After a long day at work, I came home, threw my backpack to the ground and curled up in bed. Before I was about to take a nap, I browsed Reddit and came across a post with a boy saying he wanted to end his life along with his pain and misery.
“My mother is abusive and controlling. I absolutely hate school and no one understands me. I have nothing to live for and once I’m gone everything will be all better.”
I scrolled down the post and saw that the comments were not assuring or helpful towards solving his problems. I decided to go ahead and send him a private message asking him to talk about his situation and what he’s going through. Soon after, he sent me his number and I gave him a phone call.
After a couple minutes, it was painfully obvious that he was, in fact, in a brutal and tough living situation. His parents were divorced and he was living with his mother. His mother was abusive, neglectful, and emotionally manipulative. A simple thing like leaving the house on a weekend or after school would turn into a verbally abusive argument. This kid was trapped.
His teeth were crowding and he wasn’t getting the proper dental care he needed. His mother had health insurance and more than enough money for the treatment; she just kept making excuses.
When his mother would drive him to places, often times, she would speed heavily putting him in reckless endangerment.
I asked him if he had any relatives who could take him in. His grandmother wasn’t a viable option and it would be difficult for his father to take him in. He said his relationship with his mom is severely damaged and father would certainly not get custody given the circumstances. After inquiring more and more and trying to find alternatives, I found out that this kid was smart as hell. He was intelligent, articulate and thoughtful. He evaluated all his options and had a better understanding of the court system than most adults.
He even told his guidance counselors about his mother neglecting his dental care, his depression and that he’s been starving himself. Nothing constructive came out of that conversation.
I was surprised as to why his guidance counselor or resources that he had at school didn’t provide him with any meaningful solution towards any of his problems. Wouldn’t you think they would be concerned with a 14 year old freshman who’s starving himself and dealing with depression?!
Then I found out why. I learned he was a 6-foot male, dark-skinned, hefty, and played varsity football and lacrosse. He said that the school didn’t take his problems seriously. It’s not typical to see a person of his nature getting abused. It was absolutely disgusting to hear this. Regardless of your background or physical appearance, anyone can be a victim of abuse and it’s sickening to hear that he wasn’t adequately helped.
In his words, in addition to how he looked, he said he would be perceived as a “edgy and depressed teenager who’s only acting this way to be cool”.
I later learned his mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But that wasn’t solely the problem. There are plenty of parents with bipolar disorder (or various mental illnesses) that are kind, loving and supportive parents. The problem is not only that his mother refused any form of treatment, therapy and medication on all fronts multiple times, but also that she is ruining his physical and mental wellbeing.
Instability was the norm for his life. He lived in a constant state of fear because he didn’t know when his mom was going to lash out at him. At times, his mom would say nothing at all to him, being quiet and casual. Other times, she would scream at him for wanting to do the simplest of things.
He told me that he felt broken and that he wasn’t worth anything. When he was 13, his mother threatened to give away his birth certificate and social security number to anyone who wanted it. He had dreams of becoming a doctor and getting accepted into Yale University. His mother said he was incapable of doing it. You could hear the pain in his voice when he described his mom killing his dreams.
To deal with the pain, he self-harmed. He cut himself from time to time to numb his emotions. There was no other relief he could get. As distressing as this sounds, I wasn’t even surprised because I knew how he felt. I asked him where he cut and he said he didn’t cut his wrists. He cut near his elbows. I already knew before he said it. I knew he was smart enough to hide it and he wore long-sleeves to hide his cuts and scars.
When I asked him which music artists he listens to, he said exactly who I expected. He mentioned an artist who is especially loved by teens who are alone, depressed, lost, misunderstood, and suicidal.
I told him, instead of cutting yourself, go in your room, get under your bedsheets and listen to your favorite music artist (I named a specific song).
Eventually, he said he was a lost cause.
Those words really stuck with me especially since because for a lot of my life I’ve felt like a lost cause myself. I know how it feels to be an outcast. I know how it is to never be good enough for anything or anyone including yourself. I know how it is to feel alone even when you’re in a room full of people.
