own suicide attempt experience more than others, and in this post, I’m going to talk a bit about that–something I’ve never really written about. But I don’t think that is really it, even if I don’t know what it is.

My friend was 31 years old this week when he died. So often when I think about teens who struggle and end their lives, I am sad, but I also understand how they can feel so trapped and alone, and to a teen’s brain, it can seem as if it will never change. The teen has so few options and avenues to take care of themselves. Death may seem like the only way out, even if it isn’t. But how utterly complexing and confusing it is when a smart, creative, capable, connected, empowered adult sees no other way forward?

Only some close friends and my family know about my own suicide attempt at the age of 14, on March 25, 1972. I lived in a hellish, abusive, alcoholic, home, and while I was never bullied or harmed for being gay, I did feel so utterly inferior because I felt so alien and different and had no idea why or what to do about it. My choice to kill myself was an effort to stop the immediate pain and what seemed like torturous existence. In that moment there was no thought about what I was letting go of, only a desire to make the immediate end. I had no sense of what I was giving up and was it worth it.

I swallowed enough sleeping pills to kill about three people, and then decided to crawl out the window to run away. A short time later, when my family got no response from my side of the bedroom door, they went outside to look in the window and found me unconscious slumped into the window opening. The emergency squad was called and soon I was strapped into a converted station wagon (the days before big EMT vehicles) and about half way through the Liberty Tubes on the way to Children’s Hospital, I’m told that my heart stopped, and they couldn’t revive me.

Whenever the brain is without oxygen for more than a few minutes, it begins to die and those cels will never again work, so it is truly a miracle, because it is more than a few minutes to Children’s from the Liberty Tubes. This was the old Children’s in Oakland.

They did revive me and get me stable, and my brain seems totally normal, depending upon one’s definition of normal, and the next three months were spent overcoming the complications that included my right side being paralyzed and the damage to my lungs, first from aspirating, and complicated from a long period on a ventilator. My constant cough, and lung issues are the only remnants I carry today, as well as a few small scars like the place on my wrist where an IV went in, and a bed sore scar on my butt cheeck. When I first came out of the coma, I could see but couldn’t discern color. All of the feeling and movement returned to my right side, and slowly but surely everything returned except my lung capacity and breathing ability.

Even on days when I’m barely breathing, I think it is an extremely small price to have paid to still be alive! I have lived and am continuing to live such a tremendous and exciting and rewarding journey, and I shudder at how quickly and easily my life almost ended because I wanted it to stop. Today, it is easy to question, if it was really that bad, but then in that moment, I know it seemed as if it was. 

Perhaps this is part of why I am so devastated by this friend’s suicide. I grasp how real, in that moment, death seems like the only way for things to get better, and in that moment there doesn’t appear to be any way to hang on to get to the other side of the pain, isolation, agony and desperation. And I also today grasp how precious and irreplaceable one’s life truly is, because through some miracle, I still have mine.

Past posts of mine about suicide:

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