When I was in grade 7, a classmate’s father committed suicide in his car in his garage.
A friend called to tell me and I remember my first thought was “o shit, they are going to catch me. They are going to know that I thought it and I will get in trouble now.” I was very careful to make sure to never mention that boy and hope that my mom never found out.
It was as if his father’s suicide was some how going to get ME in trouble. I had no empathy, no confusion, no sadness, no fear that my parents would ever do the same- only fear that my own secret suicidal thoughts would get me into trouble.
The following year, I spent a lot of time crying in the bathroom stall at school. I think that every 12 year old girl in my grade probably spent some on the bathroom floor in a puddle of hormones. But I was by far the most frequent bathroom crier.
One day (I remember, it was the first day back from Passover break in March or April), I just couldn’t stop crying. The principle even came in to try to soothe me. That night my mother got a call from the school. Apparently I made the mistake (in my fit of crying) of telling the principle that I just wanted to be done with life because it felt too hard.
The conversation with my mother that night went like this:
Mom: The school called and said that you said some things that scared them today.
me (12 years old): O. Um. Ya. I was just overwhelmed with my school work.
Mom: She said you said you wanted your life to be over. You didn’t really mean that did you? You shouldn’t say things like that, it scares people who don’t know that you’re just very dramatic.
me: Oh. I just meant that I wanted school to be over because it was so hard.
Mom: I thought so. I told her that. I won’t get another call like that. Right? You know, there’s a time and place for everything. Imagine if you started crying at grandma’s house. She would get so worried. It wouldn’t be right. So don’t scare people.
So. that was the end of that conversation. Never to be spoken of again. I went to school the next day with a big smile and jumped right into a fun hypo-manic episode that no one noticed.
… I feel like I have to add something else. Because it’s related. Jumping forward to adulthood. When I was 4 months pregnant with my second child, and after years of therapy, I was doing an intake for a prenatal depression program at the hospital. Things were bad. I was answering the nurse’s questions honestly and failing the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Screening tool with flying colors. Until the last question: “The thought of harming myself has occurred to me.” I immediately answered “never”.
I think that my quick response was so out of line with the other answers that a red flag automatically went up and she escalated my first appointment to the following day. This was almost 20 years after that conversation with my mom.