He said that his post on Reddit was his final note to the world and he was planning on ending his life. He didn’t want to deal with any funny business or overdose on pills. He was planning on ending his life with a handgun from his relative’s place.
I started crying and choking up as I started talking to him next. I told him that I know what he’s going through because at a point you just feel so broken, empty and numb to everything in your life. I told him that he caught me by surprise with his intelligence. I knew he had so much potential and I truly believed in him. I knew that if he just got through these next 3 and a half years and made it to college, he would be on a good track for the remainder of his life. I also told him that no matter where he goes in life, the pain will never go away, you’ll just become better at dealing with it.
I heard him cry on the other end of the phone. This was a 14 year old who wanted to become a doctor, go to Yale University and find cures for systemic diseases. He had a 97% average in all his classes and had so much potential to continue doing well academically, go to medical school and live the life of his dreams. If he ended his life, we would lose a legend.
As we talked, he decided to not end his life. He decided to make it through the next couple years and get to college. I gave him a couple options to address the situation with his mother, but I left choice to decide what he wanted to do in his own hands.
He told me that he was so surprised that I took over an hour to talk to him on the phone because I was a random person on the Internet. When he posted that on Reddit, he didn’t expect anyone to respond and thought it was going to be his last words into the world. He didn’t believe that anyone would care to even listen to his problems, let alone provide suggestions to what he could do. He didn’t believe that anyone would believe in him. He thought that people would be too self-absorbed with their problems to give him any time.
I told him he’s not alone and the honest truth is that we’re all messed up people. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others.
We’re staying in touch and I’m glad to hear that he’s choosing to stay. I’ll be here for him whenever he needs it, but I told him that he’s much stronger and smarter than when I was his age.
This conversation taught me a lot. First of all, it raised a lot of questions.
- How can we live in a society that allows abusive parents to retain custody of their children? Whether you’re a woman or man, you can be an abusive parent and every child deserves a loving home.
- Why didn’t his guidance counselors, school and teachers help him?
- How did his coaches or teammates in the locker room not notice his self-harm scars?
- Why do we expect males (even if you’re a 14 year old teenager) to tough it out? Suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously at any age.
- Why is it the norm for teenagers to be anxious and depressed?
- Is stigma for mental health so strong that he will stay afraid to open up (even if the proper treatment and people were hypothetically there to help)?
- Are people so self-absorbed with their problems and unwilling to help that it leads to people to feel so rejected, unwanted, uncared and unloved by everyone, therefore, pushing them to suicide?
Self-harm leads to suicide. He told me that I very well may have changed the course of his whole life and whether he chose to live or not.
I know that if one person didn’t reach out he could have been very well consumed by darkness, trapped in his mind and found suicide as the only way out.
It took one conversation for him to see his potential. It took one conversation for him to realize that he’s cared for and loved. It took one conversation for him to see the good in his life despite everything else. It took one conversation for him to choose life over suicide.
One conversation is all it takes to save a life.
This 14-year old taught me something no one else has taught me. He saw potential in me no one else saw. He taught me that I have the potential to save lives in whatever I do.
You don’t have to be a guidance counselor to guide.
You don’t have to be a teacher to teach .
You don’t have to be a coach to coach.
You don’t have to be a parent to parent.
You don’t have to be a doctor to save lives.
All you need to do is spread love and acceptance in whatever you do.
If you choose love and acceptance, you have the power to save lives.
There’s no magic pill for depression or any serious mental illness. Likewise, there’s no easy way out of a bad environment or way to block all trauma in your life.
But what we can do is remove stigma through love and acceptance. Once we remove stigma, people will be able to pursue and get access to the help they need.
If we don’t support people with mental illness or traumatic experiences, and we allow stigma to continue, then we allow depression and suicide to win.
Every 40 seconds someone dies of suicide. Every 12 minutes someone dies of suicide in America.
For every person that calls the suicide hotline, there’s a person who doesn’t.
For every person that posts on Reddit about their suicidal thoughts, there’s a person who doesn’t.
I’ll never know what would have happened to him if I didn’t reach out. But that’s okay because that’s what pushes me to reach out to support more people.
Who will you reach out to?