Very few people knew this story before today. On Suicide Awareness Day (September 10), two of my friends came forward with their stories. I thought how brave they were. Then I wondered why I had never told my story on the blog.
The truth is, there is a stigma surrounding suicide attempts and mental illness. I don’t want to be pitied or have people think of me as crazy. I am an adult with anxiety, who was a child with anxiety. That’s it.
Anyway, here’s my story:
For K-8 I went to a Lutheran school. Many Lutherans have a German background, so there was a degree of emphasis on that culture. We had a German choir and German was the main language taught (as an elective). By the eighth grade I had taken three years of German.
I loved it (still do). German is an ugly language, to the ear at least, but it’s also a fun language. How many countries have a word for driving enjoyment (fahrvergnugen) and a word for joy at someone else’s misery (schadenfreude)?
My eighth grade teacher had relatives in Germany. My mom got the idea to set me up to have my freshman year in Germany. She and my teacher wrote letters to the German relatives and they agreed to host me for a year. They had a daughter who was just a few months younger than me. We all thought it would be fun.
About a week before my parents and I left for Germany I started to realize that the whole thing was a big mistake. I had a hard time sleeping away from my own house for one night, let alone a whole year. I wanted to back out, but I didn’t want to disappoint my mom, who had put so much work into setting up the whole arrangement.
So we flew to Germany. My parents and I were all staying at my host’s house for two weeks, after which my parents would be flying home.
The first week I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I loved the food and we took lots of field trips to different spots around Northern Germany. But by the beginning of the second week, I knew I was doomed. I would excuse myself to go to the bathroom and just sit in there and cry. My mom would ask me if I had been crying and I would answer that it was just my allergies.
Two days before my parents were due to leave I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. That night, I went into the bathroom (on the second floor) and looked out the window. Maybe I could jump? Even at 14 I realized that at worst I would break a leg. I considered my options and took the only one available. A safety razor.
I mean the kind of razor you use to shave your legs. And not one of those five blade cheese graters they make today. This was a simple two blade razor. I used it to hack away at my wrists for a few minutes. It was useless, the most I got was some bad scrapes. I finally gave up and went back to bed, where I cried myself to sleep.
The next morning when I went down to breakfast, I wore a sweater, and made sure to pull the sleeves down over my wrists. Northern Germany is cold in the summertime (highs in the high 60s to low 70s F), so no one took notice. It wasn’t until I reached across the table to grab a piece of toast that my mom saw my wrists. Needless to say, she freaked out.
The good news is that my parents talked to me about what was going on in my head. They listened to my concerns and took me seriously. They got me on a flight back home as quickly as possible. I don’t know if anxiety was considered a diagnosis back in the 80s. I didn’t see a mental health professional, but I did talk to my youth pastor, who was amazingly understanding.
So that’s my suicide story. If you have one too, I hope you will share, if not with the whole world, at least with one person close to you. Talking about mental health issues will help us break the stigma and understand better how to help.
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has some excellent Suicide Awareness resources. You can also check out my list of Common Teenage Suicide Warning Signs.